Be cozy, warm and safe by the fire this winter
by Pat Bowen
December 19, 2013 09:49 PM | 974 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Patricia Bowen<br>Cherokee County Master Gardener
Patricia Bowen
Cherokee County Master Gardener
Garden chores are done, so it’s time to clean up your property and gather fallen limbs and branches, maybe even cut down and cut up some dead or unwanted trees. Or you may just want to pick up some fireplace wood at a store or have it delivered.

If you’re cutting your own you’ll need axes or saws and splitters. My dad used to split our wood, and since he’s passed we bought a gas-powered splitter and named it “Pete” in his honor. It will easily split a pickup truck load of wood in less than an hour. If you’re buying firewood you’ll be buying by the “cord” or some fraction; a cord is a stack of wood 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high, or 128 cubic feet (which will vary to as little as 90 cubic feet with inefficient stacking and spacing). There is also a measure called a “face cord” which is 16 inches wide, 4 feet wide and 4 feet high. Costs will vary with degree of seasoning, type of wood, and whether you want delivery and stacking.

All wood for fireplaces should first be “seasoned.” That means the wood should have dried out enough to burn cleanly, with less smoke. Properly seasoned wood is darker than fresh wood, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood. Freshly cut live trees should be cut, split and stored outside for at least six months to dry out; dead wood is ready to go once it’s cut into fireplace lengths, typically 18-24 inches, and split into pieces no more than 4-6 inches thick. The thicker the wood the longer it will burn, but the harder it will be to get started burning, so set smaller pieces aside for kindling to start your fire. Caution: never burn cardboard; plastic; foam; coated, painted or pressure-treated wood; plywood; particle board; or any wood with glue on it, as any of these can release chemical vapors or other dangerous agents, as well as cause damage to your fireplace.

In a wood stove or a fireplace, use hardwoods like oak, cedar, maple, poplar, hickory, fruit trees and more. Typically the harder the wood the longer it will burn; softer woods burn hotter and may spark more, so keep an eye on them. Each type of wood has its own scent and level of what I call “crackle and sparkle.” I have lots of poplar trees in my woods; they frequently fall in storms, providing my favorite firewood, with a clean woodland scent and pleasant sound and light as it burns in our indoor fireplace and outdoor fire pit.

Some important safety tips: I wait for a hard freeze before I load up our indoor firewood-bin so I don’t carry in any live occupants of the logs. Keep flammables away from the fireplace: inside consider putting a fireproof mat before the hearth; outside keep a hose handy in case leaves or other dry materials begin to smolder. Be sure you have a smoke alarm with fresh batteries close, but not too close, to your indoor fireplace. Our fireplace is in the great room next to the kitchen where a smoke alarm is placed, so it only goes off when smoke is intruding, not just putting out a few initial puffs. If your fireplace hasn’t been cleaned for a while, have it inspected to be sure there is no buildup of solids in the flue. Wear sturdy gloves when handling firewood, and invest in a wood carrier so you can carry more than one or two pieces at a time. For environmental safety don’t transport wood too far from your own property, for instance if you’re taking it to a campsite, as you may introduce invasive insects to a new location.

Always leave a small bed of ash under the fireplace grate for steady heat. When it is time to clean ashes from your indoor or outdoor fireplace, there are many ways to put them to work. Ashes are calcium rich, so if your soil has a low pH, drop ¼ cup in the holes in which you insert your tomato plants. Ashes will repel snails and slugs if spread evenly around garden beds. Add some ashes mixed with fallen leaves, but not too much, to compost that needs a better mix of dry to wet materials. Use them for traction in icy weather without hurting the soil or concrete under the ice. If you have a pond, a tablespoon of ash per 1,000 gallons of water will slow the growth of algae.

Information about Extension Solutions for Homes and Gardens can be found on the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at or by contacting the Cherokee County Extension Office at 100 North St., Suite G21 in Canton at (770) 479-0418. The Georgia Extension Master Gardener Program is a volunteer training program offered through county offices of the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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