Guernsey - Gorgeous Island, Great Cows

I just finished reading a very good book called "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." The book makes one fall in love with the Channel Island, so afterwards I spent some time looking at Guernsey online. Along the way, I discovered that there are all sorts of benefits to Guernsey cows that I never knew of.

I already knew that milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows is naturally much lower in hormones than that of Holsteins. The raw milk we drink comes from Jersey cows. And I also knew that they were, in my opinion, the prettiest cows. What I did not know is this:

Guernsey milk contains 12% more protein, 30% more cream, 33% more vitamin D, 25% more vitamin A and 15% more calcium than average milk. Also, 96% of Guernsey cows produce only A2 Beta Casein protein milk, compared with most cows which make primarily A1 milk, and Jerseys whose milk contains about 40-50% A2 protein. The A2 protein has been touted in recent studies to benefit milk allergies, lactose intolerance, heart disease, and even autism. Guernsey milk produces a better curd for cheese making, converts more feed to milk than Holsteins, matures earlier but lives and produces milk longer.

And, of course, they are just very, very cute!


Pesticide Switches Sides -- Organic! Organic! Ra, Ra Ra!

Sometimes, the best way to tackle a problem is sideways, rather than head on.

Rather than argue with your toddler and insist on "no", sometimes its better to simply offer and attractive alternative.

Rather than fight with big CAFOs over animal quality of life, sometimes its better to work on banning the regular use of antibiotics and feed additives like arsenic b/c of its environmental impact, which, in turn will eventually lead to better quality of life since the animals can't live the way they currently do without these additives that keep bacteria at bay in close, filthy quarters.

And rather than focus on asking industry farmers to cut back on fertilizers and pesticides because they are bad for people and animals -- which they continue to deny, and fight, and deny, and fight -- it is beginning to look like eventually the EPA or other government agencies may realize that these substances are dangerous for other reasons. Reasons like national security. Reasons like global warming and rising coastlines. And if that happens, we could have entire nations turning to organic farming methods with little to no fuss. Which I find pretty exciting.

Here's the low down from Discover News:

"A new study revealed that the pesticide [sulfuryl fluoride] lingers in the atmosphere for 36 years -- about eight times longer than scientists previously suspected. What's more, the gas is 4,800 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at holding in heat."

So even though there isn't very much of it in the atmosphere, even a little bit can make a very big impact. Which, in turn, may have an even bigger impact on farming methods someday... For the better, one hopes.


Milk in the Garden -- milkin' it for all it's worth!

We drink a gallon of milk a week, fresh from the farm. The farmer brings us our milk in recyclable gallon plastic jugs, which pile up until I can get to the recycling center. They are big, and they are unsightly. They get on my nerves.

Until now! I have come up with several uses for gallon jugs in the garden and on the farm. The first use I came up involves using a serrated knife to cut the bottom of the jug off about 1.5 inches from the bottom. This creates a very nice single unit "greenhouse" for spring seedlings in the garden. Use the discarded bottom to start seeds in, or place under pots to catch water.

Holding the handle, you can further cut away part of the "greenhouse" to create a nice feed scoop.

Or, use the container to make the gorgeous plant ID stakes pictured in the post. I cut off the bottom of the jug with a knife, and then with scissors I cut the flat portions of the jug off. Then, I cut the flat portions into strips varying from 4-5 inches long. With two snips, I tapered one end to a point. They look very much like the white ones you can buy at stores, except that they are translucent. I made over 50 strips from two jugs.

I'm sure this barely scratches the surface of what can be done with milk jugs. I used to store mead in them. You can cut the top half with the handle of to create square-ish bins. Decorate the edges with bits of ribbon for a pretty, and safer, effect. Or, leave the jug whole, cut a big door at the bottom and some windows, decorate and paint it and you have a dollhouse or toy car garage... Anyone have any other uses for them?

