24 Carrot Rabbitry

City-fied Self-Sufficiency

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Category : Projects

I got up Christmas morning and meandered out, to find my kids rummaging through their Christmas Morning Delay Devices Christmas stockings.  We tell them that if (if?) they get up before the adults on Christmas, they can go into their stockings and open any presents in them, and munch on any munchies in there.  We’ll typically put a looooooooong jerky stick in there, nuts, tangerines, and Christmas chocolates.  Maybe not the breakfast of champions, but hey, it’s Christmas!

So right away they want me to empty my stocking.  Considering I filled it myself along with all the other ones, I’m not in a big hurry, since I know what’s in there.  So I do a couple of things and then give in to my kids.  ILoveBunnies hands me my stocking, with a suspicious giggle.

I reach in, and pull out……… a roll of Teflon tape?  Okay, so I didn’t put that in there.  Especially not with carefully curled ribbon tied around it!

So the joke’s on me, once again.  After all, Bunny-Wan Kenobi is famous for this sort of thing.  Grab something really odd around the house, wrap it, and give it as a gift!  I should have expected this from my little squirrel.  :)

Finally, all the bleary-eyed adults who stayed up way too late (that would be four of the six people in the house) made their way out to the den, and we prayed and thanked God for sending Jesus to come and live among us, and to die for our sins, so that we can have a relationship with Him and go to Heaven and be with Him forever someday.

Then we teased the kids that we didn’t want to be like everyone else, and so we were going to wait another day or two to open presents.  They, of course, weren’t falling for it at all.

We had discussed what we were going to do about Christmas, since things are going so crazy in this country right now, and times are getting scarier as our government spends us into oblivion.  We thought about having just a few gifts for the children, and not worrying about giving among us adults, and we thought about pooling for a single gift for each adult.  Ultimately, we all had so many things we wanted to give, that we just gave what we wanted to.

Most of the gifts were practical — a full/queen microplush blanket for my mom, who has been using the microplush throws we have to help keep her legs from cramping at night.  The throws are so small, though, since they’re really intended only to put over your lap, that she was having trouble covering enough of herself.  So now she has a big microplush blanket that she can cocoon herself in if she so desires.  The kids gave her a warm hat that covers her ears, which hurt from the cold very easily.

For my uncle, I am repairing his work shoes, using some tough but soft scrap leather to sew inside and outside the toe where it was wearing through.  The shoes are otherwise still in great condition, and he just loves them.  It’s such an undertaking, though, that he all but made me promise that the effort would be our Christmas gift to him.  The kids gave him a new pocket knife, as ILoveBunnies took note that he needed a new one, and was about to replace it.

For my beloved Shay, I got a copy of the just-released biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Shay loves biographies, and this one looks really interesting.  I think I might snitch it after he reads it.

For ILoveBunnies, we bought a new Bible.  One that seems well-bound, with genuine leather rather than bonded leather.  Her old Bible’s cover and spine had almost completely separated from the pages inside.  She didn’t want a new Bible, because she loved her old one, and all she wanted was a cover for it to protect it.  It was beyond any real saving, though, as far as being able to use it a lot is concerned.  I reassembled it with packing tape to last her ’til Christmas.  My uncle got her a Bible cover in her favorite color (turquoise!) for her new Bible, and my mom got her a cover for her old Bible, so it would have some protection, which made her happy.  But she’s decided she really does love her new Bible after all.

We also got her some hunting arrows and arrowheads, which she can’t wait to try out.  :)

We abandoned practicality for Bunny-Wan Kenobi, and gave him a toy John Deere tractor with plow attachment.  He’s as happy as a clam and can’t wait to tear up the yard with it.  Maybe he can use it to plant my herb garden.  Hmmmmm……

There were a few gifts for me under the tree as well.  I had told my uncle that I didn’t need to have any presents for Christmas, but that if he insisted, maybe he could get me a pressure canner so I could learn how to can.  He finally cornered me and asked me if that was really what I wanted, since that would actually create more work for me, rather than making anything easier.

I responded that yes, I did really want a pressure canner, in spite of the extra work that canning would be, since it would be a way for me to help ensure a food supply for my family, particularly once we get our garden going.  I explained that what concerns me most right now is the ability to care for my family during the hard economic times that are almost surely ahead, and that anything that would help ease that concern would be a wonderful gift to me.  I had a number of things on my to-get/to-do list along these preparatory lines.  However, a pressure canner was not at the top of the list.

