"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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pellet Stove Dehydration Unit #2

Each year a small amount of our food stuff is dehydrated in order to be preserved for the ensuing cold months. Trays of raspberries, strawberries, and other berries can often be found setting atop the barn roof during the hot summer days slowly turning into fruit leather. As the suns rays beam down upon the roof it creates waves of heat that help to wick away the moisture within the mushed fruits, quickly drying them to a storable consistency. Unfortunately, other than berries, most of what we would like to dry is not ready to be harvested until early fall (September and October) at which time the sun no longer shines with the intensity needed to get away with simply plopping a tray down on the barn roof and walking away until it is fully dehydrated.

In previous years we have relied upon an electric dehydrator to dry late season tomatoes, apples, pears, plums, tomatillos, elderberries and other fall crops. When our electric dehydrator broke in 2010 we re-purposed the trays and using a cardboard box as a makeshift air tunnel proceeded to use the hot air blowing out of our pellet stove to finish the task. It worked so good that I built a more permanent device to be used this past fall.

Our pellet stove dehydration unit #2 works on the same principle as the cardboard model. Hot air flows into the wooden box and is routed up through re-purposed dehydrator trays slowly but very effectively drying the foods within. During the months of October, November, and again in the early spring we often prefer to use our pellet stove to heat the house leaving the wood stove for the colder winter months, so it was only logical for us to make better use of the stoves heat by rigging up a way to dry our foods as well.

It's hard to take a decent photo inside our house so bear with me as these pictures are a bit hard to look at. This picture shows the dehydrator butted up against our pellet stove while inside tomatoes are drying. The whole unit sits atop an old barbecue stand that helps bring it to the correct height an makes it easier to roll around.

Here you can see the hole was cut just smaller than the round trays and a line was drawn so I could easily center them properly.

Inside I attached a piece of sheet metal to help direct the airflow up into the trays rather than the corners of the box.

I put bumpers on the outside so the unit would not come into direct contact with the hot pellet stove and also added a drip tray to catch any liquids that might leak out as is prone to happen when drying tomatoes.

Most of our dried goods are stored in glass jars. While tomatoes tend to lose their flavor after six months or so most fruits, corn, hot peppers, and beans will keep for years this way. Have you ever dried a tomatillo? It brings out a surprisingly sweet/tart flavor that we find most appealing, especially as an addition to our salads.


OK then, back to dreaming about spring...

60 comments:

Dani said...

Fascinating, Mr H - thank you so much. I've never heard of fruit leather, and it seems simple to make. Perhaps I would be successful with it in my solar oven :)

I love your pellet dryer - clever man :)

You Can Call Me Jane said...

What a wonderful, brilliant solution! And I love the photo of your berry mush on the roof. Around here, I would be afraid the birds would think we put those berries out for them. I guess they leave your trays alone?

Anyway, I hope you all are keeping warm and enjoying winter. Please keep posting your clever contraptions!

Humble wife said...

Brilliant!!

I am going to link this post!

Jennifer

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

That's a good idea for drying at least the broken dehydrator is being used for its purpose :o) Are those Blueberries in that jar that have been dehydrated? Mine are taking up space in the Freezer..Do you hydrate then for pies etc. or use them as snacks? Thanks

Ohiofarmgirl said...

that is FANTASTIC! wow! the pix were great.. oh geez... remember summer when it was sunny and everyone was happy? i loved that you said you wanted to make more use of the heat then just...well... heating. we've been trying to do this more also but more than likely its me strategically baking to keep the house warm.

denimflyz said...

Wonderful post this morning.
I really utilize my dehydrator, it is a God send to me. Your little ingenious device is a real sweetie.
I love dehydrating as you can be so creative in just about anything, you just have to not be afraid of experimenting with things. I would love to dehydrate outside but I have too many bugs, and critters and no place to put things.
I love taking leftover applesauce and mix with a little jello to make tasty fruit roll ups. I also sometimes take out a few of my trays and fill them with the applesauce mixture and lay them in the dehydrator to make fruit chewys.
Have a wonderful productive day and weekend.

denimflyz said...

Forgot to add that I use ice cube trays sprayed with vegetable oil for my fruit chewys.

