The downside of experimenting with new ideas is that occasionally you have to admit defeat and go back to the drawing board. On the upside, experimenting does help you to work out what is really important. In this case, the right rocket stove and finding a sustainable way to cook outdoors.
We have really enjoyed working on our homemade rocket stove this year. The stoves have been economical to make, reuse everyday materials and work a treat (once you practice a bit). I know that sometimes our guests have found them a bit difficult to get to grips with. Once mastered, however, they have provided a really efficient outdoor cooking experience that is kinder to the environment than our previous gas stoves. All of the kindling burned comes from the new growth on our apple trees or from farm hedge trimmings. It takes a lot of effort to cut and prepare the kindling but it has been worth it to finally be able to say that we are using sustainable fuel.
We have learnt that with simple household tools, anyone can make a rocket stove from a few bean cans, a wire coat hanger and some garden vermiculite. The design has so far proven to be safer than the gas stoves as it is incredibly simple with no working parts to go wrong. We just weren’t happy that the mechanism holding the gas canisters in the stoves was easily damaged with everyday use. Most of the time this just proved to be an annoyance as it prevented the stoves from working. More worryingly though, it sometimes caused the gas to leak from the cans and this could be very dangerous.
So on paper it looked as if the rocket stoves were going to be a great success. However, by the middle of our five month season the stoves were beginning to show signs that they weren’t going to last the distance. The thin metal used in the bean cans wasn’t coping with being heated to high temperatures every day. Sitting outside in the elements wasn’t helping either. The central chamber of the stove was wearing away and vermiculite was spilling out and being lost. They just about made it to the end of September but were looking a bit sorry for themselves.
As with all experiments at Ling’s Meadow we have learnt a great deal and have not been put off! We now know how great a value we place on using sustainable fuel and how much our guests have enjoyed cooking over a wood fire. There is nothing nicer than wandering on to the campsite in the evening, smelling wood smoke and bacon, and seeing people chatting around their campfires.
We know that the stoves are great for occasional camping and we like that they reuse materials, but we need something tougher for everyday use. So, we have come to a compromise and bought new EzyStoves from Wild Stoves in Dorset. They are manufactured using much tougher materials, to a Swedish design that uses the same rocket stove principles as our homemade version. We have had to give up the idea of re-purposing everyday objects and materials for now, but we will come back to this and will pass on what we have learnt so that you can make your own rocket stove to take on outdoor adventures.
Because we know how much you have enjoyed cooking outdoors, we have also invested in new cast iron dutch ovens and frying pans which store and spread heat much more efficiently than other metal pans when used over an open fire. The dutch ovens can also hang from a tripod over our fire pits.
So we are really looking forward to next May when we start to hear the crackling of open fires and the whistling of campfire kettles again. Happiness is truly the smell of summer wood smoke!