Enjoying a warm winter fire

November 7, 2012 

My wife and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary in March. We have been on our honeymoon for 30 years -- and we are enjoying it. I like to say that if it was puppy love back then, we have gone to the dogs now. Donna gets prettier every day.

You have to spend quality time together to build romance. Of course, as we age, what we consider a romantic date has changed. With children, jobs, church ministries, etc., we just try to find some time to be together. Some of our romantic outings lately have taken us to exotic places such as Kroger, Wal-Mart, Bass Pro Shop and Lowe’s. You can more easily enjoy being together if you focus on who you are with and not just where you are.

Another romantic interlude is sitting by a fire. But we have to plan ahead if we want to enjoy a nice wood fire. You may be planning to curl up in front of a blaze this winter, so here are some tips from Merritt Melancon at the University of Georgia to help you better enjoy the fireside.

Wood fires are nice, but be careful when bringing wood inside. We often bring six and eight-legged pests in as well. Insects and spiders will often hide under the bark or in cracks and crevices on wood. This is especially true of wood that has set outside for a while.

Use gloves when bringing wood inside. Watch out for spider webs and spider egg cases as signs that trouble may be near. One particular problem is the brown widow spider. This stinging pest creates the typical fuzzy, round spider egg case but the egg case of a brown widow has short spikes covering the surface. If you see these spiky egg cases, proceed carefully and watch for the spiders. This website will give you pictures to help with identification: sarasota.ifas.ufl.edu/IPM/BrownWidow.htm

Do not bring in wood until you are ready to burn it. Pests on the wood may remain dormant outside in the cold only to crawl off the wood and into your house when they get inside where it is warmer.

You may be tempted to spray the wood with insecticide, but do not do this! Once the wood has been treated, it may not be safe to burn. There is not a sure way of knowing what the insecticide will do once you burn the wood. Try to avoid spraying inside as well. Control pests by not bringing them inside.

Store firewood outside until it is needed. I suggest piling it up off the ground. This will not prevent all pests, but may slow them down. Wood piles can attract not only insects and spiders but also snakes, lizards, frogs, millipedes and centipedes. Millipedes and centipedes have many legs, but centipedes can actually bite people. To tell which one you have; centipedes have two legs per body segment and move more quickly, whereas millipedes have four legs per segment, move more slowly and curl up when disturbed. Watch out for centipedes: edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ig093

Do not pile firewood against your house, because it is easy for pests to move from the wood pile into the house. Wood piles outside can attract termites, but it is unlikely they will do so unless left in place for more than a year or so, University of Georgia termite expert Bryan Forschler said. Termites brought inside on wood probably pose little threat but go ahead and burn this wood quickly.

Wood is best well-seasoned before it is burned. Green wood will burn, but it gives off less heat. Green wood is generally easier to split. Split your wood soon after it is cut and then let it sit to dry out and season before you burn it.

Some people get the idea that there are some woods that release toxic chemicals when burned. I have never heard of any untreated wood that releases toxic chemicals. You would, however, need to avoid burning treated wood or composite woods such as plywood or OSB in fireplaces. These woods have additives to improve their life and usability and we cannot be sure that they release no harmful chemicals when burned.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture.

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