"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Thursday 24 February 2011

Dinner from the garden - in more ways than one

This has been an interesting summer.  I have been able to confirm what I can, and what I can't grow in my garden.

What I can grow is (and in no particular order, but just as it pops into my head):

I am very proud of this beetroot
- my biggest yet - and grown in my new
raised veggie bed enclosed vegetable patch.
Aubergine (eggplant)
Corn - not that successful because of the strange position on the retainer wall, however I did plant a second crop in December, next to my new enclosed vegetable patch where they are more protected from the wind, and are in a more traditional 'block' planting, and they are doing beautifully!
Peppers (capsicum)
Potatoes - coming on nicely
Yams - spreading all over the place :-)
Lemon trees from pips LOL
Pomegranate trees from cuttings
and sundry other herbs

What I cannot grow are:

Pumpkins ) actually, to be fair, I don't honestly know about these, as RSon
Squash    ) accidentally trimmed off all the growing points with the strimmer
Zucchini    ) - and, yes, I did loose my cool... But they also got infected with mildew / fungus, and a spray solution of 10% milk with 90% water didn't help

I don't begrudge 10% of my harvest going to
the insects -its' only fair :-)  After all, I am
invading their space.


The latter three all got infested with slugs, teeny-weeny snails (too small to pick off) and I think, whitefly.  My eco-friendly spray didn't stand a chance against that onslaught!  My cucumbers didn't develop properly at all, and all appeared to have been "stung" by something.

RMan is quite happy that the broccoli didn't survive - he's not particular to that vegetable - are any of the menfolk? :-)

He's not that mad about aubergine either, and they are prolific in the garden, so for dinner last night I tried another dish.

I made a Butternut / Aubergine Curry with coconut milk (in the solar oven) and served it with sliced chicken fillets pan-fried in butter, solar cooked rice, the last of my dreaded broccoli and a (solar cooked) beetroot salad.  Yummy, yummy, yummy.

I hate it when I watch a cooking programme and the chef says "Delicious - absolutely scrumptious" and I have no way of verifying that, so, being in the same position now, I can only ask you to take my word for it, it really was good.

All in all, I'm more than content with what does grow in my garden - especially given the limited space I have to grow vegetables in.  Next year I will focus all my energy, and space, on what I know is successful, and, if necessary, will purchase the dreaded broccoli from my local greengrocer if I have to... 

All solar cooked dishes mentioned on this blog will be in my (hopefully) soon to be released "Free from the Sun" solar cookbook.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Free from the Sun

Having been on the farm for three days of the past week, my solar cooking has been limited to the following:

A perfect Lentil Loaf which I served with Solar Rice and a portion of my Solar Tomato Sauce....

Solar baked Lentil Loaf
...two batches of 3 loaves of the most delicious Ultimate Solar Bread... (only two from the first batch lasted long enough to be photographed)

Ultimate Solar Bread
...potatoes - for mash...

... ostrich bangers to go with the mash...

... a large bowl of Solar Baked Beans...

... Quiche Lorraine with a fresh garden salad...

...and tomorrow I plan on cooking a whole Honeyed Chicken with Scalloped Potatoes - and team that up again with a fresh salad straight from the garden.

I would prefer to have some sort of refrigeration on the farm - then whatever we have as leftovers can be stored safely.  As we do not have a freezer there yet, I am hesitant to schlep along my solar oven - it is quite bulky, and I need the boot space for, amongst other things, all my little lemon trees grown from seed LOL - anyway we tend to barbecue most of our meals there at the moment. 

On our trip last weekend I took a small solar baked fruit cake for one of our farm neighbours.

Solar baked Fruit Cake
Oh, and before I forget, I have not managed to embed a pdf link on the side panel of my home page, so I have created a page "Intorduction to Solar Cooking" which contains a link to the pdf. 

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Monitoring - for peace of mind

We took a short break and travelled up to the farm for a three day weekend.

When RMan and CGuy were there two weekends ago, they connected the batteries to the solar panel and installed the alarm.  However, they noticed that the battery, over a period of 8 hours, was "boiling".  Concerned, they disconnected the battery from the solar panels, just leaving the alarm connected to the battery - they figured that the power would last 3 - 4 days at least.

It was still working two weeks later.  And still indicated 12 volts of power!

The conclusion is that the three panels were producing far too much power, and the regulator wasn't functioning correctly.  The regulator should've controlled the amount of power sent to the battery - to prevent exactly this type of situation from happening.

We have decided that we are going to purchase a new regulator, and a 1kW inverter.  This, together with a couple of deep cycle batteries, the three 75 watt solar panels, should be sufficient to provide power for a couple of CFL lights, the car radio and a chest freezer.  We aren't going to purchase a solar powered, gas nor a 12 volt freezer.

