Check out the Garden City Harvest Solar Dehydrators!
Garden City Harvest has two community solar dehydrators that are now available for use! One is located at the Northside Community Gardens, and the other is located at River Road behind the office by the community plots.
The dehydrators were constructed in 2018 by Will Genadek and David Doody after receiving a community grant to fund the projects. They were motivated by the surplus of “nuisance fruit” that comes around every fall. Their hope is that these dehydrators will provide a fun way for people to become ambitious about collecting and utilizing the excess fruits.
How does it work?
Dehydrating is one of the oldest practices for preserving food! The sun has been used since prehistoric times to dry and store food. Today, modern practices include electric dehydrators, ovens, and solar dehydrators.
During dehydration heat and air flow combine to reduce the water content in food. The heat source causes moisture to be released from the interior, and air flow pulls the moisture away allowing the food to become dry. Without moisture, food can be stored for long periods of time without the risk of spoil!
Solar dehydrators are constructed to retain heat from the sun while strategically placed vents pull hot air into the drying chamber and back out. The use of a solar dehydrator maximizes the drying effects of the sun and eliminates the need for electricity.
Benefits of Dehydrating
Preserve your harvest! When properly dehydrated and stored, your fruits, veggies, and herbs will have an extended shelf life to last you not only through winter, but even a couple of years! With the water content removed, dried foods will become much smaller which makes for compact storing. Also, food retain almost all of their nutritional content when dehydrated and can be enjoyed dry or easily re-hydrated with water or steam.
Make your own snacks! By making your own pantry items you’ll have more nutritious snack options, save some money, and reduce packaging waste. Use the solar dehydrator to make your own dried fruit for trail mix. Or why not try making your own veggie chips? Dehydrated veggies can also be ground into a powder and used later to make dry soup mix, sauce, or paste. The possibilities are abundant, so get creative!
What can I dehydrate?
You can dehydrate any fruits, vegetables, or herbs in the community dehydrators, but no meat products.
Common dehydrated fruits
Plums, apples, apricots, pears, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, cranberries, cherries
Common dehydrated vegetables
Potatoes, mushrooms, green beans, kale, beets, carrots, turnips, peppers, chilies
Consider the type of food you are dehydrating. Wet, juicier foods like plums and tomatoes will have a longer drying period than foods with lower water content like herbs and potatoes. Also, consider the size of the foods you are dehydrating. Whether whole or cut, larger pieces will have a longer dry time than smaller pieces which will dry much more quickly. It is helpful to have similar sized pieces when dehydrating so that foods will dry at the same rate.
Don’t cram your fruits and veggies close together on a tray. Spread them out in order to allow air to move evenly through all the pieces.
Food is done when moisture is no longer present. There are a couple ways to check. One method is to cut a piece in half, and if moisture beads appear at the cut, then food needs to dry longer. Coolness is also an indicator of internal moisture, so if your food feels cool to the touch it may need more dry time. Commonly, fruits become leathery when dried and vegetables become tough or crunchy. Make sure your food is thoroughly dry before long term storing!
If you need any instructions or ideas about dehydrating certain fruits and veggies, there is plenty of inspiration to be found online.
Dry times will vary!
As previously mentioned, moisture content as well as size will cause your fruits and vegetables to have various dry times. Other variables to consider include tray placement and weather conditions. Trays at the top of the dehydrator will have a much higher temperature while trays towards the bottom will be cooler. Higher heat will result in a shorter dry time, therefore top trays will dry more quickly than the trays below. Of course, the heat inside the dehydrator will vary based on the temperature outside as well as cloud cover. Dry time will be shorter on days with minimal cloud cover and/or high temperatures. Food will still dehydrate on cloudy days as well as lower temperature days, but at a slower rate.
There are a lot of variables with using solar dehydrators, so the best thing to do is learn through experimentation. In the beginning, checking the progress of your food regularly will prevent over drying as well as help you to get familiar with how the solar dehydrator is working.
That’s all there is to it! With a few simple steps, you can enjoy watching your food be transformed by the sun. Guidelines and signup sheets will be posted at each location. The list of guidelines will also be posted on the Community Gardens web page under Gardener Resources. Go experiment and enjoy your food in new ways!