This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V20", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
No house in Washington is such a Japanese gem as the home of General Horace Capron.
This gentleman, going to Japan in 1871, took with him his carriage and horses. He was soon requested to lend his turn-out to the emperor, and then invited to the palace, where his-majesty said to him:"Sir! I have sent for you to thank you personally for introducing such animals into my country. I never knew before that they existed on the face of the earth." The General was then employed to put Up a flouring mill - as bread was no less unknown than horses to the Japanese. Nor were his rolls less welcome than his road-ters. He also built a sawmill which cut twelve thousand feet daily - which was all that six hundred sawyers could do. Among other services he showed how to can salmon, and so rendered that fishery ten times more valuable than it had been.
He had his reward. Everything rich and rare that had been garnered up in the imperial treasure-house was lavished upon him, and he came home laden with the spoils of the farthest East.
If republicans were as rich as the Mikado, the Nebraskans would bestow a similar testimonial on the Mennonites who have settled among them. Those Russian exiles have introduced a. variety of fuel which will prove as great a boon to prairie States, as horses or mills to Japan. They have demonstrated that every farmer may find on his own homestead, if not a coal mine, yet whatever he needs to burn on his hearth.
Though I was long ago a traveler in Russia, my attention was never called to the Russian style of heating until 1873. In that year, being on a western tour, I fell in with seven Mennon-ite deputies in quest of a new home for their people, who for conscience sake, were forced to leave their old one on the Black Sea."We were together in various parts of Nebraska. Along the Republican and smaller streams, we found a good growth of timber - but every acre it stood on had been snapped up, either by settlers or speculators.
Much to my astonishment I discovered that my companions liked the country. In talking with German squatters whom we had called upon,they had ascertained that the crop was twice as large as that where they came from. When I asked " what will you do for fuel ?" their answer was:. " Look around. We see it ready to our hands in every straw stack and on every prairie. Grass and straw are what we, and our fathers before us, have always used." We passed one evening by a brick kiln in Crete, which was fired up with coal. They remarked to me that they could burn brick without either coal or wood.
Their report on their return to Europe was such as to bring a thousand of their co-religionists into Nebraska. And while a large number of these people have gone into Manitoba, Minnesota, Kansas and Dakota, it is true, I think, that the best class have made their homes in Nebraska, and in that State are to be found the most prosperous colonies. Two of their settlements there I chanced to visit last autumn - one near Beatrice, on the Big Blue, and the other farther west in York county. Mindful of my conversations four years before, my first inquiry was regarding fuel, and the mode of using it. In every house I entered, ray curiosity was gratified. The first dinner I ate cooked with grass, I set down as a novelty in my experience. A few words of mine concerning the Mennonite device for cooking and heating were inserted in a letter which appeared in the Chicago Times last October, and in a pamphlet entitled a"September Scamper." This notice has overwhelmed me with letters begging for further particulars, not only from various States but from abroad, and even from New Zealand. These letters I could not answer, even with a manifold letter-writer, and I have therefore, prepared the present circular, which the post office can scatter like snow-flakes.
The grass furnace or stove is nothing costly, or complicated, or likely to get out of order. On the other hand it is a contrivance so simple that many will say of it as one man did when he first saw a railroad track: " Nobody but a fool could have thought of so simple a thing." In a word, as the Irishman made a cannon by taking a large hole and pouring iron around it, so the Mennonite mother of food and warmth is developed by piling brick or stones round a hollow.
Aware that such generalities are too vague, I will make my description more specific, and since the eye catches in an instant what the ear cannot learn in an hour, I have also had a diagram prepared which will render the whole mystery plain and level to the lowest capacity. (See diagrams).
The material used for the Russian furnace seems unimportant. Some employ common brick, others stone; one builder told me he preferred to mix one part of sand with two of clay. In his judgment this mixture retained heat longest for radiation through a house. The position of the furnace is naturally as central as possible, because heat tends to diffuse itself on all sides alike.
Furnaces will, of course, vary in size with the size of houses. A good model is that shown in the diagram. Its length is five feet, its height six, and its width two and a half. The bricks employed are about six hundred, unless the walls be of extraordinary thickness. The structure may be said to have six stories. 1, the ash-box; 2, the firebox; 3, the oven; 4, smoke passage; 5, hot air chamber; 6, smoke passage either to a chimney or to a drum in an upper room.
Many questions have been asked me as to the size of the fire or fuel-box. Its length is about four feet,its width and height, each about a foot and a half. It is asked, " How is the grass pressed or prepared for the fire-box?" It is not prepared at all, but is thrust in with a fork as one would throw fodder into a rack. People suppose they must be putting in this fuel all the time. This is not the fact. At the house of Bishop Peters (48x27 feet), which is a large one for a new country, the grass or straw is pitched in for about twenty minutes, twice, or at most three times in twenty-four hours. That amount of firing up suffices both for cooking and comfort.