Gas - we'd consume roughly 800gm / day X 30 days ZAR325.00 (US$44.00) / month and we would need to knock through the wall to install a vent of some sort for the fumes.

A 12 volt freezer - they costa plenty.  We got a quote on a 225lt Sundanzer box freezer of ZAR8500.00 (roughly US$1133.00) excluding 14% V.A.T. and transport. 

Solar powered freezers - we would have enough power from the three solar panels, but the unit only costs ZAR11 500.00 (US$1530.00)

But, using a 1Kw inverter, a standard 230lt Defy box freezer running on 220volt AC requires 123 watts of power when the motor is running and will only cost us ZAR2200.00 (US$293.00) to purchase.  If we still stick with the original idea of freezing large bottles of water and using them to chill a stand alone cooler box - then our perishable food storage problems are sorted.  We would also leave the freezer on, even when we're not there - on it's lowest setting it should consume negliable power (which would constantly be generated by the 3 solar panels) as well as be "ready" from the moment we arrive.  That should enable RMan's beers to be chilled to perfection.

And talking about chilled drinks - we could've used some on Monday.  The temperature rose to 44oC (111.2oF) outside.  In the house it was an air-conned 30oC LOL

I felt so sorry for the poor driver of the digger / loader we hired for the day.  Working in those conditions must've ben unbearable - and he had to sit above the heat of the digger / loaders' engine too!  But to cap it all off, we had no water - we discovered just prior to our departure that a stone had jammed the ball valve which controlled the filling of the water tanks.

But the driver did a sterling job.  We used all our building rubble to fill the verandah base, as well as some clay from our dam - the dam needs to be deeper anyway, as whatever water is collecting there is being evapourated by the heat / wind.

A digger / loader certainly makes light work of the hardest ground, and with the holes that it is able to dig, it will certainly give whatever we plant a fighting chance.  No point at all in planting something whose roots will become "pot bound" because the ground is too hard.

He also dug 5 holes for trees, ran a shallow channel for irrigation pipe, and loosened the soil where we are planting lemon trees - so next time we can continue planting.  My lemon trees are coming long very nicely - reckon the Weedguard works a treat.  All water given to the trees is solely for the trees - the weeds and grass below the Weedguard is dead :-)

Isn't it funny how synchronicity enters one's life?  We were meant to be there this weekend.  I'm convinced of that.

Another neighbour of ours, Franz, popped passed.  He hasn't been at his place for about a year - apparently his father-in-law, who lived up-country, passed away last year and Franz had to stay up-country to sort out his affairs.  But, he told us, as he was going to be away a while, he sourced a firm that would monitor his alarm, via radio transmitter.  He's now back permanently, so that'll be an extra pair of eyes too :-)

Bingo - the light bulb went off!  Now that we have an alarm, we can also have a monitoring service!  That will ease a lot of mental pressure regarding the safety of our house and it's contents.  We were not even aware that we could get a security firm to monitor our area.  We had assumed that it was too remote.

As we were leaving (at 8.00pm on Monday evening) we were repaid for the discomfort of the day by these amazing sunset views - the lightning was flickering in the background - high in the mountains.  Do so hope that some of the rain made it's way to our area...

Monday 7 February 2011

What a beautiful world...

I awoke this morning to an inversion layer.

When that happens the village where I live blossoms, like a rose covered in dew, just starting to unfurl it's petals, in order for all to admire the beauty it is about to become.

This is the view I saw at 8.00a.m.

A whisp of mist escaped the cloud,
and swirled around a single fishing boat in the bay

RMan and I had to collect some materials for the business which involved travelling along one of the most scenic routes in the world.  This is what we saw from the other side of the mist...

The view from Chapman's Peak drive - looking over the
Sentinel Mountain, at the entrance to the bay,
towards South America.
The Sentinel and Karbonkelberg (Boil Mountain)
(the two mountains in the centre of the photo)
almost look superimposed and surreal.

Our village is just behind the fog - you can
see the main ocean fog bank behind
Klein Leeukoppie (Little Loin's Head) mountain
I ask you - how can anyone not want to help this beautiful planet?  How dare we take it for granted?  Who do we think we are?

We are fleeting, transitory beings who inhabit our litttle space for such a brief moment in time when taken in the grand context of the life of this planet thus far.  What right have we to be the cause of any alteration / destruction / self-centered monetary gain at the expense of Mother Earth?

These photo's are, to me, a perfect example of why we need to consider our impact on this planet and the eco footprint we leave behind when we physically depart this amazing place called Earth.

And, Oh - what a wonderful view to start the week with - I am so blessed :-)

Update: 7.00 p.m.

