The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Hearth and home

Vermont Castings Defiant wood stove

Among the most sought-after but always elusive features of the homes we have lived in is a fireplace. One of my favorite childhood memories was warming up feet-first next to the fireplace in our family room on a cold winter night. Becca and I have moved many times, but never to a home with a fireplace. I always lamented that.

This trend continued when we moved to our house in the country where the previous owners had knocked down the 19th-century fireplace and hearth a few years prior to our arrival. If they only knew! Needless to say, one of our most anticipated upgrades was the installation of our own wood-burning stove.

Living on three acres of woodland we knew that a fireplace was in the cards. Clearing out the deadwood alone would be enough to heat our house for several years. We looked half-heartedly the first year but never settled on exactly what we wanted.

But last winter, with historic cold and propane shortages, we paid literally thousands of dollars to heat our home. That sealed the deal.

We found an installer and got to work. It took most of the summer for all the pieces to come together, but it finally did and not a day too soon.

Hearth

The hearth is comprised of Old World-style tumbled brick. Our kids found it a fitting play stage.

Kids playing on the hearth

Carrying wood stove through front entryway

Installing wood stove

After a long delay, our new wood stove finally arrived! Wood stoves are far more efficient than open fireplaces. Since we wanted to augment or replace our furnace heating, we needed to maximize heat output. We went with a Vermont Castings Defiant model. It has a huge firebox capable of putting out 75,000 btu’s per hour. It also has a cookplate surface so it could double as a cookstove in an emergency.

Using a mechanic log splitter

While waiting for the stove to arrive this Fall, I got to work splitting wood we had already cut and set aside to dry. Initially, I roped one of my neighbors into bringing his hydraulic wood splitter over and making quick work of the wood pile.

But then I discovered how much fun it is to split wood by hand. No, really!

Splitting wood with a maul

Truckload of split wood

Beginnings of our wood pile

We have a bit more than one cord of wood split and ready to use. Looks like a lot. But I came to realize that’s only about a fifth of what we’ll need for the whole winter.  Guess I’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors this winter. As Pa Ingalls said: “Chop your own firewood and it’ll warm you twice.”

Outside winter is coming

Soon after the stove was installed the snow started falling. We started a fire and turned off the furnace. Every day since we’ve had a radiant fire and a warm house.

 


Winterizing the bees

View of the insulated hives

A chore that has been hanging over our heads for a long time was winterizing the bees. After last year’s historic cold temperatures, and losing one hive to colony collapse, we wanted to make sure we did this right.

But the more we researched, the more confused we became. I read somewhere that if you ask 3 beekeepers a question you’ll get 6 answers. That has certainly been the case with winterizing beehives. Some recommended buying special insulating boxes and moisture-absorbing lids. Others used whatever materials they had laying around. Assimilating all this information I came up with a basic plan that falls under the “did our best” category.

Bees clustering between the frames

First I inspect the hive to make sure bees were still there! They were clustering deep inside, which is good. There was plenty of honey on the frames for them to consume this winter.

Siltfence around the hives to block snow and wind

After checking in with the bees, I wrapped the vicinity of the hives with a silt fence. If it looks like a hasty job, well, I dare you to go hammer giant stakes in the ground a few feet away from 30,000 bees. The fence will serve as a snow and wind break, although it should be about twice as high to block the wind. It should help with drifting snow at least.

Then I wrapped the hive boxes themselves in tar paper. This adds a layer of insulation as well as capturing more heat on sunny days. Bees need an occasional warm-up to reposition themselves inside the hives to honey stores.

Next I drilled a hole in the top box for ventilation and a second exit point. Generally, this should be done before bees are living inside. Had it not been such a cold day, I would have been dealing with a swarm of angry bees.

Drilled hole in top super to vent moisture

An interesting thing I learned about bees is that the cold doesn’t kill them, moisture does. In the process of consuming honey and keeping themselves warm through the winter, an average hive will evaporate 1 gallon of water. If the hive is not adequately ventilated, that water will condense and drip back into the hive, harming the bees.