Bangchik and Kakdah said...

when we come up with home made gadgets,.... it is always a pleasure!

Stefaneener said...

Looks gorgeous. The summer photo of the barn must give you real hope during the winter!

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Brilliant! I just saw something for sale that was a dehydrator built to go on top of a wood cook stove. It was a similar idea to yours but built in the early 1900's. I would have bought it in a second but it was priced in the 'antique' catagory, so out of my range. What is old is new again!

johnnydesoto said...

Does your stove burn corn? Next step off the grid as I see it.

I dry strawberries, cranberries (take forever unless you scald them); both great with whole oats for breakfast. I also dry excess tomatoes and wild mushrooms; although in recent years I've become more fond of confit. To confit tomatoes oven roast them @ 200 deg or less with a little salt and choice of herbs; I also sprinkle a little vinegar on them. pack them in olive oil and refrigerate or keep cool in the root cellar.

For mushrooms simmer them in a 50% vinegar/water solution for about 15 mins. and pack them in olive oil and refrigerate or keep cool. If the mushrooms get moldy on top just remove them the rest are ok.

Both products keep for months. and while olive oil must be purchased, you end up with some nicely flavored oils to use for sald dressing or to drizzle in a nice pasta dish.

I've been doing for this for years and I'm still here..lol

Still learn much from your blog. I'm still around but am in the middle of a major house renovation. Hope to start flickr again when its over. All the Best...

johnnydesoto said...

Oh..and I almost forgot:

your roof top drying method is very similar to an Italian method for making and tomato paste product as documented in the classic wonderful book "honey From a Weed" by Patience Gray.

meemsnyc said...

What an absolutely awesome idea!! Question for you, when you put trays of food on the top of the roof, do you get squirrels or birds eating that? I could never put food outside without every living creature around us trying to eat it!

Robin said...

Tomatillos! I dry pepper and tomatoes, why did I never think of drying the tomatillos, too? They take up so much space in the freezer, because I don't like the texture of bottled. Brilliant suggestion!

Lrong said...

Your final comment, 'back to dreaming about spring' really got me laughing out loud...
Anyway, am always impressed at your skill in doing these things...

Mr. H. said...

Dani - I have a feeling that your solar oven would be perfect for making fruit leather. If you ever try it let me know how it turns out.

Jane (Thy Hand) - We are every fortunate in that we don't really have any issues with birds trying to eat our fruits and berries...except for my honey berries, they always get eaten up.

Jennifer - That's great, glad you found it interesting.:)

Ginny - Those are dehydrated elderberries that are mostly used in our salads. Our bluberries get eaten fresh or frozen like yours do because the plants are not producing that many yet.

Ohiofarmgirl - Yes, I am tired of winter and ready for spring...I want to see less white and more green. Strategic baking is a great idea, we always leave the oven door open after cooking to get that last little bit of heat into our cold house.:)

Denimflyz - I had never thought to dehydrate apple sauce, what a great idea...glad you mentioned it and I look forward to trying it.

Bangchik and Kakdah - It is fun to come up with these gadgets...especially when they work.:)

Stefaneener - If I close my eyes I can see the heat waves rising off the barn...of course when I open them and look outside all I see is snow. I'm looking forward to warmer days.:)

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead - Sounds interesting, I have been thinking of different ways we could use our wood stove in this manner. If you run across any more for sale, online, I would love to see a picture of it.

Johnny - You asked if our pellet stove burns corn? I don't know, perhaps it could. I'll have to look that up online as I am not at all familiar with burning corn this way...interesting.

Thanks for the advice on drying cranberries, we have not tried drying the ones we gather but I may give it a go next season and will remember to scald them first.

We also dry morel mushrooms...which is one of the reasons our store boughten dehydrators always break, the spores really clog up the fan and other parts and of course many of these units do not come apart so it is imposssible to clean them. I will have to try your method for storing mushrooms and tomatoes in olive oil.