“Really?  Well, then what’s at the top?”

“A hand-crank grain mill.”

I then explained to him that flour has a very short shelf life, but that whole wheat berries can last for ages (remember when they took the wheat from that Egyptian tomb, planted it, and it grew and produced?).  Without a grain mill, though, I can’t do a whole lot with whole wheat berries.  With a grain mill and a supply of wheat, I can, at the very least, make sure my family has bread to eat.  With a hand-crank mill, I can do that even without electricity (with the help of my solar oven that I need to finish ;) ).

Besides, I’ve been wanting to get back to baking my own bread.  I used to when we lived in Delaware.  I could bake only rolls, but I baked them anyway.  The reason I couldn’t bake loaves is that my oven was a gas oven, and the fire would come on with a *thump* and make the loaves fall.  I understand probably not all gas ovens do this, but mine did.

I told him that I don’t like making requests for gifts, and the only reason that I was mentioning this was that he made me.  He laughed, and proceeded to ask me where he would buy this mill I wanted.  *Sigh*  …So then I had to shop for my own gift, too… LOL… but I made sure he didn’t pay to have it here by Christmas.  Nobody had the one I wanted locally.  So on Christmas morning, I knew that hadn’t arrived, but it was on the way.

There were two gifts there for me, though.  The first one was from my beloved Shay.  Upon unwrapping it, I found a marvelous new kitchen faucet!  (Oooooooooooooh… now I get the bit about the Teflon tape!)  It was tall, and had two levers, and the faucet neck was shaped like a question mark, to make it easy to get a big pot under it.  And… it had a sprayer!

A SPRAYER!!! YESSSS!!!!!

Shay knows that if he got me one of those sparkly baubles guaranteed by the television to elicit gasps of joy and such from the lady on the receiving end of it, I’d genuinely appreciate it and treasure it.  But if he really wants to make me truly happy, he will give me something at least somewhat practical.  Something that will make my work at home easier, or that will help me better care for my family.  But he still wants to make sure it’s a treat as well.

He has known ever since we moved here that I’ve wanted a new faucet.  Admittedly, I wanted a new, tall faucet at our apartment, as well, but I made do because it did have a sprayer.  So it wasn’t too difficult to wash the larger items I have.  The kitchen faucet here is like the one at the apartment — one of those old standard low ones that is hard to get a large pot under.  But it has no sprayer to make living with it easier.

So a new kitchen faucet, to me, is a big deal!  It’s not really a necessity, since I was getting by with the one I already had, so he really is treating me, which is what he wanted to do.  <3  But it will make things so much easier for me, for my mom, and for ILoveBunnies.

The other gift under the tree was from my mom, and it was a pressure canner!  I thought this was really funny, that I had had that conversation with my uncle, and I knew he had ordered the mill, and here I got a canner as well.  So now I get to learn how to can, and I can do something with all those vegetables I plan to grow!

It says it can do seven quart jars at a time... wow!

It’s also a pressure cooker, so maybe it’ll replace my other pressure cooker.  The other one is smaller, though… this thing is pretty big!  I do have limited cabinet space, though, so I don’t know if I can fit both of them.

Since then, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of my new grain mill, and pricing grain at Whole Foods.  YIKES!!  You know, I figured it ought to be less expensive to buy the grain whole and in bulk.  If I buy it at Whole Foods, it will cost five times as much as I can buy flour at Wal-Mart!  Five times!  Come on, now… I mean, how much did they pay for the grain themselves?  What’s the markup?  It’s got to be incredible.  So I’m looking for alternatives.

Meanwhile, last night, my uncle walked out of his room with a box, and asked me if he had ordered the mill from a site called Everything Kitchens.  Why, yes, he had, I replied.  Sheepishly, he admitted that, in the confusion of several of us all wrapping gifts together in his room, he had completely missed this box, which had been there the whole time.  We had never expected it to arrive in time for Christmas, but it had!

The Family Grain Mill with Hand Crank Base

It’s got great reviews and had free shipping from several places online.  It doesn’t grind the finest flour possible (#10 – cake flour), but it does grind it almost that fine — #9, which is bread flour.  And you can still bake cakes with it, they just won’t be as fine as they are with cake flour.  I’ve done that before, with all-purpose flour from the store, and it’s been fine.  You can buy cake flour there, too, but I rarely do.

