"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mr. H's Food Dehydration Unit #1

A couple weeks ago, just as we were beginning to use it, our obnoxiously noisy Nesco brand dehydrator broke...again. The the third one in 4 years = junk. Now I know that many people have lots of luck with the Nesco brand dehydrators but we don't, perhaps they get used and abused too much by us...I really don't know. The other day I read an interesting post on the The Thrifty Garden/Home blog about junk products and how poor quality so many of the appliances we purchase are these days. That post really resonated with me and I have decided to do my best not to replace any more of our junk with more junk but to make do with what we have instead. Goodbye forever microwave, and Mr. Coffee, your turn is next!

So, yesterday I decided to make my own dehydrator, as I refuse to buy another Nesco or afford a more expensive model. In the summer we simply use the roof of our barn to dry things but that doesn't work so well with late crop apples, plums, pears, and tomatoes because there isn't much in the way of sun this time of year...mostly rain. Anyway, I read about building this dehydrator out of an old dorm refrigerator or one like this and they both looked like good possibilities. But, before I could start planning for either model a thought hit me on the head like a ton of bricks. I already have a huge totally functional dehydrator sitting right there in our kitchen, a pellet stove complete with hot air blowers...ha! This stove is used for a few weeks in the fall and early spring when the roof of our house is too dry to safely heat with firewood, the rest of the winter we rely on wood heat for warmth.

All I needed to do was concentrate the warm airflow that comes out of the pellet stoves blowers in a way that would allow for it to circulate around the produce I wished to dry. I used the best part of my Nesco dehydrator, the trays, as drying racks. A cardboard box plus two bricks completed the dryer assembly and 5 minutes later...Voilà! We now have a much more efficient and quieter unit. I set it up just high enough so that the air would flow in and underneath the trays, rising upwards through the racks. I first tested it with tomatoes and 14 hours later had perfectly dry fruits.:) Today, after contemplating the addition of a drip tray to the contraption, I will dry some pears. To think that all of these years what I really needed for indoor food drying was a simple cardboard box and enough brains to realize it.

Click on this link to see how others use to dry food in days gone by - National Geographic (June, 1917)

Note the dryer racks hanging above this old wood cook stove

39 comments:

Diane@Peaceful Acres said...

Haha! I'm just tickled by all the contraptions in those old photos and in your home...reminds me of somewhere!!! Glad to see you made good use of that cardboard box!!!!!

Granola Girl said...

This is ridiculously genius! We purchased our Nesco this last year and I don't know how long it will last. It is a total energy whore though. We run it almost constantly during the summer and have really seen a difference when compared to last year.

Does the cardboard box method smell oddly at times. We made the mistake of dehydrating onions overnight (more backpacking food) and woke up to a very smelly kitchen.

Mr. H. said...

Diane - Yes, I loved seeing how people use to dry their produce...wish I had some of those old fashioned slicers and dicers in my own kitchen. Sorry about the messy kitchen, it always looks like that this time of year.

Granola Girl - Best investment I ever made. 1 free box, 2 free bricks, some used dehydrator trays, and efficiency to boot.:)

So far no smell. I dried pears in it today and they only took 7-8 hours to finish drying. Now it is once again loaded with tomatoes that I will leave in there all night...as long as the cats don't jump up on it I think it will be safe.

Wendy said...

A perfect set-up! And much quieter I bet.

I love that old photo with the drying racks at the top.

Leigh said...

This is so clever! And oh, so easy. Excellent idea.

Mrs. Mac said...

... and just think .. should the box get spotted from drippings and become unusable .. you can cut it up and add it to a compost pile :)

I have an ancient Ronco dehydrator that still works .. but I LOVE my built in setting on my oven for dehydrating .. I use the oven racks from Cabellas.

Without 'having' to buy the latest gadgets .. one is freed up to use their brain power to solve a problem .. you did a great job!

We're drying diced green onions tonight ..

Mike said...

That's a great idea! We just bought a nesco dehydrator from amazon. should be here any day. I hope we have better luck than you did! We have 80 pounds of apples to do.

Dani said...

Love this - brilliant and simple. Just have to try it the next time we fire up our wood burning stove.

The more that we mortals think out the box, the more we can make a difference to this planet :)

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

The old method is more reliable than modern gadget I guess. My late grandmother used to dry her chicken food (small chopped bits of topioca) on top her wooden stove. Untill she passed away she refused to use gas stove even after my mum bought her one.

Heiko said...

