Homestead

Clean Wool Rugs & Blankets with Snow

Did you know that the very best way to clean a handwoven, hooked, Persian or braided wool rug or wool blanket is with fresh snow?
It’s true.

Clean Wool Rug

Wool Rug In Snow

Cleaning wool textiles with snow is an old-fashioned cleaning method that is very safe, gentle and completely non-toxic. It works better than sprays, steam cleaning or dry cleaning. For antique or collectible Persian rugs no method is better or safer.
Here’s how to do it.

You’ll need a stiff corn broom, a winter day that is between 20°F- 30°F and newly fallen snow on the ground.
Old snow won’t do.
The reason that fresh new snow cleans wool is because it contains trace amounts of ammonia (it’s also the reason snow can be used as a slight leavening agent in baked goods or pancakes). It’s the action of ammonia in the snow that actually cleans the wool rug or blanket combined with the cold air that causes any grease or dirt to become solid and fall out of the fibers when gently swept or slapped with a broom.

Close Up of Wool Rug

Close Up of Wool Rug

Two to five inches of fresh snow on the ground is the easiest to work with.
You’ll first need to place the blanket or rug outdoors for about an hour or so to acclimate it to the temperature change. Wool is very sensitive to temperature changes. You don’t want to “shock” the wool and compromise the fibers by a radical temperature change from a warm house to the cold ground. I use a covered porch or rail to hang or lay out rugs and a clothesline for blankets, but you can use a clothesline for both if the clothesline is stout enough and the rug is small.



After an hour or so has passed and the blanket or rug is cold spread it completely flat on the snow covered ground. Use the broom to sweep clean snow over the rug or blanket and completely cover it with snow.

Covered In Snow

Wool Rug Covered With Fresh Snow

Next take the broom and gently slap the rug or blanket while it is covered in snow. Wait about 10 minutes and then sweep the snow off the rug in sections.
For blankets simply lift the blanket by the corner ends and shake the snow off. Next flip the rug or blanket over to the opposite side and move it to another clean section of fresh snow and repeat the process again.

Half Swept Of Snow

Wool Rug Half Swept Of Snow

When you are finished move the blanket and rug back to the clothesline or rail for about 10 minutes so that any remaining snow can sublimate from the rug. Sublimation is the process by which a substance changes from its solid phase (snow) to a gas or vapor (cold air) without going through a liquid phase (water). This can only happen on a cold dry day.
You may be surprised that the rug or blanket is not in the least wet.
Bring your blanket or rug back into the house and prepare to be astonished at how fresh the rug looks and how bright the colors become.

The Real Meaning Of “Tying Up Loose Ends”

(1.)Tie up loose ends

Verb

(Idiomatic) To deal with the minor consequences of a previous action; to tidy up, finish, or complete. “Removing her name from the mailing list was her way of tying up loose ends.”
Wiktionary

It’s an expression most of us have heard or used at one time or another. But do you know the origin of the expression? Do you know what it really means?




The expression “tie up loose ends” is a weaving term. When a newly woven item is first cut off a loom, sometimes the warp ends are unbound. The warp ends must be finished in some way to prevent the weft from unraveling. It is the intersection of warp and weft materials that creates a woven fabric.

 Rag Rugs On A Loom

A Group Of Rag Rugs On A Loom

To “tie up loose ends” is literally just that. It’s the process of tying up the warp ends to prevent the weft material of a fabric from becoming unwoven and separating.
The example below illustrates the idea.

This is the bottom of rag rug that was cut off a floor loom.

Rag Rug Right Off The Loom

A Rag Rug Right Off The Loom

The rug is unfinished at this stage. Notice the blue filler yarn that has been woven into the warp (long threads at the top & bottom) and prevents the brown and white rags (the weft) from coming loose. The filler thread will be unraveled and the loose ends exposed and then tied off with a knot.

