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A Babe in the Wood Pile; Learning to stack wood at the school of hard knocks.

Each spring, along with the arrival of birds and buds, come piles and piles of firewood, and Danielle French has to stack it just so – or else.

Heating a drafty farm house entirely with wood is nearly impossible. It can be done, but parts of the house will be cozy and lovely, while other parts, well… Our family has spent many a night, reading and chatting with our feet in the open door of the wood cook-stove. Even in early spring, when the days are warming up but the nights are still cold, the home fires must be kept burning.

Fire and snow; outdoor cooking with wood at South Pond Farms (Kim Magee)

 

Oh, it’s a wonderful time a year; the birdsong is loud and lusty, the sun is stronger; trees bud and bulbs start poking through the warming earth. What’s not to love, right? The arrival of twelve bush cords of wood, that’s what! It’s all dumped in front of the house and must be stacked. So we stack, steadily, for what feels like days and days on end.

 

Most people who have wood stoves or fireplaces stack wood in the fall, but our business runs late into the season, so we have it delivered in the early spring, usually around Easter, when we have some time. With lots of guests scheduled to visit the farm over the summer and fall, the woodpiles have to be neat, and for me, stacking is something of an art form.

A well-stacked wood pile is a thing of beauty. (South Pond Farms)

In my first year at the farm, a bit of research turned up something called a holzhausen. That’s German for “wood house”, and being of German heritage I was especially interested in this approach to stacking. It’s a carefully constructed woodpile that looks attractive and is traditionally used to pile a lot of wood in a small space. The shape is a sort of a beehive with an open funnel in the center to encourage air flow, which in turn speeds drying. This sounded like a wonderful idea – the wood stack as functional focal point.

 

On Good Friday, we put our gloves on and got started. Carlyle, Olivia and Aubrey were game to help, but Daughter Number Two, Grace, declared she would have no part in what she decided were “shenanigans”. Mind you, she’s the one who expects her bedroom to be nice and toasty 24/7! Still, the four of us opened the car doors so we could blare country music as we began the first layer. As we built, a wonderful thing happened. Not only did the job go faster than we expected, even the girls thought the process was, dare I say it, fun!

 

When our first ever holzhausen was finished, we were pretty impressed with our handiwork. Even Grace, still in her lovely lady-of-leisure robe, took a walk around in silence and made her pronouncement. “I’m not going to lie, Mom. It looks good.”

An experiment in German engineering; the holzhausen. (South Pond Farms)

 

When year two rolled around, as usual, the wood was dropped off in many loads,  sprawled all over the yard on top of the snow. Despite the reward at the very end, the appearance of all that wood, and the resulting maze of wood piles leading to the front door is nothing short of depressing.

A daunting task; stacking the early spring delivery of wood. (South Pond Farms)

 

The day we chose to stack couldn’t have been worse; with high winds from the north, snow and ice, and later, rain. We had music, we had help, but no one really got into the groove. It was just too miserable. After stacking one holzhausen we abandoned ship to wait for warmer weather, and for at least a third of the wood to unfreeze from the ground!

 

Weeks went by and we gave it another try. Carlyle was home on Easter break, and we dealt with the last four cords in a couple of hours. True to form, in lieu of stacking help, Grace made us a delicious brunch of deviled eggs, and, once again, we had structures of beauty and an overall sense of quiet fulfillment.

 

About one week later, I heard a tremendous crash and watched one side of the first holzhausen we had stacked, collapse. They are a full six to eight feet high and about 10 feet around so imagine the weight! Apparently, once the south-facing side of the stack warmed in the sun, everything shifted and came undone, and that could have spelled disaster for anyone or anything passing by. It’s clearly a bad idea to stack when there is still frost in the wood and snow on the ground!

 

Now, after many years and many discussions of how to stack the wood, we’ve gone back to traditional piles. It’s easier to collect the wood when the north winds are blowing and the snow is all around. Plus, tarps stay on the piles much better. Though, I do miss the holzhausen.

Molly surveying a traditional woodpile. (South Pond Farms)

 

Easter weekend is coming up and the giant wood drops will begin again. I had better get my stacking muscles toned as Grace and Olivia are away, and I’m pretty sure that Daughter Number Four will be “away” somewhere too, and that leaves only Carlyle and The Cowboy to help. Though I’m happy to report that lately, wood and fire duties have fallen to Shawn. I think he enjoys it, which is great since the rest of us really enjoy keeping warm!