Solar Food Dryer

Make use of summer's abundant sunshine energy to preserve your harvest in a solar food dryer.

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    A finished version of the "solar survival" solar food dryer.
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    Diagram on how to build the "solar survival" food dryer.

  • 064 solar food dryer
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Now that summer is here and folks are beginning to gather the fruits (and vegetables) of their springtime planting labor, most people are looking for a simple and reliable method of preserving the tasty morsels.

True, freezing and canning are practiced by many, but food dehydrating — especially when the energy involved is provided free, courtesy of ol' Sol — may just be the soundest choice of all ... for the following reasons:

  1. Dried food retains a great majority of the energy — in the form of its natural vitamins and nutrients — that is often lost when victuals are preserved by other methods.
  2. Dehydrated edibles can be stored in relatively small areas, and — in fact — require from three to twelve times less space per unit of nutritional value than does food in its fresh form.
  3. Many dried provisions can be kept for great lengths of time.
  4. Solar dehydration (naturally) consumes far less energy than does freezing (which requires electricity and expensive equipment) or canning (which also demands specialized hardware, heat energy, and containers with non-reusable lids).

After researching several solar dehydrator prototypes — and drawing on experience gained while building other energy-efficient curing bins in the past — MOTHER EARTH NEWS' shop crew settled on a tried-and-true design: a model made from plywood and a 55-gallon drum ... which was developed by Leandre Poisson of the New Hampshire-based private research organization, Solar Survival.

Leandre and his wife Gretchen have been, for the past decade, developing a plan for total "solar living" ... and — as a result —have been heavily involved in French intensive gardening, year-round organic food production, energy conservation, efficient shelter design, and food preservation. In a nutshell, the Poissons maintain that society's "solar switch" must be a cultural change rather than a high-technology substitution ... hence their sun-powered dehydrator is low in cost, simple to build, totally passive, and highly practical.

It took one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' researchers three honest days of work to complete the dryer, and the total expenditure came to about $65, all materials included. The beauty of this particular design is that it requires no more materials than one 4' X 8' sheet of 3/4" plywood, various scraps of "one-by" lumber, a 55-gallon barrel, a 3' X 12' piece of heavy-gauge Filon glazing, a section of 18" X 144" nylon screening, and some assorted hinges, screws, bolts, and finishing nails. (With the exception of the flexible fiberglass-reinforced plastic glazing, everything else could easily be scrounged, which would reduce the dryer's "ball park" cost to a mere $25!)

While building the Solar Survival dehydrator, MOTHER EARTH NEWS' woodworker Randy Weis made a few discoveries that are worth passing on to those interested in duplicating the device. "It's important to maintain the critical dimensions that are called for in the drawing, so as not to alter the necessary airflow through the various parts of the dryer. On the other hand, though, we incorporated some minor changes that may make the device simpler (or even less expensive) to build. We included, for example, a wooden — rather than angle iron — lip to hold the inner layer of glazing, and decided to use Filon rather than the sometimes more costly Kalwall."

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