Knots Are Tied

Knots Are Tied To Prevent Raveling

The knot will become the fringe for the rug.
At one time the home production of cloth was an everyday household affair. Back then people well understood the concept of “tying up loose ends”.

ying Tying Loose Ends On A Rag Rug

Tying Up Loose Ends On A Rag Rug

The expression later became a part of our colloquial speech founded in an everyday familiarity to describe the necessity for finishing or completing a project.

Rag Rug

Finished Rag Rug By Basement Door

Do you think we should let Wiktionary in on it?

50 Old Time Weather Proverbs & Signs

Amish Weather Vane

An Amish Weather Vane

After years of experience I can usually predict rain just by walking on the morning grass, watching the behavior of my cats, sheep, cows, pigs or chickens or opening my dresser drawer.




What follows below is a list of my 50 favorite weather folk sayings.
And like most folk proverbs you’ll find more times than not they have real merit and value. In fact for the most part, I’ve found the weather wisdom below to be more accurate than a meteorologist using computer models or satellite imagery.

      1. Hornets’ nest built in the top of trees indicate a mild winter is ahead; nests built close to the ground indicate that a harsh winter is coming.
      2. The higher the clouds the better the weather.
      3. If the cat washes her face over her ear, the weather is sure to be fine and clear.
      4. Clear moon, frost soon.
      5. When leaves fall early, autumn and winter will be mild; when leaves fall later, winter will be severe.
      6. If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.
      7. When ants travel in a straight line expect rain; when they are scattered, expect fair weather.
      8. If the first snow falls on unfrozen ground expect a mild winter.
      9. If bees stay at home rain will soon come; if they fly away, fine will be the day.
      10. A year of snow, a year of plenty.
      11. Dust rising in dry weather is a sign of approaching change.
      12. Rainbow at noon, more rain soon.
      13. Flowers blooming in late autumn are a sign of a bad winter.
      14. If cows lie down and refuse to go to pasture, you can expect a storm to blow up soon.
      15. The darker the woolly caterpillar’s coat, the more severe the winter will be. If there is a dark stripe at the head and one at the end, the winter will be severe at the beginning, become mild, and then get worse just before spring.
      16. When grass is dry at morning light look for rain before the night.
      17. If sheep ascend hills and scatter, expect clear weather.
      18. A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.
      19. When the chairs squeak, it’s of rain they speak.
      20. When clouds appear like rocks and towers, the earth will be washed by frequent showers.
      21. If birds fly low, then rain we shall know.
      22. Evening red and morning grey are two sure signs of one fine day.
      23. The first and last frosts are the worst.
      24. The winds of the daytime wrestle and fight longer and stronger than those of the night.
      25. When down the chimney falls the soot, mud will soon be underfoot.
      26. Rain before seven, fine before eleven.

    1. No weather is ill, if the wind be still.
    2. Cold is the night when the stars shine bright.
    3. When a rooster crows at night there will be rain by morning.
    4. Dandelion blossoms close before there will be a rain.
    5. When clouds look like black smoke a wise man will put on his cloak.
    6. A cow with its tail to the West makes the weather best; a cow with its tail to the East makes the weather least.
    7. The moon and the weather may change together, but a change of the moon will not change the weather.
    8. The sudden storm lasts not three hours.
    9. Chimney smoke descends, our nice weather ends.
    10. A rainbow in the morning is the shepherd’s warning. A rainbow at night is the shepherd’s delight.
    11. Three days rain will empty any sky.
    12. When smoke hovers close to the ground there will be a weather change.
    13. A ring around the sun or moon means rain or snow coming soon.
    14. Bees will not swarm before a storm.
    15. The more cloud types present the greater the chance of rain or snow.
    16. Catchy drawer and sticky door, coming rain will pour and pour.
    17. When the wind blows from the west, fish bite best. When it blows from the east, fish bite least.
    18. When leaves show their undersides, be very sure that rain betides.
    19. Birds on a telephone wire predict the coming of rain.
    20. When the ditch and pond offend the nose, then look out for rain and stormy blows.
    21. Pigs gather leaves and straw before a storm.
    22. Trout jump high, when a rain is nigh.
    23. Red sky at morning, sailor take warning; red sky at night, a sailor’s delight.
    24. When the night goes to bed with a fever, it will awake with a wet head.