One of my winter projects is to build a solar dehydrator: http://www.instructables.com/id/Solar-Food-Dehydrator-Dryer/. The model I'm using at the moment is an ancient Swiss dehydrator, which doesn't say what brand it is. It's not noisy and has given many years of loyal service. Not sure how many as I got it as an antique. You're right, they don't make things any more the way they used to. How else can they make the economy grow ad infinitum if you don't replace all your worldly goods as frequently as possible and thus fill up landfill tips and pollute the planet in all sorts of other ways.

johnnydesoto said...

heh...Funny I just bought a new dehydrator because my trusty old nesco was overwhelmed with cranberries (that for some reason aren't holding up this year and need to be dried pronto). The oven works well enough but takes forever, and I can't adjust the heat lower than 170. I've tried drying by the wood stove. It never works well for me, and its been a warm fall here so thankfully haven't had to burn much. I spent too much on the new unit but it's much larger and at least it'll make quick work of drying, and I've got a lot of drying to do:)

Sense of Home said...

Very ingenious! I also have a Nesco, which works just fine, but like you said, it is very noisy.

-Brenda

Mr. H. said...

Wendy - It is much more quiet, that last nesco was so noisy. To be honest, the pellet stove makes a bit of noise too but at least I won't have to listen to both it and the dehydrator at the same time anymore.

Leigh - Thanks, it is a very simple dryer for a simple minded me. I am considering putting a 25 year warranty on our bricks and box dehydrator.:)

Mrs. Mac - Yes, the box can be composted and the bricks used in the garden...very eco-friendly. I wish we had a built in settin gon our oven but 175°is as low as it goes.

Dried green onions would be nice, I have never tried that before.

Mike - You made a good choice in buying it through Amazon...my favorite retailer. I think they are more careful with how they treat their products in the warehouse than your regular box stores are. I have a feeling that our last dehydrator from Fred Meyer had something wrong with it before we ever used it...it was so noisy.

I hope that yours works really well. 80 lbs of apples is a lot to dry...wow.

Dani - I agree, the more simple things are the less impact they have on anything and the easier they are to repair. One of these days we are all going to look around and realize that all of this so called garbage we toss out every day has had a serious and lasting affect on this planet.

Malay-Kadazan Girl - I refuse to use a gas stove too, they make me nervous.:) So your grandmother must have grown or had access to actual tapioca roots that she dried on her wood stove...that's really neat.

Heiko - No wonder your really old dehydrator still works, it was made by the Swiss and will probably never break down. That type of good quality is what we are lacking today. Your last sentence says it all my friend...it's all about greed and money.

I like the solar dryer you linked to, I am hoping to build something similar in the future. The model you showed me is nice because it is small enough to move around fairly easily.

Johnny - My first nesco lasted for many years too, the second and third one barely over 1 year.:( Perhaps I should have looked for a good quality older model rather than buying a new one when the first one finally broke on us.

I have never tried drying cranberries and really should do so next year...too bad I froze all of ours already.

We might try to build a larger capacity dryer one of these days, perhaps even some sort of an outdoor drying shack that uses wood heat. Something like this -
http://www.backwoodshome.com/articles/hooker41.html

Brenda - The last model we bought was much more noisy than the other two and did not dry things as quickly either. I think perhaps it was a defective unit from the get go.

Oxray Farm said...

My Nesco has been going strong for 2 years now. It's sad that I keep waiting for it to break, as you say "junk products." I wish we used wood heat because those dryer racks above the oven look awesome.

We got rid of our microwave last January and LOVE not having it. Leftovers taste SO much better. As for coffee, we use a french press or a melitta filter cone with a metal filter and make just one cup at a time. This way our coffee is fresh and hot, every cup.

Emma said...

We've been thinking the same way about appliances lately, and have just replaced our (failing) electric kettle with a hob kettle. We love it!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

wow! great thinking.. i'm not big on dehydrating.. yet. but i'll be working on it one of these days. one of the reasons is i hate that big old dehydrater that is taking up room in the garage. but now you got me thinking.....

Geno said...

We got pretty good at using the warming box above our wood stove to dry things last year. I also built some nice outdoor drying racks that worked well to set on the cooler side of the wood stove when it was just at a low heat.
Great idea on the box and using the old racks! I think that is one of our problems with modern culture, the lack of using our brains to figure things out.

melissa said...

