Harvest Festival 2015

Harvest Festival is one of my favorite holidays of the year. What, you haven’t heard of Harvest Festival? Well, it happens each year sometime during September. The date isn’t precise because you just can’t hold Mother Nature to a specific time to make the majority of the fruits and vegetables ripe. That said, the harvest does happen every year and it’s a time to celebrate, even though it also means hard work. I’ve presented Harvest Festival in the past:

What made this Harvest Festival different is that I did the majority of the work on my own. There was lots to do, of course, and I plan to talk about some of the things I did in future posts. This year the Harvest Festival included getting some of my wood for the winter into the basement. My friend Braden helped me get the wood down there—it’s a big job even for two people. I now have five cords down there and two cords outside. Seven cords will take me through most winters, but I’ll cut another cord just in case things get extra cold. The wood you see in the picture is mostly slab wood, with about a cord of logs underneath.

John and Braden standing next to a huge pile of wood.
Getting the firewood stacked in the basement was a big job.

This year the apples ended up as chips for the most part. I also saved some for eating. The larder already has all applesauce, juice, pie filling, and odd assorted other apple products I could use. The remaining apples ended up with friends. I did make up pickled crab apples this year and did they ever turn out nice. I also made a crab apple vinaigrette salad dressing and canned it. The result is quite nice. For once, my pears let me down. The weather just wasn’t conducive to having a good pear crop. I did get enough pears for eating and a few for sharing as well.

Every year is good for something though and it was a banner squash year. The squash vines grew everywhere. At one point, the squash was chest high on me—I’ve never seen it grow like that.

 

A largish squash patch with chest high squash plants.
The squash grew like crazy this year!

The picture shows the squash about mid-summer. By the end of the summer they had grown into the garden (overwhelming the tomatoes) and into the grass. The squash also grew larger than normal. I ended up with a total of 700 pounds worth of squash (much of which has been preserved or distributed to friends). Here is some of the squash I harvested this year.

 

The squash patch produced three kinds of squash in abundance this year.
A cart full of squash.

The largish looking round green squash (one of which has a yellow patch on it) are a Japanese variety, the kabocha squash. So far, I’m finding that they’re a bit drier and sweeter than any of my other squash. I think I could make a really good pie with one and they’ll definitely work for cookies. Unlike most winter squash, you can eat the skin of a kabocha squash, making it a lot easier to prepare and it produces less waste. Given that I received these squash by accident, I plan to save some of the seeds for next year. The squash I was supposed to get was a buttercup squash. The two look similar, but are most definitely different (especially when it comes to the longer shelf life of the kabocha).

Canning season was busy this year. I’ve started filling in all the holes in the larder. For one thing, I was completely out of spaghetti sauce. Even though making homemade spaghetti sauce is time consuming, it’s definitely worth the effort because the result tastes so much better than what you get from the store. I also made a truly decadent toka plum and grape preserve and grape and pear juice. I’ve done hot water bath canning by myself before, but this was the first year I did pressure canning on my own. Let me just say that it all comes down to following the directions and not getting distracted. My two larder shelves are looking quite nice now (with Shelby on guard duty).

 

The larder contains two shelving units and a freezer.
A view of the larder from the front.

The right shelving unit contains mostly fruit products of various sorts and condiments. Yes, I even make my own ketchup and mustard. Of course, some of the squash also appear on the shelves, along with my cooking equipment and supplies. Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of room to spare.

 

Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.
Fruit products dominate the right shelving unit.

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats. In years past I’ve canned venison, pork, and chicken. This year I thought I might try canning some rabbit as well. Canning the meat means that it’s already cooked and ready to eat whenever I need it. The meat isn’t susceptible to power outages and it lasts a lot longer than meat stored in the freezer. Even though canning meat can be time consuming and potentially dangerous when done incorrectly, I’ve never had any problem doing so.

 

The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.
The left shelving unit contains mostly vegetables and meats.

Harvest Festival 2015 has been a huge success. The point is that I have a large variety of different foods to eat this winter, which will make it easier to maintain my weight and keep myself healthy. I had a great deal of fun getting everything ready. There was the usual music, special drinks, and reminiscing about times past. What makes your harvest preparations joyful? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Getting Wood for Winter

It’s that time of year again—time to get the wood ready for winter. Of course, cutting, splitting, and stacking wood warms you twice: once when you do it and again when you burn it. With our weather being so beautiful, I really did get quite warm over the last couple of weeks getting my wood ready. However, the piles are finally finished. I have a little over two cords of wood outside and four cords in the basement. I’ll eventually bring the outside stack up to three cords.

As I mentioned in The Many Appearances of Firewood, I use three different cuts of wood for my pile: slab, log, and disk. Each kind of wood has its own advantages. For example, it’s extremely easy to get slab wood started as long as it isn’t wet. In addition, I buy slab wood, rather than cut it, so the slab wood is less work because I only have to stack it. Logs, the traditional firewood, are easy to stack and burn at a moderate rate, which makes them a good option for maintaining a fire. Using disks has the advantage of a slow, long lasting burn of larger pieces without having to split them. I generally put a disk in the wood stove before I start it up in the morning to keep the fire burning at a nearly even temperature. Larger disks are hard to add later, but you can easily add smaller disks to a wood stove.

