Friday, May 9, 2014

My Gym Wears No Sweat Pants

I am soooooo lucky!  Color me crazy, but I've got an annual activity here that not only saves me a ton of money but also keeps me in shape!  This activity works out my legs, back, shoulders, arms, knuckles and spleen.   Every year since we've been here I have engaged in this activity.  It is not quite as physically exerting as Manzanita wrangling is, but it's up there on the list.  Pretty darn close.  Not only does this activity help me avoid exorbitant gym fees and the opportunity to wear sweat pants in public, but it also essentially heats our house for the entire winter.  What on earth could this fun and fantastic activity be?  Why, emulating Paul Bunyan of course!  You know, getting my lumberjack on.

Now don't get me wrong, we're not totally off the grid back woods country here.  There is propane forced air heat and that usually kicks on around 5:00 AM.  It's also set to kick off at 8:00 AM.  Kick back on at 5:00 PM.  (If the heat kicks back on at 5:00 PM, I have definitely NOT been doing my job and I am kicking myself in the ass!)  Long before 8:00 AM I usually have a fire going in our Vermont Castings wood stove, which is located in the living room.  With a ceiling fan in there helping to circulate the heat, the entire "hub" of the downstairs stays quite comfortable and toasty.  And since heat naturally rises, the upstairs bedrooms benefit as well. 

I have done a previous treatise on wood cutting (and Paul Bunyan), you can read all about those exploits here: Where's Paul Bunyan and that Damned Blue Ox?  For those of you who would believe heating your house with wood is archaic and contributes abhorrently to air pollution, understand wood is a renewable energy and ideally should not contribute to green house gas at all if it is perfectly combusted.  Most wood stoves these days are real good at combustion, ours has an after burner catalytic converter for crying out loud.  To take care of that pesky smoke and those inarticulate particles.  And increase mileage.

Fortunately, we have zero capital outlay as far as the wood is concerned.  Well, there are some tools required as well as tool maintenance.  Some gas, bar oil.  Chain sharpening (at the saw shop).  Total hard cost per annum about a hundred bucks.  Annual gym costs here are about $480.  So far I'm up $380!

Our propane use the last two years, meticulously chronicled by yours truly, has been 320 gallons in 2012 and 330 gallons in 2013.  Looks like our usage is fairly consistent.  Annual cost for 2012 was $1,150.88 with an average price of $3.28 per gallon, $656.05 in 2013 with an average price of $1.81 per gallon.  Looks like the price has not been fairly consistent.  Talk about a price difference.  Who's zooming who?

We also use propane for our range, clothes dryer and "on-demand" water heater.  That's it.  We do line dry the laundry when it's not raining though.  Listen to a little "All Day Music" when doing that.  That's the closest to perfect clothes hanging song I've come across yet.  Yeah, yeah.

Obviously heat would be the biggest consumer of the propane use, but I do my best at keeping that at a minimum with my wood workouts.  With our average propane cost of $55.00 per month and average electric bill of $87 (the last 3 years) we're doing our best at keeping our power footprint as small as possible.  Without wood intervention, our propane use would be incredibly higher.  As would the cost.  Estimated annual savings with wood workouts between $2,000-$2,500.

Our electric bill peaks July/August/September now that we've installed a couple actual air conditioning units.
Prior to last summer, the only cooling system here was an older swamp cooler that was installed in the kitchen dinette.  That and a couple native swamp people in loin cloths with fans running around on really HOT days.  Or were those freaking hallucinations again?

The swamp cooler worked OK in the morning hours when it was in the sun, but in the afternoon it was in the shade and would start blowing warmer air.  When we needed cooling the most it was hardly working at all.  Then, come to find out, swamp, or evaporative coolers work best when situated in the full sun and the water is evaporating at a rapid rate.  Their cooling effect is MUCH stronger.  Kinda like your home made ice cream maker.  You add salt to the ice to melt it so it gets colder faster.  What can I say, it's science. I didn't make it all up.

So last summer my lovely wife and I purchased 3 window air conditioning units.  The largest one replaced the swamp cooler and I have to say, it is utterly fantabulous to have ice cold air blowing in at 4:00 in the afternoon.  We have put another smaller unit in a master bedroom window, and there is another small window unit behind me, here, where I sit in the office.  If you want to call it that.  One day I must write a treatise on where I write.  With all the odds and ends and pictures and knick knacks and stuff, crap collected over the mystery of my life, I am certain there will be a worthwhile tale or two in there.  Somewhere.

We also have a portable A/C unit, which was in the master bedroom the first couple years.  The portable unit works great, but it does take up a little bit of room.  And when that little bit of room is on your lovely wife's side of the bed, you gotta figure something else out.  Quick.  Now the portable unit sits out in the sun room and makes for some nice cooling when we get a house full in the summer time.

But it's not summer yet, it's spring, which is, generally speaking, the optimum time to get your firewood down for the upcoming winter.  Damn, maybe that's why time keeps hurtling along so fast.  I'm already manhandling next winter's heat.

I have learned over the last couple years that it's best to get the trees DOWN before they start leafing out in the spring.   That way you end up with a lot less flammable "slash" once you've brushed up the limbs.  Less work too.  I'm all about less work.

