Sundiner

Beekeeper Dennis made one of those once in a lifetime garage sale finds earlier this year: a solar oven from the 1960s called the “Sundiner.” I couldn’t find much on the interwebs about it except for a brief mention in the  April 1963 issue of Desert Magazine,

“Here’s a new product that suits desert living as few others can—it collects and concentrates the heat of the sun and allows outdoor cooking without fuel or fire. They call it the Sundiner. The technical description is “Solar Energy Grill.” Sundiner is a compact unit, 17-inches square and 6inches tall. Fold-out mirrors are metalized Mylar plastic, supported by polypropylene holders. The mirrors focus the sun’s heat on the lower section of the cabinet, where heat slowly builds up to a maximum of about 450 degrees—plenty to cook with. Directly below the apex of the mirrors is an oven enclosure. Plastic foam insulation and a pair of glass plates prevent excessive heat loss. The solar energy grill works in this simple way: point the mirrors toward the sun for a few minutes until the right temperature is reached (built-in heat indicator dial) and pop a tray of food into the oven. There is no fire or fuel to handle. Sole source of cooking stems from the collected, concentrated rays of the sun. Here is a sample of how long various meats take to cook: Hamburgers, franks, and fish, 15 to 20 minutes. Steaks and fillets, 20 to 25 minutes. Quartered chicken, 25 to 30 minutes. Temperature variations are possible by turning the Sundiner toward or away from the sun. The advantage of the Sundiner is that it can be used as a safe substitute for a fuel-fired stove on beaches, parks, decks of boats, and other restricted areas. Carrying handles are standard. The price is $29.95. From Sundiner. Carmer Industries. Inc., 1319 West Pico Blvd.. Los Angeles 15. Calif.”

That price would be about $207.62 today, just under what the very similar Global Sun Oven Solar Cooker costs.

When collapsed the Sundiner resembles, unsurprisingly, a 1960s era portable record player.

Dig that groovin’ temperature dial.

 The instructions are printed on the inside cover.

I can almost taste the heavy nitrites in those 1960s hot dogs.

For more vintage solar thoughtstylings see Life Magazine’s “Solar Power Back in the Day.”

A Redneck Rocket Stove

From Wes Duncan, the “High Tech Redneck,” a rocket stove made out of cinder blocks. I’ve built one of these too and can confirm that they work great. And you can’t beat the price. Time for some redneck cookin’!

Update: As several readers have pointed out, this design ain’t safe. Cinder blocks can explode and were not meant to be placed next to a heat source–that’s what fire bricks are for. See our post about our backyard rocket stove for a safe design that uses metal pipe.

Laundry to Landscape Legal in LA

Ludwig’s “Laundry to Landscape”
California’s new greywater code, passed in August of last year, was a big step in the right direction. The revised code legalized simple “laundry to landscape” systems of the sort promoted by greywater guru Art Ludwig and allowed their installation without a permit. Here’s a pdf from the City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety confirming that you don’t need a permit within LA city limits for “a graywater system in a one or two-family dwelling that is supplied only by a clothes-washer and/or a single-fixture system.” Though, confusingly, it also goes on to say, “Any alteration to the building or plumbing, electrical or mechanical system
requires a permit.” I guess we shouldn’t expect clarity from a department that can’t seem to get around to regulating thousands of illegal billboards. But I digress. I’m calling my laundry to landscape greywater installation legal!
Hopefully all California cites will respect the state code. Ludwig says,
“Trying to sell permits to California graywater users is like trying to sell a $100 search engine that you have to register for to people who use google. Any standard that can’t compete with “free” and “zero time for compliance” is doomed to irrelevance.

The only way government agencies can compete is to offer “free”, “zero time for compliance” legal systems that are better, and can be installed by professionals instead of having to do it yourself.

This involves surrendering the illusion of control, in trade for actually making things better on the ground.”

By foregoing permits, city government can play a role in encouraging greywater. Legalizing the practice makes it possible for professional plumbers to do the installations in addition to plucky DIYers. Kinda like prostitution in Holland–keep it out in the open and you’l have less . . . shoddy plumbing.
See Art Ludwig’s excellent website to see how to install your own laundry to landscape system. His book, Create an Oasis with Greywater is also highly recommended. And, if you’ve got a laundry to landscape system, make sure to use Oasis Biocompatible Detergent.

Rain- The Best Gift of All

Homegrown Neighbor here:

