Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Solar Cooking

Solar Cooking

Solar cooking is simply harnessing the sun's energy to cook food. This is an excellent way to keep the house cool in the summer, costs nothing to use, and is a great alternative to conventional cooking.
There are two things needed to solar cook.
1. Solar cooker
2. Dark pot to cook in - this can be either a granite ware, cast iron, or an aluminum pot painted black on the outside. The thin walls of the granite ware is actually a good heat conductor
If you are not able to find black or darkened pots and pans for use in your solar cooker, you can cook your food in jars. Canning jars are preferable because they are designed for high pressure and heat. Regular clear jars can be used if you do not seal them too tightly in order to diminish the possibility of exploding. You can paint them black for better heat absorption.

The golden rule of solar cooking is: GET THE FOOD ON EARLY, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT OVERCOOKING.

The simplest design of a solar collector is an old tire tube. Place the inflated tube on a board on the ground. Place the cooking vessel inside the tube. Cover the tube with a piece of plain glass. The place in the well of the tube is like a closed cavity. Air neither go out nor come in. The rays of the sun enter the glass and get trapped. Slowly, the temperature of the cooking vessel rises, and the food is cooked.
You can add a mirror on top of the board, which would add more reflection of the suns rays on the pot.

Other simple ways to harness the sun into a solar cooker is using a bucket,
Take a 5 gallon bucket, put a heavy rock in it to keep it stable. Take your shiny car window shade and fold it into a cone shape. It will be an awkward cone. Then place the cone tip into the 5 gallon bucket. Get a black pot/lid and fill it with your food. Put pot on a cheap-shiny pizza pan (wal-mart). Slide both pizza pan and pot into a turkey cooking bag. Close and tie off bag. Place bag, pot and food over the center of your shade cone and leave it facing the sun.

23 years ago, we started with 2 cardboard boxes, one inside the other with the gap between filled with insulation, covered with none other than duct tape.
Flashing, found at a builder's store, made up the sides and bottom. A piece of mirror was taped to the box flap. We used a stand-up dressing mirror for the sun reflecting into the box, and used a piece of glass to cover the top ... voilĂ , we had a solar cooker! It worked great!

We have since built a newer model... a black wooden box, with fold out lids that can be closed up when not in use. the inside of the box is painted black. After the food is placed inside, a piece of glass is placed on top. Two flaps were hinged to the top, and mirrors attached. These flaps can be positioned to the suns rays, reflect them into the box, where the sun's heat is trapped.

The sky is the limit to what type of solar cooker you want to make. People have made them using pizza box, or shoe box – which would be a great kids project:
The main point is to get the sun's reflection in the cooker and on the pot
A simple model on how to make your own :

The best times for cooking with a solar cooker is between 10 am and 4 pm - that is usually when the sun is at it's hottest.

OK. Now that you have figured out the solar cooker, it is time to cook something.

If you just want to experiment with an easy recipe, try cooking RICE:
1 cup rice,
2 cup water

Place the dark pot into the solar cooker, orient it so the sun is shining directly into the cooker and let the sun do the rest. Rice takes about an hour. Condensation on your window is a sign that the rice is cooking. You can check it then. (Be VERY careful lifting the lid of the pot off because the steam WILL burn)

Soak about 1/2 pound of pinto beans in water overnight. Drain the beans and add fresh water to cover the beans by about 1/2 inch. Add a pinch of salt- some chopped onion, a little garlic, and a slice of bacon if you like. This all goes into a covered dark pot and is cooked ALL day in the solar oven. If you notice the water has boiled away, just add more hot water. They are done when they are tender.

Slice a couple of those SOLAR BAKED POTATOES and place them into a dark pot. Drizzle the potatoes with olive oil, add a 1/2 cup of milk, sprinkle with salt and pepper, You can add some Parmesan cheese. Mix briefly, then cover and place into a preheated solar oven and bake until hot- about an hour or so.

For a total meal:

Cut up vegetables - potatoes, carrots, onions, green beans, turnips - any favorite vegetable.
Place it on the bottom of your dark pot.
Cover this with your chicken pieces, skin side up, seasoned with your favorite herbs. (I like to add paprika, salt and pepper)
Cover the pot with the lid, and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
*If you don't want the skin on, add a cup or so of chicken broth/water.

Use caution when removing the pot and the lid - it is HOT - just as hot as if it had been in the oven.