Children of War

An article this morning from the BBC just broke my heart. "The International Criminal Court is accepting supporting evidence of children's drawings of the alleged crimes committed in Darfur. Rights group Waging Peace collected the drawings from refugees in Chad."
If you are not familiar with the situation in Sudan & Darfur, there is a really great documentary called "God Grew Tired Of Us" that tells the story from the perspective of several boys-turned-men.
But these pictures. May none of our children ever draw images like these. No child should ever experience this. What is wrong with us?


Shearing time.

I am the happy owner of a very intelligent, family-bred AKC-registered dog. She is descended from champions. She is a Standard Poodle. She requires regular grooming. And, alas, she does not go to the same groomers who made her parents champions. No. She goes to me. Or, more accurately, my table.
I groom Petunia every three months on average. I wish I could say that I groomed her in pretty poodle cuts. I don't. That would require starting the grooming process with a nicely brushed dog. And after three months of no brushing, as any poodle owner will tell you, what you start with is a matted fur-ball. Poodle hair is just that, hair, not fur. And it grows and grows and grows in a soft curly mass. I wish I could tell you that I only groom her every three months because of some nice green reason, like it saves on the electricity that the clippers use, but that's not it. I am just too lazy. It took over two hours to groom her today. She gets shaved down, which leaves her looking a little goofy, but after a few weeks her hair will be half an inch, and very nice looking in a traditional "Sporting Cut", like modern hunting Poodles get -- yes, poodles are hunters, birders to be exact. Some of my mother's puppies have gone on to become national birding champions.
My sweet Petunia would love to carry our chickens around in her soft mouth, but they don't agree. And, knowing that I do not agree either, she leaves them alone. Oh, but she looks!
She will stay nice looking for the next 2 months, and then, well, she'll begin to become a sheep-dog again, and get shaved sometime in July probably. This winter was so cold I let her keep her hair longer than usual -- almost 5 months! Wow, that was fun to take off... Not matted at all, no sir.

How DO sheep shearers do it so quickly? My clippers were barely up the task, even with new blades.
Here is Petunia, mid-grooming. She looks happy, and she is, but it's only b/c I turned off the clippers.


First Day of Spring

Today is the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of Spring. Here in NW CT, it seems a bit of a slow start, so much so that the only seeds I've dared start are Spinach, because it just seems too cold in the house when I don't have the stove going.

It's also the Feast day of Ashtara, also known as Ashtar, Ashtoreth, Aphrodite and Astarte. She was connected with fertility and sexuality and was associated with the planet Venus. A fitting goddess for the first day of Spring! Hmmm... A - starte. A start. Maybe tomorrow I'll start some seeds after all.

Lucas and I spent some time this afternoon rambling about the property and appreciating all the little signs of life. No flowers yet, except for some crocus who were too sad and shivery-looking to photograph.

Afternoon sun through the trees in the nature preserve bordering our land. Is that a fairy-vision on the left?

This is the first day the pool has been thawed out since the fall. We emptied it a few times then, but it always filled up with rain somehow before we could put it away for the winter. Lucas thinks it's just the spot to go fishing this year. If you around my property, you may surprised to see a lot of big plastic toys for Lucas to play with: slides, gyms, tables, baby mowers, trucks, the pool, etc. Almost every single outdoor toy came from "freecycling" (bulk trash pickup week in our town). I try to do my part by keeping the plastic out of the landfills as long as possible, and getting the most use out of them: Lucas, of course, is happy to oblige!

Rhubarb is one of the first edibles to appear in my yard in Spring. This ancient plant produces shoots all summer long. No matter what, we will never have scurvy!

An old wise man holding the "Seed of Longevity" keeps an eye over this bed of tulips and periwinkle. Last year, I moved the peonies that lived here to another spot. At least, I think I did! Seems awfully early for tulips...

Lady's Mantle (Top) and more tulips (Bottom). Lemon Balm and oregano are also making a show nearby on either side in the herb garden. You may ask, what are tulips doing in the herb garden? And I say unto you: flowers go whither they will. Even the nicest herb garden is, well, a little green. I can't resist putting flowers in with my herbs...And many of my perennial flowers in the "flower garden" are medicinal herbals, too.

Farmer Luke, digging for rocks. He especially likes putting the rocks from the paths into the garden beds, and the mulch from the beds in the paths. Fun!

