Green Fields

It clumps, quakes and waves. It can easily grow an inch a day. It perfectly hides snakes, birds weave it into their nests and it’s the basic energy source for many ecosystems. It’s mostly green, but under closer examination it’s often yellow, gray, blue, red and purple among other colors. It makes some people headachy and sick, while others are just fine napping in a tall field of it. So, what is “it” and why has “it” kept us too busy to post to our blog more regularly? It is GRASS!

We’re not talking about the lovely, clipped, nitrogen-green, front lawn stuff, but a hodge-podge of heirloom species that shoot up faster than the time-lapsed, green fur on a Chia Pet. It’s lovely when it’s freshly sprouted blades, but before you know it, you can be wading in an ocean of the stuff. Deep grass is a lovely image too, however, this time of year, grass grows abundantly, and after a rare, seven inches of rain in early May, well, it’s growing into an unmanageable jungle.

Armed with power weed-eaters, scythes and heavily gloved hands, we wage war daily with the green monster. We’re on a time critical mission: We must get the green grass down and away from buildings, before the searing summer sun bakes it into a golden, fire-rich kindling. We amass mounds of the stuff and load it into the compost bins. Sometimes, when feasible, we plow it under creating a rich, green compost to improve the soil. Managing grass definitely keeps us busy.

Now, we must be fair, not all of what we cut down and pull is grass. There’s a patchwork of other green lovelies that also crisp up with the daily rising temperature. Thistles, cockleburs and many other assorted weeds add to the battle. However, we just clump it all under the heading of “grass,” quake at how fast it grows and wave it good-bye for this season, knowing too well that it’ll return next year with the same determination, importance and loveliness.
(Photo: Zea species, aka Foxtails)


May Fire

It’s the first of May, raining hard and there’s a fire burning brightly in the living room.

Currently, our only source of heat is a wood stove located centrally in the home. We have a fire, non-stop September through May. The cut-off date is determined by how well the house holds the day’s heat through the evening and into the cooler morning hours. Mid-May usually marks the beginning of constant 70+ degree days and 50ish degree nights, a comfortable range allowing us to close down the wood stove for the season.

Wood stoves (and less efficient fireplaces) are dirty business. While they’re great for the pocketbook, wood debris, soot and ashes provoke constant cleaning. The flue needs to be brushed several times a year ridding creosote in order to maintain a better, safer fire. Occasional smoke escaping in the room adds a different layer of cleaning complexity, however, there’s something pleasant about the scent of a lightly, wood smoke-scented home. And then, there’s the carbon footprint caused by burning wood, but we make exchanges by driving less, using less power, using organics and reducing our CO2 output overall.

Supplying wood for the stove is another level of business to attend to. As we strive to make our land more fire safe, as well as manage the forest, we have to thin. With a mixed woodland forest, we have ample black oak, tan oak, madrone and red cedar. The madrone and tan oak are especially oily, resinous and combustible, so we ardently remove them during our cleanup to become our staple fuel source. We cut, split, stack and season wood throughout the year and usually burn 4-5 cords (a cord of wood is 4x4x8ft) during the colder months.

Henry Ford said, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” I wonder how much firewood Ford really cut, split, stacked (“ricked,” my Dad’s term), lugged inside and burned? Yes, heating a home by woodstove is a bit more work than the nostalgic Ford hints, but it’s really not that bad - When you finally get to put your feet up, gaze at the dancing flames and doze off feeling all toasty and warm, well, it’s pretty special.
(Photo: Madrone firewood)