So a few weeks back I noticed some green starting to sprout on all the oaks around here.  That's my sure fire signal that I'm running behind and I need to get my wood down for the upcoming year.  Fortunately, since I'm usually in the middle of eighteen other things, dropping the trees is the quick and easy part.  Once down, they won't leaf out and they can just set for a while.  The wood needs to "season" anyway.

When the realization hit me that I needed to get the wood down, I got out and warmed up my trusty little Echo chain saw.  And then I went to town.   I felt like Freddie Krueger at a summer camp chain saw musical madcap massacre in Ohio.  Singing Oklahoma.  Or was that Kansas?  Looking for Toto.  On a Crazy Train.  Am I hallucinating again?

It only took about 45 minutes, but during that whirlwind I downed almost as many trees as Mt. Saint Helen's did when she blew back when.  Apologies for the out of focus pictures below.  Several shots were taken before I realized the camera was set on "Micro".  Unfortunately, the downed mass of a mess was already half cleaned up before this realization.

Hopefully you get the idea.  All the trees cut were under the main canopy, and their demise will only help the remaining trees to flourish.  I probably have another year's worth of wood in this section of land, maybe two.  Thin them out so the remaining ones flourish.  It's prudent stewardship.  I dropped about 20 trees ranging in height from 20 to 50 feet, and from 8 to 12 inches in diameter.  Each one came down without a hitch, which is always a good thing.  Tugging on a "bit" tree with a rope and chain is really taking the workout to a new extreme.  Fortunately, I have only had to do that twice now.  And fortunately the trees weren't too big.

Since I am an ex-firefighter and prone to being somewhat anally organized, I thought I would brush up the trees and try to get a last burn in with the last rain of the season last month.  (Even if it is a "legal" burn day here in the county, I won't burn unless it's around a rain storm, right before or after.)  Instead of letting the trees lay, I went out to my gym and played.

First I gathered up my trusty loppers and jumped right in to the thick.  There's a little shoulder and forearm action.  I'll generally take off what I can easily cut with the loppers, usually up to an inch or so. That's the throw away slash.  The rest is fuel.  I'll take a tree that looks like this:

And make it look like this:
I keep more of the tree for fuel than most.  Most folks only keep wood that's 4 inches or more in diameter.  I keep stuff at 1 plus inch.  It's perfect kindling.  I could either spend time chopping kindling, or lopping it.  I choose lopping.  I end up burning more of the downed fuel efficiently that way.  Less work too.

Then I take my trusty little Echo chain saw and cut the tree into manageable lengths.  More shoulder and forearm work.  I won't cut it to firewood length until it's down near the stack, unless, of course, the cut is down near the trunk.  Then I have to cut to burn length, otherwise it'd be too heavy for me to move.  As the diameter of the tree decreases, I can increase the length of the pieces.  If I cut it all to burn length in the field I'd be moving a lot more PIECES of wood.  The weight's the same, but there's less pieces to move.  Less work.  And I'm all about less work, especially when I'm doing a lot of it.   

I pile up the burnable slash around a shoe box size little pile of dry sticks.  Then I cover the dry pile of sticks with plastic and wait for rain.  Do a little dance.  As long as I have that little shoebox, I can get recently rained on slash cooking into a towering inferno.

It rained a couple weeks back.  It all now looks like this:

The wood is now stacked and bucked into easily transferable pieces.  All that stacking and bucking works the legs and back real good.  Spleen too.  Somehow.  Over the next few months I will slowly get it all down to the wood cutting staging area.  That's the dirt turn out across the drive at the top of the picture below.  


Firewood is a constant couple hour a week chore.  Cutting it or carrying it.  Now that it's cut, I will spend a couple hours each week slowly bringing the wood down to the staging area.  Once it's all down there I will then start to buck it into 18-21" lengths.  From there it is only 20 feet to the wood stacking area.  From there it is only 30 feet to the covered front porch.  From there it is only 10 feet through the foyer to the wood stove.  It's the most dang efficient route this ridiculously anally obtrusive individual could think of.

Keep in mind, if you'd rather avoid gym fees for a week, you can come on up and get your lumberjack on working with firewood here.  Anytime.  Just call.  I won't even charge you a cent. 

Fowl Update

Our little chicks are rapidly turning into gangly adolescents.  They have out grown their makeshift cardboard brooder and are now in the Companion Cage.

I have recently solidified the cage door, adding hinges and a latch.  Now it will take more than a hard tug to get open.  The last time the Companion cage was used was not quite successful.  You can read all about that at The Companion Cage/Massacre at Keet Creek...

Our new girls will reside in the companion cage for 3-4 weeks.  They now have plenty of safe room to roam, and they are right next to the main flock cage.  This way they all get acquainted without ruffling anybody's feathers.  When released, flock integration should be seamless.  The Guinea Hens integrated fine, it was the actions of the inexperienced owner that sent them to their demise.

The garbage can provides shelter just in case we get a little spring rain.  And we always get spring rain. We've had some rain the last couple days with night time temperatures dipping into the low forties.  The chicks have weathered that change just fine.  Next week it's supposed to get into the eighties.  Here comes summer.

A very Happy Mother's Day to all you wonderful Mama's out there.