Sunday, January 23, 2011

Biomass Energy

I had people over recently and they actually did remark, "Wow, it's so warm in here!" I replied, "That's because I have a Vermont Castings Defiant model parlor furnace." The stove has the date 1975 imprinted on an interior piece. Vermont Castings has since been bought by a foreign company (Scandinavian, I think). They still make a model called the Defiant, which looks superficially similar, but is completely different inside.

I don't know why they changed it -- this one works just fine. It is indeed defiant, of the cold. It heats my whole house, although tonight we will meet the biggest challenge yet, that serious arctic air and temperatures well below 0 Fahrenheit. I can't be here during the day tomorrow either, so I'll also see how well the house can hold on to heat while the fire is banked.

Most people out here burn wood because, well, why not, there's plenty of it. But wood heat is no answer to our bigger problems as a society. Where there are a lot of wood stoves in a concentrated area, the pollution is unacceptable. (They had big problems in Aspen, but they deserve it.) It obviously won't work for the vast majority of people, who live in cities. And it was the demand for fuel, not timber, that left New England deforested 100 years ago. For a sustainable yield, you need more than 10 acres per household, and that doesn't work for very many folks.

Also, it's a lot of work, which not everyone has the time or physical capacity to perform. Somebody has to be around much of the day.

It's a rewarding hobby for me, saves on what would otherwise be one or another form of fossil fuel and a gym membership, and let's me make use of dead fall and dying trees that would otherwise go to waste. But we need to find other ways to save the world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

&^%$#Winter Wonderland!

If you're a weather channel junkie, you already know that last Wednesday Connecticut experienced its deepest snowfall in recorded history. (At least that's what the guy on teevee said, I'm not sure I believe it.) I was right in the sweet spot, with more than 30 inches. I know that wouldn't impress folks in Montana or Buffalo, but that just means that anybody who lives in those places is nuts.

I thought I was being real clever by getting a snowplow for my tractor, but no. It turns out that my little tractor can't handle two and a half feet of ice crystals. After getting stuck 19 times, I broke down and called my neighbor who has a big old International Harvester truck. He got stuck. We managed to dig him out, then he got stuck again and we wound up calling a third neighbor and pulling him out with a bobcat. By this morning, my driveway was again barely passable because of blowing snow and another inch we got overnight, so I spent an hour on the tractor cleaning up. (Yeah, I have a long driveway, about 3/8ths of a mile.)

Until today, there were basically no tracks in the snow. When there's deep snow, I understand, the deer hang out in evergreen groves where most of it doesn't hit the ground. The rest of the creatures have gone to their dens, it seems. It's been absolutely silent. Not even any birds, as a matter of fact.

Maybe it's beautiful but -- I have to wade through snow above my knees to get into my barn or anywhere I might want to go that isn't on a road. That means there's a lot I just can't do. What I have done is spend half my time moving mountains of snow around.

I'll be better adapated by next winter. I'll have a woodshed (right now I have to excavate for firewood), I'll build a plowable turnaround at the top of the driveway, I'll have a more powerful snow removal option including maybe a snowthrower, I'll know enough to get a jump on deep snowfalls by plowing wide after there's a foot or snow on the ground, maybe I'll get cross country skis. But no matter what, this will be a pain in the ass.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The woods in winter

This photo doesn't really tell the tale because you have nothing to give you size and perspective. These are actually pretty big trees, but you wouldn't know it. Anyway this is a hemlock grove near my house, and you see a beech tree in the center and the trunk of a tall oak to its right. It helps a lot to view the photo full size. And yes, that's a mylar balloon snagged in the beech tree. Civilization will track you down wherever you go . . .

It snowed overnight. When I stepped out in the morning, this critter, and maybe some of its friends, had left tracks all over the place. Note that it drags its tail through the snow. Anybody have an idea what it is? The prints are maybe 2 1/2" or 3" long.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I felled two big oaks today. Both were about 30 inches in diameter, bigger than my saw bar, which you aren't really supposed to do but just between us . . . They went down right where I told them to, and mighty impressively too with considerable collateral damage. I didn't really want to do it, but I need to get the woods a little farther back from my house and they were problem number 1.

They were both just behind an old stone wall that runs along the edge of the area we cleared for the house. I had not noticed until today that the remnants of a barbed wire fence were nailed to one of them. I have already figured out that somebody used this land for pasture up until maybe 60 years ago, and that confirms it. You can tell the forest beyond the stone wall is older growth. I doubt it's original growth -- they say there's none really left in Connecticut -- but I don't know how you would tell. It's deep, dark oak forest with hemlock groves, dominated by monstrous trees, with mossy rocks and carcasses of a yet earlier generation of trees underfoot. I can often hear what sound like large creatures moving about in it that I cannot see.

By the way the woods you see in the banner are the younger growth. I'll take a picture of the old growth tomorrow maybe (there will be snow on the ground) so you can see the difference.