The Sacred Bird of January

Did you know that the month of January, and the first day of every month during the year is associated with roosters?
Well it’s true and I’ll tell you why.

A Buff Orpington Rooster

Jimmy the Buff Orpington Rooster

January is named for the ancient Etruscan god Janus.
Janus/Jana was an androgynous, mythical creator sun-god and was considered to be the keeper of the door of life. He was the guardian of all beginnings and endings and every new undertaking. He was father to twelve other Etruscan gods, and his divine children had twelve altars that belonged to the twelve months.
Gates, doors, caves and portals were all sacred to Janus.




The early Romans adopted and absorbed the myths of Janus and he was one of their earliest divinities.The people of Rome attributed the introduction of agriculture, law and religious worship to him.
In Rome, the doors to the temple of Janus were left open in times of war and closed during times of peace.
In art and literature Janus is most often portrayed as a two-faced or two-headed figure.

Janus

The Two Faced Roman god Janus

One face looks to the past – and the other face looks into the future.
Janus is at times depicted with a staff and he is usually in possession at least one key. Sometimes Janus has a rooster by his side.
The staff is a porter’s staff that directs the way forward to new beginnings or ventures.
The key is a symbol that Janus is the gate-keeper of life and that he holds the keys to the gates of heaven.
And because Janus is a sun-god, the rooster was his honored and sacred bird.

The Romans believed that the rooster welcomed the sun at dawn with vigorous crowing that symbolized the sun’s triumph over the night and darkness.

Dark BrahmaRooster

A Dark Brahma Rooster

Distaff Day

“Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaff’s Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them;
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right;
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one To his own vocation.”
Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Distaff Day is traditionally celebrated on January 7th. Sometimes it is known as St. Distaff’s Day.
It is the day after Epiphany – January 6th.
This day signals the official end to the 12 days of Christmas.




Distaff Day in traditional Christian agrarian cultures once marked the day people returned to their normal work. Women would return to their spinning wheels and men would return to the fields.

Flax Dressed on a Distaff Ready For Spinning

Flax Dressed on a Distaff Ready For Spinning

On Distaff Day, young men would prank and tease the young unmarried women by trying to set their flax on fire.
And the young women invariably responded to the men by dousing them with a bucket of cold water.
It was good fun for all.
In hand spinning, a “distaff” is a type of armature or fixture that supports flax or wool for a hand spinner.
A distaff is typically held above or to the side of a hand spinner’s working space.

A Distaff on a Low Wheel

A Distaff on a Low Wheel

The purpose of the distaff is to keep the long fibers of flax or wool from tangling and perhaps matting while being spun. A distaff makes hand spinning fine linen thread easy.

When I dress a distaff I do not bind the line flax to the distaff tightly. I prefer to spin flax wet and while the fibers hang very loose above me.
It drives some hand spinners positively crazy.

Spinning Flax Into Linen

Spinning Flax Into A Course Linen Thread

Tiny Chicken Eggs – A Natural Phenomenon With A Spooky History

I went to collect eggs yesterday and found a tiny chicken egg sitting in the nest boxes along with the regular size eggs.

Tiny Chicken Egg

Regular Size Eggs and a Small Dwarf Egg Called a “Cock Egg”

I thought to throw it over the house but instead decided to tempt Fate and brought it indoors so I could take a picture of it to share with you.



Tiny or miniature size eggs in standard size hens are the natural result when a small bit of reproductive tissue or other small foreign mass enters the hen’s oviduct and triggers the regular formation of an egg.
Inside the hen’s body the bit of tissue or foreign mass is treated exactly like a normal yolk. It is swathed and enveloped in albumen, membranes and a shell and is eventually passed from the hen’s body. When it is laid it looks just like a regular chicken egg except that it is very little and teeny.

These types of malformed eggs have been known for centuries as a ‘Cock Egg’. Most often these little eggs contain only the white of the egg and no yolk. Usually the shells are harder to break than that of a normal egg.

