BRUNO, Sask. – In what has become a winter ritual at the Hering farmhouse north of Bruno, somebody goes out to the attached garage twice a day, carries in a pail of fall rye and pours it into a hole on the top of a black stove in the living room.
Delmer and Janet Hering bought their grain stove after moving a house onto their farmyard that was heated with propane. The propane system cost them $10 a day in the winter and they quickly went looking for a cheaper alternative.
The Envirotec grain stove, which they installed in 1993, burns a bushel of rye a day and last year the Herings paid $1 a bushel. After paying for cleaning, Delmer Hering said it cost $1.25 a day last winter to heat their home.
According to his estimates, electricity is 8.6 times more expensive than burning grain and natural gas is 3.3 times more expensive. He estimates that he uses 125 bu. of fall rye a year.
“Most people, when you tell them that you only use 125 bu. a year, they say, ‘why, I wouldn’t even notice that if I took that out of my bin,’ ” Hering said.
However, the Herings also market the stove in Western Canada and occasionally talk to European visitors at trade shows who are horrified at the prospect of burning grain.
“They think it’s terrible that we’re burning grain to keep us warm. I don’t think they believe me that grain was as cheap as it is because there they’re getting $10 a bu., one guy told me. It’s almost like a sin for them to be burning this stuff.”
As it stands, Hering said grain prices could jump to $6 a bu. and still be slightly cheaper to burn than natural gas.
Contrary to what some may think, Hering said grain stoves aren’t a way to get rid of low quality junk wheat that no one else wants. It still has to be of high enough quality to burn efficiently.
He said the first year that they had the stove he burned tough, wet, poor quality wheat from his farm and got poor results. He has since switched to fall rye, which he buys from neighbours and then has it cleaned so short pieces of straw, bits of heads and small rocks don’t jam the stove’s internal parts.
Last winter, he burned some of his frozen wheat that was as light as 53 pounds and found it didn’t create as much heat as a higher quality grain.
“Some people were telling me they had wheat as low as 38, 40 lb. but I have a feeling that would be like burning barley or oats, which doesn’t work very good at all. Barley and oats have too much hull content. You get very little heat and lots of ash.”
Screenings are also too light and don’t produce enough heat.
Hering said wheat is the most common fuel, including winter wheat, CPS wheat and durum, although he prefers fall rye. Triticale also works well, he added, as do fababeans.
While he hasn’t tried them himself, he said he’s been told that lentils and chickpeas produce too much ash, similar to barley and oats.
While the stove was originally designed to burn corn, Hering said short supply on the Prairies makes it an expensive choice. While wood pellets work fine, they are also too expensive.
The system is simple. A hopper at the top of stove is filled with unprocessed grain, which is then automatically metered down to the burning pot via an auger. A control panel on the side of the stove regulates how much grain moves through the auger, which determines the heat created.
A clinker, which is a piece of hard ash the size of a hockey puck, is removed from the bottom of the burning pot twice a day and the stove must be turned off once a week for a thorough vacuuming.
Hering uses a grain cart to haul his rye from a granary to the garage, where he keeps about 25 pails.
The stove costs between $3,200 and $3,400 and can be hooked up to existing duct work or allowed to heat the house from its own front fan, which is how the Herings heat their 1,700 sq. feet of main floor living space.
It doesn’t need a chimney because it is vented through a side wall similar to a laundry dryer vent.
Hering said the stove emits no heat from the back or sides and is rated for one inch clearance at the back and zero clearance on the sides. The front door is the only place where someone could burn themselves.
Hering recommends keeping an existing heating system as a backup and as a way to heat the house if occupants go away for an extended period.
The Herings have been marketing the stove, which is built in Ontario, for two years, mainly through farm shows in Regina and Saskatoon but also through their website at www.corn
Hering said they sold 35 last year.