Best of luck with your renovation project...oh and I ordered up some Speckled Friz Chickendive this year...you mentioned it to me once and the name stuck in my head.:)

Meemsnyc - The barn rood gets very hot and we have never had any issues with flys, birds, or squirrels. Although, it is quite possible that we have just been lucky so far...fingers crossed.:)

Robin - I think you will like them, they get a really nice sweet/tart flavor and dry faster than tomatoes. I should have mentioned that we also dry eggplants for soups and such. If you try drying the tomatillos let me know what you think.:)

Lrong - Yes winter is a dangerous time of year for me as my thoughts are on spring and summer and the garden catalogues keep tempting me with their delightful pictures of what could be.:)

Silke said...

Coming here is always so interesting! I have only ever dried any food in the sunshine or in a slow oven (like tomatoes). Your method seems so much more efficient, especially for the larger quantities you are dealing with!

You are dreaming about spring and we are living it. It's been unusually warm, often 20 degrees warmer than the normal average.

Greetings from Savannah!! Silke

LynnS said...

I have thought about your metal roof dehydrating many times over the last year, wondering if you were going to continue with that process. Glad to see it has become a 'norm' for you!

And yes, the finished dehydrator contraption is excellent! I like dehydrating but hate the idea of plugging into electricity to do such a simple task. Now if only we could get the crops to ripen in November when we use the woodstove here.....Ha!

Have you ever used your dried tomatoes as tomato powder? I have been using a hand-held spinning grinder contraption my mother bought me to do it. I make a tomato powder and it's a great addition in soups and quick meals when you don't want the tomato but want the flavor and color.

I LOVE your beautiful jars of dehydrated goodness!!! Food art!

Dee Sewell said...

That's fabulous. I've never tried drying our fruit or veg, usually relying on the freezer but I'd love to try the 'leather' strips as I think we'd all like them!

cathy@home said...

We have just planted a Apricot tree one of my favorite fruit leather.

Elizabeth said...

you guys are so awesome!!!!
I know I asked this before but can we come live w/ you?? We can pitch a tent in the yard!
Peace and Raw Health,
Elizabeth

Mrs. Mac said...

OMGosh .. we have high speed internet .. cheaper than our old s.l.o.w. poke AT&T wireless. Unlimited data use too .. let me know if you're interested in finding out how :) I love your dehydrator setup. We're (I'm;) thinking about switching out gas freestanding heater/stove .. to wood ... and am wondering if you've ever seen or used a freestanding type of device (probably convection or radiant) for baking?? I've seen old ones that were used in front of fireplaces .. and am trying to devise a way to bake with a wood stove .. in case of a loss of power or just to capture and use the wood heat. I'm still searching for ideas .. will let you know if I find out anything. Just so much research can be done now with the HIGH SPEED internet! Can you tell I'm excited? Hope you are having a great winter .. nice with all the sunshine, eh???

Liz said...

That is so fabulously innovative. I'm now embarrassed that I was thinking of buying an electric dehydrator. I love the idea of putting things on the roof too. Getting up there may prove a bit problematic though, I a bit scared of heights.....

Robin said...

Great idea! We don't have a wood or pellet stove. Since I can't see spending a ton of money on a dehydrator we are planning to make one also. We have been doing a little research. Alton Brown makes a simple one with a box fan. We are going to give it a try.

Norma Chang said...

How clever!!!!! You make it sound so easy to construct bet it took a lot of planning.

Brenda said...

Do you use an oxygen absorber in your jars?

Mr. H. said...

Silke - We are having a fairly mild winter so I can't complain too much but I am still looking forward to the warmer months so I can get my hands busy with planting. Glad to hear that the weather in Savannah has been good to you.

Lynn - The roof is just too easy not to use...for berries.:) I am still contemplating building some sort of dryer for the greenhouse but have yet to come up with the perfect plan, maybe this next year it will come to me.

I did make tomato powder once in 2009 and plan to do so again if we, hopfully, end up with another bumper crop of tomatoes this year. You will have to talk more about how you made the powder one of these days. I used a little coffee grinder and it was effective but not really practical. It would be fun to make some up and season it with dried herbs and such.

Dee - The fruit leather is a great way to use up extra berries and make a healthy snack that will last for years if stored properly. A previous commenter mentioned using applesauce this way and I am looking forward to trying that as well.

Cathy - I ordered two different varieties of extremely cold hardy apricot trees for this year and last fall planted a couple others as I am also quite fond of the fruit and am trying hard to get some established on our property...wish me luck.