Cock Egg - No Yolk Just Egg White

Cock Egg – No Yolk Just Egg White

‘Cock Egg’ is a synonymous term for any type of abnormal egg.
Sometimes a normal sized egg is formed without a proper hard shell but with a yolk. That egg too is also known as a cock egg, but is sometimes called a “rubber egg’ or “tube egg” by people not familiar with the history or folklore of eggs.

In folk tradition, a cock egg was understood to have been laid by a rooster or cock and not a hen, and was a cause for concern. Cock eggs according to different folklore traditions bring bad luck or illness if they are brought into the house. That’s because a cock egg is believed to have malefic and magical powers. They are reputed to be of value to sorcerers and magicians for mixing magical potions and casting spells.

The way the story goes, is that if a toad, serpent or witch at the behest of Satan incubates a cock egg, the resulting hatchling will be a cockatrice or a basilisk. A cockatrice or basilisk is an ancient winged monster with a serpent’s body and a rooster’s head that can kill and destroy by its breath and glance.

During the middle ages it was self-evident to most intelligent people that a cock egg was the work of the devil. Animals as well as people could be in league with Satan, and in 1474 a chicken passing for a rooster in Basle, Switzerland was put on trial and condemned to be burned at the stake for “the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg”. American author and educator, E.V. Walter in his essay – Nature On Trial – The Case Of A Rooster That Laid An Egg , writes, “ the execution took place with as great a solemnity as would have be observed in consigning a heretic to the flames, and was witnessed by an immense crowd of townsmen and peasants.”

A cock egg has also been called a ‘Witch Egg’ since the Middle Ages and a ‘Fairy Egg’ during the mid and late Victorian era. In Scotland and elsewhere in Europe, a cock egg is sometimes also called a ‘Wind Egg’. In recent times here in the U.S. these types of deformed eggs are sometimes called ‘Fart Eggs’.
I suppose language really does reflect cultural ideals and concerns.
Superstition instructs that the best way to protect against the evil of a cock egg is to throw the malformed egg over the roof of the house and smash it on the other side which of course I didn’t do.

So now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. But I’m not too worried – it was worth the photos.

The True Cost of Heating with Wood & Coal

I live in rural northwest Pennsylvania. In my house we heat and cook with wood and coal for about 7 to 8 months out of the year.
We don’t burn much coal, because for the most part wood works well for us. Only during the hardest and coldest part of the winter do we use a bit of bagged Anthracite coal for heat.

Wood Fire In Wood Burner

A Roaring Wood Fire in November

Solar heat or energy is not possible for us because we have too many cloudy days here. When given a choice I’ve always preferred affordable low tech options that I can easily understand.

Snow Storm

A Blowing Winter Storm In December

IT’S A TRADE OFF

Where we live wood is very plentiful and there are few state regulations that govern the operation of solid fuel appliances. There are certain building codes and federal regulations regarding wood or coal-burning appliances but they are often ignored at the local level whenever possible.




Wood and coal have been an affordable energy alternative for us when compared to natural gas, electricity or petroleum.
Over the years we have literally saved tens of thousands of dollars. Our wood and coal stoves have paid for themselves at least four or five times over – and that’s including the cost of the expensive cook stove in the kitchen. This year alone (2012) we will save between $3600 to $3800 in heating costs contingent upon how cold and long this coming winter is.

What we will save this winter in heating costs is the price of a middle to top of the line wood stove or furnace and it’s much more than half the price of the most expensive cook stove that I know of.

So depending upon the brand and model chosen, a solid fuel stove at today’s prices will pay for itself in saved energy costs within the first year.

The money that we will save in heating costs does not include the money that will be saved over the next 6 months because the LP propane stove will not be used regularly for cooking again until next summer.
Back in the days when I had an electric range the savings averaged about a quarter of my total electric bill every month.
Here in rural western Pennsylvania free wood can often be had if families are willing to spend a month of long hard Saturdays or Sundays cleaning up slash wood from commercial logging operations. Gathering free firewood always seemed to me a better use of family time and resources than shopping, watching TV, going to the gym or hauling children to extracurricular “activities”.
All it takes is a few phone calls, the cost of a chain saw and a willingness to work hard.

