Archive for September, 2012

Solar Funnel Cooker
September 9, 2012

We ship apple trees to some remote villages in Africa, and I try to include some useful agricultural information with the shipments.  One of them is a cardboard solar cooker, as firewood is sometimes scarce and cooking with wood inside an unvented house is harmful to the eyes and lungs.

There were lots of newfangled designs available online, many of which required materials or skills that are not readily available in remote places.  But one of the best and simplest designs I found is pictured above, the solar funnel cooker.  The design is available at  It’s just a piece of cardboard twice as long as it is wide (bigger is better) with aluminum foil glued to it and bent into a funnel shape, with a hole cut in the bottom for the pot to sit.  You put a black pot or big mason jar painted black into an oven bag and set it on a rock or cinder block to elevate it into the funnel.

I can tell you it works, as the first thing I did was to burn my fingers on the pot lid (D’oh!).  It cooked a batch of brown rice in about an hour and a half.  A mistake I made was to put the rice in the cold water before setting it out, so the rice soaked up too much water and was a little mushy; let the water heat up first before adding the rice to avoid this.  Otherwise, it tasted just like rice cooked on the stove (the main question asked me by folks considering it).   My wife ate it for breakfast the next day and said it was good.

I can tell you it sure beats walking 2km to try to find wood or paying for charcoal.  It works especially well in arid areas that don’t have a lot of trees.

Paulared Evaluation
September 5, 2012

After picking Arkcharm a splash of red color still caught my eye; it was a Paulared peeking out from behind some leaves on my Fuji multi-graft “Frankentree”.  This one in the photo was a little past prime and a bit mealy (it didn’t help that it had codling moth damage) but had decent flavor; we picked one a little greener and it was much better; crisp, juicy, sweet, tart, spicy, with a nice apple aroma.  I’ve always heard that Macintosh isn’t that great around here, but this Macintosh-like apple was very good. 

The two limbs of it had about four leaves total and four apples of drastically different sizes and the rest blind wood (buds that did not break) and so obviously it was not happy with our lack of chilling hours.  The strategy in these cases is to buy a big tree mail-order and have them ship it in March after it has gotten a full winter of chill in the nursery’s cold climate.  This will cause it to grow vigorously the first season, which is about all it will grow.  The ensuing years it will bear leaves and apples on the tips of the branches and have lots of blind wood, but still will be productive as the weight of the apples pull the branches down horizontally.  This may really bother some cold-climate apple growers, but isn’t this what you want- a calm, productive tree?  It may adapt to the lower-chill climate in a few years, but at least we know it can bear yummy apples in some brutal heat.

Arkcharm Evaluation
September 1, 2012

Arkcharm is good here.  I let this one get a little past prime to where it was turning mealy, but the flavors were still there; a nice tart-sweet balance with “appley” overtones.  I bet it would make killer pies; in fact, it reminds me a lot of Anna, only two months later.  It withstood our brutal August heat and quite a bit of humidity this year, and colored up nicely despite warm nights in the 70’s.  The size was pretty good too, and I’d like to try it dehydrated, as that would probably bring out a lot of flavor.  It’s not going to replace anything we currently have, but is a nice addition to our lineup that fills in a hole between Hawaii and Bramley, the next to ripen.