Drying Food

If you live in a dry area like the western US, and especially in the southwestern US, consider drying fruit, vegetables and even meat as a means of preservation. For example, if peaches or apricots or strawberries are on “special”, buy some extra, slice them thin, and dry them.

Originally we sliced fruit and put it on a plate in the sun here in Tempe, Arizona. That worked fine. In most cases, the fruit would dry in one day, and in the worst case require pealing partially dried fruit, flipping it over, and drying it a second day. It was so easy we would also dry bread for croutons or stuffing.

After a year or two, the local wildlife (mostly birds) would catch on and swoop in and eat and scatter ingredients. Good for the wildlife but much reduction to the final product. The next step was to find a protected way to dry food products.  Here is what we did using resources at hand.

During a bathroom remodel, we got a tub bundled in a wooden pallet. This pallet was used for the dryer’s skeleton. Our pallet was nailed together in a way that made it difficult to disassemble — long nails were put through the slats then bent over and buried in the soft wood. Our approach was to take a saw and take a couple corners of the pallet and nail them together to make a small box. The drying trays were 4 slats (drywall) screwed together into a square. To support the trays in the dryer, a few slats were screwed horizontally. The trays were sized so they could sit on the horizontal slats.Next we bought and wrapped fiberglass screen around the dryer box, and covered the trays.

To use the dryer, the food is sliced and placed on the trays and lowered through the top of the box. Then a square piece of screen would be thumb-tacked over the top.

The pallet from which we got the basic skeleton
The pallet from which we got the basic skeleton
A tray of tomatoes sliced and ready for drying
The dryer in use
The dryer in use

Take aways:

  • This is sized for our residential needs – it holds about 3 square feet of food.
  • Many dryer plans also have solar heated air piped into the dryer. Maybe because of our climate, this is not necessary. Eventually I will try this device in the midwest and report on its effectiveness under more humid conditions
  • Many designs have multiple racks and a door to put them in the dryer. The lower-from-the-top method works fine for us
  • The fiberglass screen is fairly inexpensive and works fine for this purpose
  • This project, including figuring out how to do it, took about two hours

While we are on the topic of reusing pallets, here are a couple other items we found useful.
Seedling protector
Turns out that there are a number of bugs in our garden and the soil is relatively friable. This leads to many visits from our local bird friends. They dig up the soil and eat the tender shoots as well as bugs. The vegies we are trying to grow need a little help to get started and the small frame with chicken wire does the trick.
Compost sifter
We have an active compost pile going, but inevitably there are pieces that are not quite broken down among the finished compost. Using the screen when filling the wheel barrow keeps out the twigs and stalks.