Thursday, February 18, 2010

Building projects

Remember the great no-electric-heat challenge? Kim and I set out to heat our home this winter with only the wood stove on the lower level. We're almost there, and have stuck to our goal except for about a month when we were either installing the flooring underneath the stove or had to leave a heated house for our cats when we were out of town. Go team!

But when we're not patting ourselves on the back, we are gaining a real appreciation for how much wood can be burned by even a very efficient wood stove operating between 10 and 18 hours each day. We started the fall with a woodshed that was chock-a-block full, partly with some of the wood from the trees we had taken down last spring, that we split and stacked, and partly with wood we inherited when we bought the property. But by a few weeks ago we had burned our way to the back stacks, only to find that the wood was punky and practically useless for burning - if an armload of wood feels about as heavy as an armload of towels, you have a problem.

So we cleaned out the shed, loaded the bad wood into the truck, and hauled it all to the dump where it could be recycled with other wood products. We couldn't figure what else to do with it: we couldn't just dump it in the unused back part of our property, given the extreme fire hazard declared every summer. And recycling seemed better than just burning it in a big bonfire. Any ideas, anyone?

Once the woodshed was empty, Kim's instincts for creating systems that work took over, and it was time to remodel. The timber-frame style shed was very sound, but the open sides made it difficult to keep wood stacked, so out came the chop saw, the wire cutters and the drill. Now the shed has sturdy wire-fencing walls that make it easy to stack wood but still provide lots of ventilation to allow the wood to dry properly. The dirt floor got a new covering of scrap pieces of the siding from the workshop, and Kim created a new rack to hang tools from. Then it was time to start schlepping in all the wood we stacked in cribs all over the property last fall when we ran out of room in the woodshed.

Yesterday we had to call a temporary halt to the great wood migration while our neighbour borrowed the truck, so we turned our attention to the vegetable garden. When we got the property last year there were 14 raised beds, most of them measuring 4 by 12, and all of them constructed with untreated spruce. Raised beds are great for lots of reasons, including the speedier warming of the soil in the spring and the greater ease of tending what's growing in them because you don't have to bend down so far. But they create maintenance issues, because all that wood in contact with all that wet soil means wood rot. Some people use pressure-treated wood because it lasts longer, but that means chemicals leaching into the soil and eventually making their way into your vegetables. Untreated spruce was probably an inexpensive option, but spruce isn't really known for its longevity. So we invested in a whole bunch of cedar last spring - nice thick, beefy boards that should last a good long while. Last year, when time was at a premium, we only managed to build one new bed and reconstruct the most rotted of the existing beds, so this year our aim is to rebuild four more. One down, three to go.


Paula said...

Hi Miriam- I just finished tearing off half our deck, which besides be twice as big as it needed to be, was also constructed using a plastic decking material called 'Eon', which is no longer sold for decking. After researching it, I found out that it's not even a composite; it's 100% plastic. So those decking pieces will be repurposed into a planter box (or two, if I can swing it), and I'll probably never have to worry about it again.

I built a planter box of cedar last autumn and it's holding its own, so far. But the planter box that came with the house, which I am moving and turning into two planter boxes, is showing signs of either rot or insect damage. I'm kind of loathe to rebuild with it, but my cheap husband doesn't want to buy new lumber to replace the bad pieces. I said, you're right, no sense spending the money now, and when they need to be replaced, we'll just hire someone to build them for us. He thinks I was kidding.

I'm getting to the age where I know I have only so many projects left in me, and I still need to build a greenhouse. Your planter box there looks mighty like mine, only my stakes are sitting up out of the ground a little higher (we have impossibly dense clay, which is another good reason for planter boxes). Do you have problems with slugs like we do down here in Oregon? I finished the cedar box to edges with copper flashing from roofing section at Home Depot. Not cheap, but I'm not messing around with any further tricks. The copper works.

Anonymous said...

Hello - a really good use for punky wood is to rent a (huge) chipper/shredder and grind them up to mulch, it breaks down fairly quickly compared to wood chips because it's already partially decomposed. Carbon is an asset on any farm.

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