For those who cannot cut their own wood, seasoned fire wood at present in my area of the country is running about $150 a cord delivered. Fire wood is measured in “cord wood”. A cord of wood is a stack of wood 4 feet deep by 4 feet high by 8 feet long. It takes 5 – 7 cords of wood for my house to make it though a winter.




My husband cuts and splits all the wood for our home.
It’s a big job for one man and usually takes him about 3 or 4 complete weekends working 12 hours a day.
Time can be saved if the trees are already on the ground. But if the trees need to be dropped it can take much longer. Felling trees and removing the branches takes time and planning. It can be dangerous, hot and dirty work.

Cutting A Tree

Using A Chainsaw To Cut a Small Tree For Firewood

The freedom of not being dependent upon the big energy companies and good weather for a hot meal and a warm home is a source of comfort and security for my husband and me.
Fact is nothing keeps you as warm as wood or coal heat.

But heating and cooking with wood and coal comes with other costs that are often unseen and unknown to the general public who are used to easy energy.
In my life there have been real trade offs in terms of time, labor, convenience and lifestyle.
No matter how you look at it – there’s no free lunch.
You either have to go out to work for someone else to earn the money to stay warm with easy energy if you live in a cold climate, or you have to be willing to adjust to a lifestyle of labor and discipline that many people find confining and sheer drudgery.

WOOD or COAL
We have three wood stoves in our house and two of them have small fireboxes.
So that means that during hard winter I can’t be gone from home for more than 3 or 4 hours unless I’m burning coal because the fires will begin to go out.

Seasoned Fire Wood

Seasoned Fire Wood Ready To Burn

In the early 19th century when wood was the only option for most of rural America, someone usually had to stay behind at home “to keep the home fires burning”.
These days, to re-start a fire is not a hardship because of matches and newspaper. But before the advent of matches it was a small household crises to have a fire go out.
It usually meant having to strike a spark from flint and steel and hope for good luck. Often a child was sent to the neighbor’s house to bring live embers home with sometimes disastrous consequences. Many a child was seriously burned due to immaturity or carelessness while carrying hot embers.

Back then, to have a fire go out meant waiting in the darkness and cold until the fire could be started again. Without a fire there was no cooking or hot water for cleaning or personal hygiene. It could take an entire day to remedy the situation and get the household running smoothly again.

Now if I chose to burn coal I can be gone from home for a longer amount of time.
But bagged Anthracite coal costs money. At present bagged Anthracite is about $6 a bag or around $300 per ton.
If I were to choose to only burn Anthracite coal for heat I would use no more than 1 ½ tons of coal a year.
So this year my heating costs would be around $450 if I only burned coal.

Anthracite Coal

A Hod Of Anthracite Coal

If I were to select Bituminous coal my heating costs would be even lower. Bituminous coal is dusty, smelly and does not burn as clean or as hot as Anthracite coal; but it is readily available here in western Pennsylvania. In fact my farm has been mined for coal in the past and two generations ago a small family drift mine was in operation here.

If I supplement my wood burning with coal, I will typically use between a half to one full bag of coal a day depending upon how cold it is outdoors. The closer the thermometer gets to 0°F the more coal I would have to use.
But even at the price of $6 a bag or $300 a ton, coal is a considerable savings over fuel oil, electricity or natural gas.
If I lived in an area where wood was not readily available or if I worked away from home all day, I would choose coal as my primary heat source.

Because of my small fireboxes there have been many times that I have had to cut a trip away from home short because I needed to return to feed a fire. Those moments are inconvenient. But I’d not be telling the whole truth if I didn’t also mention that there have been times that I have used the excuse of tending to a wood fire to leave a tedious social situation early.