You can also crack grains with it for homemade hot cereals, and you can grind to any fineness in between.  Some things require two passes, like for cornmeal or bean flour — crack it first, then grind it.

They also make other attachments for use with the same base.  There’s a grain flaker/roller, a meat grinder, a shredder, and I don’t know what else.  You can also get a motorized base for it, but they also sell an adapter for the attachments that makes them compatible with a KitchenAid mixer.  WHICH I HAVE!!

Preparing for the Future

A few of you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on the solar oven project in a while.  It’s merely been paused while I work on some other things, and I will resume work on it shortly after New Year’s.

So what are the other things?

Well, for starters, Christmas is coming.  We don’t go crazy for Christmas, preferring to keep it a bit more low-key and respectful, but there are still things to be done.  One BIG thing is the family calendar.  Every year, we take copious amounts of pictures, and in November and December I select the best and put together a family calendar.  Each month has a collage of five or six pictures (mainly of the kids), and most of the pictures have captions.  I print them myself (about 24 calendars) because I haven’t found an office store yet that can print them as well as I can.  I put a lot of effort and time into it, and it gets rave reviews from family.  :)

We’ve also had some medical issues lately.  My mom developed shingles, and I wouldn’t wish this very painful resurgence of the chickenpox virus on my worst enemy.  My son, Bunny-Wan Kenobi, got a couple of eczema patches on his hands, which I fought and fought.  Finally, I had to take him to the doctor, and it turned out the eczema had gotten infected.  So he got an antibiotic, as well as a topical steroid that’s stronger than OTC hydrocortizone.  Then he had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic after a week of being on it, which prompted a prescription for a strong antihistamine to fight the hives.  I also ended up pulling out some long-unused Nystatin to treat a yeast outbreak in the eczema.  He’s also been having to have Aquaphor (I got the generic!) put on his hands and up his arms, and he’s wearing long socks on his arms to bed.

Poor child!  He was delighted to finish the antihistamine today (apparently it tasted pretty vile — “imagine that it tastes like grape, but then make it very, very sour…”), and he’s counting the days until he can stop the topical steroid and the Aquaphor up his arms and the socks.  I’ll continue the Nystatin on him, and start him on Benadryl since the rash isn’t completely gone yet.  He’s also supposed to apply a small amount of Aquaphor to his hands every few times he washes them.  It’s like being back with him as a baby, when his skin would just go haywire and I’d have to use a prescription eczema cream, Nystatin, and Bactroban all together to get it back to normal.

But another thing that has been taking my attention is something that has to do with preparing for the future.

With the way things are going currently, and the legislation that has been passed and is still coming down the pike, we believe that the hard times in this country have only begun.  The numbers that show there is a recovery going on are the result of a big shell game.

With that in mind, it is only wise to prepare.  This is why we raise meat rabbits.  But another thing we are working toward is starting a vegetable garden.  That takes money, especially in our case.  The yard regularly is wetter than it ought to be, because we live at the bottom of a hill and our yard was engineered (why?!?) as an overflow for heavy rains.  This means that any vegetable gardens I have will need to be in raised beds.

Okay, so where to get the money?  Well, when we moved in here with my uncle, this house was already packed to the gills with stuff.  My grandmother and grandfather bought this house.  My great-grandmother lived here for years.  My uncle moved back in to help care for my grandfather, then my great-grandmother, and finally my grandmother.

So there are many things around the house that are no longer in use.  Clothes, shoes, etc.  Most of the sizes are smaller than any of the three girls (myself, my mom, and my daughter) that live here now, so there is no one to wear them.  My uncle is graciously allowing me to sell a good bit of it on eBay to raise money for garden plots.  I’ve been at it for a couple of months now.  Shay has also sold some of his model trains to help out, and we’re doing pretty well so far.  It is going to take a while to go through everything and have it all posted and sold.

In whatever situation you find yourself, please do what you can yourself to prepare.  Any food you can produce on your own is a step toward immunity from hard times.  In the Great Depression, the people who were least affected were the farm families and others who had large gardens and kept chickens and such.  Even if you live in an apartment, there are things you can do… just do some searches, and you’ll find there are others who have figured out ways to grow vegetables at their apartments.  Even if you end up not needing everything you produce, you will be in a position to help others.