It is Christmastime, I am stuffed full of food and my house is brimming with yet more stuff. I have enjoyed the holidays, but I’m even more excited about the rain we have had and that there is perhaps more in the forecast. When it comes to what really counts, well, rain is pretty high up there.
The past few years have been extremely dry here in the West. The year before last we literally had 3 inches of rain in L.A. So rain really feels like a gift from the gods.
We had a decent rain recently and I have been using the water I harvested. As you can see in the photo, my downspouts go into a rain barrel. A slight design flaw I have discovered in hindsight is that the spout doesn’t attach directly to the barrel. There is screening over the top of the barrel but it isn’t a very fine mesh. I meant for it to keep leaves and large debris out. I forgot about mosquitoes. It would be ideal if the spout was attached directly to the barrel and there was no point of entry for the bugs. But these are home made rain barrels and I have lived and learned from my mistakes. But I do get to harvest a decent amount of water and it feels very satisfying to see that barrel full after only a light rain.
So due to the mosquito issue, I use my harvested rain water as soon as possible. Once the soil has dried out, usually just a couple of days later, I attach a hose to the barrel and let it drain. I will set it in the garden and move it around to a few different spots. I have five 55 gallon barrels set up so far.
Rainwater really helps flush out salts that can build up in the soil (an issue here in the West) and unlike tap water there is no chlorine. The plants just love the rain water. I also planted beet, carrot and onion seeds right before the rain. They are now starting to sprout.
In the new year one of my projects is going to be upgrading the rainwater harvesting system. In addition to the existing rain barrels, I want to make sure that any excess water is absorbed by the landscape. Currently a lot of water runs down the driveway during a rain. This is made worse by a downspout that feeds directly into the driveway. The driveway of course channels the water straight to the street where it goes to the ocean. It would be better to have that water sink back into the earth. So I want to redirect that water into a detention basin instead. It will be a small depression planted with native plants adapted to our weather patterns. More water for me, less water wasted! Directing rainwater from your roof into the landscape is often simpler and lower in cost that harvesting in a barrel or cistern.

The small 55 gallon barrels I have are great, but they fill up very quickly even in a light rain. You would be amazed at how much water you can collect. There are many cistern options out there. They just tend to be very large and expensive. But I recently saw a display from Bushman Tanks who offer water harvesting and storage tanks suitable for the average homeowner. I thought the prices were reasonable and I love the slim line tanks that are designed to store a lot of water in a small footprint. I know what I want for Christmas next year…..

[Mr. Homegrown here--hopefully Santa will bring us a Bushman Tank too--in the meantime, see our rain barrel here.]

Another Panel Solar Cooker

Poyourow demoing her solar cooker design

There’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to the world of solar panel cookers. All have their advantages and disadvantages. I got an email from author Joanne Poyourow, leader of the amazing Los Angeles Environmental Change Makers, with a simple and effective design she came up with.

Pouyourow’s cooker comes together much faster than the CooKit design that I blogged about earlier this week. There’s hardly any cuts to make and no glue needed. Her design makes use of a car sunshade which can be picked up cheap at your local 99¢ store. The sunshade is more durable than aluminum foil glued to cardboard. While you can also fashion a sunshade alone into a solar panel cooker, I’ve found that they don’t stand up well in even a moderate wind.

Plans for Poyourow’s cooker can be found here (pdf).

She also has a list of solar cooking resources here.

And yes, for most North Americans this is the wrong time of year to be blogging on this topic since, as the sun gets lower in the horizon, solar panel cooking season is almost over. But I’ve got a backlog of summer R&D to share. Stay tuned for the ups and downs of our summer gardening, a bike accident story and a taste test of beer made with our homegrown hops . . .

CooKit Solar Panel Cooker


I’ve been experimenting with a nice panel solar cooker for the past week and, so far, the results are impressive. Called the CooKit, it was developed in 1994 by a group of engineers and solar cooking enthusiasts associated with Solar Cookers International and based on a design by Roger Bernard.

It has a couple of nice features:

  • It produces ample heat to cook rice and simple casseroles.
  • When you fold it up it takes up no more space than an album (do I have to explain what an album is for the youngsters out there?).
  • A flat area on the base of the CooKit makes weighting it down with rocks easy. This is really important in windy places.
  • All you need to build it is a knife, cardboard, aluminum foil and glue.

As with all panel solar cookers you need an black enamelware pot wrapped in a turkey roasting bag to hold in the heat. You ain’t gonna deep fry things with a panel cooker, but they are great for slow-cooked crock pot type dishes. The only disadvantage to this design is having to cut curves, but with a sharp knife it wasn’t difficult. The other improvement would be a stand to lift the pot off the aluminum foil for more efficiency and to keep the cooker un-scuffed. When panel cooker season returns to LA in the springtime, you can bet I’ll be making a lot of rice with this thing.

Detailed instructions for how to build a CooKit can be found here.

Also, Mrs. Homegrown and I are writing a new book and we’d like to include some plans for solar cookers (any kind). If you’ve got a favorite DIY model, leave a comment with a link.

Another view with curious Doberman in the foreground:

Homegrown Evolution Podcast Episode #1

Subscribe to the Homegrown Evolution podcast in itunes here.

Download the mp3 on archive.org.

On this first episode of the Homegrown Evolution podcast we talk food preservation with author Ashley English who blogs at small-measure.blogspot.com. English will have two books out next year on food preservation and chickens, part of a series entitled “Homemade Living,” (Lark Books). She also has a weekly column every Friday on Design*Sponge at www.designspongeonline.com/category/small-measures.

In the second part of the show we talk to Wing Tam, assistant division manager for the Watershed Protection Program in the City of Los Angeles’ Bureau of Sanitation about a new rainwater harvesting pilot project. You can find out more about the program at www.larainwaterharvesting.org. We conclude with a reaction to this new program from river activist Joe Linton, author of Down by the Los Angeles River and one of the bloggers behind lacreekfreak.wordpress.com.