WHAT A DAMN DIRTY MESS
Heating and cooking with wood has many benefits. But one thing I have never been able to get use to and I consider a disadvantage is the sheer amount of dirt, snow, mud, bark, wood chips, insects and debris associated with wood that end ups in the house.
Coal is not so bad. But it takes a good started wood fire to make a coal fire. So there’s no getting around it.
Wood has had a direct impact on my housekeeping and has authored the interior design of my home.
Let me explain:
Wood and coal are very dirty alternatives to electricity, fuel oil or natural gas; but wood and coal are an important part of my everyday life.
So in terms of housekeeping if I want to stay completely happy and sane, the best I can do is manage the mess and realistically accommodate the life I chose to live.
Years ago I had to decline to follow the style of many middle class American homes.
That means painted walls, no carpeting or drapes, washable upholstery and a big red fire extinguisher in all almost every room of my home.

Dirt and Debris on a Floor

Dirt and Debris Are Part of Wood Heat

I try to sweep my floors every day and two or three times a year all the walls in my home must be washed.
Windows must be washed at least 4 times a year. Soot smudges from fingers that end up on woodwork, the bathroom sink or on the refrigerator are a constant battle.
Soot transfers very easily and can be hard to remove. I keep cleaning rags and a spray bottle of ammonia and water handy for that purpose.

THE HOUSE CAN GET TOO HOT or TOO COLD – SELDOM JUST RIGHT FOR TOO LONG
Heating with wood or coal is not as convenient as simply flipping a switch or turning up a thermostat.
The heat from a solid fuel appliance is much more comfortable, but is not as stable a heat as modern natural gas, fuel oil or electric heat.
Wood heat always needs to be fiddled with.

Wood or coal heat is a very dry heat. No matter how many pans of water I set out the relative humidity in my house rarely rises above 28% during hard winter.
That kind of desert like dryness takes a toll on wooden furniture, books and on skin.

Most days when I’m busy about the house I work in a tank top because the house seems over hot to me with temperatures averaging around 80°F -85°F. I’m most comfortable with interior temperatures of about 62°F when I’m active.

But on winter mornings when outdoor temperatures are in the single digits or lower, and the house has lost temperature overnight, it often is so cold that I can see my breath.

Cook Stove In Kitchen

The Cook Stove Is The First Stove Started Early in Morning

Leaving a warm bed behind on a frigid morning to rekindle or re-light a fire has often been a real personal challenge of will for me.

Many mornings I’ve lain in bed hoping in vain my husband or the Wood Fairies would get up first to get the fires going again. It’s mostly mind over matter.

I WOULDN’T HAVE IT ANY OTHER WAY
Usually by the end of February I’ve had quite enough of wood and coal and all the things that go with them.

Wood Ashes On A Path

A Trail Of Wood Ashes Helps Make The Way Safe To The Barn

The end of March and April are challenging months to heat with wood because of the approaching spring.
Often the weather is very cold only in the morning and in the evening and fires do not need to be going all day. So that makes for starting two and sometimes three fires a day in the same stove.
When the weather is cold and rainy during the spring, it can be a difficult to know how long or how hot or how many stoves need to be fired.

When I first started to heat with wood it took me about three full years to understand all the variables in stove operation, in the weather, in my house and in my own personality and character.
When heating with wood or coal nothing can replace personal experience. You must live it to understand it.
In the beginning I had to learn a new way of living. I had to adjust my attitude and outlook to a new cycle of life centered around tending a fire. The notion of hearth and home took on deeper meaning for me.

Many years have gone by since then.
Now I’m old and well-seasoned just like good firewood and I have been heating with wood for so long I can hardly remember any other way of life.
In spite of the labor and mess involved and the sometimes terribly cold mornings, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Heating with wood and coal are right for me and my circumstance. It has made good economic sense over the years and brings with it a measure of independence and energy security that wasn’t found back when I was a helpless slave to the energy grid.
But believe me, all that said – the spring is always welcomed here.

Daffodils Blooming

Daffodils Blooming In Spring




Heating Your Home With Coal

During the coldest part of winter I often burn coal instead of wood in my stoves. To my way of thinking nothing keeps you as warm as coal.

