As the nights are longer and colder, we all naturally want to stay warm. What better way than a slow combustion stove or an open fire?

Those with a bit more space might even have a permanent ‘camp fire’ site for outdoor cooking and socialising. One of the advantages is the beautiful heat from a real fire that electricity or gas just can’t beat. The peace and tranquillity that you gain from staring into the coals after a satisfying meal that has been cooked in them is also very hard to beat. Call it bush television if you wish, whether it be for cooking on, or just for heating, or both, a fire outside or in has a charm and ambiance that almost nothing can beat after a long day.

The one advantage is that it is cheap. That is, if you are not paying for the fuel. Possibly the easiest way is to grow your own. Growing wood is like growing vegetables, but much easier. Instead of low ‘food miles’, it is ‘low fuel miles’.

While we all know wood grows on trees the trick is to knowing what trees to grow in a given situation. For example, if you only have a few square metres in which to grow fuel, it would be possible to plant Acacia pycnantha, golden wattle. It grows very fast and is a small tree to about 6m and will happily grow with minimal water locally. It would be feasible to cut it up by hand with a bow saw.

On the other hand, if you have more space and waste water, Eucalyptus camaldulensis river red gum will yield quite extraordinary quantities of wood of the highest burning quality there is. Some will say arid and semi arid zone wattles have better burning qualities, but it is a case of personal preference and availability. The river red gum is a plant that will grow quickly after it has been harvested so you would plant it once and have wood for the rest of your life.

Many other Eucalypts will grow quickly and re grow after harvesting. The final choice of tree will come down to parameters such as space, soil type and if any irrigation will be available.

Another novel way to grow wood is to plant quite a mixture and thin over time so that the largest and best are retained long term as the basis for woodland or shady garden. Mini forests that are close spaced can be exciting places for children to play, but be prepared for tears if you harvest a favourite!

So what could be better? Grow your own trees for your own fire to keep the family warm and fed andhave the fun of cutting them down for the cost of a few litres of fuel for the chain saw?

This article first published in the Riverland Weekly © May 10, 2012.