Head on over to my website for more information:
And more recipes:

Thursday, July 11, 2013

So you want to raise a bunny

I am by no means an expert on raising rabbits. When someone asks my husband what breed we raise - he tells them "whatever colors look good"... I love the diversity of colors you can get, I love having lop eared bunnies, straight eared bunnies. I like the "assorted" bunny, and I love finding homes for my bunnies. Our daughter, Bethany had her first bunny by the time she was 4 and she took serious care of it. Unfortunately, it was a single Large New Zealand female -which doesn't always make the best pet. We found an adorable black and white dutch bunny for her, and she had Jasmine for quite a few years.

Bunnies for pets are a lot of fun, a great pet to teach children responsibility, compassion, and empathy.
 ~ Rabbits can be raised anywhere ~ they fit easily into most family setting
~ Raising bunnies gives kids lots of options from a beginner's pet project to a breeding project and perhaps in to a small business venture.
~Rabbits are a good sized animal for young children to work with. Young people are very capable of learning the skills necessary for a successful bunny project.
~ It doesn't take a lot of money to get started with bunnies ~ This project fits in to most family budgets 

*Being handled is a scary feeling for a bunny. If your bunny is frightened it will try to run away. Sometimes when you lift your bunny it will try to use it's nails to grip the only surface it can feel: YOU. 
This often results in being scratched.

 REMEMBER to tell the kids that the bunny isn't mad at you it is just scared. Start off by having the kids wear a long sleeved shirt.

*The bunnies here at LillyWhite Farm are used to being held and are less likely to scratch, but if you drop your bunny one time, it will be frightened to be picked up after that.

*The best way to pick up a bunny is to place one hand under it, just behind the front legs. Place your other hand under the animal's rump. Hold the bunny next to your body with it's head toward your elbow. If your bunny starts to struggle, drop to one knee. This lessons the distance the bunny will fall. Remember: even a quiet bunny can have a bad day. Be patient, and always let the bunny feel safe and secure in your arms.

Rabbits like to chew - itis natural and healthy for them to do so. Provide your bunny with something to chew:  Hay, apple tree branch (not peach or apricot - they can be toxic), cotton cloth (as long as the bunny isn't eating it)

Many people like to have their bunnies free-roam in their house with them. The bunny becomes part of the family. You need to bunny-proof the house - any cords within bunny reach WILL be chewed.

A simple puppy-pen that you can get at your local pet store is a great option. They are large enough to hold all of the essentials for a rabbit and give them room to roam. pens are easy to move when needed.

An excellent site to find out information on house bunnies is My House Rabbit

*Feeding COMMERCIAL PELLETS is the easiest way to feed bunnies ~ there is no guessing.
*If you want to try feeding your bunny less expensively you can try the HAY & GRAIN DIET: 2nd cutting alfalfa hay (70lbs) and a combination of rolled or ground oats, ground wheat, cracked corn, grain sorghum to equal 30 lbs. Feed 1 lb hay and 1/2 lb grain daily.

*These foods can be fed to bunnies: apples, barley, beets, blackberry bush, grass, carrots, corn, crabgrass, dandelion, dogwood, all grains, lettuce, milk, millet, oats, oranges, orchard grass, parsnips, peas, poplar, red top, root vegetables, sumac, sunflowers, sweet potato, timothy, turnip, vetch, wheat, willow.

DO NOT FEED: amaranth, arrow grass, bracken fern, buckeye, burdock, chinaberry, chokecherry leaves or pits, comfrey, foxglove, goldenrod, hemlock, horehound, jimson weed, johnson grass, larkspur, laurel, lima beans. lupine, milkweed, moldy bread, oak, pigweed, poppy, potato, swiss chard, tomato

*Bunnies can be litter box trained. They have an instinct to use the same place over and over.
  * Be sure to give your bunnies some toys to play with - an old phone book to rip up is a lot of fun, plastic rattles and keys are also a good choice.  

Here is an excellent article on the Basics of Litter Training 

This is our  bunny George (as in "Curious George").

The Rabbit House Society has an abundance of information on house bunnies and pets - from rabbit care, health, behavior,  to grooming and traveling. They cover everything you need to know for raising a bunny

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sexing chicks

We hatch our own chicken eggs from our Ameraucana/Easter Egger chickens and many people want to know the sex of the chicks. I don't blame them ... if you want hens and end up with a lot of roosters... well there is just so many roosters to have!

