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Solar Oven

July 3, 2014

The sun and rain are important resources that are often overlooked or taken for granted. Harnessing the power of these natural resources is an important practice for improving our relationship with the environment and our role in conservation efforts.

There are many productive things we can do with the energy from the sun and cooking food is one of them! Solar cooking is safe, simple, and convenient. The moderate cooking temperatures help preserve nutrients and won’t burn your food. Using a solar oven eliminates the need to consume fuels or be exposed to smoky cooking conditions which can irritate eyes and lungs or cause disease. It is free to use the sun’s energy, it does not waste any of our limited natural resources, and it is without pollution!

Solar ovens work by letting UV light rays in and converting them to infrared light rays that cannot escape. Infrared radiation has the type of energy that makes the water, fat and protein molecules in food vibrate and heat up. This process is very similar to the way that a greenhouse retains heat or a car heats up quickly in the sun when its windows are up.

A good activity to complete at home is to build your own solar oven. Use recycled materials or household items in order to reduce waste. Then you can really test the power of the sun by trying out a few recipes.

solar oven closeupLet’s get started. You will need:

  • Pizza box
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Newspapers
  • Black construction paper
  • Utility knife or scissors
  • Ruler, wooden spoon, or “prop”
  • Clear tape

Follow these simple steps to build your own solar oven:

  • Use knife to cut flap in lid of pizza box. Cut along 3 sides, leaving about an inch between sides of flap and edges of lid. Fold flap out so it stands up when lid is closed.
  • Cover inner side of flap with aluminum foil. Fold smoothly and tape to back of lid.
  • Use plastic wrap to create airtight window for sun to enter pizza box. Open box and tape double layer of plastic over opening that was made when you cut the flap. Tape down securely, sealing out air.
  • Line bottom of box with black construction paper.
  • Insulate by rolling up sheets of newspaper and place on bottom of box. Tape down to form a border around the cooking area. Make sure lid can still close and there is seal inside box so air cannot escape.
  • Set up oven when sun is overhead. Adjust flap until most sun is reflecting off foil and onto plastic covered window. Use roller to prop flap in the right place.
  • Reposition oven when needed so it faces direct sunlight.

Now that your oven is complete enjoy some of these tasty treats that can be prepared with only the power generated from our sun.

Pizza:

  • Small pitas
  • Tomato sauce
  • Grated cheese
  • Mushrooms, peppers, pepperoni, etc (toppings of choice)

Spread sauce on pitas, sprinkle toppings and cover with cheese. Place in solar oven that has already been sitting in the sun (pre heated) and cook until cheese melts.

Peanut Butter Cookies:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of smooth peanut butter
  • 2/3 cups of sugar

Combine egg, peanut butter, and sugar in a bowl. Stir until mixed. Put heaping teaspoons of dough on an oven proof plate or mini muffin tin. Press down with fork. Place in oven and check every half hour or so. Dough will not brown but cookies should be done in an hour.

Apples with Cinnamon:

  • Apple
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Splash of water

Core and slice apple then place in a baking pan. Add sugar, cinnamon, and little bit of water. Stir. Place in solar oven. Stir and check every 30 minutes. Bake for several hours until apples are softened and warm all the way through. You can serve over ice cream.

 

Rain Play

July 3, 2014

playing in rainAn incredible and essential function of the Earth is something many of us take for granted everyday: rain.  Rain gives plants life, provides electricity to humans (hydropower) and gives us fresh water to drink.  Although rain and “bad” weather can be disappointing at times, rain is an important and crucial component to life!

A way for you to further study rainfall in your own area or garden is to create your own rain gauge.  Rain gauges are used to measure the amount of rainfall over a specific period of time, allowing you to understand how much rain your yard, garden, farm or town is receiving.  Rain gauges are especially interesting for young children, as they can discover how much rain a storm or shower actually generates.  Below are instructions to create your own rain gauge out of items you probably have around your home!  One fun activity to do with children and a rain gauge is to ask them to guess how much water came from the storm.  Then, have them go out and check their rain gauge.  Another activity is to ask how much rain your gauge will collect during a short, heavy storm and during a long, light rainfall.  Use your rain gauge to measure your results.  Other thought-provoking questions to ask children are:

-What do you think happens to the rain after it hits the ground?

-How much rain do you think we get in a week? A month? A summer? A year?

-Why is rain important for the planet? Why is rain important for you and me?

-What changes do you notice outside after it rains?

-What do you like to do in the rain? (If they answer “stay inside and watch movies” suggest building a mud castle, splashing in puddles, or dancing and singing in the rain!)

To make a rain gauge yourself, all you need is an empty, plastic soda bottle, scissors, tape, labels (follow the link at the end of the post for more information).

  1. First, cut the top off of your soda bottle (the top, funnel-like part)rain infographic
  2. Flip the top over and tape it upside down to the opening (this is a funnel for your rain!)
  3. Print the scale labels (see link below) and tape it to the side of your gauge.
  4. Fill the gauge with water up to the 0” mark, which will keep the gauge from tipping over.
  5. Collect your rain and discuss your results!