Spinach seedlings, finally making an appearance.


Green Power -- Are You Using It?

These days a lot of power distribution companies offer the choice to shop around. You can choose a supplier co-op, who shops for and supplies the cheapest energy that month. You can choose a supplier who uses only wind energy, or hydro and landfill gas. You can choose local power. Every state has different options, but almost everyone these days is offering some options.
It's not always easy to find the options, of course. You may have to sift through your power companies website to find them. My own power company, CL&P, let's customers know about these options every couple months with colorful informational inserts included with the bill: most people I know do not read these, and remain unaware that they have these options until I point them out. So chances are that you have the options, too, even if you don't know about them.

Here in the river valley where I live all our power was Hydro, until CL&P was swallowed by a larger company and became a distributor rather than a supplier & distributor. When I switched my supplier to Community Energy, which in CT offers 66% Wind Power and 34% New England Small Hydro, I wanted to support the creation of more wind farms with demand, but I did wonder if it was the best choice to reject my local hydro suppliers. Imagine my surprise recently when I found a tool from the EPA website breaking down my zip code's general power sources for the default CL&P user: only 6% hydro. Despite the fact that there are two hydro plants within 5 miles of my home, most of the power came from Nuclear, Gas & Coal sources. So, I am increasingly glad that I chose Community Energy, which supports both local hydro and new wind power.
Of course, someday I would love to have a geothermal & solar based home. But for now, in my small cottage that is on-grid, I am happy to be part of the greening of America. Because it will happen as we, the citizens, demand it. When you go off-grid, you gain self-sufficiency, but you lose your voice. The power companies write you off, and turn to other customers...

What about you? Have you looked into green power in your area? Do you supply some of your own energy?


Is the Sun Trying to Save Us?

We've all heard about Global Warming or Climate Change. And there is no question that our human ways are polluting the earth...but are we really causing the bulk of global warming? And is global warming even still taking place? There are quite a few scientists who say no. Solar and Space scientists, in particular, have a lot to say on the topic. Mars has been losing its polar ice caps at the same rate as the earth, while solar activity was higher than normal over the last several decades. Some people think this is a clear indicator that the phenomenon is solar-related, and not based primarily on human activities.
Since 2000 global temperaures have plateaued. And now the sun appears to have stalled, falling behind on its sunspot schedule and remaining virtually blank. Is the sun trying to cool us off? Did it hear the mass consiousness of humans asking for an end to global warming, and has it answered us? Only time will tell. Sunspot activity remains at a minimum, supporting the world's leading solar expert, Russian Dr. Khabibullo Abdusamatov prediction several years ago: based on solar emmision data over the last decade, Dr. Abdusamatov believes that the sun is entering a real lull which could bring about global cooling similar to the Little Ice Age in the 17th century when Hudson Bay actually froze over. If we do have such pronounced cooling, crop production would fall and we would all be huddling around our heaters a lot more. Or perhaps the cooling effect of the sun will just balance out our CO2 warming effect.

Myself, I believe that there are scientists on both sides who have behaved badly, from some who shall not be named at Nasa who have changed old records twice in the last decade to better suit their theory of climate change, to industry scientists who deny any human impact whatsoever.

And I do find it very interesting that the sun remains so quiet. We are having a cooler Spring here in the Northeast than usual for the last twenty years.

So. Climates change for all sorts of reasons, all the time. We still don't have a definitive answer for what caused the dinosaurs to disappear. I believe we all need to reduce our impact on the environment as much as possible so that we are not the cause of any animal or plant species' demise and our children's children are healthy and have a beautiful planet to live on.
I also believe we need to be prepared for natural climate variations. Severe cooling and warming can and does happen. Major cooling occurred at lease twice in the last 500 years. According to tree scientists who published their findings in National Geographic last year, it has been far wetter than normal in the US Southwest in the first and last quarter of the 20th century: both times are when the population in that area boomed with new settlers. The last time the Colorado River was that wet, it was then followed by a major drought (like now) that was so severe it forced the Anasazi to abadon their homes. If our scientists had known that one-hundred years ago, perhaps our government would have regulated how much we devoloped that area of the nation, and how much water we diverted.