Wire mesh at the entrance to keep mice out

Next, a piece of wire mesh / hardware cloth was placed over the entrance to keep mice out.

Shims on the top board to create another entrance

On the top of the hive I added spacers to keep the lid from sealing on the top completely. This creates another entrance/exit point for both bees and moisture. I still plan to add a moisture board under the lid, but the hardware store only sells them in 4 x 8-foot sheets, so I’m gathering up newspapers to use instead.

Secure the lid with a tiedown

Finally, I strapped the lid on with a tie down. This adds extra stability for strong winter winds. For some beekeepers, this is how they keep the bears out.

Beeswax pulled from one of the hives

Since we’re down to just one hive now, I cleaned out the other hive and stored it for use next year. Inside the feeder bin where we added sugar water at the beginning of the season, the bees had cleared out all the sugar water and left a beautiful honeycomb in its place (sans the honey).  A parting gift from our bees who didn’t make it.


Fall cleaning

Cleaning up the garden with my favorite people

It’s the end of the season for us Zone 4B growers. My faithful standby’s Lisa and Zina, who helped me plant this Spring, joined me for a day of garden cleanup. My dad also came out to help with landscaping around the house.

We pulled up all the plastic mulch and drip irrigation from the vegetable plot. Then we re-mulched the blueberries with fresh fallen pine needles, a great natural acidifier.

Re-mulching the blueberry patch

We also fenced the blueberries because they are easy targets for rabbits and deer during the lean winter months.

I didn’t end up liking the variety of strawberries we planted (Sparkle and Ft Laramie). So we pulled all the strawberry beds and I will re-plant my newly discovered favorite Jewel next year.

Ft Laramie strawberries

The other major project was weeding and re-mulching the apple orchard. Becca and, to a lesser extent, Ivar and Elsie helped with weeding and shoveling piles of wood chips around the base of each tree.

Mulching the apple trees

Everybody worked hard. But the pay was good. Everyone got to take home a free pumpkin.

Zina's pumpkin

Paid with pumpkins.


Our growing family

We are proud to announce the newest member of our family!

Kubota Tractor

We welcome with love, Kubota Tractor Groves. Arrived October 25th, 2014 4:29 PM. 1,256 lbs 4 oz. 102 inches.

Mom and Dad are doing well, though still recovering from the price.

 


Pumpkin patch kids

Pumpkins glowing in the dark

Tonight was pumpkin carving night. We grew our own pumpkins this year which made the event a bit more special.

The pumpkin patch was planted on a whim, in a corner of the yard that was going to be reseeded with grass. It was an afterthought to the main garden. But it turns out the most successful part of our garden this year was the spot that got the least attention. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

Huge pumpkins in our pumpkin patch

Month after month we watched on as the vines grew by the foot, sprouting bright yellow flowers that dropped pumpkin after enormous pumpkin. By the end of the season we had about 18 pumpkins.

An early frost this year killed off several vines before the pumpkins fully matured so we had a couple of off-color pumpkins. Of course Ivar picked the green pumpkin when it was time to carve.

Ivar wasn’t a fan of the pumpkin guts. He hid under the table to keep his pepperoni pizza in its place.

Ivar is grossed out by the pumpkin guts

We took turns tracing faces on the pumpkins and carving them out.

Becca carved one of our green pumpkins

Thomas the train pumpkin carving

I lit some candles and set the pumpkins outside to show the kids what they looked like in the dark. They walked outside while I was setting the lids on top and started screaming: “Ahhhh!! Scary monster!!!” And then they ran around in circles and fumbled their way back into the house, giggling the whole way. Inside, I had to hold Ivar in my arms to get him to look at the pumpkins out the window. Even then he mostly hid below the window sill.

Good times and great memories for us all.

Orange and green pumpkins


« Older posts

© 2014 The Grovestead

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