By Grow and Make Green Home Guide Chris Clark
The more you look into living a more sustainable life, the more you will discover about the importance of local, seasonal food. To really be eco-friendly it is good to eat locally grown and produced food whenever possible. You could find this food at farmer’s markets and farms, at an organic market or you may decide to grow your own.
One day you will come across a bounty of food and you will want to preserve it for later, just as our pioneer ancestors did. You can certainly try canning or you can prepare food for freezing. Certain fruits, vegetables and berries preserve well when dried and dehydrating is often easier than freezing or canning.
Photo Credit: Rev Stan
There are several options in food dehydration. You can sun dry things using large trays and netting if you have the space. You can build an outdoor solar dehydrator to save space and speed up the outdoor process or you can go with an electric dehydrator.
Obviously sun drying is the greenest option since you are just using the power of the sun to dry your food. It does have some tricky bits to deal with though. If you live in a humid climate you might have issues with food molding before it gets dry enough. You also have to really make sure the food is covered properly or you will have bugs. And sun drying on trays requires all of it to be brought in at night to stay dry. It can be done, it just takes a little more time and planning to make it happen. You can also use a solar oven for food dehydration, but need to keep in mind that it is not designed specifically for this purpose.
Electric dehydrators come in all shapes and sizes. You will generally find dehydrators with stackable trays or a fixed box that has trays that slide in and out. Some use fans and heat to dry food, others rely on convection heating. Those with fans will dry your food more quickly and evenly than those with convection. Convection dehydrators will use a little less energy and be quieter.
You really have to choose what is going to work the best for what you want to do and the space that you have. Once you decide on the type of dehydrator, the fun can begin – the actual drying of food.
You can dry pretty much anything from herbs to fruits and vegetables. Dried fruits are great in trail mixes and for snacks. Sun dried (or dehydrator dried) tomatoes are wonderful for cooking – and much cheaper than the grocery store variety! Dried apples can even be rehydrated and used for making pies and breads. Drying grapes leads to your own raisins and growing and drying herbs is a simple way to save money at the grocery store.
Dehydrating food is a good way to get children involved in what they eat also. If they can help prepare the food to be dried, and watch the process take place they may be much more interested in eating those dried fruits and vegetables.
Whatever method you choose, drying food at home is a great way to preserve the harvest whether it is from your own garden or someone else’s.