Thanks for posting that old article. I love feeling the connection to the past with the things that I do. Also a good inspiration for when my electric dehydrator bites the dust someday (it's not a Nesco, not sure what brand it is). I have been drying apples lately, and goldenrod buds for tea.

michelle said...

Very clever Mr. H.! I've had much better luck with my cheap dehydrator, it's been a workhorse for me for years. Perhaps their quality has declined in the years since I bought mine. Don't know what I'll do when the old thing goes...

Ruralrose said...

This is incredible you both must be giddy with pride. I dehydrate grapes for raisins. This year there was so much moisture I had to turn the trays to let the water drain off. This has never happened before. Your drying times are very impressive too. Peace

Mr. H. said...

Oxray Farm - Hopefully your Nesco will run for a really long time, our first one did. I love that you tossed the microwave. We have been without ours for almost two months now and I do not miss it one little bit.

Emma - Our electric coffee maker goes next and I am so looking forward to making coffee in a non-electric kettle. Does yours whistle when ready...I want one that whistles.:)

Ohiofarmgirl - We mostly dehydrate a few apples, pears, a whole heck of a lot of dried plums, and tomatoes...we love dried tomatoes in the middle of winter when the real thing is but a thought.

Lot's of people dry pumpkin too.:)

Geno - I love that you dried stuff with your woodstove. We dried a bunch of walnuts one year next to ours and that worked out really well. But you are right, it is good to use ones own mind to figure things out. Certainly our forefathers did not have a Walmart to run to when something broke.

Melissa - I really enjoy old articles on how people use to garden and preserve their produce. How neat that you are drying goldenrod buds for tea. We found golden rod growing back behind our garden this year but never got around to seeing what it could be used for. I will have to check into using it for tea...how interesting.

Michelle - I have no doubt that your older model is better than this last one we purchased. Next year I am going to try drying our hot peppers next to the pellet stove. Because next year I am certain to have a few more peppers that turn out like yours did...red and hot. I can't wait.:)

Ruralrose - I have never tried drying grapes before, which reminds me that I really need to pick the last few bunches before a hard freeze sets in. I can't believe we have only had 3 (light) frosty days in all of October...amazing. It might snow out before the ground freezes this year.:)

I was surprised how fast everything drys in our little box too. Although, when I added a 5th tray of tomatoes the extra tray slowed everything down quite a bit.

kitsapFG said...

Well that is thinking out of the box (or perhaps in it?!)! Brilliant!

I only dehydrate a few things and have taken to borrowing my sister's dehydrater when I need one. Sadly, she is about to move to Arizona and so I am going to have to come up with an alternative myself. Not interested in buying a new one for how little I use one, but perhaps I should just prowl around some garage sales next spring and see if I can find a used working one for cheap. We heat with a wood stove but it does not have a blower system - so I don't think that would work like your pellet stove does.

LynnS said...

You ole smarty-pants, that is an awesome box you crafted! "Necessity is the Mother of invention" is so true, isn't it?

In the winter wood-burning season here, I use the heat from the woodstove to raise my yeast dough and have also done some herbs as well, but the greenhouse does a better job. (Perhaps you've used your woodstove to raise your breads too?) On on those inclement days when I need to wash a load of clothing and can't dry it on the line, I pull the line across one the room and hang shirts and pants that dry nicely with the heat from the woodstove. The trick for us is good circulation. There is a small woodstove blower that was installed and it circulates the heat away from the stove and into the room. We also use a ceiling fan and a stand alone fan to get all of that heat circulating around. Seeing your set up makes me want to try this method using the racks from the dehydrator -- a good experiment that should work.

Love that old woodstove photo. You and Mrs. Mac are conspiring to get me to buy one of those, I know you are.....;-)

Mr. H. said...

Laura - Thinking outside the box, sort of...and to think it only took me about 15 years to figure it out. That's how long I have had the pellet stove.:)

Please don't let me scare you away from the Nesco brand, it looks as though perhaps I am the only one that has had bad luck with them.

Lynn - Ah yes, tough situations inspire ingenious solutions...and to think all it took was me putting a box with trays in it next to the stoves blowers.

If you try this with your wood stove I would love to hear the results. I wonder which of us three will be the first to get a wood cook stove. Probably not me, although I really do want one but have to wait until the pellet stove breaks down first...hopefully that will not be anytime soon as I just bought pellets.

Daphne said...

I have an ancient Ronco dehydrator too. It cost about $20 ages ago and works. It has no fan and no temperature controls. But no moving parts means it never breaks. I drool over the dehydrators with controls, but so far haven't bought one. I love your solution.

