2012/05/06

Neither ice, nor zeer.




The canned ham had a plastic ice box in it. Not a fridge, an ICE box. You put a block of ice in the thing to keep your food cold (not that you can find block ice anymore). About once a week it would flood with ice water and spill out onto my floors. It happened so often I kept a siphon hose in my closet to drain it. Eventually i gave it up and moved into an ice chest. That was even worse tho. Constantly pulling all my food out of a pool of water, to pour in more ice. How many miles did i drive to town, just to buy frozen water?

Around December of 2010 I quit ice.


For a while I lived without cold food storage. Then I heard about a thing called a "Zeer Pot" .. I youtubed it and found videos of African women keeping produce in clay pots so it lasts long enough to bring to market. Inspired, I decided to build my own. It was May 2011 in Flagstaff AZ.



There's a wiki page, so I won't go into to much detail on the construction. You get a big clay pot. Fill the bottom with sand, put a smaller pot inside, and fill the space between the two with more sand. Then you water the sand, and put a wet towel over the top. It seemed to be working pretty well. My beers were cold in the middle of the day. The towel, however, dried up in minutes, and the sand needed to be watered at least twice a day. Temporarily i put a cast iron lid on it.

A week later I road tested it. Threw it in the back of my truck and drove up to Durango, CO, and then over to Indian Creek, UT. Maybe not "threw." It probably weighed a hundred pounds. These things are not super portable. While in the back of my truck, closed off from the outside, it didn't work at all. But once i took it out it would start working again. It survived the trip back to Flagstaff, where it was getting warmer outside. I started checking the temperature both inside and outside of the pots, and began making modifications.




I found there was a 20-40 degree (F) difference between the inside and the outside of the pot, depending on how wet the sand was. Too wet and it started to fail. Too dry and it started to fail. A terracotta potting tray made a good lid, and didn't seem to effect how it worked.


I decided to try to automate the watering process. In the states they sell battery powered watering timers, but they all require water pressure to work. Researching i found several on the internet that didn't need pressure to work, just gravity, but they were all made in Australia. I found a company in the states that imported a model and I got it. I'll definitely keep using these things in the future. They're super cool. runs for years on one AA battery...


Figuring out how much water to let in, and when, was a tricky issue. The minimum the timer runs is 1 minute. That let out about 2 quarts of water. So i set it to go off twice a day. Once just after sun rise, and again in the heat of the day. I had pretty consistent temperatures with that amount of water, but if it rained, or it was cloudy, or just humid, it all went to hell. The 1 gallon jug would blow away once it was empty, so eventually I added a 4 gallon container.


It was the hottest part of the summer now, and temperatures during the day were getting up around 100F. At best i could hope for 60 degree food, but found it was usually more like 70-80 in the hottest part of the day. In the end, i decided it wasn't worth the water, or the hassle of moving it around when i changed campsites. I think Zeers are pretty useful in the right circumstances. They do work well enough to keep produce. That said, I wanted cold beer, and the ability to keep meats fresh too, and in that department the zeer failed.

2 comments:

  1. I tweeted this (@thedirtonsoil). You are so awesome!

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