Where does all this leave us? Do issues like water availability and flood zones impact your decision where to live? Are you stocking up on bikinis, warm quilts, neither or both? Are you enjoying the ride, or holding on tight with your eyes closed?



Auroras over Greenland after midnight last night pays homage to St. Pat's.


Building a Better Egg

6 years ago, my aunt gave me a cookbook for Christmas titled simply, "Chicken." She had no idea that this book, which was published by the restaurant she managed, would begin a long term obsession with owning my own small poultry flock. I own many, many cookbooks, and none ever held my attention the way this one did. It had recipes for chicken and eggs, but it also had poultry lore, facts and tidbits, along with gorgeous oversize photos of different chicken breeds. It was here that I learned about Araucanas, the blue-green egg-layers, and Leghorns, Javas, Sumatras and Bantams, to name a few.
After 5 years, my dream came true, and I drove home with three lovely chicks. One year later, I get two eggs every day, while one of those chicks became a very fine Coq au Vin. This spring we are planning on adding two or three more lovelies to our flock. I adore my hens, which are Hubbards's Golden Comets. They are very sweet and calm, and loving. We allow our chickens to free-range on our .30 acre during the day, and lock them up in a coop with a run at night. During most of the year they each produce an egg every day, and their eggs are so large that they don't fit in the "Extra-Large" egg cartons I have. During the winter, their egg production drops to one egg every other day for a couple months, so for a few months I went back to buying eggs at the market to supplement the ones we had. My girls' eggs have yolks that are about 1.5 times larger than the store-bought "organic free-range" eggs, and a light golden orange instead of the standard lemony yellow.

According the good folks at Mother Earth, who have been conducting scientific analysis of free-range egg nutrition for several years now, true free range eggs contain:

4-6 times more Vitamin D than store-bought eggs
1⁄3 less cholesterol
1⁄4 less saturated fat
2⁄3 more vitamin A
2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
3 times more vitamin E
7 times more beta carotene

Oh -- and don't forget the 5 times more happy whose RDA has not been established, but can only bring good things to the table.

Remember, most store-bought eggs are not really free-range, no matter what they say. Traditional free-range chickens are free to roam in a pasture or yard for at least a few hours a day. Meanwhile, modern free-range chickens by regulation are merely loose in a large indoor, cement room, with access through a tiny hatch to a small outdoor pen. The door in most facilities stays open only a couple hours a day, and while there may be hundreds of chickens in the room, only tens of them will be able to fit in the pen. Most don't make it outside. Given the choice between battery cages and store-regulation free-range, of course free-range is going to contain more "happy." But if you want real free-range eggs with the extra nutrition and honest-to-goodness happy, go to a local farm or backyard grower.

My chickens receive only cracked corn, vegetable scraps from our kitchen, and oyster shells and field peas (in the winter only, for calcium and protein). I don't give them organic layer feed b/c most of them contain a b-vitamin which is fine in the feed, but when it is excreted by the chicken and hits ground water it becomes toxic in drinking water.

For more info on chickens, check out http://www.backyardchickens.com/ which has a huge amount of resources, including a fantastic member forum with loads of people just aching to share their knowledge with you.

Finally, one last tidbit of information: growing your own chickens and eggs insures that you will have your own healthy poultry supply in the event of an avian flu outbreak or other zoonotic disease quarantines. This is just one reason that when you build your coop and run (outdoor pen), you should be sure that it is large enough to keep the hens indoors all day if you need to. Also, that way if you go away for a trip, anyone can feed your chickens for you once a day, and not have to worry about rounding them up, and if they get snowed in they are OK, too.


Where am I?

This week I am busy hanging things -- curtains, drywall picture hangers -- at the new store location, and chaffeuring my mother around town to doctor's appoinments for a head injury... Life is, in short, a bit hectic right now. I don't really have anything interesting to say (*gasp!*)

So until next week, friends!


Raven and River

swoops out of winter into spring,
circling, circling.
He gurgles and burbles,
like a river flowing.
R-r-rawk, r-r-awk quiver
Wake the sleeping River.

