Gardening Tips: December 7, 2011r

’Tis the Burning Season
Burning wood has allowed humans to survive in places and during times that our early ancestors could not. Every time we fire up the wood stove or light a log in the fireplace we are repeating an ancient ritual. Wood fires provide a comfort and sense of well-being that cannot be explained in terms of modern science. Whether you cut and prepare your own firewood or buy it locally, you are utilizing a renewable resource that can last indefinitely. Properly managed, a 10-acre woodlot can yield about five full cords of wood a year, forever.

Today, firewood is sold by volume but the actual heat you get is determined by the weight of the wood minus water. A pound of wood provides about 8,000 BTUs regardless of species. A full cord (128 cubic feet) of hickory or oak may weigh as much as 4,000 pounds whereas a full cord of pine, willow, basswood or aspen (poplar) may weigh as little as 1,800 pounds. It is wise to learn a bit about what species of wood you are using.

Almost every species of wood has its own burning characteristics and long-term wood burners enjoy the “art” of using just the right wood for a specific purpose. If I want a quick, hot fire that will warm the stove and house in a hurry I might burn some well-seasoned pine or hemlock, but pine does not last long and also does not produce long-lasting coals.

Amount of heat varies
If the temperature is not really cold, perhaps in the 40s, I can get by just fine with ash, black cherry, birch, red (soft) maple, butternut, basswood, and even partly rotted beech. If it gets really cold I prefer hop hornbeam, hickory and my favorite firewood, sugar maple. All three of these species burn very hot and make excellent, long-lasting coals. Oak is also excellent firewood, but I rarely burn it because I have very little on my land and it is not my favorite for heating.

Oak wood has a fragrance that I don’t particularly like. I also do not particularly like the smell of willow, dogwood, black locust and aspen. Apple wood is very dense, burns very hot with great coals and has a wonderful fragrance, as does pear. Paper birch has bark that burns with a dense, black smoke. It is good for starting fires, but not much else. It sure does look nice stacked near a fireplace, however!

Black locust is also a very dense hardwood that burns very hot, but it often has vapor pockets in the wood that explode and shoot sparks. It is not a good choice for fireplaces unless there is a sturdy screen to block the sparks. Some soft woods like pine or red cedar produce lots of smoke and also shoot sparks due to resin pockets.

I hope I can continue to burn wood forever. A good friend of mine, with the horrible nickname of “Leech” laughs at me for this odd desire, although when he comes to visit, he immediately heads for the wood stove to bask in the primeval warmth that only wood can provide.