Thursday, September 6, 2012

Solar Dehydrator

What are the best ways of preserving food? Well, I guess that entirely depends on what you're storing, what facilities for storage you have and how you plan on using the end product. Take onions for example. You could pickle them, store them in a cool room as whole onions, chop and dehydrate them or chop and freeze them.

Each method has it's advantages but for us the options are limited. Our storage room isn't nearly cold enough for onions and potatoes to last very long so pickling or drying are better options. And our freezer is full of other things that can't be dried so it's time to get chopping.

Normally I would build a simple solar dryer using window screen, fibreglass not aluminum, and letting things dry outside. I'll make one over the weekend and show you. But since it's rainy and cool the best thing to use is an electric one. Unlike an oven there is a fan and the air temp can be regulated better to ensure even drying. I still rotate my racks periodically as well. Just follow the directions and you should be fine.

Onions are getting done as I've got so many to do and I'd like to get them packed into jars and on the shelf. It's rained for a few days so using a solar dryer is out of the question, but the electric one will work great. A word of advice though....use your dehydrator OUTDOORS or in the garage. Onions release all sorts of moisture when they are drying and also volatile oils. Your house will really stink of onions for days after drying indoors and the oils can make your eyes water even if you're not cutting them up at that moment. So a covered spot outdoors is always a good choice, trust me!

One other thing about electric dryers, you can use them year round on rainy days which makes them useful.

If you're interested in building your own solar dehydrator there are plans online. But you don't need to get complicated. Remember the solar heater project one ofour boys did for the science fair? It's easy to modify that to provide a flow of warm air into a box where your trays are waiting. Building it out of plywood means more cost but multiple years of use whereas a cardboard one can be composted every year. Just remember to screen your air inlets and outlets to keep out those pesky flies.

Other things we'll dry this year are tomatoes and some cherry tomatoes cut in half, apples, and fruit leather. I might try grapes for fun too, just to see if I can make raisins. It's not economical, but it will be interesting. Even root veggies like carrots and turnips can be dried and used later for soups and stews.

Well, I should go get ready for my visits and then I'll let you know how the onion chopping goes.

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