This winter people have asked if we’ll have enough firewood to keep warm here in the barn. Mostly we are able to keep the barn in the low 60s, which feels quite warm compared to the first couple of years when we sometimes could only get to the mid 50s. The main woodshed is will be empty by the end of February but there is a pile of extra wood in the new barn which should see us through the really cold weather, and then we can start burning wood we normally use in the summer for domestic hot water. Ten years ago when we had our timber sale our consulting forester told us the volume of firewood we use was not being replaced by regrowth in our woodlots. As I recall his standard calculation was that an acre of mature woods produces 1/4 of a cord of firewood per year, but we realized that our situation is very different. Commercial firewood production only uses wood 6 inches and larger in diameter, while we burn everything down to 2 inches. The forester also did not count the hedgerows and other areas where we cut firewood that are not considered to be forest land for his purposes.
We also get some of our firewood from slabs from logs I cut at our sawmill, but when a log is sold all of that is lost to the landowner, and becomes a by-product that is sold by the commercial sawmill. Having our own sawmill lets us use each tree more efficiently for lumber and firewood. The other benefits of having the mill include selling lumber to provide a substantial part of the farm’s income, offering wood for sale locally to people who have small businesses or are working on their own houses, and bringing people to the farm who become interested in other things we’re doing.
Since the writing of the last newsletter I finished putting the log arch together, and then had to make a heavier boom to lift the logs since the first boom was made from an old piece of pipe that wasn’t strong enough. The new boom is made from the frame rails of an old tractor and is much stronger than could ever be needed. I used the arch enough to know that it worked well and could lift the logs right off the ground, as I had hoped. Since the new year because the snow has been too deep to allow the tractor through, but in the spring it will go back to work. I sold the crawler I had been working on for the past few years which I had intended to use for log skidding. It was not as useful in the snow as I had hoped and needed continual work to keep it going. I think the arch will be much more useful and easier to maintain.
We inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spawn in each of the past two springs, but won’t start more this year since we still have logs started last year left to sell. We’ve been having much more reliable harvests from our logs in the past couple of years after changing the variety we grow and going to an outside storage system that keeps the logs from drying out. We sold a lot of logs in late 2016 and early 2017, but fewer more recently. When we can find a market for them the shiitake logs are quite a good way to raise money, but like everything else the level of demand is impossible to predict.
This winter I have been able to spend more time in the workshop, where it is nice and warm. Since we are no longer producing wooden toys for refugees as we used to in the winter I have begun to make sumac tree slice coasters and twig style nightstands with the intention of selling them online to support the farm. I used to make these things in my evenings and other free time and sell them on my own behalf, but since my musical instrument business has expanded to fill my free time I had let the other things lapse. Our newest board member, Sarah, has come to learn more woodworking skills. She is a very quick learner and has helped with replacing a window and making a bookshelf and a banister among other things, and has gotten some practice with different tools. I enjoy working with someone who is able and interested in learning to do things.
In December I cleaned out rusted metal fragments along the cutting edge of our snowblower and welded in a new piece of sheet metal, and in January I had to replace the auger chain and idler sprocket. It’s an old machine but it still gets the work done and lets me keep the sawmill open through the winter. Sales at the sawmill have been good overall this winter, and I have done more custom sawing of other people’s logs. In December one of the main shaft bearings failed and I had to replace the pillow block too, so I wasn’t able to run the mill for 10 days or so. The bearing had held up for 10 years of use, so I guess it was not surprising that it finally gave up.
In January we had a very strong thaw with temperatures up to the 50s and then an overnight drop into the low teens. Part of the sawmill driveway flooded over a foot deep and backed water up into the wing where the big tractor is parked. The morning after the cold arrived I found that the snowblower sitting in about 6 inches of water and the tractor in about 4 inches. Luckily it hadn’t frozen solid yet so I moved the tractor to higher ground so it wouldn’t get frozen in with the snowblower. I will have to try to think of a way to improve drainage in that area.
Late in January when we had a good crust on the snow I went up on the hill and burned the pile of rotten boards with nails in them that has been growing again over the past couple of years. I am very glad to finally have it gone completely, and in the spring I will go over the ground again with a magnet to pick up any last nails I may have missed.
In February on a warm day I brought down an old trailer frame from the hilltop and made some minor welding repairs to it and fitted a wooden platform to hold the 275 gallon tank that we use to hold water for the pig in the summer. I had gotten the trailer for $25 at an auction in the fall, but hadn’t taken the time to work on it then. I won’t need it till May or so, but it’s nice to get things done ahead of time when I can.