Red Squirrel
skitters up the highest spruce.
She searches this way, that way, back again.
Bright eyes sparkle,
like a river shining.
Chit-chit, shimmer
Wake the sleeping River.

Ruffed Grouse
rearranges his feathers.
He beats his wings
like a river humming .
Thum thum thither
Wake the sleeping River.

climbs out of her own sleep
up the steep cliff.
She raises her head and howls, then takes off,
like a river running.
Yowl-yowl shiver
Wake the sleeping River.

Snowshoe Hare
leaps to the air.
In two-color coat,
she bounds over familiar paths,
like a river dancing.
Run-run hither
Wake the sleeping River.

gets up from dreams of fish.
Big-pawed and groggy,
he enters the light,
like a river turning.
Slap-flap dither
Wake the sleeping River.

Beaver waiting is not surprised.
For in his old winter lodge he feels the ice begin to shift, like a river moving.
Crick-crack sliver
The River The River

Raven circles and circles and circles

R-r-rawk, R-r-rawk quiver
Chit-chit shimmer
Thum-thum thither
Yowl-yowl shiver
Run-run hither
Slap-flap dither
Crick-crack sliver
Circle for the Giver
The River The River

River squints through eyes of ice.
She stretches and stretches and stretches,
waking up
breaking up.

R-r-rawk, R-r-rawk quiver

The River
shimmers for red squirrel,
hums with ruffed grouse,
runs after wolf,
and dances with snowshow hare.

River turns over with fish for bear
and moves in a new home for beaver.

And Raven-
Raven dips and soars
dips and soars
cutting the bright blue cloth of a sky

Raven and River
gurgle and burble and roll their r's
R-r-rawk, r-r-rawk, quiver
Circle for the Giver
R-r-rip Raven R-r-rip River
Rippling rippling rippling

Raven flying
Raven flowing

By Nancy White Carlstrom, 1997


Homemade Ice Cream

Remember those old Tupperware ice pop makers? I lived on them as a child, so when my baby first learned the words "ice cream" I went straight on eBay and bought a dozen. Now Lucas can eat "ice cream" as much as he wants, because I know it's full of only healthy things like yogurt or leftover whey protein from cheese making with a little juice. The last batch I made was probably the best one yet, and I figured I would share it with you.

*Vanilla Butter Pops*

1 Cup Vanilla Stonyfield Yogurt**
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
1/2 Cup Hazelnut "Milk"
2 Tbs Creamy Peanut Butter

Mix it well, pour into ice pop molds, and freeze. Eat, & Enjoy!

**Stonyfield products are fantastic. They have a higher pro-biotic count than any other, and their happy cows eat an all-natural diet free from chemicals. The owner is a big fan of responsible, sustainable agriculture and has eliminated corn from their diet and added a daily ration of herbs, cutting the cows' methane production in half. So you can buy their products with a clear conscience.


Saving Electricity with CFLs

This month promises to be a busy one, while I prepare to move my store a half-mile down the road to a new, bigger location. We have doorways to install, rooms to paint, electricity and Internet to turn on, and signs to get approved. It's all a little daunting, since business has been a little slow lately, but this location gets a lot more traffic and our landlord is going to charge us the same amount of rent for a bigger space, so its a bit of a no brainer. Here, we'll be offer to more services, including yoga and chi kung. If we can't make it here, we wouldn't have made it anywhere.

One of the improvements we're making to the space involves the lighting. Currently, the building has 17 flood lights inside on track lighting for its lighting. These lights are on dimmers, but they are all 100 watt halogens or 150 watt bulbs, and will be sucking our electricity like tiny little vampires whether they are dim or not. Enter the compact CFL. Fluorescent lights in the 21st century are gentler on the eyes and contain half as mercury as they used to (they still do contain mercury, however, so please make sure they are safely recycled at the end of their average 8000-hr life-span to keep mercury out drinking water). Compact CFLs generally use 75% less energy than their incandescent relatives, which can make a tremendous impact on your energy bill, especially in areas like workshops or retail stores where you need to keep the lights bright and shining all the time.

