I've talked here before about my difficulty in choosing the "best" winter heating fuel. We have a "biomass" stove, designed to burn wood pellets, corn, or other small, "pellety" fuels. Not that there have been many other options available up until now, but our appliance can hypothetically burn oats, sunflower seeds, grass pellets, and various other things.
I struggled with the ethical dilemma of burning corn for the same reasons I think ethanol is a flawed option. Namely, that you're pitting food and fuel against each other, which can only drive up prices. Not good in a world of seven billion people who all need to eat.
But it does burn hot and clean, and I can get it unbagged, in bulk, from very local sources - so I could "heat local." I could even theoretically grow enough myself to get me through a winter, which I keep hoping to try. Storage is a pain, because it attracts rodents and other critters, but once we got the chickens, at least we had a crack clean-up crew.
The other option, wood pellets, has its own pluses and minuses. Currently most of the wood pellets made come from sawdust - a byproduct of other industries. The downside is the sawdust has to be dried, formed into pellets, bagged, and shipped. It's usually been shipped a long way, but I can pick up the pellets within about 5 miles of my house.
From a practical standpoint, they both have their good and bad points as well. The ash from the corn is much easier to clean up. It's kind of sandy, and cools quickly, as opposed to the fine, fluffy ash from the pellets that stays hot for an hour after the fire is out. But the corn tends to form "clinkers" when burned - hard, black chunks of pure carbon that adhere to the stirring mechanism and have to be busted out from time to time.
Last year we settled on a mix of corn and pellets. It was kind of the best of both worlds. The ash was easier to deal with, there were no clinkers, and we could get some of the benefit of the lower cost and higher temperature of the corn, balanced with the easier and less ethically muddy pellets.
This fall, I was surprised to find my local supplier offering a third option: cherry pits. Like pellets, they are essentially a waste product. Like pellets, they have to be bagged and shipped. But unlike pellets, they are not manufactured. They also come from a much closer source: Michigan.
So I decided to give them a shot this year. I'm hedging my bets, with a fuel supply of two-thirds pellets to one-third cherry pits.
The cherry pits are less dense than the pellets, so a 40 lb bag is bulkier. This resulted in comically (and precariously) tall stack of bags in the back of the pickup truck. Their lower density means you can't pack as many into the stove's hopper, at least by weight.
I'm told they burn hotter and faster than pellets. They were priced the same. They have a lovely sound rustling together that reminds me of... something. A rain stick. And the exhaust (I can't really call it smoke) smells like cherry wood burning instead of roasted grain.
I'll have to report back after we've had some really cold weather to give a full report, but I have to say I like the concept. It's got a bit of a permaculture feel to it. I have high hopes.
I know I should end with some twist on a bowl of cherries and the pits. But I won't.
Labels: conservation, homestead, sustainability