Dog Next To A Coal Stove

Laying Next To A Coal Burning Stove

There are two main types of coal used in the United States for energy: bituminous coal and anthracite coal.
Bituminous coal is the most common form of coal. It is the type of coal that is use for electric power plants, but it is also used for home heating. Bituminous coal is dull and dusty looking and is easily burned. It is considered to be a soft coal and burns sooty.Bituminous coal contains 10,500 to 14,500 BTUs per pound.
Anthracite coal is a denser, harder coal that is found in the US, but only in eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite coal is about twice as expensive as bituminous coal and is almost always used for home heating and not for electricity generation. Anthracite coal is shiny and waxy looking and burns clean. Anthracite coal contains about 15,000 BTUs per pound.

Anthracite Coal

A Hod Of Anthracite Coal

The advantages of coal for home heating are many.
Coal can be safely stored for an indefinite period of time and it never goes bad.
Coal doesn’t rot or draw insects like wood. Coal does not need a pipeline, or any type of special tank or container like LP gas or fuel oil.
Depending upon your location, coal is often a more affordable home heating option when compared to either fuel oil or natural gas.
Best of all, coal is not produced by people who want to behead you or hate you. Coal is a 100% American energy resource. Coal is abundant in the United States and many coal mines are still small mom and pop operations. Coal makes jobs for Americans.

The last I knew, Pennsylvania has enough anthracite coal for home heating needs for about another 150 years or so – maybe longer.
A coal fire puts out more BTUs than most types of hardwoods. Osage wood is the only wood I can think of that will burn as hot as coal. Coal is readily available in many areas of the country and is most often sold in 40lb. bags or in bulk.




Now before you rush out and buy coal for your wood burning stove there’s a few things you need to know.
To safely and effectively burn coal you must use a multi-fuel stove or appliance. Coal fires burn too hot for most standard wood fuel boxes. Burning coal in a regular wood stove or furnace can result in an overheated stove, a burned out fuel box; a warped stove or a house fire.
Coal or multi-fuel stoves or furnaces have a way to bring air to the fire from underneath. Coal appliances are designed with a cast iron slotted grate and have some way to shake or tip the grate to clear out ashes and leftover coal clunkers. Coal must have free circulating air from beneath in order to burn properly. Any buildup of ashes under the grate will inhibit a coal fire.

Coal Grate

Coal Grate In A Multi-Fuel Stove

How To Start & Maintain A Coal Fire
Coal fires unlike wood fires can be hard to start and need to be tended to differently.
I’m going to assume that if you’re interested in burning coal that you already know how to start a fire in a stove or in a  furnace.
I’m also going to assume that you have a multi-fuel stove or appliance.
Along with a poker you’ll probably want a coal hod and a small shovel to manage an indoor coal fire. A coal hod is also called a coal scuttle or coal bucket. Coal hods frequently have a pitcher-shaped end for pouring coal on a fire. Coal hods are usually made of metal and have a handle for carrying small amounts of coal.

Coal Hod

A Coal Hod With Small Coal Shovel

To start a coal fire, you’ll first need to have a good strong wood fire going.
Depending upon the type of coal you plan to burn you’ll need a bed of hot wood coals.
About 1”-2” of wood coals is a good place to start for bituminous coal.
With anthracite coal, about 2”-4” of hot wood coals is what it usually will take to get it started.
With both types of coal, the coal fire is started by adding just a small amount of coal on top of the wood coals.

Adding Coal

Adding A Small Amount Of Coal On Top Of A Wood Fire

Open the lower door or damper of the stove so that coal is being fed air from beneath. Wait about 5 minutes and add about twice as much coal as the first time.

Open Bottom Door Or Damper

Open Bottom Door Or Damper

After about 10 – 15 minutes add more coal and watch for the blue flame that is characteristic of coal-burning.
At this point you can close the bottom door or damper. Once there is a full bed of ignited coals on the grate an entire hod of coal can be added. The way that I add coal by the hod, is I open the bottom door, and then just throw or pour an entire hod of coal on the fire.
I wait to make sure that I see blue flames creeping up through the coal before I close the bottom door.

