Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cook Stoves, Wood Stoves and Cam & Michelle Mather

DH and I had an amazing weekend away together.  A break from our every day lives and something educational, brain cell stretching and totally different from our regular routine. (for now!) 

I follow many different blogs but one of my favorites is Cam Mather's.  Cam and his wife Michelle have a blog at which is a sometimes humorous blog about some very serious topics like peak oil, organic gardening and sustainability.  They share the happenings of life on their totally off-grid farm in Ontario and the how and why of what they do.  Well - some blogs are really cool with lots of good information but Cam's is really cool with lots of great information and they live WITHIN-DRIVING-DISTANCE!  When the opportunity came up to be a part of a whole day seminar on site DH and I signed up immediately.

So Saturday morning we got up early and headed out.  The scenery along the drive reminded me of our many years of vacations up in northern Ontario.  There was a hard frost covering the ground so it was  barely above zero at 9am.  Cam met us on the porch and opened the door as he welcomed us into his warm and toasty home - ahh - the wonderfully embracing heat of a woodstove.  We quickly got acquainted with his wife Michelle and the others who were arriving.

As I entered the kitchen my eyes went straight to the latest-object-of-my-desire - drool!  It was ALMOST the most beautiful stove in the world - a six burner gas Heartland Oval cook stove - but perfection as-you-know only comes in red.  I nearly had to sit on my hands to keep from touching it but when someone else opened one of the doors I jumped right up to have a look - (OK -that may have sounded crazy but let me remind the male species that this is how YOU sound talking about a stupid car!)  It was a thing of beauty.  Sigh. I had stove envy really-really bad.

I always thought I wanted a wood cook stove up until this weekend.  The romantic beauty of a wood fire, dinner bubbling away in a cast iron pot on the top and bread baking in the oven...but I learned a few things.  Michelle pointed out that although a wood fired cook stove seems like a great idea it has a few drawbacks.  One - it makes the whole house really hot - a good thing in the winter but not so great on a weekend like our last (30 degree) Thanksgiving weekend or during the summer - way too hot.  Two - it's difficult to cook on a wood fired cook stove - apparently burnt cookies, bread and dinner are common place for a very long time till you get the hang of it.  Hmmm… 

I was also reading last week that wood cook stoves have to be installed a minimum of 24 inches from the wall - that was going to make it a rather tight squeeze where I had planned to put it.  Gas however could be installed right up against the wall - double hmmm…

Leaving that subject for a moment…

We moved into the living room for the presentation where I laid eyes on the wood stove.  It wasn't quite as pretty but it was pouring out the heat and it didn't take me long to warm up.  Cam mentioned it was a Pacific Energy Woodstove and it was so efficient that it could be stoked on the coldest winter morning and the house would still be warm and it would still have glowing embers 12 hours later - a very handy feature when you need to leave home for the day and you can't leave the furnace on because you don't have one!  He recommended the brand highly.  I wrote it on "The List".

Ah but back to the cook stove.  What to do!  After some thinking on the way home we decided that the Pacific Energy woodstove made much more sense in every way.  It provided heat in case of a power outage and could be used in lieu of running our oil furnace in the winter, it could be stacked with kettles and pots to provide "free" hot water and we could still cook on it - slow cooker style on the top and with some messing around inside the firebox too.  Oh why does life need to be so practical!

We learned so much this weekend that I still feel a little overwhelmed.  Solar panels, thermal solar for hot water - the proper way to say photovoltaic (ahem - had that one wrong!) wind turbines, generators - most of these technical details were a little over my head.  Thankfully I bought The Renewable Energy Handbook by William H. Kemp - it will be my textbook for the next few weeks. I am determined to understand it better.  It's available directly from Cam & Michelle by visitng their website  They have many other interesting books available there too - check it out!

More blogging to come about the rest of our day.
Oh and by the way - I haven't completely given up on my gas cook stove - I'm just going to wait till we renovate and maybe I can squeeze one into the design...of course mine will be the red one.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Feeling like a pioneer...

It's easy to be thankful at this time of the year surrounded by the beauty of fall.  I love fall.  I love that cosy-let's-get-ready-for-winter feeling that I imagine all pioneers felt in years gone by.  I love cleaning out the garden and storing away things for another year and although I feel a little sad putting away the hammock and the lawnchairs and dumping the planters of dried up annuals I can say I am looking forward to some delightful days in the future curled up with a book on the couch looking outside and being happy I don't have to go anywhere!

I think I was more insulated from the seasons when we lived in town.  I didn't care as much about the weather since it made little difference in my day except to inconvenience me when I wanted to go for a walk or have a BBQ.  Now I watch far more closely - do I need to water the fruit trees?  Should we let the ducklings out if it's too cold?  Should I put the heat lamp on in the barn again for the chicks? The weather man says it will rain for the next 4 days straight - great!  Of course they are seldom right for it seems in our little pocket of the world God does things on His schedule and ignores the weatherman altogether!

This past weekend was glorious!  There were moments when I was tempted to complain I was too hot...I tried hard to refrain.  We spent as much time outdoors as we could - really until we were so tired we had to quit!  ha!  We cut down a few more trees and dug out stumps, we watched and helped a little bit as a friend built us a fence and hung the gate that has already made our daily chores in the barn SO MUCH EASIER!  We cleaned out gardens and added a huge amount to the burn pile.

I am hoping that we have a few more weeks of decent weather as there is still much to do to batten down the hatches before the cold sets in.  I know it will all get done and what doesn't get done will just have to wait till spring,  Mom always says: Anita - Rome wasn't built in a day.  Yes - I know but Rome HAD slaves!

Our volunteer pumpkin patch was a huge surprise.  The pumpkins grew all by their lonesome over the fence and into the paddock. I guess we must have thrown a pumpkin on the compost pile last fall but I don't really remember.  Our count so far: 50.  What DOES one do with 50 pumpkins you ask???  Beg people to take some home!  I have the pile down to a more manageable size now so some will become pumpkin muffins and loaf and I am going to try pumpkin scones.  Pumkin soup is pretty good but no one else will eat it but me so I will have to find some creative disguises for the rest of it.  I had some help harvesting as you can see in the pictures - thanks kid-lettes!

I'm sure glad we don't have to depend on this year's garden harvest for our winter food - it would be heavy on pumpkin and light on everything else :)  I think I'm glad I'm not really a pioneer!

Live in each season as it passes. - Henry David Thoreau

Good idea!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Great weather if you're a duck!

A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning we came into the barn to a lovely surprise...11 ducklings had hatched over night - the first sucess after three attempts of sitting on eggs that had all ended in - zip!  You know when the ducks give up on a nest because they roll the eggs all over the floor and break up their nest. It's been fun to observe the differences between these ducklings and the ones we bought at the Woodville auction last year.  Having moms to watch out for them and teach them is facsinating.  The moms make different noises to communicate with the ducklings and it doesn't really sound like quack quack!  The babies know exactly what they mean though and come running. 

Each day we let them ouside into the barnyard where they spend their time splashing in puddles and staying close to the mommas.   

The momma's co-parent the brood quacking loudly at any nearby chickens and grabbing them by the feathers and honking loudly if they get too curious.   The sheep and donkey had a good look yesterday and were trying hard to stomp the duckings - being the new kids on the block makes for a tough week!  All of them managed to get out of the way and get back to their pen safely but there were a few heart-stopping moments!