As we say on the podcast, we prefer gardening to staring at computer screens and putting a podcast together involves a hell of a lot of the latter. Don’t look for frequent updates, but we’ll probably put out another one in the fall. Please excuse the mike popping and other technical flaws, as we’re still working out the technical side. We hope you’ll enjoy the podcast while, say, gardening or prepping food for canning. We’re all about open source, so feel free to redistribute or rebroadcast.

Music on the program is from archive.org:

A bluegrass cover of DEVO’s Mongoloid by the Hotfoot Quartet. Bob Frank, guitar and lead vocal, Jim Blum, upright bass and vocals; Paul Kovac, banjo and vocals; Bob Smakula, mandolin and vocals. Available here.

Also from archive.org, a collection of surf music.

StoveTec’s Hot Rocket Stoves

StoveTec’s wood burning rocket stove on the left, charcoal and wood on the right.

A reader comment alerted me to a very cool product, the StoveTec Rocket Stove, offered by the “not-just-for-profit” wing of the Aprovecho Research Center. Profits from sales of the stoves benefit the Center’s research. StoveTec sells two rocket stoves, one for wood and the other for both wood and charcoal. While I haven’t tested one, the $37 to $40 price is a bargain.

Rocket stoves are a simple “appropriate” technology that burns small pieces of wood and charcoal efficiently. We’ve blogged about them before and even constructed our own out of a vent pipe and bricks. Instead of burning a log to cook you can use trimmings from trees, bushes and even agricultural waste. According to StoveTec,

“StoveTec Stoves, rocket stoves invented by Dr. Larry Winiarski, use 40-50% less fuel and reduce emissions by 40-75% while reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions an estimated 60% or 1-2 tons per year. These stoves are preferred over other improved cook stove and three stone fires by 95% of users in Uganda. High adoption and preference reported in India, South Africa, Ethiopia and Chile proves the stoves great versatility among many different users.”

Looks like they could find a nice home in North American as well. Do some pruning and then cook dinner. How about a rocket stove tailgate party?

Going Gray!



Got a nice note and some pics from Ben in Portland:

“I bought your book and it has become my mission manual. We own a house in Portland, OR, and I just today did my first project out of the book – routing the shower drain into the garden. It cost about $60 for all the pipe, glue, a 2″ hole saw to drill through the wall, and a new drain kit (my old drain was decroded as crap). Our house is only 750 sq. ft. (plenty for me, my gf, and our 3 dogs), and luckily our bathroom is right next to the garden plot I’ve had for about 3 years now. We’ve got a ton of squash going, which as you know takes a good bit of water, so I thought our not-so-gray shower water would be much appreciated by the little yellow bastards. Another benefit is that we won’t have to deal with the recurring shower clogs which have been forcing us to use drano.

The drain setup was super simple from a plumbing perspective, so all I did was cut off the old drainpipe, replace the drain assembly, and route a new pipe out to the garden. It took three 22 degree couplers, one 4 foot and one 10 foot section of pipe. the pictures sort of show what the finished piping looks like. I know it looks like I had to rip through the floor to get to the drain, but that’s just because whoever installed our shower years ago did a terrible job.

I drilled holes every 6 inches or so in the pipe that goes out into the garden. I may need to cover them with mesh (I’d appreciate your advice here) and dig some trenches to route the water into the rest of the garden, but for now it’s working great!

Thanks for your wonderful book and website. I will send you more pictures as i do more projects!

-Ben”

California’s New Greywater Code: Common Sense Legalized!

On the left is our yard which is irrigated by the washing machine. On the right, the neighbor’s yard which is never watered.

This Tuesday the California Building Standards Commission legalized our formally outlaw greywater system. For several years now, we’ve sent our washing machine waste water out to fruit trees in the front yard. The new regulations are a rare common sense moment for our otherwise troubled state government. Let’s hope our current hard times spur more innovation like this. Originally slated to go into effect in 2010, the plumbing code was updated as an emergency measure to deal with drought conditions that have plagued the southwestern US for years. Under the new California greywater code:

1. In most cases you won’t need a permit.

2. Allows discharge into a simple mulch basin rather than the expensive and complicated sub-surface emitters required under the old regulations.

3. No exspensive pumps or filters required!

Here’s the new code as amended (pdf).

Unfortunately the code can be superseded by local municipalities. Plumbers unions opposed loosening the code, no doubt fearing the loss of business. Combined with NIMBYs, they could put pressure on city governments to keep greywater illegal. It’s time for us Californians to be vigilant and start letter campaigns should cities try to restrict our new right to use our greywater.

As for the practical side of this new law, I’d suggest that anyone interested in installing a greywater system keep it simple and low cost. I can’t think of any better resource than Art Ludwig’s book The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems and his website oasisdesign.net. Take note of Ludwig’s free open-source laundry to landscape plan.

And don’t forget, Homegrown Evolution is offering a DIY Greywater class on Sunday August 16th at 11 a.m. in Silver Lake (Los Angeles). Sign up here.