Ms. Adventuress said...

Fantastic info on dehydrators and junk appliances. Great photos and resources. I've been without a micro for a year or so and don't miss it at all. I wasn't sure that would be the case, but phew. Right now I only have a toaster oven and a BlendTec blender. And I'm guessing...maybe I could hang drying trays above my radiant heaters...that would be fun to try.

(BTW: I'm sprouting in 16oz wide-mouthed canning jars now. I might like it better than larger jars or hemp bags. But I'll post how it goes in a week or so.)

Mr. H. said...

Daphne - I think you have a good one with that Ronco if it is still working after all this time. Our last nesco did not have any controls either but that didn't seem to make it run any longer. I drool over those large ones I see in magazines with sliding trays.:) I am finishing my fourth quart of dried tomatoes in our new high tech dryer this morning. I can't tell you how happy I am that this is working so well.:)

Ms. Adventuress - You know, it's only been a couple months but I don't miss our microwave either. They always made me nervous anyway - http://www.health-science.com/microwave_hazards.html

I am looking forward to seeing how your sprouts turn out.:)

LynnS said...

LOL @ Mike on "my high tech dryer"... We'll probably get all fired up this weekend as the temps are dropping so I'll find something to dehydrate -- maybe some potatoes? It's not like the experiment would cost anything, right? lol)

As much as I drool over a wood-burning oven, I don't see it happening in this house. Now if we move.... :-)

Mr. H. said...

Lynn - Maybe we will start a trend with hanging rack and cardboard box dryers.:) I have never dried potatoes before but have always thpought to try doing so as they would make for an excellent backpacking food.

Ms. Adventuress said...

Oh my gosh. It makes logical sense, yet reading the details is still alarming. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Mr. H. said...

Mrs. Adventuress - Exactly my point.:)

Robbyn said...

Wherever we end up next, Jack says he would like a pellet stove. I love that you guys are utilizing yours for drying things. Our problem here is not cold, but is mold...if anything sits for very long without a good warm airflow, it's usually spoiling. Love that old picture you included :)

Mr. H. said...

Robbyn - Pellet stoves are nice. I bag of pellets will heat our entire house for about 36 hours and costs about $2.60if we buy them by the ton and find them on sale. Depending upon how cold it gets we use the stove for maybe 3 - 4 months of the year and depend upon regular wood heat for the remainder. Our yearly heating bill is between $200 - $300 ...not bad.:)

meemsnyc said...

I love your ingenuity! Totally awesome! Thanks for telling us about Nesco and that it's junk. I've been contemplating buying a dehydrator for some time and I really want to find one that isn't going to break the bank. Now I know to stay clear of junk like Nesco.

Mr. H. said...

Meemsync - Food dehydrators are very nice and I hope you are able to get your own soon. Don't be too dismayed by what I think about Nesco as it appears that many others have had much more luck with them. Some of the "American Harvest" dehydrators have good ratings and that is the brand I would try next time. They are supposed to be much quieter too.:)

Extreme Gardener said...

Hi there Mr. H!
I so envy that you can dry fruit on your shed roof - our climate is way too wet for that! You might find this non electric dehydrator interesting: http://www.amazon.com/Food-Pantry-Hanging-Dehydrator-Dryer/dp/B001T426TE/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top . I got two of them and really like them for hanging in our basement when we fire up the wood stove in the fall, and in our breezeway during the summer.

Mr. H. said...

Extreme Gardener - Thank you for the link, this looks like a great way to dry some of our tomatoes and fruits. Our barn roof is mostly used for berries as our tomatoes never seem to ripen early enough. August is always the best month for drying on the barn roof and September is real iffy.

As I type this we have the last of our hot peppers on a screen propped up on the mantle above our fireplace...wish I had the hanging dehydrator for them.:)

Veggie PAK said...

What a great blog you have! I love the old things as they remind me of my grandmother who used a large porcelain wood burning stove YEAR-ROUND for cooking and heating water for washtub baths. I watched with great interest, some videos on youtube about building your own solar dehydrator. I plant to build two of them this year. There are so many ways to do it! Definitely worth checking out.

You really have a great-looking place! You should be proud.

Mr. H. said...

Veggie PAK - Thanks, I hope you do get a chance to build a couple solar dehydrators. The power of the sun is amazing, and there are so many ways to use it to our advantage. I look forward to hearing more about you future dehydrator projects.

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