Elizabeth - Sure, but you might want to wait until spring as it is a bit chilly this time of year.:)

Mrs. Mac - We would be very interested in hearing more about your internet set up as our is less than desirable. Micki said she will shoot you an email later today to inquire more about yours.

I am not familiar with the woodstove attachment you mentioned but have heard of people using a cast iron pot with hot coals on each side and the top to bake bread as you would when making an upside down cake. Or...perhaps this is what you are looking for - http://non-electric.lehmans.com/hardware/Stove%20Top%20Portable%20Oven

And yes, I can not remmber a sunnier winter than this one...it's been very nice.:)

Liz - I don't like heights either. A simple piece of sheet metal set up on a stand of some sort would no doubt work just as well though. To keep the bugs out you would simply have to build a fine screen to go over the top.

Robin - I saw Alton Browns homemade dehydrator and think it would work really well. If you do make it I would love to hear how it worked for you.

Norma Chang - The idea is to simply get warm air to flow through and around the foods that need to be dried and I did want to reuse the old deydrator trays...so after a bit of contemplation this is what I came up with...and it actually works.:)

Brenda - No, but I am extremely careful to make sure that all food items are dried enough so they will not mold. Also, since we heat with wood the air in our house remains dry but it is possible that under more humid conditions the storage of food in this manner would not work out as well. A glass jar that is sealed tightly should prevent moisture from entering but it would have to be sealed well. Here is a good article on "dry canning" dried foods that you might find interesting - http://hardworkhomestead.blogspot.com/2011/11/canning-next-level.html

Kevin Kossowan said...

Cool project. A decent dehydration setup is on my to-do list, so thanks for the reminder.

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Mr. H, here is the link to one they are selling in my area you asked about.
http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/atq/2774728812.html
It is beautiful, but way to expensive. Hope this gives you some ideas. I think it is similar to your idea. Metal base but wood trays.

Lisa said...

I made fruit-leather for the first time this year, with plums. It was yummy ! Think I´ll try next year with raspberries and strawberries, it sounds nice.I grow tomatillos some years ago, but I didn´t like the taste, maybe its better dryed? The birds are very thievish here, so outside isn´t possible. Great solution you did there with the stove ! I have an electrical dryer, but in autumn I dry everything on top of my wood- heating boiler in our kitchen.
Lisa/Lisas trädgård

Eden said...

I'll vouch for the fact that applesauce makes great fruit leather. I can hardly make it fast enough for my kids. I'd like to build a solar dryer this summer. My mom used to just pop screens in the cold frames that were made of old windows.

Ruth Trowbridge said...

Very clever - you are the go to guy for food self-reliance for sure - peace

granny said...

Your'e pretty tricky Mr H ;0)

Mr. H. said...

Kevin - I look forward to reading future posts about your own adventures in food dehydration.

Jane - Thanks, that is quite the deyhdrator. It actually gave me some ideas too. I had been thinking about how to set up hanging racks for our wood stove but this design would be even better.

Lisa - I have never tried making fruit leather from plums...what a great idea. You will have to try drying a few tomatillos sometime and see what you think, it definitely concentrates the flavours just as it does with tomatoes and other dried foods.

Eden - Sounds like your mom had a good way of drying foods, I might have to try that with my own cold frames. I'm definitely going to try the apple fruit leather too.

Ruth - Thanks for your kind words but I still have a whole lot to learn about all of this.

Granny - I try to be, one almost has to have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to figuring out how to grow and preserve food.

Sharon said...

I can't wait to try dehydrating tomatillos! Last year I had a surplus - fed many to my chickens, made salsa verde but never thought of dehydrating them. Do you rehydrate them for your salads?

Love your inovative dehydrator! I am still using an electric dehydrator I purchased about 1982 from Montgomery Ward. It has served me well - made lots of fruit leather, dried fruit & banana chips for my son & his friends when they were in college. Since then I dehydrate lots of tomatoes, fruits, jerky & herbs. Sounds like it's a good thing I didn't dry mushrooms!

kitsapFG said...

Brilliant! I love how you have repurposed the original dehydrator trays into your new designed unit. Efficient reuse of both the heat energy and the original purchased/manufactured item. Good work!

Leigh said...

