The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Guest Spot: Wood by Jane Greppi

wood pileIf you look in our garden, you will see wood. Lots of it.

When we had an open fire, nobody ever thought about giving us wood. Then we replaced it with a wood-burning stove. Something about that name seemed to prompt everyone we met. “You’ve got a wood-burning stove?” they’d enthuse. “Do you want some wood?”

People everywhere seemed to be felling trees, and, it seemed, felling them with the sole intention of supplying fuel for our stove. We were given three former trees in as many months. When we were offered our first, I imagined a Country Living woodstore, filled with neatly stacked, identically-hewn logs the size of a Chanel handbag. What we got, by contrast, were enormous trunks which took up the entire garden and most of the drive and could not be lifted except by heavy machinery. Getting to the freezer in the garage became an expedition similar to three-day-eventing. Zaz didn’t care. He was in his element. He put on a checked shirt and heavy gloves and bought a chain saw.

After the first week, the cheap chainsaw gave up the ghost, but Zaz was undaunted. He’d bagged up several huge black plastic sacks of sawdust which, he said, would be useful for getting the fire started. The enormous trunks were reduced to logs only about three times the size of our stove and these could be lifted into the garden by the two of us with only nominal help from our twelve-year-old son. A narrow path was appearing through the garden.

After the first month, all the wood was in piles around the perimeter of the garden – still far too big to fit into the stove, but out of the way at least. The sawdust bagging had been abandoned early on, and there was a huge mountain of the stuff at the back of the garden which ended up taking a year and a half to clear but which quickly became our dog’s favourite place in the whole world: good to sunbathe on in hot weather and to sniff – and worse – in wet weather. People in the hotel next-door-but-one got sea glimpses if they looked to the left and Steptoe’s Yard glimpses if they looked to the right. But very gradually the piles neatened and assumed useable proportions; the sawdust mountain was burned as a fire-starter, spread over the compost heap and eventually, when there was nowhere else, piled into the back of the car and taken down the tip. We bought a second wood-burning stove and filled the empty space in the garden with an inherited twelve-foot trampoline for the kids. We boasted to our friends how we hardly needed to turn the heating on because our stoves were so efficient.

Then we began to worry how long our wood would last. We debated the ethics of Zaz’s driving into the New Forest and attacking felled wood with his chainsaw, wearing a fluorescent jacket and a hard hat so he looked like he was meant to be there. The kids bounced on their trampoline in all weathers. One afternoon we had five of them on it, all bouncing away and giggling.

The following morning there was a loud crack and a louder bang, and a branch almost the entire length of our garden fell without warning from our tree, crushing the trampoline and flattening everything I had planted over the last few years. We loved that tree and so did the squirrels and blackbirds who lived there, but there was really nothing to argue about: what if the kids had been on the trampoline that day? The tree was unsafe and had to come down. That one branch across our garden was so heavy it had to be cut up in situ.

“Guess what?!” Zaz beamed, a few days later. “I’ve got a really good quote from that tree-surgeon chap your dad recommended and he’s only charging us about half what it normally costs because he doesn’t have to take the wood away! So I’m just popping out to get some oil for the chainsaw¬¶”

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