The first step in switching to CFLs at my store involves installing new light switches (6 to be exact), because although you can buy dimmable CFLs these days, they are still very expensive, usually twice the cost of a non-dimmable CFL. When you're talking about 17 CFL flood lights indoors, and two outdoors, that really can add up. So we are updating the 1970-era dimmer switches to regular light switches ($0.99 per switch, and $0.75 for the face plates.)

Next, we need new bulbs. I looked at all the stores around here and the bulbs run about $5 apiece. I looked online and found much of the same, until I found a small company nearby in Ohio that produces and recycles CFLs, and whose mission statement is to help America switch to CFLs painlessly. There, I can buy the bulbs I need in bulk for $3.19 apiece, and shipping is very reasonable. They even package their bulbs in recycled packaging instead of the massive plastic bubbles most companies use.

We're also going to use 100% green energy at the store, an option provided by our CT power company, CL&P. Through their website it's a simple process to sign up to use 50% or 100% renewable energy from Community Energy, wind power supplier. That is what we use at home, and I love how it makes me feel. For just a small surcharge on my bill (usually about $5) I get to know that we are helping edge America along into a new, green era.


It's a Plane, It's a Bird, no -- it's SUPER FRIDGE!

Discoveries like this get me really excited. While many of us are trying to reduce our energy usage and wanting to be greener, a lot of times it's just not very easy. While I know that there are certain behaviors that we can adjust to reduce are carbon footprint, I think the real key to change in America, and the world, lies in new technology and innovations.
So, with that long introduction - - here is some great new technology! Researchers in the UK have found a cheap way to create a magnetic-cooling refrigerator that could cut energy usage (for that appliance) up to 40%. Considering that fridges generally account for about 15% of a home's energy bill, I think that is a pretty big deal -- this new technology could reduce usage in each home by 7%! Not bad. Seems to me something like that is a no-brainer. The only question will be: what to do with the old ones? Well, they make GREAT containers for Solar Batch Water Heaters, for a start :) Or perhaps raised garden beds? Hmm... I figure we have a few years to think about it, since it will take a while for them to put the technology into the market. And they'll need to research the fridge's effect on pacemakers...

"Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered a material that gives a whole new complexion to the term 'fridge magnet'. When this alloy is placed in a magnetic field, it gets colder. Karl Sandeman and his co-workers think that their material - a blend of cobalt, manganese, silicon and germanium - could help to usher in a new type of refrigerator that is up to 40 percent more energy-efficient than conventional models.

The 'magnetic fridge' envisaged by the Cambridge team would use a phenomenon called the magnetocaloric effect (MCE), whereby a magnetic field causes certain materials to get warmer (a positive MCE) or cooler (a negative MCE). Although the effect was discovered more than 120 years ago, it is only recently that magnetocaloric materials have been known with the right properties for use in everyday refrigeration. But several factors have so far prevented such applications.
For one thing, some of the materials - typically metal alloys - that show the strongest MCE contain the element gadolinium, which is very expensive. And some of the best potential alternatives contain arsenic, raising health concerns.
Sandeman and colleagues have now found a material that is neither toxic nor costly, and which generates significant cooling at around room temperature. The key to the magnetocaloric behaviour is a sudden change in the magnetic state of the compound - a so-called magnetic transition. The material is magnetic because it contains metal atoms that themselves act like tiny bar magnets. As it is warmed up from subzero temperatures, there comes a point where these atomic magnets abruptly change the way in which they are lined up." (from treehugger.com)
Who knows, maybe when these fridges are ready for market the government will give all us one someday, instead of a rebate check that we spend on a larger TV. It would certainly make sense as it would reduce the need for more oil, more energy infrastructure, more, more, more, and get America right on track. HA!


How to avoid GMO foods at the store.

Finding produce that is local, organic and/or non-genetically modified at the grocery can be very difficult, not to mention time consuming as you turn little pieces of fruit over trying to find the tiny print that says where it was grown and what it is. Sometimes, it doesn't say. But you know those stickers with numbers on them that you always have to peel off? Well, turns out they actually tell you how the food was grown.

