Monday, 16 January 2012

Self-sufficient heating - my reality

Once again I find myself at a crisis point when it comes to wood for the burners.

In our first winter it was understandable. We’d moved onto the land in July, didn’t have a woodburner until December and I then spent my time finding dead-standing wood that was dry enough to burn straight away. For one reason or another (sometimes both), it wasn’t always quite dry enough and occasionally a smelly brown liquid would come back down the chimney at night, dripping on the concrete paving slab under the woodburner, and splashing nastily onto the floor.

But we were warm, with no heating bills, and I reassured myself that I’d be on top of the situation by the next winter.

However, spring, summer and autumn were spent largely building and running a yurt camp. And anyhow, a summer in the Dordogne is far too hot to don thick chainsaw trousers, helmet and gloves, and lug large bits of wood around. So instead, I marked all the dead trees I could find with a West-facing “X” at eye level.

Our second winter came and I found the marked trees easily enough, which I duly cut and burnt. This time I made a wood pile near the yurt, although I never got ahead of myself enough for it to become impressive. I also cut down half an acre of overstood coppice near our yurt for firewood for winter 2013/14. Like this:

In theory, the re-grown coppice will be cut in 2018 for use in 2020, but I’m sure some will go for fencing before then (or even yurt parts). By the end of the spring I’d pretty much exhausted the convenient dead-standing wood and was lugging wood from 60 metres away and more. Of course by hand and, naturally, uphill. (Is there any other way?)

But at least I could reassure myself I’d be on top of the situation by the following winter.

Now it is the following winter. It started well, with a covered wood store (made and part filled by our friends Alex and Laura)...

...but I still haven’t been more than a few weeks ahead of our need. Added to the firewood supply issue is the fact that we now have two yurts to heat, so two burners to feed, so nearly twice as much wood to find (we sometimes leave one yurt unheated during the day). I’m now going over 100 metres to find the nearest dead-standing wood, frustratingly passing the piles of cut coppice from last year that won’t be ready until next winter. I’ve also realised that those cut lengths are too long and they’ll need cutting, splitting and stacking under cover to dry over the summer or they still won’t be ready to burn.

But at least I have the reassurance that I’ll be on top of the situation by then. Won’t I?

Why am I blogging this? I suppose to tell you that all aspects of this self-sufficiency lark take time - and each year you only get it a little bit more right. Fifteen years from now I can imagine someone visiting, seeing our impressive wood pile, productive veggie patch and orchard, crops in the field, and established coppice, and telling us how "lucky we are" to have it all so easy.

Ah, we'll say - you just wait until you see it next year...

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