Food Storage Basics: Dehydrating Your Own Foods

How to Build a Food Dehydrator
on the Cheap

U.S. and global stability continue on their downward spiral. Whether or not you think we’re headed for a world-ending crisis anytime soon, we suspect you agree that it’s smart to become more self-reliant and cost-efficient with your basic needs such as food.
Preserving your family’s food is an old idea that is making a comeback. With the average household’s net worth down a whopping 40%, millions of middle-class Americans are rediscovering all the new technology that lets them sidestep major food inflation.
We want to introduce you to a handy tool that can help you with your food reserves. The great thing about this tool is that even if the power grid went down, you’d still be able to preserve extra food you grow in your garden or obtain locally, so that nothing goes to waste. That means you and your loved ones can enjoy the peace of mind that comes with always knowing where your next meal is coming from.
So, what is this amazing tool? It’s called a solar food dehydrator.

Why Dehydrate Your Food?

Dehydrating food is one more way (in addition to canning and freezing) that you can preserve your harvest if you garden or that you can use to take advantage of local, seasonal produce all year round. Ultimately, it helps you take your food stores into your own hands.
When you dehydrate foods, you can save money. Drying your own meats, herbs, and produce is cheaper than buying pre-packaged dried foods.
Dried foods are more nutritious than canned goods. We do recommend you do some canning so you’ll have more variety in your food stores – and because, if water is ever scarce, canned foods are essential.
But, it’s important to keep in mind that when you dry foods, they retain 95 percent of their nutritional value. Canned goods retain only about 40 percent of the vitamins and minerals they had when fresh. From a nutritional standpoint, dried foods are superior.
And, they’re easy to make at home. You can even build your own food dehydrator that works with solar power. That means you can dry and store locally grown foods, even if the power is down.

Yes, You Can Build Your Own
Solar Food Dehydrator

Building a solar food dehydrator is similar to building a box-style solar oven.
Solar Dehydrator
The simplest style starts with a box made of wood or metal. Instead of a flat top, you should build the box with an angled top. You’ll make the angled top from glass or a sheet of clear plastic, so as much sun as possible can enter the box, helping your food dryer to heat up. For optimal heating, build the top at approximately a 45-degree angle.
Rather than a solid bottom, use a sheet of fine metal screening material to allow air to enter the box. Affix the bottom about 4 inches up the interior sides of the box, so your screen isn’t resting right on the ground. Drying food requires a constant flow of warm air, so you’ll also cut vent holes near the top on the back of box. Cover the vent holes with screening material, too, to keep bugs out.
The final exterior design change from a standard box-style solar oven is to build a hinged door into the back so you can easily insert and remove your drying racks.
Like a solar oven, you should paint the interior of your solar food dryer black to help the heating process. You’ll also build ledges on the interior sides that you can rest shelves on. Allow about four inches of space between the ledges. You’ll make drying trays by stretching lightweight, food-grade screen mesh over wooden frames. Each tray should be the same width as the interior of the box – minus a quarter to a half an inch.
You can find fancier models with do-it-yourself instructions in the book The Solar Food Dryer.

Dry Almost Anything

With your solar food dryer, you can dry almost anything. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats are the most common things to dry. Some people make fresh pasta and dry it in their dehydrator, but that seems a little labor-intensive to me, especially when you can buy dried pasta at such a low cost.
But, the cost savings on fruits, vegetables, meats, and herbs over what you can buy in your grocery store is impressive.
Dehydrated Fruit
To get the best results when drying fruits and vegetables, slice them very thin and place the slices in a single layer on your drying trays. On a sunny day, most of these foods will dry within one to two days. Riper fruits and vegetables may take a little longer and have a chewier texture. Check your food often after a day in the dryer, and remove it when it reaches the texture you desire.
When drying meat, use a jerky recipe to prepare the meat before putting it in your dryer. Use the recipe guidelines to determine how long you should dry your jerky.
Herbs are very easy to dry. Just wash the herb leaves, spread them out on your dryer trays, and dry like you would fruits and vegetables.
The one drawback of home-dried food compared to store-bought dried food is that, because you’re not adding a bunch of preservatives and putting your food in nitrogen-sealed containers, it won’t store as long. Home-dried fruits and vegetables store for about a year, and meats store for three to six months.
But, even with that limitation, home drying is a great way to increase your self-sufficiency and save money on your grocery bills. And, it’s a great skill to add to your repertoire during normal times, so that you’ll be ready to use it in harder times that may come later.