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"Working with the Sun" by Beth Weick, as published in North Country News, June 2011

The days are long, lushness dominates the gaze, weeds are reaching for the sun with vigor, and the black flies have arrived to offer their daily commentary.

Summer has begun.

Here at D Acres, we leap at the chance to utilize the power of the sun during these short but vigorous few months of our northcountry summer.

For one, the sun offers a tremendous opportunity to heat water free of fossil fuels, electric lines, and excessive burning of wood. We recently re-constructed our solar shower, now perched beneath the old apple tree and behind some young asian pear trees. It's complete with a dressing room and shower stall, hot and cold water taps (in the opposite order, just to be a little different…), and watercress transplanted into the greywater system. The ambience is tremendous, but the simplicity of the science behind the operation is even more tantalizing. With this system upgrade, we now have two batch heaters harnessing the sun's sunny-ness to be sure we dirty farmers and our cleaner guests can achieve a par excellence for hygiene upon exiting the experience.

The batch heaters, mind you, are comprised of retired refrigerator tanks, black paint, old water heaters, and a pane of glass. Peruse the junk heap and you, too, can solar power your Saturday night bath. To be clear, the black paint covers the inside of the fridge box, creating a heat trap for the sun's rays. The water heater is set inside, with the appropriate plumbing running to and from the tank. A glass pane over the top seals the deal, and the heat. Curious? Come on over and check it out!

Beyond heating water, we also make extensive use of our solar cookers during these long summer days. While the sun ovens, as they're called, can function most of the year if the sun is out (well…let's say March through October for best results), these long, hot days with the sun high in the sky definitely improves their capacity for quick and effective cooking. Again, it is a fairly simple science that can solar power your next meal. You can build it yourself, or purchase a pre-made model. A box lined with reflective material operates as the oven, while a (plexi-)glass cover creates the greenhouse effect for the contraption. More reflective material surrounding the oven's door helps to trap more of the sun's heat. The oven box is then set upon an adjustable stake. As the sun rises or sets across the sky, the angle of the box must be modified. A ninety-degree angle, facing into the sun, is ideal. In no time at all you can cook just about anything from beans to bread, and casseroles to chicken soup.

Of course, the sun also heats up our favorite swimming hole. So come on over to check out our latest solar-powered efforts (we have additional hot water projects, greenhouses galore, solar panels, and solar dehydrators, too!), perhaps share a solar-cooked meal, then we'll point down the road and share another of our joys, a dip in nature's best pool. Summer may be short, but my oh my it is a verdant and abundant few months.

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