Solar Food Dehydrator

Most people who drive into our driveway for the first time want to know what that black thing is and they point to the solar dehydrator.Aug 2013 023

Well, I promised to write about it, in fact I had started writing this post last spring, then things got crazy and I never got the chance to finish writing it. Today is the day that the solar dehydrator will get its chance to shine. Just remember that I’m weaving in and out of present time here.

Just today, we got it all cleaned up, and replaced that broken piece of glass with a clear roof panel. Each spring the trays get brushed off and sprayed with the hose, the inside of the box gets cleared of bugs and spiderwebs, the glass (clear panel now) gets cleaned and Shop Boy often gives it a coat of paint. Flat Black.

Farmer Hick found the plans for this solar dehydrator on a university website, if you’re interested just google for the Appalachian solar food dehydrator. It was built before we ever moved here, all in preparation of being able to dry food without electricity. That first model got a lot of use and because it was made of lighter materials it started falling apart after  7 or 8 years of use, after which Farmer Hick and the boys built this sturdier version.

The main frame is made out of plywood, then painted black to attract heat. Air enters at the bottom of the slide, as the air rises, or travels up the slide, the air gets hotter. The dry, hot air then travels through each tray in the box at the top and exits through several vents.

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the drying trays inside the box, loaded with herbs, notice also the vents at the top of the box and at the bottom of the slide

Inside the box are 11-13 trays for drying vegetables, fruits or herbs. Farmer Hick built the tray frames out of cedar and stapled zinc mesh to each tray. We didn’t want to use aluminum for something we were going to put our food on. If you’re just going to dehydrate herbs and very light weight items you could use screen mesh, in fact we have several trays made with this material but it really isn’t strong enough to dehydrate anything else on. Zinc is better, the drawback is that it’s quite pricey.

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lemon verbena drying on the zinc mesh

Once your vegetables (or herbs) are layered in a single layer on the trays, you point the slide into the sun, then every couple of hours you adjust the angle of the dehydrator slightly so the slide is always pointed right toward the sun. You may have to adjust the vent openings at the bottom of the slide and near the top of the box depending on what the wind is doing that day.

On a hot day, with a good breeze, herbs will dry in 6-8 hours, food takes a little longer depending on how thickly it’s sliced. You may have to bring the trays inside once the sun goes down and put them out again in the morning. I have dried fruits and vegetables successfully in this solar dehydrator, but it took a long time. I prefer to use this solar dehydrator for herbs only, it works superb.

For juicy and sticky foods, such as fruit, I much prefer to use my Excalibur dehydrator.

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dehydrating apricots and cherries in the Excalibur

Before we had the solar panels I was not able to use the Excalibur, but I sure make good use of it again on sunny days. Sunny days for us means lots of solar power to run the electricity-free dehydrator outdoors, and also the electric dehydrator inside.

Things like garlic, onion and leeks are better dried outdoors, you’ll smell up the whole house if you dehydrate them inside, trust me on this, been there and done that. The good thing about dehydrating these particular foods is that they dry quickly, about 6 hours or less, even in the solar dehydrator. Most of our garlic and onions are stored and used fresh, but I like having some dehydrated packages on hand as well.

Most herbs (culinary, medicinal and tea) for this year have been dehydrated and are stored in air tight glass jars in the pantry.

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the pantry shelf with dried culinary herbs

On the next few sunny days I’d like to dehydrate herbs for the chickens for when there aren’t any fresh greens to be found for them. Chickens like all sorts of dried greens, comfrey, plantain, dandelion, all culinary herbs and calendula petals. So I won’t store the dehydrators away just yet, even though fall’s here.

Oops, do you see my Thyme jar in the front there? It’s empty!!! Guess I used it all up with the recent tomato sauce cooking marathon. Hopefully I have more fresh stuff in the herb garden.

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