Raising Catfish in a Barrel

Yeah, really, apparently.  There isn’t much record on the internet of lots and lots of people doing this, but we’re planning to give it a try!  From what I’ve read, you can actually raise 40 channel catfish from fingerlings to 1 – 1 1/2 lbs in a 55-gallon drum.

It isn’t easy, and it requires dedication.  For starters, you have to be willing to pull 15 gallons of water from the bottom of the barrel EVERY DAY, and replace it with fresh, dechlorinated water.  This is water you have drawn the day before and allowed to sit for 24 hours, in a place that gets sun in the daytime.  So you have to have something to do with the water you pull out (garden?) and a container to allow 15 gallons of water (per barrel) to dechlorinate.

You also need to make the catfish barrel mobile, so that you can put it in the sun or in the shade, depending on the temperature.  You also need something to oxygenate the water — a bubbler, or sprayer, or something.

You need something to feed to the catfish.  Dog food will foul the water.  But you can feed fish pellets or earthworms.  You can raise the earthworms yourself in worm bins.

Picture this:

  • Our rabbits eat (eventually) greens and such from the garden
  • We take the rabbit manure (bunny berries) and put it into the worm bin
  • We take the rabbit urine and dilute it and water the garden (think NITROGEN)
  • The worms eat the bunny berries and reproduce
  • We feed the worms to the catfish
  • We change 15 gallons of fish water per day, and water the garden (more NITROGEN)
  • We eat the fish
  • The fish water and bunny urine water make the garden go crazy
  • Our rabbits eat greens and such from the garden

Here’s where we’re getting our ideas:

http://www.stevequayle.com/News.alert/06_Prep_tips/Raising.Catfish.in.Barrel.pdf

http://yardstead.com/Urban-Homesteading/raising-catfish-in-a-barrel.html (same page, but not in .pdf format)

http://www.ehow.com/how_4474959_raise-catfish-barrel.html

And for some warning about what happens if something unexpected comes up (like an early baby!) and you can’t take care of the barrel:  http://www.freewebs.com/clarkshomestead2/catfishinabarrel.htm

So we’ll be giving it a shot.  Barrels need to be food-safe, and I hear you can get them from the local dairy.

It’s all about being a little more self-sufficient in uncertain times.  The weak link is the availability of catfish fingerlings.  No fingerlings, no fish to fry.  Or bake.

And, of course, there’s the fact that I don’t yet have a garden from which the rabbits can eat greens… and the fact that I probably don’t have enough yard here to grow all the food the rabbits need, PLUS enough for us.  Not sure on that one.  But I do need to get the garden going.

TEST of the (so-far) Solar Oven

Not being able to complete the solar oven until I located a suitably large piece of cardboard from which to make the lid, I decided to see what sort of temperatures I could get from it as it is.  I have since procured a piece of cardboard, thanks to my uncle, so hopefully I can get to the lid this weekend.  :)

I remembered that there was a piece of glass sitting unused around the house, so I cleaned it and took it outside.  I set the oven base on the grass and put a cotton pad in it, and a cast iron skillet on the pad, and then an oven thermometer in the skillet.  I put the glass on top.  There was no angling the box so the sun entered it more directly, there was no reflector to direct more sunlight into the oven, and no black pan to help collect heat.

The skillet was necessary to help convert the sunlight to heat.

You know how your car heats up on a sunny day?  A solar oven works on the same principle.  The car is closed, and the sunlight enters through the windows.  It strikes the surfaces inside the car and some of it is converted to infrared light.  Most infrared light is heat.  The darker the surface the light strikes, the greater the amount of light that is converted to heat.  Once the light is converted to infrared, it cannot pass back through the windows.  Hence, black vinyl seats = burned tush.

In a solar oven, you want the heat concentrated where the food is.  This is why the inside of the box is reflective.  You want the light to keep bouncing around until it hits the dark items, which are the tray and the pots.  The oven will heat up, as well.

Now, I had meant to get the oven outside earlier in the day, like about 8:30 or 9:00, but I forgot about it until 11:30.  In spite of that, the temperature of the oven at 2:00 pm was around 210*-215*!

