Flame dried timber not the ticket – Graham Smith

Being July, I am in the last throes of getting organised before the new season. The rubber ware has been replaced, but I still must repair cracks in the yard to keep the inspector happy. That is the problem with a 60 year old shed – the maintenance required to create the right environment to harvest milk.

Last season ended up being a record, with 33,350 kg from 78 cows. The target is always to match or better it, but I think I have set myself a hard job. Using the correct amount of PKE will be the next task and I am sure it is going to tax many of us getting that right.

Tess and I managed to get away for a break up north to do a spot of fishing. Over ten days we got five days of actual fishing due to a few storms that brought torrential rain. We did catch enough for a feed every day, and smoked a few to bring home. Mangonui is a great place to stay, and we were very lucky to not to have to tow the tinny up there, as a mate said to use his five-metre boat. A bigger boat was just the ticket in rough waters, and provided more space for us and friends.

Back home I am now planting out the sapling Paulownias, which is a bigger job than usual because the wet summer has provided more large saplings than normal. I usually plant about 100 per year, but this year I have 150. This entails digging them out of the nursery, which involves a tiling spade and an axe head welded to a long handle, so I can cut the tap root. I take out about 20 at a time to the planting site, dig a large hole and then ram up the soil around the sapling so it can withstand spring winds as it develops leaves. I also put 5 fertiliser prills in with every tree to give it a good start the first year. The other issue is to find planting space around the dairy paddocks, and designing the planted rows so that they do not impact on day-to-day operations, such as mowing. After the planting is done they then need to be fenced with two wire electrics to protect them from my cows, who would love the chance to ring bark them.

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Next week we have an American forester coming to stay for a month to learn how we do it around here. I have been saving some of the planting for when he arrives, so he can give me a hand. We are probably going to learn a lot from each other and I look forward to it. He is here for some time, moving on to other farms in both islands, staying at each farm for about a month.

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One big issue currently is drying timber for sale. I have got behind on my supply of dry timber due to the wet conditions since Xmas. Air drying is trying to get the moisture content down to 14% or less, without paying for heat or fans etc. So I used a diesel forced air fan to blow hot air through a tunnel with wood in it. That worked quite well until the wind blew some leaves in the path of the hot air, which dried them rather quickly. They ignited, and I lost my stack of wood to a fire. We were able to extinguish it with our house fire extinguisher and the garden hose. No big deal, got insurance. Not so quick, I was not covered by the usual contents cover because this was commercial timber for sale. This means only the shed will be paid for, plus a few tarpaulins. Lesson being: make sure everyone knows what is happening so the appropriate cover is taken. The hard lesson has been learned and I am now buying a container in which to dry the timber with a dehumidifier and a fan.

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Air drying timber requires a bit of experience in setting up the stack, filleting each piece of timber so it has its own air space around it. Different timbers must be treated specifically to their needs. Some must be dried very slowly, e.g. eucalypts, which need to be dried over two years or the wood will split or develop cell collapse, which disfigures and weakens the wood. In that case, it is necessary to wrap the drying stack with two layers of shade cloth to slow wind speed and evaporation. Some timber requires stacking according to the grain displayed at the end of each piece, depending on if it was flat, or quarter sawn.

As you can see, learning about timber and trees is a big job, but very rewarding, just like milking cows.

Photo credit: Thanks to Tess Smith, Te Awamutu Camera Club.

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