This Month On The Homestead: Splittin’ Wood, Orderin’ Fuel, Eatin’ Greens
If you’re just tuning in, this is a recurring series in which I document each month of our lives out here on our 66-acre Vermont homestead. After leaving urban Cambridge, MA in May 2016 to chart this wholly different life, we’re experiencing a constant learning curve of exploration (and plenty of stupid novice moments). Check out last month’s installment here and enjoy the best and worst (ok, mostly the worst) moments of our first year on the homestead here.
September ushered in the first wisps of fall. Most days were warm and balmy, heated by the memories of summer, but every now and then, a crisp wind blew through serving as a reminder and a portend of the season we’re sliding into.
Leaves began to turn, changing from effervescent, monochromatic green to the more exciting hues of autumn: vermillion, saffron, amber, and gold. Or, you know, red, orange, and yellow. This month served to bump up our winter preparations to do list. We remember how snow came in mid-October last year and we know these sunny, warm days are fleeting. They’re ephemeral glimpses of the past, not predictions of the future.
Gardens (Not Yet Grey!)
Our vegetable garden continued its prolific production with fountains of kale, chard, green beans, hot peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. We feasted (and continue to feast) on kale, chard, and green bean stir fry every single night. I estimate we’ve been eating this concoction for dinner every night since mid-July. We love the ability to eat hyper-locally and super-seasonally and it’s rewarding to harvest our own food from our own yard. Not to mention thrifty! Plus, Mr. Frugalwoods is so inventive in the kitchen that we’ve had a variety of flavor combos in this stir fry–everything from spicy Asian-inspired to spicy Indian-inspired (can you tell we like spice?!).
Labors in the garden itself–aside from harvesting–have tapered off and the plants are largely on autopilot at this point. The veggies themselves are large enough that they’re outpacing the weeds, so we’re no longer weeding. And their roots are deep enough to survive on rain water alone. Hence, our minimal watering regimen has also come to an end. September’s warmth allowed our garden to continue growing on into early October and so we’ll have to see just how many more weeks of veggies we can reap.
Babywoods 1 and I finished off the blackberry picking season this month with several gallons of berries stored safely in the freezer (and away from toddler mouths… ) for wintertime consumption.
If you’re hankering for a full rundown of every single piece of food produced on our land this year, check out last month’s This Month On The Homestead: Vegetables, Fruits, And Nuts!
Caught On Camera
Longtime readers may recall my exuberant/fanatical joy last year at documenting each and every wild animal (pronounced “wall ahmoh” by Babywoods 1) that happened to stroll past our wildlife camera. This year I haven’t had any thrilling critter shots to
spam you with share with you until this month! See photo at right!
This adorable (and rather large) black bear sauntered past our handy camera this month and wins the award for cuddliest creature in recent photo memory (to be fair, just about everything else walking past has been a wild turkey, which, being honest here, is not the cuddliest-looking of animals).
Preparing For Winter Warmth
I promised in this month’s Expenditures post that I’d share all the dirty details on our heat sources for the winter and I am true to my word. I will deliver! I’m sure you’re relieved.
Our primary heat source for our home is our amazingly energy-efficient wood stove. It’s a modern catalytic soapstone stove, which means it has nearly no emissions, is environmentally-friendly, and is able to heat our entire home. It actually burns the smoke it creates, which means that–when it’s burning correctly–nothing even comes out of our chimney! As inveterate nerds, we’ve gone outside to check this many, many times. Incredible. If you’d like to know EVEN MORE about our specific model of stove (which is made locally by craftspeople in New Hampshire), check out my detailed overview in This Month On The Homestead: From Leaves to Snow.
The wood stove, true to its name, burns wood and so Mr. Frugalwoods, our chainsaw-wielder-in-chief, harvests wood from our land in a multi-part process. He first identifies a tree in the forest that’s ripe for cutting, then fells the tree, bucks the log (which means cutting the log into sections), takes the bucked rounds to his wood splitting station, splits the logs, and then stacks the wood to dry or “season.”
Removing trees from our heavily forested land is an important element of managing a healthy forest as it allows new growth and supports the life cycle of the forest. This is a woefully cursory, not-at-all-thorough description of felling trees, and if you’re interested in a more in-depth treatment of the topic, check this out: This Month On The Homestead: Flowers, Wood, and Gender Roles. The fact that we’re able to harvest wood from our land to heat our home all winter long makes our stove doubly efficient and frugal. We also have a chimney sweep come out to inspect and clean the stove annually to ensure tip top performance.
Going into our second winter on the homestead, we have the fabulous benefit of knowing roughly how much wood we need to see us through the winter. We flew blind last year but, thanks to Mr. FW’s obsessive researching of our stove and the square footage of our home, he guessed our need correctly. Last winter we burned 3.5 cords of wood to heat our entire house for the entire winter. Now that’s an efficient wood stove! For those of you new to the “cord” nomenclature, permit me to expand. I too was recently new to cords, so I’ll share what I’ve learned.
