Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Multitudinous mistletoe

In a large yellow poplar tree in our front yard and at least 100 feet above the ground grow several large clumps of mistletoe. (The photo was shot with 300mm lens.)

Everyone knows that mistletoe is a parasitic plant and is associated with various Christmas traditions, but did you know it is used to treat seizures and headaches in some cultures and is being closely looked at an an anticancer treatment?

When I was writing O Henry-type short stories about 50 years ago, I thought one of my best was about a boy who borrowed his father's shotgun to shoot mistletoe out of a tree to go along with the Christmas present he was going to buy his girlfriend, but it took him five dollars worth of shells to get the mistletoe down. He had to pay his father back for the shells first so the father could shoot a turkey for the family Christmas dinner. The boy didn't have enough money to buy the Christmas gift.

I thought it was a good story, but apparently the editors I sent it to didn't like it because it was never published. Their loss, I say.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

If a tree falls . . .

To the question of "what do you do in your spare time?", I offer the accompanying photo.

This 75-foot tree (sorry, I can't identify the species) fell not too far from our house in the backyard, wedging itself between a trifecta of sumac trees.

It will take my tractor and 30 or so man hours of work to chainsaw and split the wood. Adding to the problem is that the tree rests about 6 feet off the ground. I will have to be careful handling the tree as I whittle it down to size.

A tree this large and delicately balanced above the ground can bend a chainsaw bar, flip a tractor or easily flip me.

The tree fell two weeks ago during the big wind, and I'm still contemplating my plan of attack. Even though it's 50 degrees today and perfect timber-cutting weather, I'm going back to the stove for some more contemplation, maybe even a nap.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Impromptu artesian wells

The first month I was in Deerfield, we were hit with several rounds of heavy rains. On the first sunny day after the rains, I came down the driveway to find water spouting up from the ground about 6 inches high.

City-slicker that I was, I immediately surmised I had a busted water pipe. I run to the water cutoff at the road and turn everything off. I come back to find the water still shooting out of the ground.

It turns out I had an impromptu artesian well. Several years later when talking with the timber cutters who were working on our place, they explained what was happening.

It seems we have underground caves in the back of our property. They said they could tell by the way their heavy equipment would make the ground shake. They said when the caves filled to a certain level with rain water, the pressure had to be released and it usually occurred downhill from the caves.

This only occurs with a long slow rain. A quick downpour, even though it may be several inches, runs off before it can fill up the underground caves.

We had a long and heavy rain of more than four inches this week, and sure enough our artesian well popped up. You should be able to make it out in the photo. It was not a six-inch gusher like before, but it perked for more than 24 hours.

I’ll be doing some driveway patching this spring.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The secret of the flame -- Part 2

You've got your fire going and everything is cozy, so how do you keep it going 24/7.

It's more than just adding a few logs every now and then. Here's my routine:

Every hour I open the stove door and stir the coals. When there are only coals left and no wood mass, I add two sticks of firewood and TWO STICKS OF KINDLING. The kindling is important. Without it there's a good chance your fire logs will not ignite. If I only add one log, I use one stick of kindling.

My kindling is about half scrap wood from various projects and half split from firewood. (See kindling bucket in photo.) It shouldn't be more than an inch wide.

If I'm trying to make the fire last through the night, I fill the firebox full with equal parts firewood and kindling, alternating them in a stack. Green hickory is the best for overnight fires, but walnut or oak will work if it still has some moisture content. If I fill the stove at 11 p.m., I will usually have enough coals at 5 a.m. to start a good fire. Six hours is about all you can hope for.

A reader asked about building a fire in a fireplace. My answer: Don't.

Seriously, it you want a roaring fire to look at for a few hours, a fireplace is fine, but keep in mind that it sucks more heat out of the house than it puts in. When the fireplace ashes are cool, close the flue damper and go get under a warm blanket.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The secret of the flame -- Part 1

Last week's snow (above photo), even though it's just a lingering memory now, has inspired me to delve into the Secret of the Flame, or, in other words, how to build and keep a good fire in a stove.

When I was in the newspaper business, a fellow publisher had a sign on his desk that said something to the effect that everybody thinks they can build a fire and run a newspaper better than you. We'll leave the newspaper question for the ages, but I'm going to hold forth a little on fire building.

Starting a fire seems so simple. Throw a few logs in the firebox and strike a match. Would that it were that uncomplicated.

It goes without saying that you have to start with dry firewood. It's best if the wood has cured for a year after being split. I'm rushing that a little this season, but I'm still managing to coax along some good fires.

One secret of the flame is to use firewood that is substantially shorter than your stove's firebox. For instance, if your firebox is 30 inches, a 16-inch log will burn better than a 20-inch log. I was told this by a family that made it's living harvesting trees, and I've found it to be absolutely true.

Here's the method I use for starting the fire:

Use a flat stick of firewood as the foundation for a fire. On top of that stick, make a lattice work of kindling about three rows high. Place a couple of fire-starter pellets inside the lattice work. On top of the lattice, place a second stick of wood.

Open up all the air vents and light the pellets. Close the door and grab a cup of coffee. If your wood is dry and the kindling is strategically placed, you'll have a roaring fire in 15 minutes.

I find that I have to clean the ashes from the stove about once a week if I keep a fire going 24/7. If not, the ashes will smother the bottom stick of wood before it can turn into coals.

TOMORROW: The secret of keeping a fire going all day and night.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More "fog frost" photos

Several readers said they liked the "fog frost" photo from Tuesday, so here are a couple more. Weather forecast predicting snow for Friday night and Saturday, so we have more frosty photos soon!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dec. 1 -- First Killing Frost

When I did my calculations for the fall garden on Aug. 19, I determined the first killing frost for my ZIP Code would be Nov. 12.

We have had some light frosts, but I'm calling this morning as the first killing frost.

One of the TV weather forecasters said the weather condition we had this morning was a "fog frost," meaning that the heavy moisture that was in the air caused the fog as well as the vertical frost patterns. The moisture descended which created the little Christmas-tree like frost patterns.

No matter what it's called, it's cold and the walnut logs burning in the stove feel good.