Not the greatest angle, but you can see the needle is pointing just about at 200* at this angle. From straight on, you would be able to see it was a little higher.

Not bad at all for an unfinished solar oven!!  Yeah!!!

It is good to have the oven reach at least 250* for cooking, to provide the safest temperature rise and not allow too much bacterial growth.  This is about the temperature a crock pot operates at.

Some solar ovens are all black in the interior.  They work on the same principle, just preferring to have all surfaces of the oven involved in converting light to heat.  I don’t know if either is superior, and there seems to be disagreement on that point.  Ah, well, as long as the thing cooks!  :)

Building a Solar Oven, Part 2

Well, now that the kids are feeling better, maybe I can continue on about the solar oven.  :)

After I foiled the insides of both of the boxes, it was time to put them together.  I am using dry lawn clippings from the yard as insulation.  Apparently, dried grass makes a rather good insulation.  I did some poking around online, and found a number of sites that mentioned using it as insulation in solar ovens, as an ingredient in walls, as emergency survival stuffing in clothing, and even as a normal part of going outside to play in Alaska (until recently) — it would be stuffed into shoes, and wrapped around the feet.

The first step was putting some sort of spacers in the bottom of the outer box to help hold the oven box up off of the bottom.  I could just put an inch or two of grass in the bottom and set the oven box on top of it, but I figure the grass would compact over time and become less of an insulator (due to reduced trapped air), and, if the grass compacted, then the oven box would sink below the top of the outer box, causing problems its seal with the lid.

So I considered several ways of making spacers, and finally decided to simply cut small squares of cardboard and stack them.  I sprayed adhesive on one side of the square and affixed it to the bottom of the outer box, then did the same for three more squares, figuring that four stacks should give good support.  I added a second layer, then a third, and so on until I had about eight or so layers (a little over an inch high).  I rotated the squares so that the corrugation crossed the corrugation of the previous layer, hoping that would help further prevent compression of the squares.  The stacks of squares are roughly 2″x3″, but they vary a bit, as I didn’t worry about getting them all exactly the same size.

If I had had my brain plugged in, I probably would have tried to put a fifth stack in the middle, since that is where the weight will be concentrated. It may not have worked out, though, because the flaps of the box don't meet in the middle, making the middle lower than the places where the other stacks are. I think it will be alright, though, because my oven box is double-walled, meaning I will have four layers of corrugated cardboard making the floor of the oven, and spreading the weight more evenly across the bottom.

Once I had the stacks done, and as much of the adhesive removed from my hands as possible (that’s sticky stuff!!), I started putting the dried grass in.  This is mostly St. Augustine grass, with some weeds interspersed.  I feed this same dried grass to the rabbits, though it isn’t their favorite, and is only of mediocre forage quality… but it’s FREE and right here in my yard!  Anyway, I continued to add grass, lightly pressing on it to see where it was too thin, until I had a nice, firm (but not packed) layer of grass that just barely covered the support stacks.

I tried to make sure I had a nice, even layer that would give good support to the oven box.

I then concentrated on the oven box, using Duck tape to seal all the seams and also to reinforce the corner supports.

I'll never have the chance again, so I pretty much taped it to death.

Finally, I had reached the point at which it was time to put the oven box into the outer box.  Once that was accomplished (a little harder than it sounds, because of the foiled flaps), I began stuffing grass around the sides.

Again, I went for a nice, firm packing, but not hard pressed. It was a bit difficult to keep the oven box perfectly centered, but that isn't really as important as making sure that there is some space between the boxes on all sides. The walls of both boxes ended up bulging a little, but that would be remedied as time went on.

Once it was suitably stuffed, it was time to fold the flaps down.

The extra height of the oven box will be used to secure it to the outer box.

Once I had the flaps taped down, I cut the oven box flaps apart just to the top of the outer box.  Some of my corner supports extended above the top of the outer box (oops… shoulda measured that), so I had to cut through them down to the top of the outer box.  Then I sealed the gap along each side of the oven box to the outer box with Duck tape.  Using the outside of a pair of scissors, I made a dent along the outside of the oven box flap so that I could fold it over neatly.  The idea was to fold it over the top of the outer box, and then fold it again down the side, and then tape it down.

I stopped and thought for a while, though, looking at it and thinking about how thick that was going to be, and how it was going to be more difficult to make a lid that would fit well.  I finally sprayed one flap with adhesive and folded it down, but it wasn’t working well because it was so thick.  Then my mom, who had joined me outside at this point, suggested peeling some of the thickness away.