Still hanging around LOL - absolutely stunning...

Sunset is in an hour's time

Saturday 5 February 2011

Solar oven questions and answers

I received the following mail from a reader, Vinitha, and with her permission, I would like to publish it here, together with my reply.

Before I do that though, I would like to state that I am not an expert - I am just someone who enjoys using her solar oven, whenever and however she can.  If recounting my trials, tribulations and successes mean that someone, somewhere else in the world decides to make or buy a solar oven in order to prepare their meals, then I have attained the goal of this blog - caring enough to share what I know to help make this a better planet and to try and reverse the damage that we are causing, through our waste / garbage and our extravagant squandering of its' precious resources.

Vinitha wrote:

"I live in Bangalore India and we have no dealers for solar ovens here. I am using a solar oven that I built out of wood, glass and a mirror as a reflector. The insides are lined with heavy duty aluminium foil. The temp inside the oven shows only about 80 degree C. Food gets cooked. I have baked cakes, roast beef, rice, veggies. Can you please advise how I can improve it? Is my temp meter recording the air temp inside the oven. When you say yours reaches 325 degrees do you mean the air temp inside the oven gets to that temp?"

She also included a photo of her solar oven:

My reply to her was as follows:

Thank you for your e-mail. It was a lovely surprise to hear from India.  Thanks for also sending a photo of your solar oven – it helps me understand your problem.  It looks a brilliant effort at a solar oven.  Well done.

When I first started solar cooking (a good couple of years ago) I initially used a “Coleman’s” cooler box, with a piece of 4mm glass as the lid. This worked – sort of – but it didn’t get terribly hot. It was not ideal!  (And I was worried about the fumes from the cooler box insulation - I had no idea what the insulation was made of.  I made sure that I cooked in vessels that were tightly sealed in that homemade solar oven.)

Then I bought a simple blow mold solar oven, which had no reflectors and the lid was a very flimsy plastic. The heat produced also wasn’t the greatest – the hottest I recorded was 105oC.  It did the job - even if that was only cooking rice and vegetables.  But it was limited in what it could cook.  Certainly not bread LOL

I finally purchased the model I have now, and it is with this model that I am getting the best results.  I think the reasons that I am successful are as follows:

My kitchen helper LOL
1 The box is solidly constructed, with well insulated sides.

2 The lid is a piece of double glazed glass, which seals against the bottom oven section with a strip of what looks like oven seal, (i.e. able to withstand high temperatures and similar to that which is used on an oven door). I think one of the surfaces within the double glazed glass also has a film, which helps to attract / retain the heat.
In this photo I propped open the glass lid to show
the oven door seal on the inner surface
3 The reflector is adjustable – so that I can aim the ever changing reflected light into the centre of the oven.

4 The base of the oven is black – to attract / absorb the UV rays / heat.

Please bear in mind also, that the strength of UV rays decide the temperature you will attain in your oven. Ideally, the UV rays should be higher than 6 – ideally 7. You can find your levels at this link: http://www.intellicast.com/local/weather.aspx?location=INXX0012 It would seem that your UV levels, even in your winter, are higher than ours at the moment .

If your thermometer is placed inside your oven, then, yes, that is your oven temperature. I place my thermometer on the floor of the oven, right where the cooking vessels go.

I have done a search for solar ovens in India, and have come up with the following links:



I am thrilled to hear that you are able to cook cakes, roast beef, rice, veggies, etc – but please be careful with meat and poultry – in order to kill the bacteria which forms on all raw meat, the pre-heated (oven and cooking vessel)  temperature should not be lower than 120oC. Rice and veggies don’t have that limitation, but they should still be cooked at a minimum temperature of 80oC - 100oC is boiling point.

Then I have also had quite a few people asking me how hot should the weather be, in order to use a solar oven.  Cooking in a solar oven is not, as far as I am aware, dependent on the outside temperature, but more due to the UV levels - the higher the levels, the better your solar oven will work - with a UV of 7 being an ideal starting point.

Think of a solar oven as a small greenhouse.  A greenhouse will heat up in winter when the outside temperature is cold or freezing, similarly the interior of a solar oven will also be much warmer than the ambient temperature.  How hot will it be on a clear day, with snow on the ground - I'm afraid I can't answer that, as unfortunately I am not fortunate to have that amount of snow in winter.  However I have read somewhere that someone baked bread in their solar oven, in the northern hemisphere, under those conditions :-)

If you do a Google search on UV levels for your country / area you will find a link easily.  I did enter a couple of Google links in reply to a question from Mr H on my Ultimate Solar Bread Recipe posting.

Finally, I will, within the next few days, be posting a link to a .pdf file which will give an introduction to cooking in a solar oven. Hopefully, you’ll find that helpful.