I keep wondering what I would do if something happened to my Excalibur. You all are proving where there's a will there's a way! I'm curious about your humidity though as this is a problem for my dehydrated foods to stay firm and crispy. The stuff keeps well, but it always ends up limp.

Mr. H. said...

Sharon - I like to deydrate the tomatillos until they are very crispy, that way they can simply be broken up into small bits when added to a salad. Hold on to that Montgomery Ward deydrator, they don't build them like that anymore.

Laura - I knew the racks from a couple of our old broken dehydrators woul dcome in handy some day.:)

Leigh - The air in our house is almost too dry for much of the year due to the fact that we use wood heat and I always try to use well sealed glass jars and have never had any issues with humidity effecting the dried goods. Jane (Hard Work Homestead Blog)has an excellent post on dry canning that might interest you as well - http://hardworkhomestead.blogspot.com/2011/11/canning-next-level.html

6512 and growing said...

Clever!
Here in southern Colorado, where it's ridiculously sunny and dry, we just dry fruits and veggies outside on a screen. Dried sun gold cherry tomatoes and pears are my favorite.
Such a lovely bounty on your fridge-top!

Mr. H. said...

6512 and growing - Back in 2009 many of our tomatoes ripened early enough for me to dry them outside, maybe this next summer will also allow for that...fingers crossed. Like you, tomatoes and especially pears are our favorites.:)

Tanya @ Lovely Greens said...

Brilliant solution Mr H! Well done :)

Mr. H. said...

Tanya - Thanks.:)

Mike said...

You are a clever man Mr. H! I would love to make one of these some day, even when I just had the cardboard idea in my mind. I would have to lock up the cats of course because they jump on and knock over anything new to them.

Anonymous said...

That's brilliant Mr H, and doubly nice as you don't have to use any electricity.

We fashioned a dryer out of an old bedside cabinet and some mosquito netting, to be left out in the sun. It's not pretty, but it's effective.

It's Contadina btw posting not very anonymously as it won't let me use my wordpress ID :-)

Mr. H. said...

Mike - Our cats are the same way, always in to something that they are not supposed to be.:)

Contandina - A cabinet with mosquito netting sounds like a great idea. There certainly are many options for drying foods it's just a matter of thinking them up. Sorry about the ID thing, blogger must be acting up again.

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Very creative. I heard that dehydrated food is very healthy but somehow I have not push myself on trying it. I might try and buy some at our local market. My sons and his father seems to be enjoying it while watching DVDs but the mother seems to be avoiding it.

Mr. H. said...

Malay-Kadazan girl - Deydrated fruits and vegetables are very healthy for you but fresh from the garden is always the best.:)

Wendy said...

That is so fantastic! i love that unit you've built. I also like that set up on the barn roof!Do you worry about bugs or do you cover them?

Mr. H. said...

Wendy - When I dehydrate in our greenhouse I have screens to keep isects off but because the barn roof heats up so much I never seem to have any issues with them up there.

Bryan said...

Can I come out there and be your neighbor? :-) Now what you're doing sounds like the perfect retirement for me... all we need is a lake to put a cabin next to. hehe

Thanks for all your inspiration!

Mr. H. said...

Bryan - Sounds like a plan, I could always use another good neighbor.:)

Wench said...

How do you keep the critters and bugs off when you dehydrate fruit on the roof?

Mr. H. said...

Wench - When I dehydrate in our greenhouse I have screens to keep insects off but because the barn roof heats up so much I never seem to have any issues with them up there.:)

GetSoiled said...

Oh my gwad, you are so darn clever! You should patent your device...but give a prototype to me for free...I am yet to dry veg or fruits but I think you have just inspired me Mr H!

Mr. H. said...

GetSoiled - You are welcome to stop by and borrow ours anytime.:)

Buttons said...

You are a genius Mr. H. B

Mr. H. said...

Buttons - Not hardly but thanks for saying so.:)

GetSoiled said...

Don't you make us tempting offers...for one never knows we might just accept it! :-)

PS: fear not!

jabroon piece said...

Firefox Stoves

Amazing publish today.
I really implement my dehydrator, it is a God deliver to me. Your little brilliant system is a actual sweetheart.

DJEB said...

Very groovy.

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