At the start of fall, I start looking for signs of how harsh the winter is going to be.
As far as weather predictions go, you start locally. The blackbirds tend to flock up a couple weeks before getting serious about heading south. This year, they started flocking in late August, something I had not seen before. The geese were grouping early too. Next up, I started looking around for a woolly bear caterpillar.
Laugh if you must, but I’ll take my woolly bear over your chicken entrails, anytime. I mean, who wants to eat all that chicken just to figure how cold the winter is going to be. The one woolly I spotted this year was all black. According those that know, the more brown segments, the lighter the winter. Hmm.
The long range forecasters were saying a mild El Niño was forming in the pacific ocean. El Niño for us usually means more cold and snow. So far, everything I was seeing was pointing to colder and snowier than I wanted. Looks like I better get busy.
I pulled the tomato shade out of the garden. I had built it to keep the tomatoes out of direct sun. The tomatoes liked it, but so did the grasshoppers and they ate the tomatoes faster than we did.
The structure was made of light wooden ribs fastened to a 2 x 4 frame. I stretched plastic over it, and now it was a greenhouse for my split wood. I’ve done this before and it worked great. You can put fairly green wood in there, after it has been split, and in 3 weeks, it’s dry enough to burn well. On a sunny day, the greenhouse gets over 120 degrees. To keep the wood from damaging the plastic, I put chicken wire around the sides.
Normally it takes around 2 decent sized trees a month to keep us warm. More if it is really cold. That makes a half a tree for November, 2 trees for December, 2 for January, 2 for the first 3 weeks of February and another tree for the last week, cause the last week of the short month can suck. And 1 tree for March. That makes 8 and a half trees for the winter. Fine, I can get that much in the greenhouse.
By now you’ve figured out we heat with wood. Henry Ford said “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” Dude, you missed it by a factor of 3.
1. You cut down and piece up the tree, and sweat. 2. You load the wood on to your truck bed and bring it to the splitter, and sweat. 3. You split the wood and get at least warm, it’s a hydraulic splitter. 4. You load the wood into the green house. If its sunny, you’re smelly.
5. You load it onto a wheelbarrow and bring it to the house. Warm again. Finally 6. You feed the fire. Our stove puts out a lot of heat. Warm to smoking. Bonus! Getting the glowing red hot ash out of the stove while it’s going full tilt. My welding gloves always smoke.
So this year, all the predictions were off. My woolly bear lied to me. Its been nice, so nice, I’ve been slacking. The greenhouse had maybe a half of a tree in it and I figured, we got it made. Just slide right into Spring and leave Kansas with smiles on our faces.
Houston, we have a gnat in our brandy.
The end of February can be trouble. Not always, but this year it decided to play dirty pool. The north wind came up. Not really news in Kansas, but this north wind decided my greenhouse looked too pretty. All the flexible ribs on the north side snapped.
I figured it to blow away; it just lost coherence on the north side. Having things flattened on one side makes it hard to get into, so I took some sticks and propped the chicken wire and pushed the side out. The UPS man came the other day. As he walked over to hand me the package, he looked at my lumpy greenhouse and asked what that was. I told him it was a greenhouse. He wanted to know what I was growing. I told him, wood. He looked at me strangely, and didn’t ask any more questions. I hope he keeps delivering our packages.
I always keep an ace up my sleeve, when it comes to heating. Well, heating and most everything else, but heating, especially. If you’ve lived in Minnesota during the winter, you’d understand. My ace is hedge apple trees.
It grows like a weed, spreads everywhere and burns like rocket fuel. We have a third of a mile of fence line that is covered in hedge apple trees of all shapes and sizes. Did I mention it has spines. Yah, big nasty ones. They burn good too. The fence line has all these trees and I’d say a quarter of the small ones died from a lack of sunlight. Dead and cured on the vine, as it were. Dry enough to make my wood stove glow bright red. Ask me why you don’t want to do that in the house.
Anyway, I went into emergency heating mode this week, when the cold set it. My normal wood was not going to cut the mustard, so to speak. It takes me about 15 minutes to cut down a couple of these dead small trees, piece them up and get them in the house for a night of burning. Ok, 30 minutes, but I am cutting out all the middle men and passing the savings in work right on to me. Sweet.
The winter storm is starting to wind up, I got a wood box full of dry hedge apple and I can relax for a bit, in warmth. Except the Mrs. just informed me the washer is not draining. I guess there was a reason for all that time savings.