For more detailed instructions and images, follow the link:

http://achieve.weatherbug.com/Brainstorm/Activities/MakingARainGauge.pdf

July: Embrace the Power of Sun and Rain

July 3, 2014

Are you new to Homegrown Challenges?  If so, click here for more information.

In the outdoor garden, your plants get their energy largely from the elements: sun and rain.  Both are powerful, and you need the right amounts of sunlight and water for a successful garden.  While we can’t control the weather, we can harness the power of the sun and rain to help us.  Turning on the faucet or the oven indoors uses energy, which is largely produced from fossil fuels- non-renewable resources whose use often pollutes the earth.  So whenever possible, it’s great to use the sun or rain instead- to cook, water, or dry.

Follow the July challenges below to embrace the power of sun and rain.  When you do, snap a photo and let us know.  Submitted challenges count towards admission to a free celebration at Phipps Conservatory, and entry into this month’s drawing for four free passes to Phipps!

TASTE: Cook with the sun.

Brew sun tea, or make and cook with a solar oven.

GARDEN: Use a rain gauge to measure rainfall in your garden.

You can purchase a rain gauge, or make one at home.  Try recording the rainfall your garden gets for a week, and use the information to water accordingly.

VISIT: Attend a rain barrel workshop and/or install one at your home.

MAKE: Set up a clothesline, and use it to dry clothes instead of your dryer.

Using a clothesline saves energy and money!  Place your line in the shade, to keep colors from fading.

 

Have another idea?  If you have an idea for a different activity, or you want to take it a step further, go ahead!  Just send us a description and photo, and if it relates to the theme we’ll count it.

All submissions should be sent to homegrown@phipps.conservatory.org, and include a photo, your name, and the challenge(s) you completed.

 

Scouting for Bugs

June 5, 2014

The transition of spring to summer is one of the best times to spot emerging insects that have been overwintering. If you’re curious as to what friendly neighborhood insects you have patrolling your backyard, grab your best magnifying glass and take some time to venture outside. Depending on the time of day and weather conditions, you’re bound to find a different array of insects.

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus)

The morning is one of the best times to spot insects due to limited activity from low sunlight and cooler temperatures. Insects at this time of day will be slow moving, allowing greater time for visual inspection. They will most likely be found at the base of plants or on the undersides of leaves. Early summer inspections will result in beetle larvae, caterpillars, and various true bugs that have overwintered as adults, such as stink bugs. It is important to note that a majority of insects at this time of year will be early in development, so a once familiar-looking adult insect may not be as distinct as remembered. A common way to identify an insect is to first identify the plant. A majority of insects are host specific, meaning they will only feed on that particular plant and can be distinguished accordingly.

By noon on a sunny day, a different assemblage of insects can be discovered. Flowers will hold many different pollinators that include bees, wasps, ants, beetles, and plant bugs. A commonly found insect are sweat bees. These are small, brightly colored bees with often a metallic abdomen or thorax. The underside of flowers can sometimes hold crab spiders, ambush bugs, wheel bugs, or jumping spiders. These predatory arthropods use their camouflage to their advantage as they sit in wait for an unsuspecting meal to arrive. If observing the soil, centipedes, millipedes, sowbugs, and springtails are just a few arthropods to name you might find. Centipedes are quick and predatory insects with one leg per segment, whereas millipedes are slow detritivores (feeding on decayed matter) with 2 legs per body segment. It is important to have a sense of what the insect is, and helps to carry around a field guide for further identification. Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur Evans is a great field guide if you’re looking to better your understanding of the insects around you.

Getting Crafty in the Garden

June 2, 2014

Do you feel like your garden could use a makeover? Wondering what to do with the things that have collected around your house over the year? Reusing items from your house or business is a great way to liven up any garden space. Repurposing items like forks, cork tops, glass bottles, sporting balls (cut in half), and even moving pallets will give use to the clutter that often collects over time.

Summer crafting and recycling/upcycling projects can be used for practical gardening space, for adding color, for labeling plants or for adding elements of whimsy! These projects can be simple or more involved but ones that the whole family can participate in.

twig stakesSome great kid-friendly examples of garden projects would be making recycled plant labels. This can be as simple as painting rocks. Painting with stencils is fun, too. Stencils open up options for label design! The signs themselves can include recused material, for instance broken clay pots, twigs, the tops of tin cans, even bricks. Other examples of recycled plant labels include using utensils such as forks and knives; they can act as stakes to hold a sign, cork for example. Another example of whimsical reuse is the placement of colorful glass bottles throughout the garden.  These bottles can be used for decoration and fun sculptures that catch the light. They can also be used to line garden beds and pathways!

bottle border

Do you have limited space in the garden but bare walls that could be used? Planters made from pallets provide a great way to use the vertical space in your garden or porch.

