If At First You Don’t Succeed …

All Sam Martin wanted was to lessen his fuel costs, and he’s finally on the right path for his operation now that he’s burning coal to heat his greenhouses. But Martin’s journey to the right fuel source had its twists and turns. Lessons were learned, Martin got an extensive education in a variety of energy sources and others can use his experience as a reminder of what to do when exploring non-fossil fuels–and what not to do.

Martin’s journey is unique because he has employed three different alternative energy systems–wood, corn and coal–in response to a recent rise in propane prices. Martin is heating four greenhouses that span about 20,000 square feet, and he’s using those greenhouses to grow vegetables for his business, Earth n’ Eats, in Chambersburg, Pa.

The first alternative source Martin gave a try was wood. He has a friend who owns a sawmill, so slab wood was plentiful and nearby. And Martin figured any wood burner would do–expensive or inexpensive–because he assumed his source would burn and create heat efficiently. Unfortunately, his plan did not work.

“We smoked up the whole area,” Martin says, “and we simply could not get enough heat out of that burner. A really good wood burner is very expensive–of course, I didn’t get a good one–and the slab wood was not a good source of fuel. It doesn’t have a lot of heat in it. It was very embarrassing, with fire trucks coming out here to put out a fire.”

Lesson No. 1 learned. Lesson No. 2 comes in the form of corn. The same manufacturer that sold Martin the wood burner also offers the corn boilers. Martin talked to another grower burning corn, learned that grower liked it and decided to give a corn boiler a try.

But when Martin bought his corn boiler, the price of corn skyrocketed like the propane that motivated him to explore alternative energy sources in the first place. He recalls corn priced between $2 and $3 per bushel moving above $4 per bushel at the time he launched the system. Even worse, the boiler he invested in was a prototype that had its kinks, and Martin discovered burning corn is even more challenging than burning wood.

“Corn is out,” Martin says adamantly. “Anybody who wants to put corn in a boiler does not know what they’re doing. Corn does not burn well. If you dry it down really well, it will burn–and there’s nice, dry heat there. But if you just buy corn out of the bin and think you’re going to burn it–and you need a lot of heat–you’re going to be disappointed.”

Being alert when manufacturers present facts and figures is key. Wood, corn or coal may burn so many BTUs at their peak forms, but the fuel you load into your boiler may not have the components to produce maximum heat. Moisture content, Martin found, is one major factor he should have considered. Devising a plant to handle and store fuel is another key factor.

Martin ultimately transitioned to coal because it’s the most economical, he says, and he’s producing twice as many BTUs with coal as he was with wood. Whether you agree coal is an acceptable source to burn is a separate point. The points you should take away are do your homework and don’t fall in love with convenience or cost. Find the system that fits you.

Leave a Reply

More From Equipment...
Gaillardia x grandiflora 'Arizona Apricot'

February 25, 2015

National Garden Bureau Designates 2015 As Year Of The Gaillardia

Gaillardia, also known as the blanket flower, is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and a long-blooming pollinator plant. It is fitting that the National Garden Bureau has specified 2015 as The Year of the Gaillardia.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Annual Meeting Date

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
Evolvulus Blue My Mind

February 24, 2015

Blue Ribbon Bloomers For Greenhouse Production

Grow what consumers want! Surveys show that blue is one of the top preferred colors of today’s consumers. Here are twelve top recommended blue-flowering Proven Winners annuals and perennials to suit your spring production cycle.

Read More
Latest Stories
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More
Michigan State University Extension

February 24, 2015

Ethylene From Defective Greenhouse Heaters Damages Crop…

Malfunctioning greenhouse heaters can lead to crop damage from ethylene and carbon monoxide induced illness for workers. Michigan State University's Extension educators Tom Dudek and Randy Beaudry teach you how to recognize the symptoms and check greenhouse heaters to avoid the concern.

Read More
Havest Automation Robot

February 18, 2015

Robots Grab Hold Of Growers’ Material Handling Needs

Harvest Automation’s HV-100 robots automate one of the hardest, most labor-intensive jobs at growing operations – plant spacing. With more technology coming, investing in robots could become even more realistic for growers of all sizes.

Read More

February 1, 2015

4 Lighting Products For Your Operation

These new lighting products have been developed for maximum energy efficiency in greenhouse production. Check out the slideshow to see which products are right for your operation.

Read More
LumiGrow

January 30, 2015

LumiGrow Expands Customer Base In 2014

LumiGrow, Inc. is adding more than 125 new commercial, governmental and research customers to its roster of customers, and beyond the new accounts added this year, many existing customers significantly increased the number of LumiGrow products they use and research customers made LumiGrow a part of their efforts to add to the body of knowledge about spectral science.

Read More
harvest automation featured image

January 13, 2015

Harvest Automation Extends Robot Rental Program

Harvest Automation's robot rental program proved to be such a success for the company that it is being extended through the spring. The program was unveiled last year as a way for customers to get started with HV-100 robots.

Read More

January 9, 2015

Innovations In Irrigation

Need help improving your irrigation? Check out these new products.

Read More

December 2, 2014

Hanna Instruments, Inc. Introduces pH Electrode With Bl…

Hanna Instruments recently released HALO, a professional pH probe with Bluetooth Smart (Bluetooth 4.0) technology that transmits measurement data directly to an Apple iPad running the Hanna Lab App.

Read More

November 24, 2014

Biomass Six Years Later: Would Pleasant View Do It Agai…

Pleasant View gardens installed its first biomass boiler six years ago and has added a second one since. Now it’s reaping the benefits of lower heating costs and dollars saved.

Read More

November 18, 2014

7 New Media And Light Products For Greenhouse Productio…

New media and light products cover a broad sweep of growing conditions.

Read More

October 21, 2014

GreenClocks New Generation City Farm Fitted With Philip…

Osaka Prefectural University’s new city farm, which has been fitted out with Philips LEDs, opened September 19.

Read More

October 1, 2014

Harvest Automation Introduces Robot Rental Program

Harvest Automation has unveiled a new introductory robot rental program as a way for customers to get started with HV-100 robots.

Read More

September 15, 2014

Precision Horticulture: What Piece Of Equipment Or Syst…

Let us know what product you can't live without.

Read More

September 15, 2014

New Products For Precision Growing

Increase efficiency with these new offerings in equipment, automation, structures and software.

Read More

August 12, 2014

LEDs Comparable To High Pressure Sodium Lamps For Cutti…

In his Cultivate'14 presentation on lighting the future of young plants with LEDs, Christopher Currey, Iowa State University, shared recent research on how LED lights stack up against high pressure sodium lamps for liner and plug production.

Read More

July 29, 2014

Bench-Top Root Zone Heating: Can You Reduce Air Tempera…

This is the second article in a two-part series featuring research from Purdue University that focuses on energy-efficient production strategies for annual bedding plants.

Read More

June 27, 2014

4 New Products For Cooling, Shading And Ventilation

The Vertex by Poly-Tex The Vertex is the newest member of the Greenhouse Megastore’s shade structure family. Make a statement and show your colors with this simple, stylish shade house.The easy-snap button frame and bungee-shade attachments will provide  shade in no time. With  more than 7 feet of sidewall clearance and 13 feet to the peak, the Vertex will give shade while keeping that open-air feeling.  

Read More

May 27, 2014

Philips Hosts High Wire Event For The First Time

Philips recently organized the International High Wire Event for the first time. The event was held in the Netherlands for a select group of international tomato growers, and included practical visits and opportunities for exchanging know-how and experience.

Read More