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If At First You Don't Succeed....

by Dana
(Saint Cloud, FL)

Successful Snake Warmer

Successful Snake Warmer

For years, I've been frustrated at all the solar energy "going to waste" in my back yard. My first few attempts at harnessing some of that energy for cooking were significant flops. In our last attempt at solar-cooking-on-a-small-scale, this past summer, my husband found some sheet metal alongside the road and bent it, forming a piecemeal panel cooker. Besides this not being a very efficient design, we battled the biggest Florida summer enemy to solar cooking--clouds and daily showers. Although this was no more successful at cooking rice in an oven bag than my previous attempts, it did do something that none of my other cookers had--get warm enough to serve as a sunning place for a couple of snakes.

For my birthday, my husband decided that solar cooking was not an interest that was going to go away, nor was it going to be a successful hobby unless we took it to a new level. The solar oven that I received for my birthday has definitely brought new excitement and, finally, some successes!

He made the oven out of plywood, which had some off gassing issues for a while, but that problem seems to have burned itself out. We soon realized the oven was too deep (2 feet), so in addition to the insulation we had put on the bottom, we've filled it with blankets to raise the height of the plywood bottom in it (now set at about 6 inches at the front and 10 at the back.) We are definitely not losing heat out the bottom or the sides of the oven! The bottom plywood in the cooking area is covered with a black cotton towel and the inside sides are mirror pieces.

The oven top is sheet glass we bought at Home Depot. We are thinking about buying tempered glass, since any heat we are losing is coming out through the top, rather thin sheet of glass.

The reflectors are mirrors we got at Goodwill and cut to size. We also have some angled filler reflectors, still covered with tinfoil. We currently are using homemade notched hinges that we adjust throughout the day to maximize the amount of sun reflected directly into the oven.

The oven is mounted on an old bicycle trailer, which makes it a bit easier to turn throughout the day. However, we are thinking our biggest problem is the angle of the glass on top in relation to the sun and so we are planning on tilting the box even more.

The verdict is still out concerning how well this oven can cook in optimum conditions since we are still waiting on those optimal conditions! We did have one clear day when the temperature dropped to the low 80s and the clouds were almost non-existent. That day we got the oven up to 310. Most days, with sporadic sun and occasional light showers, we are able to keep it between 225 and 240. Hopefully, once the summer rains end, we will be able to work on improving the oven, without the cloud factor, and begin using the oven at more normal baking temperatures. In the meantime, we are hovering at roasting and slow cooking temps and are very happy with what we've been able to cook.


Greetings Dana,
And thank you for this great write up, this is exactly what our visitors see what others are doing, have done and the endless possibilities open to anyone who would like to try solar cooking, no matter how rudimentary the cooker and the results.

Kudos for not giving up and for your many innovative attempts at improving upon what you have accomplished thus far.

Its an inspiration to many others.


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Cloudy Days
by: Dana

Hi Linda,
I live about an hour and a half northeast of you, and am SO ready for the rains (and the clouds that come with them) to be over. In order to have any success solar cooking, we have to have the food in the solar oven by 11:00 in the morning. Yesterday, the skies were clear and we started a stew, which usually does well at fairly low temperatures, but then were under complete cloud cover by 1:00. We had to finish the stew in the oven.

It was actually a bit of a consolation, recently, to discover that the Orlando Science Center has not been able to get their Global Sun Ovens above about 275 degrees. They only use them 4 times a year, but their struggles with the clouds reassured me that we're doing quite well to get/keep ours to 275 F, and once to 310 F. I'm really holding out hope for the clearer days that usually come in the winter.

The one piece of advice I do have is to use a black cast iron pot for cooking. I know some people don't like them because they take longer to heat up. But I've found that with the more intense morning sun around 11:00 a.m., it does heat up quite quickly, and then if cloud cover in the afternoon is sporadic, it holds the heat quite well until the sun comes out again. The oven temperature itself may drop 25 or 50 degrees at times when the sun disappears for a couple hours, but the pot itself remains too hot to lift out without a hot mitt.

Good luck, and hopefully the clouds will soon start staying away!


Clouds & Rain in Florida
by: Linda

How funny, well now I know how to attract even more snakes...we do have plenty of them in Florida.
I live in Valrico, FL and have been frustrated with the same cloud & rain problems. I would love to know if there is a better season to try to use solar ovens. I usually start thinking about preparing dinner around 1pm. By the time I get the solar oven set up @ 2:30pm, the clouds are 50-75%. Rain starts @ 3pm. All clear by 4ish - but then it is too late. Any ideas?

I am considering a parabolic to get faster results when I have the solar opportunity.

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