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Homesteading

How to keep warm on a homestead

Gathering sticks, chopping wood and burning coal

Our editor Steve W goes out gathering fire wood

Any homesteader will know the feeling. You wake up early, look out of the window and the fields and lane are covered in a thick blanket of white snow.

If you are staying at home then great. Snowballs, snowmen and snow angels await. If you’ve got to dig the car out and drive to work then it suddenly becomes less enticing.

It’s not only the prospect of snow that gets me shivering. Any sort of cold weather seeps right into the old bones these days.

The chilled winds and freezing rain that hit Spring Farm make me question whether this is such a good idea. A couple of hours and the work is done. A glowing log fire roaring and the whole project seems much more appealing.

Blocking up the old chimney

We are lucky to have not one but three open fireplaces. Two are in operation, with the third chimney closed off. A piece of lead was laid on top and hammered down to stop any inquisitive winged locals from having a nose on down.

We have bird guards on the other two. These allow the smoke to escape out, without anything large creeping in. I’ve seen them called chimney cowls as well. Regardless, they come in all shapes and sizes but do an important job.

three chimneys

After a thorough sweep we stuffed a lot of old cardboard up to block it off. Then we slotted some wood in to where the grate had been removed. Occasionally on windy days you hear a slight gust of wind whistling through. It’s not really a problem, and the chimney is secure.

Sitting in front of an open fire

There is plenty of dead wood outside to collect for a winter fire. As soon as the weather starts improving and we head in to spring, we then start gathering wood for the coming year.

In all aspects of homesteading, preparation is key

Escapers

The yield of suitable firewood is always plentiful, but we have a few stacks of pallets down the yard in case we run short. At the local agricultural merchant you can buy kindling in little sacks. A couple of these, surrounded by some cardboard, is great for getting the fire started.

Whenever we first started out and were wet behind the ears we bought fire logs. They were very easy to use and lit very fast. However, they became pretty expensive over time and we don’t need them now we know how to light a fire properly.

Some people use flammable liquids. We have never done this, in case the children were to get hold of it. In can be effective when used safely.

Fireside

Outside chopping up firewood

Going out with an axe, chopping up firewood can fairly work up a sweat. Like any fuel gathering, it is best to collect it when you don’t need it so you aren’t left scraping around the homesteading yard in sub-zero temperatures desperately looking for fuel.

The children found out some logs for us to burn (see image below). Even though there is a bit more life left in these than I would like, I grabbed the saw and cut them up anyway. They burned just fine when used to top up an already hot fire. Using this type of wood to start it off would be more difficult.

When sawing always make sure you have a clear space (easier said than done in this homestead!). We use a pair of gloves too. These provide an extra layer of protection in case the saw were to slip. They also keep the hands warm outside.

There is an old saying that sawing wood warms you twice. First in the cutting and again in the burning. It’s true!

Fire wood, saw and gloves

Burning coal on the homestead

A big 25kg bag of coal can be heavy to lump around so watch your back when lifting. Once the fire is heating up, using some special fire tongs to place a few lumps of coal in and around the heat source is beneficial.

Don’t add the coal until it’s hot enough though or it will smoulder. Once the fire is blazing we use a little shovel to scoop four or five lumps on at a time. The coal scuttle has a handle so is useful for lifting and emptying straight on.

Remember that towards the end of the bag there is a lot of accumulated coal dust. This gathers at the bottom of the scuttle too and can blow back on to your clothes or all around the fireplace if you aren’t careful.

Coal bucket and shovel

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