A “cord” is the unit of measure for firewood and it’s a precise measurement, not: “well I reckon that there looks like a cord of wood, hot dawg!” A cord is a stack of split wood measuring 8 feet long by 4 feet high by 4 feet wide. And if your wood stack doesn’t happen to conform to those precise measurements (such as ours), fear not, for there exists this online wood cord calculator. Who knew such a thing even existed?! Amazing discoveries daily around here. And you thought calculators were just for compound interest.
The other thing you should know about wood is that it likes to sunbathe before it’s burned. While no one will come arrest you if you burn wood that’s just been chopped (called “green” wood), it’s not the greatest of ideas for several reasons: 1) it doesn’t have as high a BTU level as dry wood and so it won’t burn as efficiently (you’ll have to use more wood to achieve the same level of heat); 2) it doesn’t burn as cleanly as dried wood, which will muck up your chimney by causing excessive build-ups of creosote, which can cause chimney fires. Le eek! So, ya know, not the greatest of ideas.
In an ideal, perfect, dream world, one’s wood would air dry out in the yard or a ventilated wood shed for nigh on two years before being burned. However, as you might’ve guessed, it’s nigh on impossible to do this when you’ve only lived in a place for a year. And so, we are engaged in a longterm, ongoing, ever-present game of wood catch-up. Thanks to Mr. FW’s industrious wood splitting last summer, we had a full cord of wood leftover that is now quite nicely dried indeed. That’ll be the first cord we burn this winter. After that cord’s finished, we’ll move onto the next-oldest block of wood.
We currently have approximately five cords of split wood, and Mr. FW is still out there splitting like mad. Our stretch goal is to have two years’ worth of wood felled, bucked, split, and stacked before the first snowfall. That’d be two more cords than we have at present moment, for a total of seven cords. If this feat can be accomplished, we will’ve leveled up in the wood catch-up game and all subsequent summers of wood splitting will be for the subsequent year, which will give us the oh-so-desirable status of burning year-long dried wood. I’ll cross-stitch* us a plaque to commemorate the moment. In order to inch us ever-closer to this goal, we made the decision to purchase a…
*Crafts?! Are you kidding me? I’ll draw one on the back of a recycled envelope.
True to its name, a wood splitter is a machine that splits wood. I totally tried to come up with a more complex description but, I gotta be honest, that’s pretty much the sum total of what it does. Yep. Mr. FW and I–in classic frugal fashion–deliberated over this purchase for more than a year. He spent all of last summer, and most of this summer, splitting wood by hand with a maul before deciding that a wood splitter would be worthy addition to our homestead tool repertoire.
We also spent all year scanning Craigslist and garage sales for a used wood splitter, which much like our other recent homestead tool searches (not to mention our search for a dehydrator and a cider press), yielded exactly zero results. The closest we got was this one time when a yard sale in the next town over advertised a wood splitter for sale and, as Mr. FW pulled up, he saw another guy carting it off with what can only be described as a look of glee on his face. So close!! And yet. Hence, as shared in my recent Expenditures post, we had to buy the dang thing new.
Our philosophy for all expensive purchases such as this splitter, which cost us precisely $999, is to follow the steps I just outlined:
- See if something we already own or a substitute will suffice. In this case, Mr. FW split wood by hand for over a year.
- Search for the item on the used market.
- Wait at least a year to see if we really do need it. Often, the desire or the pressing need will simply fade away. I can’t tell you how many things we’ve thought we desperately needed only to wait awhile and realize we’re totally fine without them. The wood splitter, however, was something that came up as a need over and over and over again.
Contrary to popular belief, the wood splitter’s primary efficiency isn’t in saving Mr. FW manual labor. He reports that lifting heavy rounds of wood onto the splitter is about as taxing as splitting them with the maul. But what it does do–it’s key, primary, and best use–is that it splits wood that’s difficult to split. Folks, some wood is simply more difficult to split than other wood. That is a solid wood-related fact. While Mr. FW can split easier-to-split wood (such as Ash) by hand pretty quickly, the tougher woods of the world (such as sugar Maple and Beech) were taking him forever to split, which became an inefficient use of his time. The splitter saves time.
This was also becoming problematic in terms of forestry management because he was selecting easy-to-split trees to fell, which aren’t always the trees that need to come down. Trees that are dead, dying, diseased, shading out more desirable trees, or that present a danger of falling are the trees that he fells for firewood. The issue is that these trees were not always conveniently easy-to-split wood. It’s also true that different woods have different BTU levels, which indicate how hot a wood burns. The higher the BTU, the less wood you need to use. Hence, with the splitter now in hand (or on ground, as it were), Mr. FW can harvest the trees that pose a threat and need to come down with no regard for their split-ability. The splitter splits them all!
