Monday, June 27, 2011

Global Sun Oven: a Review

We purchased a solar oven from Sun Ovens International around a month ago. A solar oven utilizes reflective panels to direct sunlight to an enclosed "oven" with a glass door, as a means to cook food without electricity. "Sun oven" may actually be a better name than "solar oven," which could mislead people into thinking solar cells are involved.

We were eager to try out the sun oven as soon as it arrived. We didn't have any pans suitable for use in the oven, so the first thing we made was baked potatoes. We wrapped them in cling wrap and placed them on the cooking shelf inside the oven, and in a little over an hour, we were ready to eat. The potatoes turned out really well; they were soft all the way through. However, in the process of cooking, we noticed that the glass door on the oven was not getting a good seal all the way around. The hubster called the next day, and we were able to send back the oven (we kept the reflective panels). They sent a new one without delay.

The new oven seals better than the first one, but still does not achieve a solid seal all the way around the glass door. We decided not to try to return it again, as a third unit would probably not be much better.

Next, we ordered some pans from Cantinawest. This website specializes in pans for solar cooking, and will tell you what pans fit in each type of solar oven. We ordered four pans: a 5-quart casserole pan, a 4-quart bean pot, a bread pan and a larger baking pan.

Pans used in a solar oven should be black (or possibly dark blue or brown) in order to "soak up" as much sunlight (and heat) as possible. Using reflective pans or aluminum foil will slow down your cooking time. 

Now it was time to try out the solar oven in earnest. I decided to make a roast with carrots, potatoes, turnips and onions. The Global Sun Oven comes with a cookbook on CD and I found a recipe for pot roast, which I modified to my liking.

First, I set up the oven outside, to begin preheating. Right away, however, it became obvious that I would be fighting the wind to keep the unit upright. The hubster rigged a system that involved two pieces of firewood, a patio chair, some bungie cords and some binder clips--all without blocking any sunlight--and the wind could no longer overturn the oven.

I prepared the roast and veggies, put them in the casserole pan, placed the lid on the pan and placed the pan on the shelf inside the oven. The first thing I noticed is that, while the pan did fit inside the oven, it was larger than the shelf.

I should explain about the shelf. It is held inside the oven by two screws, in such a way that it can pivot with repositioning of the oven. The oven itself can be modified vertically with the use of a built-in adjustable stand located at the back and center of the unit. The oven can be tilted forward in order to more effectively capture the sunlight and afford quicker cooking. Thus, the shelf is made to "swing" with repositioning of the oven, in order to keep the food level at all times.

The casserole pan filled the available space inside the oven, which in turn kept the shelf from being able to operate properly. This caused spillage of the food inside the oven when we raised the oven on its stand.

We quickly noticed while cooking the roast that this oven got much hotter than the first oven we received. Even though the glass door did not seal 100%, it did not appear to lose much heat through the two inches or so at the top where the seal was less than perfect. The oven reached 300 degrees in the first hour or so of cooking.

The second thing we noticed was that no condensation built up inside the oven. Apparently, the lidded casserole pan did a good job of keeping the moisture in, which is important, because condensation on the glass door would reduce efficiency.

We let the roast cook for about four hours, adjusting the oven about once every half hour or so to keep in line with the sun. As the sun waned, we had to tilt the oven forward on its stand. I think the spillage I mentioned previously happened when we had the oven tilted forward almost as far as it could go. I say this because that is when we first observed condensation on the inside of the glass door.

If you don't want to adjust the oven to follow the sun, you don't have to. It will just take longer for your food to cook, sort of like a crock pot. This is handy if you're busy with chores and such, and don't have time to check on the solar oven every 30 minutes.

During the last hour or so of cooking, we began to be able to smell the roast. :) The good thing about solar ovens is that it is virtually impossible to burn your food. The roast may have been cooked in less than four hours. We decided to give it that long, just in case it wasn't done. We didn't want to open the sun oven too soon, because we'd lose all the heat that had built up inside.

The roast was wonderful! The veggies were all tender. I didn't get a good picture of the roast right after cooking, but here's a photo of the leftovers I took for lunch today.

I'm excited to keep using the Global Sun Oven. There's not much you can't make with it. Plus, it saves electricity and offers an alternative to heating up the house with an indoor oven.

It's not a perfect system. The wind here will always be a factor. I don't feel safe in leaving the oven unattended, mostly for that reason. But I'm still glad we purchased one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Garden Ups and Downs

I'm getting fruit! The squash are growing.

The strawberry plants are beginning to produce more.

I anticipate being able to harvest some root vegetables soon. I have tomatoes on one plant, and blooms on several others. Here is my largest Arkansas Traveler tomato plant with blooms on, and soon the hubster will have to eat his words about how I started the seeds hopelessly late and there's no way we'll get fruit off the plants this year. At least I hope he will!

We've been harvesting lettuce, beet, radish, turnip, spinach and chard greens regularly, even if in small amounts. I've also been harvesting peas, green beans and another bean called Dragon's Tongue.

But there's some bad news, too. This Early Girl tomato that the hubster picked up from a nursery has not been happy since the transplant. It hasn't died yet, so I keep watering it and hoping it will make a comeback.

My spinach has bolted already. I keep trying to treat it like basil and pinch the blooms off the tops so they will keep growing, but it's not working. I guess we will have spinach for supper one night soon!

The bugs have found my garden. What are these little yellow guys? Eggs? Aphids? Whatever they are, I'm sure they're related to the half-eaten plant they reside on. (Sorry for the blurry pic!)

I've also been spending some time picking caterpillars off of several plants. And we have grasshoppers in abundance. This morning as I left for work, I noticed a very large moth hanging out on the side of the house. Hopefully it hadn't just deposited its larvae in my garden.

