Friday, September 14, 2012

The Climate we live in: Dehydrating using the sun

Its the season of the harvest, and depending on your climate you may have an easier time than some to dry your herbs for storage.

I have used air drying for decades. Nothing fancy, just took the herbs and bundled them with a string & hung them up high along the wall in my kitchen (which had 9 foot ceilings), allowing the heat of the room to dry them. This worked for a long time in the various western states I lived in over the years. However, if you live in humid climates, as I do in eastern South Dakota; air drying is almost impossible! Simply bringing solar dried #vegetables into the house at night, when using a solar drying is not enough! The air even inside the house tends to be too humid!

I've tried using electric dehydrators, but I find they are too small for the production of vegetables and herbs I need to dry all at the same time. So while I'm waiting for the dehydrator to dry my vegetables, the rest are rotting in buckets and baskets!

Adding to this downside, is the fact that I'm using electricity. My preference is to reduce my electrical use, NOT increase it! So I began looking at other ways in which I might dehydrate here in South Dakota, where I currently live.

Another solution had to be found, that would allow me to dry a great variety of vegetables, flower seeds, herbs & medicinals in the short harvest period of fall.

I've tried the drying system of placing bundles of herbs tied together, hooked to a nail in the kitchen. It was ok, but it has its draw backs! While winter heat does dry the herbs, the problem lies in spiders LOVING the new "home" I've created for them to attach their webs too! Another problem is the fine dust that falls onto the herbs while drying, in the winter dry-air conditions of an enclosed winter home.

I've concluded that here, in Eastern South Dakota at least, I needed a drying method that was faster -- leaving out the dust collecting method of high-hung herbs that I just couldn't get myself to make tea with due to the fine dust-coating.

I know Native American women in the region, used to sun dry their winter food stuffs including corn without electricity! So its just a matter of figuring out how we might do it today!

My solution? My old mini-van!

Yes, you heard me right. I take advantage of that heat build up in our cars each day! My van happens to sit most of the time, in my driveway facing south. So its in the perfect position to collect a great deal of sunshine and heat.

So I decided to experiment.

My first clump of herbs I dried was some Mint.

It was a great success! Within less than 10 hours my mint was dry (though I kept it on the screen, in the van for another 14 hours just to be sure all moisture was gone.)

I then decided to try drying some Cilantro, Mushrooms & Tomatoes.

Fresh Cilantro

Cilantro, 8 hours later

Even the thick end caps of the Tomatoes, given a couple extra days of drying, dried nicely. Its important, once you dehydrate anything, to remember to place it in an airtight container so as to keep moisture from entering back into the product. I am using recycled glass jars with sealing lids. The jars were boiled in water, as were the lids to sterilize the jars, then dried, before they were used.

They too have been drying very efficiently. Of course the thicker vegetables and fungi require more hours of dehydration. I have been drying the Mushrooms for three days so far.

By day three, they went from looking like the first photo to the following photo provided:

I also dehydrated Rosemary. I took the rosemary, still on their stems & placed them on the drying rack. As a thicker woody herb, it took several days to dry them completely. But I believe it is well worth drying them! They smell wonderful!

Once the herb was completely dry, I collected the stems carefully from the drying screens & took them into the house, where I removed the rosemary's needles into a small glass jar.

My latest test for my off-grid dehydration system is to see if I can dehydrate some Sweet corn, used in Indian Corn soup; as well as some seed heads from a neighbor's flower garden. Note: Day four of the corn drying. Dimples are beginning to appear in most of the kernels... indicating the dehydration is happening.

I have also begun drying Marigold seed heads and Elder seedsfollowing me processing some Elder Berries.

The heat in the van doesn't get over 120 degrees, so I should be able to not only dry herbs and vegetables for cooking. I suspect I will be able to dry seed stock for future garden use. So I've placed some brown paper bags in the van, with collections of Hollyhock, bachelor buttons and other seed heads (each in its own brown bag) so as to test whether this would be a suitable method for me to dry my seeds for storage.

I do not however recommend this technique to anyone living in a more southern climate. Not even in southern Kansas! It is critical that you determine the heat produced in your closed up vehicle, before placing seed stock into the vehicle for dehyrating.

As you can see in the photo. I place a window screen frame (look for ones with Plastic screening) across from the dash to the back of the seat. This allows air flow through the screen.

I have placed screens from the front seat head rest, to the middle seat as well, and the middle row bench seat to the back seat; giving me the full length of the interior of the van to dry vegetables and seeds.

Celery : I took two photos of the celery. One is the celery 8 hrs into dehydrating;

& one at the end of the process, two days later.

Some of the vegetables I hope to test include:

Eggplant : Began drying Sept 16th, 2012

Zucchini: Began drying Sept 16th, 2012




Summer Squash









Dandelion Roots

Arrow Roots


Willow Bark


Brussel Sprouts

sunflower heads (and more if weather conditions hold!) So I will keep you informed. I will try to update this blog as each new vegetable is tested.

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