Some of you are only excited about the coming of winter in the context of a certain HBO series; however, there are others that love sitting by a roaring fire on a cold day. I enjoy both a great deal, and luckily, we have a roaring fire most days in the winter because we prefer to heat our home with wood. A quote from Aldo Leopold comes to mind when I think about what many would consider to be our somewhat odd (or at least labor intensive) choice: “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” Luckily, our spirits are no danger whatsoever … nope, not even a tiny bit.Of course, a roaring fire can be somewhat tricky to build if you aren’t a pro, or don’t have access to the right fire-starting materials. So, let’s focus on just one of those materials today — kindling. Please drop those twigs, recycle that newspaper, and step away from the shelf of fatwood and wax pellets at the store. I’m here to tell you how to grow kindling worthy of a true pyromaniac.
First, you’ll want to get your hands on some Miscanthus Giganteus. This is not the decorative miscanthus used in landscaping. Nope, this is its big, bad, older brother.
I suggest using a garden bed edger to plant the rhizomes if you are putting in any quantity of them. It is a handy way to make long narrow slits in the ground where one can drop in the plants. The plants look almost delicate a month or so after being planted, but don’t be worried. Here we have a plot that is 65′ x 20′. I strongly suggest starting out a wee bit smaller.
After planting, they are 100% zero-maintenance. They don’t need to be watered, weeded, or fertilized. No amelioration is needed before or after planting. The only maintenance will be cutting the patch back each spring … and, really, how bad can that be?
After a few years, your patch will start to look like this (quite a change, isn’t it):
YAY! Look at all those plants!! Free kindling, free garden stakes, free … um … um … free biomass!!!
After a few more years, your patch will start to look a bit more robust:
Ummm .. yay???
Once spring comes, wait for a dry stretch in early May. Then, oh boy, it’s harvest time! Time to suit up with some protective gear. Safety first my friends! Start with heavy soled boots because you will be walking over the cut stalks, and nobody wants the equivalent of bamboo shoots poked into the soft underbelly of their foot. Next, safety goggles are very important. Stalks will be falling every-which-way when you harvest and you don’t want to put out an eye. Long sleeves are also recommended, but you can probably pass on gloves or a hat (unless it’s sunny, and then you’ll want a small-brimmed, tight-fitting hat).
We suggest the trusty BCS 2-wheel tractor with 5′ sickle bar attachment as your cutting device. You may have noticed that we get a lot of use out of ours. Fire that baby up and dive in. You’ll feel a bit like Indiana Jones whacking his way through the jungle, without the whacking part. It will take a number of passes, which will get increasingly challenging because the previously cut stalks will fall every direction as you walk through and they can get caught in the tractor and drag along. After some while you’ll have a ginormous game of pick-up-sticks to entertain yourself (and everybody you know) with for quite some time.
After setting aside the amount that you will use for gardening and kindling, you may have a little bit left over. Find somewhere out of the way to pile that up. At some point in the next century or so, it will most likely decompose. We store several large bundles in our wood shed to keep it dry. Once you have those nice 13′ tall bundles, you may be intimidated by how to cut them down to size. Never fear! We have the answer. The appropriate tool is a compound miter saw — the larger the better — and either tie tightly or have a second set of hands to hold the bunch together and cut cut cut.
Once your miscanthus is cut to length it will make the *perfect* kindling. It is of a consistent length and dimension (so it makes an attractive and tidy pile), and it will catch fire extremely quickly.
You too can have a fire that Daenerys Targaryen would be proud of:
And, please let me know if you need any kindling, I have a little bit left over from previous years that hasn’t decomposed yet.