Of course, there is the question of what precisely a cord is. A full cord is always 4 feet deep, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long (128 cubic feet). I generally cut my logs 2 feet long, so my cords are usually some combination of dimensions that add up to 128 cubic feet. For example, my outside stack is 2 feet deep, 4.5 feet high (actually, a little higher), and 14 feet long. The stack in my basement is 2 feet deep, 8 feet high, and 8 feet long. Any set of dimensions that adds up to 128 cubit feet is one cord. Purists will insist on the standard measurement, but really, the wood doesn’t care how its organized.

Ask specific questions when you buy wood. Some sellers will try to tell you that they’re selling you a cord of wood when you’re really getting a face cord, which doesn’t have a precise size. Most face cords are one-third to one-half the size of a full cord. The pieces of wood are sometimes only 16 inches long to accommodate smaller wood stoves and fireplaces. You need to ask how much you’re getting when comparing prices between sellers. If a seller won’t tell you how much wood is in a load, it’s probably a good idea to go somewhere else.

Beware of the fluffy load. Someone will drive up with what looks like a full load of wood, but the wood is ill stacked with a lot of air gaps in it. A poorly stacked load won’t contain as much wood as you might think it will. Another trick that some wood cutters use is to include a lot of smaller pieces that tend to add air gaps and don’t burn very well. You can obtain your own kindling with relative easy, so look for sellers who provide larger pieces of wood in a well-stacked form so that you know the amount you’re actually getting.

When I cut wood, I know precisely what kind I’m getting. This year I’ll be burning a combination of American oak and white elm. There is a little maple and black locust mixed in, but the majority of the wood is oak and elm. The wood you get determines how much heat you get. After you find out what kind of wood you’re getting for your stove, make sure you consult a wood heating chart. A load of wood with great burning characteristics may actually be a better deal, even if it costs more, because you get more heat from it. As an example, let’s say that one seller offers you a cord of white oak at $120, while another seller offers you a cord of birch at $100. The white oak is a better deal because it only costs $4.124 per million BTU (120 / 29.1 million BTU), compared to $4.808 per million BTU for the birch (100 / 20.8 million BTU).  You also want to verify that the wood is actually dry (some people will try to sell you green wood, which won’t burn well).

Some people neglect to factor in the amount of smoke and ash that the wood creates. Of the two, the amount of smoke is the most important factor because you have to call a chimney sweep if your chimney gets clogged by wood that produces too much smoke. The ash is an annoyance, but you can always clean the ash out of the wood stove as needed. Even so, getting wood that produces less ash means less ash for you to clean up later. Let me know your thoughts about getting your winter wood supply together at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

 

The Many Appearances of Firewood

Most people are used to viewing firewood as simply cut up logs. The logs are then stacked in cords (128 cu. ft) and proudly displayed outside the home. They have the old homestead or wild west view of wood, with the healthy young male whacking away with an axe and turning perfectly good chunks into kindling. However, real firewood comes in a variety of forms, not just logs. In addition, the wood is often stored in a basement or other area inside the home for easy access and to keep it dry. We actually have firewood in three forms:

 

  • Logs: The old time view of wood cut across the natural growth of the tree. However, unlike the television view of logs, our logs are generally 24″ long and up to 10″ in diameter. No one really takes a huge log and splits it down into kindling (unless absolutely necessary)—they use the copious branches of the tree for that purpose.
  • Disks: A wood stove doesn’t care how the wood is oriented. If you put a piece of wood into the stove, it will eventually burn (assuming the wood is dry). In Splitting the Dreaded Elm I discuss how to avoid splitting elm by cutting the tree into disks that will fit into the wood stove sideways. This means we can burn a tree up to 24″ in diameter without splitting it. Most trees that someone looking for firewood encounters aren’t that size.
  • Slabs: This kind of firewood is actually the focus of this post. Slab wood is what remains when you turn nicer hardwood logs into boards for furniture or other uses. The slabs are bundled together and you cut them to length with a commercial table saw or a chainsaw.


Slab wood is the sort of firewood that you won’t find at your local store and you generally can’t get it delivered by someone who sells firewood. You actually need to know someone who has a sawmill and is willing to sell you the remnants as firewood. What you receive doesn’t really look much like firewood at all. It doesn’t look like a board either—it looks like wood scrap, which is what it is.

Firewood01

The advantages of slab wood are many:

 

  • It costs a lot less than a cord of logs (usually about half).
  • It’s guaranteed dry.
  • The presence of flat surfaces makes it easy to stack.
  • You know you’re getting quality hardwood that won’t clog your chimney.
  • It’s unlikely that the wood will contain any serious pests such as carpenter ants.


Slab wood also has some serious deficiencies:

 

  • It isn’t readily available from most sources.
  • You normally can’t buy just one cord.
  • There is the problem of cutting the slabs to length.
  • It’s absolutely essential that the wood not get wet because it soaks up water like a sponge.
  • You must mix slab wood with other kinds of wood because it tends to burn both hot and quickly.

Our wood pile currently contains all three kinds of wood we use. The pile in the basement of our home has mostly logs and slab wood. The outside pile contains logs and disks. Most of the outside wood currently contains pests, such as carpenter ants. After a good freeze, the ants will be gone and we’ll be able to bring the wood inside a little at a time to burn. In the meantime, we have a wonderful assortment of wood inside to use during the cool autumn months.

Firewood02

So, how do you like your wood (slabs, disks, or logs)? What kinds of wood do you prefer to burn? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.