Needed: pallet, hose, sand paper, landscaping cloth, staple gun, soil and plants

  • pallet planterSteps to transforming a pallet into a planter start with cleaning. Hose down the pallet and let the wood dry. (Use heat-treated wood to avoid the chemicals used in the traditional-treated pallets).
  • Sand down any rough edges-
  • Landscaping cloth can be used to seal the ends and back, this will hold the soil. Measure the pieces of landscaping cloth needed and staple in place.
  • Position the pallet and fill the compartments with soil. Plant choice is important since space is limited.
  • Visit the site below for more details-

http://lifeonthebalcony.com/how-to-turn-a-pallet-into-a-garden/

Happy crafting!

June: Reduce Waste

June 2, 2014

Are you new to Homegrown Challenges?  If so, click here for more information.

Did you know that in the United States, we throw away 250 million tons of garbage in a year?  That’s a lot of trash!  When you throw something away it ends up in a landfill or incinerator, which can pollute the water, air, and soil, and uses up valuable land space.   The good news is, you can help with the trash problem at home!  In the kitchen and garden, a great way to reduce and reuse is to compost, turning food scraps into rich soil for your plants.  Over 96% of food waste ends up in landfills, so composting keeps significant amounts of waste out of landfills, and helps your garden at the same time.

Follow the June challenges below to reduce, reuse, and recycle!  When you do, snap a photo and let us know.  Submitted challenges count towards admission to a free celebration at Phipps Conservatory, and entry into this month’s drawing!  This month you could win four free passes to Phipps, or an Insect ID kit.

TASTE: Reinvent leftovers into a new meal, to avoid wasting food.

Don’t let little leftover bits of vegetables, grains or rice go bad and get thrown away.  Instead, try turning them into frittatas, pizza toppings, or soup.  Leftovers are a great opportunity for kitchen creativity!

GARDEN: Start a worm or compost bin.

Find more information and instructions for vermicomposting here, or visit Phipps’ Weekend Happening on June 21 at 1:30pm to learn about worm composting basics.

INVESTIGATE:  Find and identify bugs outdoors, and learn how they help the soil.

The compost pile is a great place to look– for tips on finding bugs, look here.  Check out a book from the library, or click here for help identifying some common insects.

 MAKE: Make a garden craft or decoration from recycled materials.

Turn “trash” into wind chimes, plant markers, birdfeeders, and more!  See our “Getting Crafty in the Garden” post for ideas.

Have another idea?  If you have an idea for a different activity, or you want to take it a step further, go ahead!  Just send us a description and photo, and if it relates to the theme we’ll count it.

All submissions should be sent to homegrown@phipps.conservatory.org, and include a photo, your name, and the challenge(s) you completed.

 

May: Encourage Pollinators

May 1, 2014

Are you new to Homegrown Challenges?  If so, click here for more information.

In May, we challenge you to: Encourage Pollinators!  Pollinators are insects or animals that help pollinate plants- moving pollen grains between different flowers of the same species.  Pollination needs to happen for plants to produce fruit and seeds, so pollinators are essential for healthy habitats and ecosystems, and for successful gardening.  Bees are the main insect pollinator, but bats, hummingbirds, butterflies, and many other insects are all important pollinators too.  Sadly, bee communities have been declining over the past years as pesticide use has increased, so they need our help!  This month, help the cause by planting flowers pollinators like, feeding hummingbirds, or supporting local beekeepers.

Follow the May challenges below to encourage pollinators.  When you do, snap a photo and let us know.  Submitted challenges count towards admission to a free celebration at Phipps Conservatory, and entry into this month’s drawing!  This month you could win four free passes to Phipps, or a jar of local honey.

 

TASTE:Taste local honey, or try making a recipe with honey instead of sugar.

Check farmers’ markets or food co-ops for local honey.  Use honey in tea, on yogurt, spread on toast, or try using it in a recipe like honey glazed carrots.

 

GARDEN: Plant wildflowers, or a pollinator garden.

Click here for tips and what plants to choose to attract birds, bees or butterflies.

 

VISIT:Visit a beekeeper.

Attend a tour, talk to a beekeeper, or take a beekeeping class.  Look into events, classes or tours at Burgh Bees, Country Barn Farm, or Apoidea Apiary.  Other upcoming events in Pittsburgh:

May 10: Find beekeeper Craig Jahnke at the Boyd Community Center Gardenfest

May 17: Bees Please Weekend Happening with Burgh Bees at Phipps

May 24: Meet the Bees at the Children’s Museum, with beekeeper Joseph Zgurzynski

 

MAKE:Make a hummingbird feeder. 

Use recycled materials if you can.  Learn more about hummingbirds and feeders here.

Have another idea?  If you have an idea for a different activity, or you want to take it a step further, go ahead!  Just send us a description and photo, and if it relates to the theme we’ll count it.

All submissions should be sent to homegrown@phipps.conservatory.org, and include a photo, your name, and the challenge(s) you completed.

 

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