Here's what the numbers mean:

A four-digit code means the produce is conventionally farmed
A five-digit code beginning with 9 means it's organic
A five-digit code beginning with 8 means it's genetically modified

So A conventionally grown banana would be:
An organic banana would be:
And a genetically engineered (GE or GMO) banana would be:

By 2001, over 1200 numbers had been assigned by the Produce Electronic Identification Board, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association, a Newark, Delaware-based trade group for the produce industry.

GM foods have only been in stores a decade or so, so science is still unsure what long-term effects they may havae on the body. They also pose the great risksthrough cross pollination with non-gm crops of threatening biodiversity. Europe has banned them. Gee, think they may know something we don't? Or do they just value caution over profit? Personally, I am with Europe on this one -- I'd rather stick with the bounty of Mother Nature than take a chance on my DNA, which will be copied for generations down the line. I may not be able to control all pollution, peak oil issues, the national deficit, or other human ills that my children will inherit, but my DNA, that is something I think I should have some say in.

Don't you?


DIY Solar Dehydrator

Some of you may have noticed that my list of "things to do" in my sidebar included building a solar cooker. This item was born out of scientific interest rather than a real desire to cook in one. In the summer I cook very little, eating mostly fresh raw foods, and in the winter we get almost no direct sun on our property, except our roof, so that when I would like to use a solar cooker for soups and stews, I can't. So I viewed building a solar cooker as more of an experiment, and not something I would use much.

So, in the interest of not wasting time and resources, I have shifted my experiment a bit, and plan on building a solar dehydrator. I love drying foods. Last year I got really into it and made jerky, dried fruits, and enough dried tomatoes to last us through the spring -- we use them every day, as snacks, on salads, in soups and pastas, and they are fantastic. Next year, I plan on drying much, much more. Drying appeals to me even more than canning because dried foods take up much less space, and we live in a small home.
How does one dry food? Well, basically you need air flow and low heat over a period of 8-24 hours. If you live in a humid climate, as much of the US tends to be, then "sun" drying outside can be a bit problematic. When I tried it, my tomatoes molded by the end of the day! I use an electric dehydrator that is specially designed for this task, but I would rather use no electricity. Enter the solar dehydrator.

By putting a few cardboard boxes together (or building one out of plywood), and adding some ventholes at the top and bottom, you create natural airflow and heat: Take one shallow box and paint it black with non-toxic water-based paint. Put a clear lid on it, and holes on both ends. Make your drying box with vents at the bottom on the side, and a screened in lid. Attach the two boxes with leftover cardboard. The bottom box will take cool air from the ground, heat it as it rises, and flow through the drying box where you have placed racks of food to dry on screens spaced 2-4 inches apart. Finally, it leaves the box through vents near the top of the box. On one website, someone pointed out that in the winter you can move the set up to a window area and created a solar heat box for your home. Not a bad idea!

If your foods don't dry by nightfall, bring them indoors to avoid molding. I'll probably dry outside during the day and finish off in the electric dehydrator during the night, since our house is fairly "moist" during the summer, too.
Et, Voila! Sundried tomatoes, cantaloupe, beans, onions, corn, carrots and almost any vegetable you can think of. I like to dry my tomatoes until they are very, very dry, much more than you get at the supermarket. Mine are preservative and salt-free, so they need that extra insurance to make it through the winter. Before you store your foods, let them cool completely, or you can have moisture build up in the containers.


Nature's Window

This weekend we had fun creating a new look in our living room for just $6. Using two metal curtain tiebacks that we bought at a local home-improvement store, we hung a 7-foot sapling from our backyard as a curtain rod over our window, and used an old silver curtain we had as a swag. Eventually we will replace the silver swag with a shorter (so it can be swooped just once, instead of twice) swag of a different shade, but we are going to wait until we've installed our plaster tree and rock wall in the same room, to choose the final color. In the meantime, we are very happy with the light, airy feel of the curtain, and particularly like the look of the wood rod. We have decided that all curtain rods in our future will be made this way -- We just love the natural beauty!