Since I’m going to have plenty of layers of cardboard at the top of the box anyway, I thought that was brilliant!  So I cut the Duck tape seals I had just made, and Mom helped me peel a layer of cardboard from the flaps, including the little bits of the corner supports that were too high.  I had to be very careful not to cut all the way through the flaps.  I then cut the flaps down so they wouldn’t go over the edge of the outer box.  This would make a tight-fitting lid much easier to make.

Peeling away the second layer of cardboard, since the double-walled construction of the oven box wasn't advantageous here.

This side has had the second layer of corrugated cardboard peeled away, and has been cut down.

I then sprayed the surfaces to be glued — the top of the outer box, and the peeled side of the oven box flap — using a piece of scrap cardboard to catch overspray.  I don’t want to taste adhesive in my food!  Maybe I’m just picky.

I waited 30 seconds for the adhesive to set, and then I pulled the top of the outer box and the top of the oven box together tightly, and folded the flap down and pressed it into place.  I held it to be sure the two surfaces adhered well.  Then I scored the foil on the flap and peeled most of it off, since I don’t need foil on the flaps, and I need the flaps to stick well.  Then I taped the flap down.  This is where the bulging was mostly rectified.

It is important to not have any Duck tape on the inside of the oven, because it fumes a bit when heated. I kept the tape about 1/4" away from the edge where it drops off into the oven.

Once I had all of the flaps peeled, cut, glued, and taped, I taped diagonally across the corners.

Since I had peeled the oven box flaps, I didn't have large spaces in the corners that needed filling.

The base of the oven is now complete!  :)

Building a Solar Oven, Part 1

My materials:

  • two cardboard boxes in good shape, one a couple of inches larger than the other on all sides
  • aluminum foil
  • spray adhesive (can also use diluted white glue)
  • dried grass clippings
  • a few other various pieces of cardboard
  • turkey-sized baking bag (can also use clear Plexiglas or glass, two layers are ideal)
  • wire clothes hanger
  • flat black grill paint
  • probably some Duck tape (duct tape)

With our recent move, it was surprising to me how hard it was to find the two perfect boxes for this project.  The inner box is the oven itself, and the outer box provides insulation.  You don’t want boxes that are too deep, but your outer box still needs to be large enough to accommodate the oven box.  When it came down to it, I had to decide between an oven box that was shallow but of a nice length and width, and another box that was deeper, but not as long.  I chose the shallow box, and decided to modify it so that the flaps would stand up rigidly and provide more depth.

First, I closed the larger box and centered the oven box on top of it, and then traced around the oven box.

Tracing around the smaller oven box onto the top of the larger outer box.

Yes, I did have a large box devoted to hangers.  Didn’t you?  And… I have never had Direct TV… where did that box come from?

Next, I cut all the way through all of the flaps with a mat knife (box cutter).

All layers of flaps cut through, and I have them weighted down to show you the resulting hole. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures until I was several steps along, which is why the inside is already shiny. :)

Then I opened the box and applied foil to the inside, using the adhesive spray.  It isn’t absolutely necessary to foil the inside of the outer box, but it reflects more heat back inside, making the oven more efficient.  White school glue diluted to half strength can also be used to apply the foil, but I didn’t want to deal with the difficulties associated with applying and using it.  And… the spray adhesive will adhere the foil better, as well.  Not very important for the outer box, but for the inner box, which will get more wear and tear as the oven box, having the foil stick as well as possible is a good thing.  The spray adhesive was about $10.  It was the more expensive of two spray adhesives available by 3M at Wal-Mart, but it was a larger can, and was the only one that mentioned gluing foil.

I applied foil to the inner flaps instead of the outer ones, forgetting that they don’t meet in the middle.  So I have applied foil to the part of the outer flaps that bridges the gap.  Should be good enough, but I’ll remember that if I ever build another one.

I have since added some more foil to close the gaps in the corners and along the flaps.

There’s less trouble with keeping the foil shiny if you spray the back of the foil and apply it, rather than spraying the box.

