The Farm School processes between fifty and sixty cords of fire wood every year. We harvest from our over two-hundred forested acres, following guidelines laid out by our forestry plan. Both the adult Learn to Farm Program at Maggie’s Farm, and the Program for Visiting Schools at the Sentinel Elm Farm, use outdoor wood-fired boilers for primary heat and hot water, and these units consume incredible quantities of firewood. We process thirty-two inch pieces for the wood furnaces, and sixteen inch pieces for the many wood stoves around both farms. We use hydraulic splitters for most of our splitting, but the young visiting students also do some hand splitting with mallets and wedges (and nervous supervision).
Both programs include significant forestry components, with the adult students learning and practicing the whole process, including forest management theory, tree marking, felling, bucking, splitting and stacking, as well as wood types, BTU values, fire-wood aging and chainsaw maintenance. Every student from the visiting school groups spends one day working in forestry, mostly splitting and stacking, but also going out in the woods to fell small trees and burn slash. Time spent in the forest is also one of the most powerful experiences of the visiting schools program. The visiting students also process quite a bit of sugaring wood for use in our maple sugaring operation, mostly pine slab from the sawmill, cut, split and dried to be fed into the evaporator during sugaring season.
Our draft horses, King and Tom, pitch in as much as possible, twitching logs, pulling sleds of firewood, and generally making the whole process way more awesome. Adult students also spend time harnessing and driving the team as they work to master skills they picked up at their three-day draft-horse workshop earlier in the program.
Our farms lie along a ridge that runs north/south just south of the New Hampshire line, and our forests offer a nice blend of hard and soft wood. We want hard wood for our fireplaces, although we harvest pines for the sawmill as well. Soft wood does not pack quite the same punch in the wood stove that hard wood does, and it typically will leave a creosote mess in your chimney from the pitch (pine tar) in the wood. However, we like soft woods, like pine and hemlock, for the sugaring operation because they burn so quickly that we have more ability to raise and lower the heat as called for by the finishing syrup. A hard wood fire would be much more difficult to control because of the big bed of hot coals they generate.
Processing firewood is repetitive work, hard on farm hands and backs, done in the coldest time of year. The reward is delayed until next winter, or the winter after that if you’re on top of your game. But we remind every student that those preceding them cut, split and stacked the warming wood for this winter, and we’ll pay our way forward just as they did.
Listed below are the general heating values of the most significant hard woods that thrive in our forests.
Million BTU per cord Pounds per cord (dry)
Shagbark Hickory 27.7 4327
Black Birch 26.8 3890
Red Maple 18.1 2900
White Pine 14.3 2236
Red Oak 24 3757
White Birch 20.2 3192