Monday, October 6, 2008

First Frost, Garden Wrap-Up, and a Woodstove Primer

The first frost of the fall season was the other night. I was coming home from my incredibly silly job, and there were quite a few cars parked out on the street with a lot of frost on them. It seems very counterintuitive, but on those clear, still nights in fall, the cold air just lays in the valleys and they get a harder frost down there than we do here. It was 29 when I passed the bank at 3:30 AM, but I think it was a hair warmer up at home, because I was able to get my plants moved in off the porch without them getting frost damage.

In my Three Sisters garden, most of the pumpkin leaves withered up and called it quits. I only have a few pumpkins down in there, though I was still picking ears of corn. We had some with Sunday lunch yesterday, and it was okay. I planted “Incredible” this year, and it turned out really nice. My grandmother planted some freebee corn seed I got for ordering early from a seed company. They sent peas and beans and corn and cukes and something else which I can’t remember. Oh, yeah, tomatoes! All the varieties were really good, small and tender. Unfortunately, they were just labeled “Early Experimental” so unless they come out and say what they were that was that for those.

Tomatoes have been over for a while. I still have some corn standing, and it seems that the goats have eaten my popcorn, so I won’t be trying that this fall. Three are still some peas and spinach in the garden, both of which have not bee affected by the frost. I need to dig potatoes and carrots, but I haven’t resolved my carrot storage issues from last year. That, and I dug a whole bunch of carrots for a snack a while ago, and one of the kinds I planted tasted just like dish soap. Awful! I need to find out what they were and make a black mark in my garden notebook about that one.

I don’t know what the problem is with the pumpkins. I have had no kind of luck with them. next year, I’m going to just have to load the hills with every kind of manure I can find. I’m also thinking about getting bees, and if I do, I’ll park those hives right by the pumpkin vines. The vines got lots of flowers, and on vine crops like that, you can see the little balls that will become fruit at the bases of the the female flowers. The baby pumpkins on my vines just got yellow and fell off, though. Just like they did last year and the year before that and the year before that and the year before that. I think this was a difficult year for pumpkins and for pollinators, though, since it was hot early and when the growing season actually started kicking in, it was cold and wet, then hot and wet, and then very dry and neither hot nor cold in August when things should be growing out really well. When the weather is wet, understandably, things don’t get pollinated like they should because bees and other pollinating critters are hunkered down in their hives and hidey holes.

My uncle has been bringing firewood a lot this fall. Ever since we moved here and started heating with wood, we’ve been kind of silly about it. We just kind of pop off into the winter all half cocked and end up running out and having to do things like go down to the swamp in three feet of snow and cut damp snags or make a run out to the sawmill and bring loads of slabwood home in the back end of the station wagon. i know a lot of people are thinking about heating with wood this year, because everything is going up, but it is something that needs more planning than a lot of people are used to. I mean, if you’re going to use gas or electric, you just turn it on and hope you can pay your bill. With wood, you need to actually go out and get it or find some one to bring it to you or you don’t have heat.

We have a plain firebox that can be used for coal or wood. You can get stoves that are either EPA rated for emissions or not. The rated stoves are more expensive, but according to my stove guy, the difference between them it the rated stoves are approved for a longer burn time, and the non-rated ones just have a few extra draught holes drilling in the door so they burn faster and don’t have to be EPA rated. Of course, we don’t care what the EPA says (just kidding) but we do want to be able to leave the stove for eight hours and still come back to a live fire. To get around the cost issue but still get a longer burn time, you can try to go through a dealer that also stocks repair parts and have them sell a non-EPA rated stove with a replacement door with no extra holes.

A lot of people are putting in pellet stoves, which is kind of a nice choice. They burn these little pieces of pelletized sawdust that you can have delivered by the ton or get a few hundred pounds at a time. The town where I used to live has a pellet manufacturing business, and they are absolutely thriving. With pellets, you don’t have to chop wood. They’re clean. They are also regulated so that you get a specific amount of heat from a specific amount of wood. When you are burning raw wood, you get vastly different amounts of heat from different kinds of wood. Also, most pellet stoves have an electric hopper that feeds a controlled amount of pellets into the stove which regulates the temperature and keeps the fire going when you’re not home. You can even get a little adaptor which allows you to run the electric hopper off a car or boat battery for several days in the case of power outage or national emergency when nefarious government forces cut the electric in midwinter to freeze the rebellious population into submission.

The drawback of pellet stoves it that they only burn pellets. A few winters ago, when the pellet stove craze really took off, there was a bad pellet shortage, and a lot of people were stuck with no way to get fuel. Similarly, there was a big craze that year for corn burning stoves, which has backed off a lot since corn has gone up so high. Another problem with corn burning stoves is their propensity to Explode! if the chaff isn’t cleaned off the corn and the dust builds up inside the stove. This isn’t just one of the things that “they say” can happen. My sister’s husband works with a guy whose corn burning stove blew up, luckily with no injuries.

There are also these outdoor stoves that look like little outhouses which you can hook up like a boiler. You can use them to pipe heat into multiple structures, but they are not cheap, they use a lot of wood, they take a lot of electricity to move the heat, and you still have to have a backup furnace installed in your house to get insurance. I have also read a couple different places (and this is a “they say”) that outdoor furnaces can burn up and still take your house with them, that some states won’t give you insurance if you have them, blah, blah, blah, but I think that might be kind of like conspiracy theory stuff. (ha.)

You can get really nice and fancy stoves. Really pretty ones that also have like built in cook tops and brass picture windows so you can see the pretty fire. You can also get stoves that look like a plain old heater but they open up and have a fire inside. You can get really high tech ones like the “woodchuck” that, if I read the literature right, will completely vaporize the wood at high temperatures and convert every bit of that wonderful stored solar energy into heat for your home. You can get blowers and thermostats and everything that you expect from a regular furnace but just have wood as your heat source. I don’t have any of that. I have a box with fire in it that sits in the basement. Warm air goes up stairs and up through a vent in the floor of one closet. It works for me. Of course, it has only frosted once or twice and daytime temps are still in the fifties and sixties, so I haven’t needed to run the stove, have i?

In our next episode, I’ll talk about what types of wood to use in a wood stove or fireplace. And it really does matter!

No comments: