North Star Homestead Farms, LLC

  (Hayward, Wisconsin)
Know your Farmer, Love your Food!
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Firewood

It’s a Monday—our day that Farmstead Creamery is closed—which means it’s time for all those outside chores that have stacked up all week.  The chicken coop needs cleaning, the snowload supports in the high tunnel greenhouse need installing, and the hay elevator needs to be tucked away in the shed.

But when the weather report comes through that it’s bound to start snowing today and keep snowing all through Wednesday (with accumulations up to 18 inches), there’s another important item that bumps up to the top of the “needs to happen today” chart:  firewood.

Firewood is an integral part of Northwoods culture.  Some folks still heat exclusively with wood, while others (like on our farm) augment with fireplaces or efficient wood stoves.  Also on our list this year is the wood-fired pizza oven we hope to install at Farmstead Creamery in time for summer, which will need its own supply of seasoned, split wood for burning.

Storing all that firewood can be its own adventure, and many folks have been creative with tarps, lean-tos, sheds, or even just stacks between pine trees in the yard.  On our farm, the original machine shed (designed with one long side open for ease of backing horse-drawn sickles, rakes, and other equipment) serves as a roomy woodshed.  Over the years, the building has settled a bit—so watch your head.  The relatively neat stacks are in orderly, German-farmer fashion with the oldest logs on one side and the newest on the other, so you can remember which pile to pull from first when loading the wheel barrel.

Even logs cut as dead and fallen material from the acres of forest behind the barn still need a good year or two to cure and dry, so even when there’s a nice supply of firewood in the shed, it’s always good practice to head on out in the fall for more.  Gun season is over, the snow is coming shortly (already the flakes are beginning to fall from a clouded sky), so there’s no time like the present.

Chainsaws are another part of Northwoods culture, whirring away in the woods with a haunting echo.  Grandpa has a chain saw, but the vibrations are hard on our small hands—so firewood day includes enlisting the help of a chainsaw-savvy friend.  Today, it’s our neighbor down the way Bryan, pulling up in his white pickup as we hitch the old farm truck to the beater wood trailer and pump up the tires.  Kara has scouted a patch of fallen and standing dead hardwoods on the edge of the southern hay field, and off we go.

A few crows are cawing, but otherwise the woods it quiet as the snow blows in from the field.  The branches stand barren, clawing towards the gray sky.  The dusky-green pines wait patiently, their waxy needles immune to the damp cold of the afternoon.  Bryan and Kara head along a deer path into the grove, scouting out potential burning material.  Mom and I have the illustrious job of carrying out their doing—piling the maple, oak, popple, and ironwood into the trailer and back of the truck.  Thunk, thunk, the logs drop in.

We’re far enough into the woods that this involved a goodly bit of walking.  The old adage, “He who cuts his own wood is twice warmed” comes to mind as we unzip coats and hang hats on branches.  The snow is wet, and soon are we—slip sliding on our beaten-down trail as the logs begin to fill the sagging old trailer.

We keep at it—Bryan and Kara sawing and turning the logs, throwing them into piles, while Mom and I traipse back and forth with arms full—for three hours, until the trailer is so full the wheels squeak and the back end of the truck hatch can barely close.  This looks like a good haul!  Ah, but think of the task it must have been, back in the days when firewood was collected with hand axes and bucksaws…it must have been a monumental, never-ending task to keep the family warm.

That night, after cleaning the chicken coop, we unloaded the trailer by headlamp before the poor old shocks gave way, leaving five nicely stacked piles in the yard for the family’s Christmas wood-splitting party.  We’re sore and tired and can hardly lift our feet anymore, but it feels good to have one more piece of the list checked off for the year—just in time.  The snow is falling heavy now, and we’ll be in for a good dose of shoveling in the morning.

Being a woodcutter was a full-time profession in the Middle Ages, with forest lands carefully maintained.  In such a profession, if was important to know which woods served best to warm a home or castle, which is commemorated in this working song from the era.  You can listen to this song on my new Christmas CD release “Season of Delight” at www.heartistry.com 

 

Oak logs will warm you well, that are old and dry

Logs of pine will sweetly smell, but the sparks will fly

Birch logs will burn too fast, chestnut scarce at all, sir

And hawthorn logs are known to last, that are cut down in the fall, sir

Surely you will find, there’s none compare with the hardwood logs

That are cut in wintertime, sir.

 

Holly logs will burn like wax, you can burn them green

Elm logs burn like smoldering flax, with no flames to be seen

Beech logs for wintertime, yule logs as well, sir

Green alder logs it is a crime, for any man to sell, sir

Surely you will find, there’s none compare with the hardwood logs

That are cut in wintertime, sir.

 

Pear logs and apple logs, they will scent your room

Cherry logs across the dogs, smell like flowers in bloom

But ash logs, smooth and gray, buy them green or old, sir

And pile up all that come your way, for they’re worth their weight in gold, sir

Surely you will find, there’s none compare with the hardwood logs

That are cut in wintertime, sir.

Surely you will find, there’s none compare with the hardwood logs

That are cut in wintertime.

Have you stored away your firewood this year?  Amidst the snows of winter, it will feel good to have the woodshed full, the woodstove filled with the golden glow of a warming fire, and the promise of wood-fired pizzas during the busy days of summer.  See you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715-462-3453 www.northstarhomestead.com

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