To be honest, as hubby Jim says - "I've got a 50-50 chance of getting it right.

So, regardless of what you have been told - it is NOT as reliable as you think, unless you've been doing it for 60 years like Hugh Grove (see The Joy of Sexing link below)

FEATHER SEXING: Feather sexing is based on feather characteristics that differ between male and female chicks. The method is very easy to learn by the poultryman, but the feather appearances are determined by specially selected genetic traits that must be present in the chick strain. Most strains (breeds) of chickens do not have these feather sexing characteristics and feathering of both sexes appear identical.

VENT SEXING: Vent sexing of chicks at hatching has complications that make it more difficult than sex determination of most other animals. The reason is that the sexual organs of birds are located within the body and are not easily distinguishable. The copulatory organ of chickens can be identified as male or female by shape, but there are over fifteen different different shapes to consider. Therefore, few people have experience with determining the sex of birds because of the difficult nature of the process. Most of these highly trained individuals are employed by large commercial hatcheries. The training to be a chick sexer is so difficult and lengthy that the average poultry owner finds it unjustifiable.
You can't wait more than a day or two in order to vent sex.

- Mississippi State University 

EGG SHAPE: Although J. Mulder and O. Wollan swear that they raised 23 pullets from 23 eggs by comparing the shape of their hen fruit (according to them, eggs that eventually hatch into pullets are more oval than the pointy eggs that eventually hatch out as cockerels) . . . other chicken raisers disagree — sometimes most emphatically — with this bit of barnyard wisdom. 

"The fact is," says Veronica Waters (of Wellton, Arizona), "that one hen will lay an egg of almost identical shape every day. This shape also differs from one breed to another. Therefore, the egg's form cannot indicate the sex of the chick it will produce. If it did, all the layings of a particular fowl—or of a particular breed or strain—would be of one sex. Common sense, or any familiarity with chickens, will tell you that this is not so." 

- Mother Earth News

Of course, if you can wait, after a few weeks you can sex you chicks by their comb (roosters are generally a teeny bit larger)

Here is  a chart to help you with some clues from Sage Hen Farm - " It is absolutely, positively guaranteed not to be 100 percent accurate. Please don't use this chart to compare chicks of different breeds, since they will not develop the same way or at the same rate. I have purposefully omitted reference to days or weeks when to expect to be able to observe difference since they will vary so widely by both breed and individual."

Clues for Sexing Chicks After a Few Weeks,
based on secondary sex characteristics

ait or Characteristic
Heavy Breeds
(Asian, American, English)
Mediterranean & Other Light Breeds
Comb & Wattles
Comb early to turn pink. Later comb and wattles noticably larger & redder
Comb early to turn pink. Later comb and wattles noticably larger & redder
Comb and wattles usually remains yellowmuch longer
Still mostly fluffy & downy
Fairly quick feather development
Quick feather development
Development slow and in patches. Some barenessat shoulders, back & wing bows
Development only slightly slower than pullets
Even development on back, chest, & thighs. Reaches complete feathering sooner
Development of long, pointed & shiny hackle and saddle feathers
Development of long, pointed & shiny hackle and saddle feathers
Feathers in hackle and saddle areas are oval & rounded
Stumpy, curved; slow to develop
Curved, but only slightly shorter and slower to develop than pullets
Long, straight; quick to develop
Long, sturdy; spurs developing
Long, sturdy; spurs developing
Short, delicate
Larger & more angular
Larger & more angular
Small & round
May be larger (perhaps shorter in length but stouter, more thickset) or becomes noticably larger
Becomes noticably larger eventually
Small, although may be longer
Upright & erect
Upright & erect
Lower set
May be more alert, aggressive, & noisy; will emit pre-crowing chirps before crowing
May be more alert, aggressive, & noisy; will emit pre-crowing chirps before crowing
May be more docile, but can also be aggressive & noisy

For more information, read: The Joy of Sexing 
                    Sixty years spent telling one newly hatched bird from the next

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Thinking about homeschooling? Think Un-schooling - or the "self-learning" philosophy.  
Describing unschooling is difficult. As the wonderful Unschooling website  describes it - it is like describing red to a blind person. Many have different ideas of unschooling.

Here is Brandon, 7 years old, working with his Dad on the chainsaw.