Coal Pile Burning

Coal Pile Burning

Many people who become frustrated with coal burning fail to appreciate the differences between the two types of coal.

With anthracite coal it’s important to neither rush the coal ignition nor to stir up or poke the fire like a wood fire. An anthracite fire needs to have the grate gently shaken or lifted slightly and moved every once in a while. If you disturb an anthracite coal mass by poking or stirring it, the fire will tend to go out and you’ll be left with unfired clunkers.

With a bituminous coal fire, the coal will tend to burn and lump together into a large solid mass. Bituminous coal fires need to be lightly poked and stirred up in order to burn completely.

The most important thing to understand about burning coal is that it doesn’t burn like wood.
Coal radiates and burns from the bottom to the top. The fire spreads upwards through the coal and one piece of coal will ignite another. When a coal fire is properly burning there is little flame. The coals just glow.

Glowing Fire

A Glowing Coal Fire

An entire hod of anthracite coal will keep my 1200 square foot house comfortably warm in -15F° weather for about 6 hours. In sub-zero weather I used just over 1 bag of anthracite coal a day.

I never burn bituminous coal in the upstairs living area of my house because of the soot. However I do burn bituminous coal in my basement stove to keep the plumbing from freezing in sub-zero weather.

Anthracite coal has a more complete combustion than bituminous coal. Anthracite coal leaves little ash and waste when compared to bituminous coal. Unlike hardwood ashes, I don’t spread coal ashes on my garden. Instead coal ashes are scattered in my driveway to melt ice and snow.

Some people prefer to start coal fires with outdoor charcoal briquettes. I don’t recommend the briquette method due to the costs of the briquettes and the lack of availability of charcoal briquettes in some areas of the U.S. during the winter months.

Pick The Best Day For Hatching Eggs

I’m a great believer in agricultural traditions and folk wisdom.
That’s because much of what I learned about homesteading was passed onto me by the two generations of garden farmers that came before me. Heeding their advice enabled much success and fewer homesteading failures.
One bit of advice that was given to me by those far more experienced than myself was regarding the best time for setting or incubating eggs.




The most favorable time for setting eggs under a broody hen or in an incubator is 21 days before a waxing moon is in the zodiac sign of Cancer.

New Hatched Chick

A Buff Orpington Chick Hatched During A Waxing Moon in the Sign of Cancer

In order to determine what day that would be you’ll need an almanac for the current year. All good almanacs have tables or charts that map the course of the moon though the zodiac.
If we use chicken eggs as an example here’s how to find the best day.

Chicken Eggs Hatching

A Clutch of Chicken Eggs Hatching In The Moon Sign Of Cancer

Chicken eggs need 21 days to hatch.
So a quick look in any current almanac will find days that the moon will be in the sign of Cancer, and will also be waxing.
Most years there will be a couple of days that this will occur during the light (waxing) of the moon.
All that is necessary is to pick a Cancer day and then count backwards 21 days. Whatever day that happens to be is the day to begin to incubate the clutch of eggs. That day counts as Day 1.

If for some reason a waxing Cancer day is inconvenient for setting eggs, a day that a waxing moon falls in the signs of Scorpio or Pisces would be a second best choice.
Chicks that are hatched during a waxing Cancer moon tend to hatch with fewer problems and grow faster.

A Hornet Nest Winter Forecast

Yesterday morning while walking in my apple orchard I noticed an active Bald Face Hornet nest built very close to the ground.
The nest is good size and is about 3 ½ to 4 feet from the ground.

Bald Face Hornet Nest

A Bald Face Hornets Nest

Old timers say that when hornets build their nest close to the ground a cold and snowy winter lies ahead. When they build high up in the trees the winter will be mild.


Hornet Nest Built Low To The Ground

Hornet Nest Built Low To The Ground

Judging by how low the nest is, I’d say we’re in for another long hard winter.