I haven't done much about the bugs yet, except to pick them off when I see them. But Emily over at The Harried Homemaker Preps had a post on some homemade insect repellent that I'm going to try. In fact, it's marinating in a jar on my kitchen counter as I type this. I just have to figure out what I can use to strain it, because I have neither cheesecloth nor a sieve.

The Learning Curve Continues its Upward Trend

Gardening is a full-on mix of triumphs and defeats. It's so exciting when your plants first start to flower, because you know what comes next! There's a real sense of pride in raising a plant from a tiny seed, watching it grow, and then reaping a harvest.

But it's hard work. The "work" is not simply plopping some seeds in some dirt and remembering to splash some water on them from time to time. There is a lot of research that goes into a successful garden:

What type of plants grow well in your area?

What type of soil/nutrients does each plant need? How often should you water?

What time of year should you plant each plant? Should you start indoors or out? Should you start from seed or from a plant purchased at a nursery? How many of each plant should you plant?

What type of diseases or pests are the plants prone to? How can you protect them?

What plants grow well next to each other? What plants don't grow well next to each other? How much room does each plant need to grow?

Do your plants need sun, shade or partial shade?

The list goes on, and that doesn't even include personal preferences: do you want to go all organic? Do plan to save seeds, and if so, how will you keep plants in the same family from cross-pollinating?

I wish I had all the answers for you, but I'm just learning as I go. Here are some things I have learned:

Plant plants with similar needs in the same bed. For example, plants spring vegetables in one bed, summer vegetables in another, and winter vegetables in another. In this way, all plants will be harvested around the same time, and the bed can be replanted with the next season's crop.

If you have several beds, stagger your plants so if, say, a squash plant gets squash bugs in one bed, your other squash plants in other beds may not be infested.

Use natural techniques to help your plants along, such as companion planting (here's a great book).

Draw a diagram of your garden, and keep track of what you plant where. This will help you while plants are small and difficult to identify. It will also help you when you begin to plan next year's garden; you don't want to plant the same plant in the same soil two years in a row, because the soil may be depleted of the nutrients that plant requires. Also, some plants should not be planted in the same soil as certain other plants.

Begin planning your spring garden in December. This will give you plenty of time to decide on varieties, order seeds, and get seedlings started indoors, in time to transplant them after the last chance of frost.

I didn't do all these things myself this year, but I plan to implement as many as I can next year.

Another thing I'm doing is making notes on the seed varieties I bought. How was the germination rate? How difficult was the plant to grow? How did it fare in the weather here? What was the yield like? How did it taste? I'm trying to answer all these questions in order to determine which plants I want to grow again next year.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Coast Products Headlamp Giveaway

Angela over at Food Storage and Survival is hosting a giveaway for an H7 Focusing LED Headlamp from Coast Products. Looks like quite a spiffy little unit! Head over and sign up!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Swiftly fly the Days

"Life" is happening at a high rate of speed these days. I feel like I am always busy. The days are long and full of chores and errands. I know I'm always doing something, but if you asked me on Friday what I did all week, I wouldn't be able to tell you! It all flies by and I'm just trying to keep up.

We have been focusing more intently on emergency preparedness, stocking up the pantry and whatnot. There are so many cool preparedness-type gadgets out there. Every time I think I have a complete list of what to buy, I see something else that seems like a "must-have." No way we could buy them all.

People are preppers for different reasons. Some fear environmental catastrophes; some fear biological warfare; others fear the world will be forever changed (for the worse) at the end of 2012. My biggest fear is hyperinflation, caused by (among other things) the total lack of fiscal responsibility our leaders currently possess. My best-case scenario: things get a lot more expensive. My worst-case scenario: the US dollar collapses, and we face a situation like what Zimbabwe or Argentina went through.  We could even become a barter-based society again--which might not be so bad, as long as law and order existed.

But, what can you do? The only thing I know to do is prepare. Stock up now, so if prices do inflate, you at least have a "cushion." Learn some skills: gardening, canning, sewing, soapmaking, etc. Learn to do what you can for yourself. Learn to appreciate what you have, and take care of it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review--Sprouts: The Miracle Food

Lisa over at The Survival Mom had a giveaway a few months back, and I won a book! Sprouts: The Miracle Food by Steve Meyerowitz was my first introduction to the world of sprouting. I admit, I wasn’t very knowledgeable about sprouts. I mean, I buy them occasionally at the grocery store, if we’re planning on salads for dinner or something. But I probably couldn’t tell you what kind of sprouts they were. In fact, I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds!

Steve goes into great detail describing the different kinds of sprouts, the best growing conditions for them, what recipes they’re good for, and what holistic qualities each type possesses.  Sometimes the topics covered in the book don’t segue very well, but it’s definitely an informative book, and one I plan on keeping in the kitchen with my cooking books for easy access. I really appreciate the Review section in the back of the book, which condenses the simple directions for sprout-growing. There’s a Sprout Chart as well, which lists a variety of sprout types, number of days to maturity, best growing method (there’s several), and suggested use for the sprouts. There are sprout salads, sprout juices, and sprout breads. Some sprouts are good for baking in casseroles or baking in cookies. Some sprouts are good as a dry-roasted snack. Who knew?

If I had to pick something about this book that I didn’t like, it would be the poor grammar. It just seemed like this book didn’t get proofread. There was even a page that got repeated in the wrong spot, and a resulting missing page.

But, I can’t wait to try sprouting. It’s a wholesome, natural way to add vitamins and protein to a diet. That will be important, too, if we have to start using our food storage food, which loses much of its nutritional value in the preservation processes.