Why Not to Put Leaves in a Firepile

Several members of my church, including Amanda and me, have been pruning and clipping on our church grounds over several weeks, and we had built up a nice big pile that needed to be burned. I torched it this morning when the wind was down so there was less risk of losing control of it when it was hot.

Everything burned nicely, except a pile of leaves in the corner of the pile. The leaves had sat out in several soaking rains and had soaked up moisture like a big sponge. Decided to shoot this video to share with others why it’s a bad idea to put leaves in a long-term firepile.

A New Respect for Food

When we visited a friend recently, I needed to look in their refrigerator for some milk. Their fridge was stuffed with bottles, cartons, bowls of food with and without plastic wrap, plastic storage containers, and just unwrapped loose food items sitting on the shelf. I had a moment of déjà vu as I realized that’s probably about how our refrigerator often looked when we lived in the suburbs with small children in the house. Money came and went easily, food was cheap, and it was easy to “throw it in the fridge.” Every now and then, Amanda or I would go on a tear and clean out the fridge, throwing away pounds of food that we had allowed to go bad.

Becoming subsistence farmers has changed us in many ways, but perhaps in no way more profound than our relationship with food. Money is harder to come by nowadays, so less of what we eat comes from the supermarket. We grow most of what we eat. That means we usually don’t harvest it until we’re ready to eat it. If we must harvest before we’re ready to eat it or give it away, we preserve it at its peak of freshness so we can enjoy it later.

When you grow your own food, and when each egg from the chicken coop is cause for a mini-celebration, it seems impossible to contemplate allowing any food to go to waste. I opened our refrigerator door this morning to get lemon for my tea; what I saw is typical of our fridge these days. Lots of air!

I can’t tell you the way we live now is better than the way we lived in the suburbs. Life was good then, and it’s good now. I can say that our life is more coherent now. We have more time to ponder things that have real meaning to us.

A Radial Arm Saw Is a Good Thing To Have

My radial arm saw is large, rusty, and ugly. It’s now more than 35 years old, a gift from my friends at Southern Living when I left there to work for Parisian. Most of the time it sits high atop the pallet rack out of the way, next to the barbecue grill that I use every 2-3 months. I may go for a year or two without using the saw. But when you need fast and precise cutting, man is it handy.

I have no experience with table saws or compound miter saws. They may be superior to the radial arm saw. The radial arm saw is the one I own, so it’s the one I use.

I pulled the the radial arm saw down and used it extensively in building the chicken tractor. Just loved its ability to cut a precise edge over and over. That made it invaluable for the close joints needed for the pocket screw construction.

When I finished the chicken tractor, I put it back up on the pallet rack, thinking I probably wouldn’t need it again for months if not years. Then in the first good strong rainstorm, the pressure treated pine joints of the chicken tractor swelled, and three of the four doors were impossible to open.

I’ve been playing around, first with a belt sander and then a hand planer, trying to shave material off the doors and get them to work, but they were still balky. Finally, yesterday morning, I pulled the radial arm saw back down and used it to shave about 1/32″ off both sides of the board dividing the roost door from the poop tray. Yay! That solved the problem, I hope permanently. Next I removed the main door from the coop and shaved about 1/32″ off the lower right corner. I can now report that all the doors of the chicken tractor and opening and closing smoothly and firmly.

One of the silverlaced wyandottes immediately rewarded me for my hard work with an egg.

The radial arm saw is now back up on its pallet rack. It needs its rest; I will press it into service when we redeck the pier, so it’s going to be busy during the next couple of weeks.

The New Chicken Tractor is Basically Finished!

I had no idea it would take this long, but the new chicken tractor that has been the focus of my work for the past couple of weeks is complete, and the girls are asleep in their new home tonight. I was excited to use pocket screws to build it, because the pocket screws allowed me to keep the edges of the tractor flat and ready to accept hardware cloth and sheet metal. The problem is that every piece had to be hand cut and then fine-trimmed so everything fit together.

But it’s finished now. I hope and expect that this will last quite a long time with a minimum of reinforcement and repair, unlike the old coop which had become so rickety I was almost afraid to move it.

I still need to fashion a wrap-around cable that will cinch the tractor to the run. Maybe tomorrow.

Let’s Hear It For Under-Building

fire pit before for siteI wish I were a better tractor driver. Actually, I’m better than I was. It’s been a while, for example, since I hit even a glancing blow on one of the posts while pulling into and out of the pole barn. But I’m nowhere near good enough. Here’s the latest: on Saturday afternoon while bush hogging the yard north of the lodge, I hit a glancing blow on the fire pit. Knocked the poor bugger to smithereens.

fire pit after for siteIt was too hot and the sun too direct to try to repair it Saturday, so first thing Sunday I used the shade from the nearby grove and rebuilt the firepit. Took me 17 minutes. It may not look like it in the photo because the ground, like so much of our terrain, makes everything look a little crooked, but the pit as rebuilt is pool table level.

Because rebuilding a fire pit is a mindless task, I pondered as I worked the advantages of simply stacking the bricks for the pit instead of trying to cement them in place. Had I used mortar as so many do, there’s a chance the tractor might not have damaged it. A really slim chance. We’re dealing here with the power of 53 horses pulling simultaneously, with determination, and in one direction. My guess is that the blow would have demolished at least a corner of the fire pit and in the process would have damaged several bricks. And those bricks would have been coated irregularly with mortar. I bet I would have needed to rebuild the fire pit anew, perhaps with new bricks.

No brick was injured or harmed in any way Saturday. They just slid away from the blow and settled in a heap. Hence the simple, quick repair job.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s better to build less strength rather than more.

And yes, I’m learning to be a better tractor driver. Really, I am.

Podcast #271 – A Few More Longleafs Every Year

We love longleaf pines. We love the soothing sound of a gentle breeze rustling through a longleaf stand; we love that they do most of their early growing below ground where it counts; and we love that they live many times longer than other pine trees in the south. Continue reading “Podcast #271 – A Few More Longleafs Every Year”