For the wood aficionados out there, we purchased a Champion 27 Ton wood splitter from Home Depot as they had the best price of all the stores in our area. This splitter also came with hydraulic oil as well as log catchers, which weren’t included in this version of splitter sold at other stores (such as Tractor Supply).
exhaustive/ridiculously boring enlightening conversation about how we heat our home with wood, I’m now going to blow your minds: we also have baseboard oil heat! “WHAT, MRS. FRUGALWOODS?! You profligate home-heater, you!” This being what I imagine you saying right now. Alas, it’s true, we have back-up oil heat.
When we go out of town, or if we’re unable to feed the stove for some reason (for example if we’re having our second child…. ), we need an alternative heat source so that our pipes don’t freeze (not to mention our toes!). Having an oil boiler and a full tank of oil in our basement is our belt-and-suspenders approach to winter preparedness.
Although we heat with wood 99% of the time, it is an absolute must to have this back-up system in case of an emergency or planned absence from the homestead. Having dealt with a frozen and burst pipe in our city home-turned-rental property, I can offer the first-hand wisdom that it stinks. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about letting a pipe get so much as a frosty chill in its pipe-y bones. Heat those pipes! Who cares about our personal warmth, I am talking about pipes, people!
That being said, we got our oil tanks topped off with oil in September so that we’re ready to roll this winter. We didn’t use very much oil last year, but we like to be over-prepared for things like the cold. In addition to our oil delivery, I had our propane tanks filled as we use propane to heat our hot water and power our gas stove.
The primary reason I had oil and propane delivered this month–as opposed to earlier in the summer or later in the fall–is our driveway. Oh yes, our driveway. At a quarter mile long, covered only with dirt, and very hilly, our driveway is not to be trifled with. Not in the least. Propane and oil are both delivered by very large trucks, which very well might not make it down our driveway after it’s covered with snow and ice. I also didn’t want to schedule the deliveries during the summer for fear we’d run out of fuel (propane in particular since we don’t use any oil in the summer) before winter’s end. Hence, fall is the ideal time for us to get deliveries of oil and propane. I also wanted to talk about our oil and propane because it provides me with the perfect segue into my personal finance takeaway of the day (which I’ve never done before, but it sounded so good in the moment!)!
Never (ever) Get Just One Quote
For everything we buy, we get multiple quotes and we compare prices. Always. I never go with the first item I see and I never assume that the propane company I used last year will again offer me the cheapest rate (newsflash: they did not). Since there are multiple oil and propane companies who deliver in our area, I maintain a list of all of them along with their phone numbers (a handy tool called the internet also serves this purpose).
I called every. single. one of them this month and requested their prices for oil and propane. I then created a spreadsheet and compared dollar amounts in order to find the cheapest rates for both. I ended up going with two different companies–one for oil, one for propane–neither of which were the companies we used last year. I simply bid out the amounts of oil and propane we needed and then went with the cheapest rates. In the case of our propane, two companies gave me the exact same lowest bid so I went with a local company over a national chain.
It’s a myth that you have to use the same oil or propane company every year and it’s also a myth that you’ll get they best rate by being a “loyal” customer–point in fact, the propane company we went with last year gave me one of the very highest bids this year! No thank you. Our propane tanks are above ground and so are easily swapped out. If you too have above-ground tanks, be aware that you can (and should!) call around to find the best rate. The company will swap them out for free and refund you for any propane remaining in the tanks. I’ve already received our refund check for the remaining propane, so we are done and dusted. And yes, it’s a minor hassle to call around to all of these companies, but in doing so, I saved us many hundreds of dollars. Worth it.
Since I’m sure you’re dying to see them, here are my spreadsheets detailing the oil and propane prices I was quoted by the companies that deliver to my house:
CHEAPEST BY PROPANE
(prices per gallon)
|CHEAPEST BY OIL
(prices per gallon)
As you can see, there’s a $90 difference between the cheapest and most expensive oil companies and a whopping $497.20 difference between the cheapest and most expensive propane companies. It’s always worth calling around for several quotes on just about anything you need to purchase.
ALWAYS Ask About The Pay-In-Full Discount
Oh hey, time for another frugal tip!!! I paid in full, in advance for both the oil and the propane because this netted me the lowest price per gallon. There’s an in full, cash, or advance payment discount available for almost EVERYTHING. Seriously, everything. I pre-paid my co-pay on Babywoods 1’s birth in order to get a discount. I got a similar discount by paying for my LASIK surgery up front and in full. Always ask if there’s a discount for paying in full and up front in any transaction.
Since many, many, many folks finance things like oil and propane deliveries, companies are often thrilled to offer you a discount for paying in full. It’s another example of how frugality is a compounding game: the more you save, the more money you have at your disposal to take advantage of opportunities like a discount for paying in full. Plus, by paying in full, we avoid the interest we would’ve been charged had we financed either our oil or propane. Frugality begets more frugality which begets a larger net worth over time.
Want More Fotos?!
While I only document homestead life once a month here on the blog, I post photos to Instagram and updates to Facebook with much greater regularity–sometimes daily! Join me there if you want more of our frugal woods.
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Onward to October, frugal comrades!
How was September on your own personal homestead?
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