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How long does old firewood last?

Box-elder log with mushrooms

We've never cut down a tree on our property specifically for firewood, but we do end up cutting down a lot of trees as we make mushroom logs and clear land for cultivated crops.  In a perfect world, we'd saw the excess into stove-lengths immediately and haul it up to the wood shed, but in the real world, something more pressing is usually on the agenda.

Worms in woodSlowly but surely, we're learning how long we can ignore the downed trees before they're no longer firewood and have become fodder for the hugelkultur mounds.  Type of wood is the first factor --- softwoods like our ubiquitous box-elder may start to rot within a few months of being cut while hardwoods last much longer.

Three years ago, Mark cut down a bunch of trees to clear ground for a blueberry patch.  The photo at the top of this post shows what the box-elder logs look like --- once your "firewood" is sprouting mushrooms, there's no point in throwing it in the stove.  (Worms in the bark aren't a good sign, but aren't a deal breaker either.)  On the other hand, a walnut tree with approximately the same dimensions, cut at the same time, shows no signs of rot three years later.

Moving firewood

The second factor is whether the cut trees are lying on the ground.  In our damp climate, the earth never really gets dry, so a log that touches the soil for its whole length never gets dry either.  The box-elder logs Mark's handling in the photo above were already starting to rot even though they'd been cut from a living tree just nine months ago.

Leaning logsWe got smart with the box-elder we cut recently, leaning log sections up against the fallen trunk --- those should stay relatively rot-free until the driveway is passable by truck.  Similarly, the limbs of the walnut we cut yesterday are much drier than the main trunk since they were raised off the ground.

Of course, this whole discussion assumes you put off care of your firewood until later.  If you cut fresh wood right away and store it in a dry, airy wood shed, the wood will last indefinitely.  In fact, like wine and hard cheese, firewood under cover only gets better with age.

Our chicken waterer makes care of the backyard flock easy and clean.


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