Archive for January 23rd, 2010

The bi-cameral woodshed

By Tom Read

Subtle but effective, that wall in the middle keeps our wood supply constant all winter.

A substantial number of households on Texada Island depend on firewood for winter heating. Here at Slow Farm, we use a combination of propane-powered hot water for radiant floor heating, plus a woodstove for back-up. The propane comes to us in a big truck every so often, and is stored in a 500-gallon tank on our property; it requires money but no work on our part. Firewood, however, is an entirely different story.

As city-turned-country people, we have slowly learned how to efficiently process firewood. Last summer, a full nine years after our move to Texada, we finally realized the wisdom of converting our woodshed into two chambers. This winter the benefit is about to become apparent: we’ve almost used up one chamber’s worth of wood; when we start drawing from the second chamber I will then refill the first. Thus, we will not even come close to running out of firewood this winter (as has almost happened in previous winters).

My friend Jim Mason, also a city immigrant to Texada, calls this the “bi-cameral woodshed.” Jim knows that “bi-cameral” refers to a two-chambered legislature, but he loves a bit of word-play, so now I imagine that we’re storing legislative cordwood. Or something like that. Anyway, what caught my attention is that Jim is one of several friends with city upbringing who have recently converted their one-chambered woodsheds to the bi-cameral system.

Why didn’t we think of making two chambers when we built the woodshed in the first place? After all, we could clearly observe such divided woodsheds among our lifelong rural neighbours, so why didn’t we just emulate them from the start? The answer, I think, is that city people just don’t trust direct observation; we often prefer to learn by reading. That is why classics like The Encyclopedia of Country Living, by the late Carla Emery, appeal so strongly to middle-aged back-to-the-landers like us. The result is a slower learning curve based on lots of muddling through.

So here’s a question: if I start learning more by doing and watching others rather than by books or Internet searches, does that mean I’m becoming countrified? Something to think about as I contemplate how to cope with the voles that have just infiltrated our garden….

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