My oven box wasn’t as deep as I wanted, so I cut some cardboard strips from extra material and bent them.  To get them to stick and do their job, I needed the strongest possible bond.  This was accomplished by spraying both the strip and the corner on the box, and then waiting half a minute.  When pressed together, the adhesive acts like a contact cement, and bonds quite well.  I did have to go back around when I was finished and hold each one for a few seconds again.

I will probably reinforce the corners with Duck tape all the way around, to make sure I exclude air from outside. I'll concentrate on the added flap supports, to prevent them from popping off, just in case they're tempted to.

Then, I applied foil to the inside of the oven box, using smaller pieces so I could keep them a bit bit flatter for better reflection.

I think I ended up with two layers of foil over most of the surface.

Tomorrow, I hope to get a good bit of assembly done!  :)

In defense of solar cooking

First, why would I go to the effort of building a solar oven?  After all, studies show that cooking uses only 4 – 10% of a home’s total use of electricity.  Couldn’t I save more money faster by putting my efforts elsewhere?

Maybe.  We already keep the temperature around 75* in the summer (okay, it’s not the suggested 78*, but here, where it’s so very humid most of the time while it is so very hot, 78* is just not much relief a lot of the time).  That’s higher than many keep it, which is 68 – 72*.  So we save there some already.

We have two refrigerators and a chest freezer, so that doesn’t help the bill much.  It would be nice to move down to one fridge, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon, especially since their presence here predates our moving in with my uncle.  And we do use all the space in them, somehow.  I’m not sure where we would put everything for us all in one fridge.  And that freezer’s not going anywhere, sorry!!!

So then there’s the water heater.  Well, that’s gas, and the gas isn’t that expensive for now.  And the laundry?  We wash nearly all of our laundry in cold water.  The dryer, on the other hand, has only one remedy:  line drying.  I’ll be getting a clothesline shortly to see how we do with that.  I have pretty active allergies, our daughter has somewhat active allergies, and she, our son, and my mom all have asthma.  So clothes full of pollen might not work out very well, but we’ll see.  We’re willing to try.

Since the powers that be have openly admitted that the changes coming down the pike will cause the cost of electricity to “necessarily skyrocket”, I figure any attempt to save electricity is called for, including solar cooking.  Like I said, I’m no environmentalist.  I don’t believe all the scary doom-and-gloom-man-is-killing-the-planet stuff (and I have read quite a bit on both sides of the subject!).  Not that that means that I think we are free to pillage the earth and leave devastation in our wake.  God said for man to be fruitful and multiply, and to have dominion over the earth and to subdue it.  Dominion includes the responsibility of caring for that which you have dominion over, and wisely managing what you have.  I’m not an environmentalist, but I do like saving money.

What can you cook with a solar oven?  Apparently, quite a bit.  Bread, cakes, and cornbreads, pretty much anything you can cook in a crock pot, and many things you cook on the stove.  Some things merely require modification of the process.  Rice, for instance, requires you to heat the water and rice separately in the solar oven before putting them together to cook.  Potatoes need to be cut pretty small in order to cook properly.  Most, if not all, foods benefit most from being cooked inside dark cookware so they will more efficiently collect heat.

In order to do other things like making reductions, frying, or sauteing, you would need your conventional stove or a solar concentration cooker like a parabolic cooker.  These things are very sensitive to the movement of the sun across the sky, though, and require adjustment of the mirror(s) frequently.  I don’t want to babysit the thing, so I’m going with a plain solar oven.

A solar oven can be as cheap or as expensive as you want.  You can spend nothing on it and build it out of scraps, or you can spend several hundred on one that is ready to use and will supply supplemental electric heat should the sun duck behind a cloud for too long.  I’m spending about $15.  Only about $5 of that did I really need to spend.  The rest of it I spent on some spray adhesive that can adhere foil.  It will come in handy for other projects, too.  :)

Out(side)sourcing some of the cooking

I am not an environmentalist, and do not believe in global warming, but I do believe in reasonable conservation and wise use of our resources, as well as wasting as little as possible.

When you come down to my embracing of the idea of solar cooking, though, it has nothing to do with my views on conservation and resources. It has to do with frugality — I’m trying to save money, here. We don’t have a lot of it, after all, and I could swear I hear some of our pennies whimper when I squeeze them particularly hard. But I have to.

