Each week we have a format of ideas we can follow here at Women Not Dabbling. It isn’t required—we can “fly off the hook” if we want to—but the topics are there in case we have a writers block. I guess you could consider it like a medicine for blocked writers: “Girls pass me the bottle of writers un-block please. I’ll take two”.
But even with the format set out this week, about sustainable/frugal living/alternative “stuff”, I had a bit of a problem coming up with something to write about.
I know that seems odd. I mean here it is that I homestead and I am having trouble with those three topics. Yep, weird. However when I think of these topics I see all of them together most of the time in my mind’s eye. Not separate. I mean, most frugal living IS sustainable and most alternatives ARE frugal etc.
Yet, when I first thought of the idea to write about my solar cooker, which I bought new, I realized that sustainable CAN be….well….not very cheap. Initially anyway. No matter if you choose to use a solar cooker, rain water harvester , a hand scythe or even better: wind or solar power—they can all be expensive to purchase. Very expensive sometimes. If we can disregard start up costs– in the long run each one of these things will give us all three of those ideas that I initially spoke off. Frugality because they allow us to not have to buy products from others anymore (think energy here), they are all sustainable either by what they supply or what they don’t use, and they are definitely alternative “stuff” that fits most any tried and true homesteaders needs. Occasionally, we can produce these items cheaper by doing it ourself or even buy them used (yes, you can by both windmills and solar panels used) but many times…..we are forced to purchase them full price because of their scarcity or the demand for them.
Keeping with the solar cooker as my example, I know that I could have looked around and waited for a used one. If I could have found one I mean. I also know that if I had really wanted to go cheap I could have build a cardboard box version—of which many successful examples exist. However, I didn’t do that. I saved and spent what I consider to be a pretty hefty sum of money for a plastic box with a glass cover and mirrors on it. Why? Well, for a couple of reasons. The biggest one—I just flat out didn’t want to mess around with a cardboard box that would require a certain amount of “cautious” care for use and storage. We live in a house with no basement and no attic storage—so everything has to live with us all the time. It has to be climbed over, pushed around, have things stacked on it etc. So, I just didn’t see a cardboard box holding up to that for long and felt that eventually I would be back making one again (and again).
Secondly—time. I have lots to do with gardens, animals, remodeling and many other things. And one more project just seemed like to much more effort—especially if I might have to do it more than once. Sometimes, too…… I am just really really lazy. ( Really! )
So, in the end I saved my money, did lots of searching and then bought a factory built model. The version I finally chose is called the Sun Oven and the extensive research I did while trying to decide which one to purchase was a personal form of procrastination on my part. Part of the research, besides procrastination, had to do with not knowing one person (in real life) who had ever used one. So….all I had were books and of course online testimonies that could have been real or just sales pitches to try and part me with my money. I have to admit, going back to the procrastination part again: it is hard to spend that much money when you already have a stove and oven that work well. But I looked at it as something I could do to reduce a small part of gas consumption and my personal environmental impact. I know it’s not a lot of gas—but hey, if lots of us did it then it could add up couldn’t it?
The model I chose can heat up to 385 if I remember correctly though I personally haven’t gotten it above 250. It’s also the one that is given by charities to country’s that are having trouble with deforestation. Cooking needs are the greatest reason for deforestation, and the eventual desertification, of parts of the world. That, I admit, was the biggest push to choosing my model.
Returning to my comment on my inability to get my oven to heat up as high as it should. That’s completely my fault—not the ovens. My husband tweaks the oven more when he’s here and can usually get it to stay steadily between 325 and 350. I on the other hand am lucky if I remember to adjust it twice during the day. Many times it will be completely out of the sun when I remember it again. So, considering that, I don’t thinks it’s to shabby really for a plastic box with mirrors keeping that kind of temps.
After all is said and done I will admit that for the money it is a well built solar cooker and I definitely am glad I purchased it. Even though I knew nothing about cooking in one I have successfully cooked beans (very good done this way—better than stove top), soup/stews, potatoes and bread. Yep, even bread. I always wondered if they were pulling legs about the bread part –but it does work. Mine came out a bit ummm……off. But to be fair that could be because I also tried a new sourdough bread recipe that I had never used before and I think it was more the recipe than the oven. So I won’t blame the solar cooker for that and I just haven’t gotten around to trying any other kind of bread/muffin mix again to make sure that was actually the issue.
As far as ease of use goes, it is amazingly easy. Just point it somewhere near the sun and it heats up. As I mentioned, I don’t get it as hot as my husband who loves to tweak things. I pretty much put it outside and go and shift it a time or two during the day. But even though it does end up incorrectly pointed at the sun and sometimes fully in the shade —the temp will still be above 150. Definitely within simmer range. Which reminds me—I have even burned myself on it already. Do watch that steam from your simmering pots!
Now this is not a “I need a meal in 30 minutes cooker” for sure. Consider it more like a slow cooker that will transform your meat and veggies into a meal while you are doing something else. It is also not a “cook a turkey and two other dishes at the same time” oven either. But…it will do a good size soup pot for it’s size.
I also imagine, though I haven’t tried, that if it was turned it directly south and angled for the time of year, that it would do it’s job fine while someone was at work and could not focus it periodically throughout the day. That’s just a guess—but I think probably a pretty good one. I base that on my own lack of moving my unit and some older solar books I have recently read where they built solar ovens into the side wall of the house. A sealed door inside the house allowed easy access to the oven part. No need to go outside—and no “tweaking” involved since it was permanently pointed true south.
Anyway…my solar cooker may not be the solution to this whole energy problem. But just like everyone adjusting their thermostat is a good idea, so is everyone occasionally using a solar cooker. And after the initial expense I can say that with time it will be frugal, it is sustainable and it is definitely alternative. And one last good thing about it: I got to give the neighborhood children a lesson on how good solar is and an alternative idea about how to use it. Who knows—maybe it may spark something in one of them!
Update Monday afternoon: While looking for a solar wall oven link (http://solarcooking.org/bkerr/DoItYouself.htm )
I found this fabulous site for those of you willing to do the necessary work to build an oven similar to mine: http://www.williamgbecker.com/MakeSolarOven.html
These are great directions if you have the time and a few skills it looks like. Don’t forget for those of you unable to bend or do metal work—-local metal shops can sometimes fashion this stuff for pennies on the dollar compared to what you might spend to buy the pre built model if you take the time and inclination to find one of them.