Solar Dehydrating

On these 100+ degree days, it really makes sense to use the sun to do some of our food-drying for us. Dehydrating requires three things: Heat, circulating dry air, and time, all of which we have in abundance here, and it's all free, to boot. No need to buy a $100 piece of equipment that we don't have the budget or storage for; and anyway, we can start small and upgrade later if we need to.

We experimented a bit with drying apple slices when we thinned out our apple tree back in early Spring. I used a baking sheet and an old floating row cover to dehydrate them, and they took very little time and were delicious, chewy and tart. So we knew it was possible, we just wanted a more dependable set-up. 

Tom knocked together a folding frame from supplies we had lying around - wood slats, old screening, some hook-and-eye hardware - to make a serviceable drying rack for tomatoes, hops, apples, peppers, herbs - anything, really. We've placed it on our old patio table which is made of wrought iron and has holes as part of its design - that way the air can come up under and also flow over. The sun is hot, by God, so things don't take very long to dry, depending on how wet they are. So far, tomatoes take the longest. Our first tiny batch of tomatoes are on day 3 of drying.

 fresh apples and peppers, joining some tomatoes already in progress

fresh apples and peppers, joining some tomatoes already in progress

We're still in the experimental phase, so we're not doing huge quantities of stuff. An apple here, three little Calabrese peppers there - to see how long things take. Our goal is to dry a LOT of peppers to make homemade chili powder and chili flakes, maybe a few tomatoes to put in the freezer (I'd rather can sauce and crushed tomatoes, frankly), and a good amount of apples for the freezer, for snacking. According to the Ball Blue Book, after these things are dehydrated, they can keep in the freezer for a year. And I'd love to dry some of our herbs to replace the ones I've bought, as we run out. Thyme, rosemary, oregano - these are all dried herbs I use in abundance and would love to be able to make my own. (I do use them fresh, too.)

 Piccante Calabrese Peppers

Piccante Calabrese Peppers

 These seem to take a half a day to dry completely

These seem to take a half a day to dry completely

 apple chips are fast, depending how thin you slice them

apple chips are fast, depending how thin you slice them

 Tomatoes are juicy and take days to dry

Tomatoes are juicy and take days to dry

 Hops dry super fast

Hops dry super fast

The tray just stays out all day and all night; so far, we haven't had any raccoons or skunks try to rip it apart. The screen on both sides keeps flies and wasps out, and it is easily cleaned with the hose if it gets gunky. We are very happy with this design.