I already had one solar oven, but it wasn’t quite finished when we moved. My beloved husband had built it from scrap siding, duct board, and the glass door from an old entertainment center. The last thing it needed was a way to keep the reflector open, and a lock to keep the neighborhood kids from adding unexpected ingredients (like chameleons) to the food. It got up to 225* in spite of the fact that I couldn’t keep the reflector open, so I was really hoping to see what it could do once it was finished.

Well, it didn’t make it into the moving truck. :( So I’m building one. Maybe it’ll be temporary, or maybe I’ll have it quite a while. I’m building it out of two cardboard boxes, foil, and dried grass. I just started, so I’ll be posting pictures. I’m more or less following these plans: http://www.thefarm.org/charities/i4at/surv/solarbox.htm

Mostly finishing the rabbitry…

When I left off, the rabbitry wasn’t under roof yet, so I figured I’d better post the rest!

Shay started the roof off with a board screwed to the side of the building to which we were attaching the rabbitry.  To that he added the rafters, and then he capped the ends.

Rafters were screwed with metal hurricane ties to the board attached to the building.

Detail of rafters attached to the building.

Detail of cap attached to rafters, and rafters attached to the structure with metal hurricane ties.

Detail in the other direction. The backlighting of the sky was such that I had to modify the colors.

Another view. Shay spaced the rafters out more than you normally would, because they don't bear much load at all.

We set three posts along the front of the rabbitry into dry concrete mix.  This makes for a stronger concrete over time.  We poured some dry mix into the bottom of the hole, set the post in, and poured dry mix around it.  We used a rod to poke up and down in the mix to help work air pockets out, and also hammered the 4×4 to vibrate the mix (making sure we kept it plumb).  Once they were all done, we wet the top of the concrete down with a hose to allow the top to set quickly.  The rest sets over time, as it pulls moisture from the surrounding soil.  It results in a more dense concrete, and you don’t have to stop working to let it set!

View of one end of the rabbitry, with the corner post set in dry concrete mix.

Detail of a corner post set in dry concrete mix.

Detail of center post set in concrete. To keep the structure straight, the board you see across the doorway is a permanent fixture. I was afraid we were all going to kill ourselves on it, but, surprisingly, we all seem to remember the thing is there.

Umm… I just realized that I don’t have my pictures of the thing with the corrugated metal roof on.  I’ll hunt for them and put them in another post.

Rabbitry pics… almost done!

Naturally, before starting a project like this, it is necessary to check your local laws on keeping animals and building structures.  Where we are, a structure of less than 100 square feet with no floor does not require a permit, and rabbits are not explicitly mentioned.  Dogs, cats, goats, chickens, snakes, and all kinds of other things are, but not rabbits.  Since we are keeping only four rabbits permanently, our setup should be no problem.  We are endeavoring to make it blend in with the house as well as possible, and to make it look nice.

Most everything is done but the roof, now.  Hopefully, we’ll get it roofed tomorrow.  Nevermind the heat advisory…

Rabbitry basic structure. The space in the upper row is for a small extra cage I have that is currently occupied. In the future, it will be a segregation cage.

Cages are suspended from the corners at an angle.  The chain is held by heavy wire staples.

Cages are suspended from the corners at an angle. The chain is held by heavy wire staples.

Bracing and supports for poop chutes added, and upper chutes added. They drop five inches from back to front.

Bottom poop chutes installed, as well as gutters. The gutters drop three inches from ends to center. Doing them like this instead of from one end to the other allows for a greater incline. Dropping 3" over 12 feet is a gentler slope than dropping 3" over 6 feet. A light rinsing daily should keep them from blocking up. They will drain into a pan of peat moss.

Rabbitry moved into place, and screen surround started at left. This structure is being built on the back side of an outdoor storage room, so coming across the window isn't a problem. Light will still come in through the window.

Screen surround finished. The surround is built of the old window screens that used to be on the house. They need painting, but we'll get to that later. When it's COOLER! Oh, and that's a fig tree at right.

A view from the other side, through the crepe myrtle tree, with another very small fig tree at left. You might notice a square of lattice at the back of the surround. That is to protect the old screen from the aspidistra right beside it. Unfortunately, you can't see much of the aspidistra in this picture, since it is being blocked by the fig tree. It is under the ligustrum shrub.

As you can see, Hershey, the young red rabbit in the middle, is anxious to move into the new rabbitry, where he won't be squashed by his mother any longer.