The Joys of a Woodstove


Farm Notes

Maybe I’m worn out from what seemed to be the longest, hottest summer on record (or maybe I’m peri-menopausal?!?), but I’m really looking forward to fall temperatures this year. Who doesn’t love “shorts and sweatshirt” weather or pulling out your favorite flannel for those crisp evenings? Apples seem to taste better and pumpkins call to us from farm stands. Farmers prepare for the long winter as they maneuver their enormous combines into golden fields of corn for the harvest. Of course the trees put on a colorful show, their last hurrah before winter slumber. Thus, we enter into my absolute favorite time of the year: fall!

There’s a change in the air and I welcome it with open arms. I particularly love the first night we build a fire in our woodstove. The smell, the crackling, the wholesome warmth of the hearth all mark the changing of the seasons. Even the cats are able to sort out their differences long enough to bask in the warmth of the woodstove.

Who doesn’t like to lounge in front of the fire?

Who doesn’t like to lounge in front of the fire?

We heat our old 1860’s farmhouse with a woodstove in the living room. Armfuls of wood are carried into the house throughout the day, and the fire is fed as needed. Rooms farthest away from the woodstove are the coldest of course, and we all find ourselves grabbing a seat near the hot stove after chores. We have an oil burner in the basement that heats our water and acts as backup to the woodstove, but we have it set at a bracing 55°. It has to get pretty cold in the house before the furnace kicks in!

Having a woodstove has had some great advantages over the years. If we lose power during a winter storm, for example, we never lose heat and we have a ready cooktop to make simple dinners. The kids’ snow gear goes on a mitten tree—or draped over chairs—in front of the fire to dry after a long day of sledding. And more than a few chilled newborn lambs and kid goats have had a toasty front seat by the fire to warm up before going back to mom and the chilly barn.

It takes 20-24 face cord to heat our house over the course of the winter. If you want to visualize how much wood that is, picture two full dump truck loads! We get all of our wood delivered by a young man who is set up to efficiently cut and split wood. It’s fantastic! He pulls up with his dump truck and leaves an enormous pile of wood that we and the children stack in the woodshed for winter use. Once the wood is stacked, we call for the second load.

It wasn’t always this easy. Our first few years on the farm, we had whole logs delivered for my husband to cut and split by hand. His plan was always to spend a few hours every week throughout the summer, first with the chain saw, then with the pto-driven wood splitter, creating a stack of wood that would keep his family warm all winter long. That was the plan, anyway. Unfortunately, summer chores always took precedent and husband Peter would often find himself frantically splitting as the first snowflakes were starting to fly.

Something ultimately—and permanently—switched us from hand-splitting to ordering all of our wood seasoned and ready to burn. One beautiful fall day, just before Halloween, my husband was splitting large chunks of wood into smaller logs when the log slipped. The index finger on his right hand was very much in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was crushed in between the log and the dull splitting blade, cutting it in half lengthwise. How he didn’t pass out then and there, I’ll never know. But he quickly and conscientiously wrapped his hand in his t-shirt, turned off the splitter and the tractor, and sprinted to the house where I was fixing dinner for our 4-year-old and newborn daughters. As I called the neighbor for help, our 4-year-old helpfully skipped around the kitchen singing, “Yikes! Yikes! Yikes!”

We rushed to the Little Falls Emergency Room where he was quickly attended to. (It helped that he was covered in blood. Even the other patients in the waiting room stepped aside.) After pain killers and an x-ray, we learned that the first two bones of his finger were literally chopped in half. He would need to see an orthopedic surgeon the next day. After several small pins were placed in his index finger and a few months of painful recovery, my husband eventually regained use of that finger.

This whole episode was 12 years ago. We were so young! Thinking of it now, I’m so glad we don’t split our own wood anymore. It makes it so much easier to enjoy the woodstove!