THE GOOD LIFE
Practical ideas and advice for would-be smallholders
WHETHER YOU’RE PLAYING a game of charades or simply warming yourself after a bracing winter walk, there are few things nicer than a crackling open fire at this time of year. Here’s how to get the warmest glow.
GREEN OR SEASONED?
Like a good wine, firewood improves when stored and matured correctly. Recently chopped, or ‘green’, wood is still full of water, so will burn less efficiently and smoulder, potentially causing a dangerous build-up of creosote in the flue that could lead to chimney fires. Cutting and splitting wood, and keeping it under cover in a well-ventilated store – known as ‘seasoning’ – allows the moisture to escape. As a general rule, hardwoods take two to three years to season, while softwoods take a year.
SOFTWOOD OR HARDWOOD?
Hardwoods (such as oak) have a greater density of fibres than softwoods (such as pine), so provide you with more fuel, which burns longer and slower than the same volume of ‘softer’ logs. However, softwoods (if seasoned) create more intense flames, which are useful for getting a fire going.
Different types of tree burn in different ways, so experiment to find the one that best suits your requirements:
ASH is considered to be the best firewood, as it will burn evenly without being seasoned.
OAK takes at least two years to season but it’s worth the wait as it makes excellent firewood, burning slowly and producing lots of heat. Oak logs will keep a fire going overnight.**
HAWTHORN BRANCHES trimmed from hedges make excellent ‘faggots’ – bundles of wood that are useful for getting fires started.
PINE AND LARCH blast out plenty of heat when seasoned but have a tendency to spit, so are best used in a woodburner. Pine faggots are great for starting a fire.
SYCAMORE can grow like a weed in gardens but its branches make useful kindling.
APPLE AND PEAR will scent the room with a glorious aroma, and are good for cooking over, as the smoke gives a lovely flavour to the food.