Solar vs. Sun Drying
Taking a step up from conventional food drying
By Eben Fodor
Looking for an easy way to preserve more of your garden’s incredible seasonal bounty of tasty, nutritious food without heating up your house and consuming lots of electricity? Consider solar drying.
Solar food drying is a big step forward over sun drying. “Solar food drying” refers to using a durable, enclosed, weatherproof dryer that takes advantage of solar energy design principles to efficiently dry food. “Sun drying” refers to simply placing food out in the open air and sunshine to dry. A properly designed solar dryer will dry food much faster and will get food much dryer, resulting in better quality and longer-lasting food.
Tomatoes, apples and pears arrive in great abundance this time of year and we preserve all our extra produce with our solar food dryer. It’s fast and gets great results from 100 percent free sunshine. Even here in Eugene, there is plenty of sunshine this time of year to dry your juiciest fruits. If the weather changes unexpectedly, I have a simple electric backup system to finish off my load of high-quality food.
Some form of food preservation is the key to extending the summer’s precious bounty of locally grown produce throughout the year. If you are like me, you would prefer a method that’s easier and less energy-intensive than canning, and would like to keep more of the raw natural flavors and nutrients.
Freezing is commonly viewed as the most convenient preservation method, but frozen food can take up a lot of freezer space and requires a constant energy input. Your valuable food will be vulnerable to power and mechanical failures. And freezer burn limits the storage life to about six months.
Drying is an excellent method of food preservation that maintains a high level of flavor and nutrients while providing a convenient, compact, easy-to-store supply of all your favorite produce. Sure, electric dryers work fine, but I don’t care for the constant noise, heat and odors they add to the house. They take up valuable counter space for weeks on end and can attract pests. The electricity costs about $1 to $2 a load and detracts from the savings of doing it yourself.
Disenchanted with electric drying, I began researching and experimenting with solar drying. With a background in engineering and solar energy, I soon designed and built my first solar dryer. It worked even better than I had imagined, drying large batches of food in one to two days. I dried all my extra garden and orchard produce and nothing went to waste. It was such a delight to watch the sun quickly dehydrating my organic fruits and veggies that I grew a larger garden the next year so I could dry even more food.
There are many possible designs ranging from simple to complex and from small to large. For the home gardener, a simple, compact and portable unit is recommended. Plans for building such a dryer can be found in my book, The Solar Food Dryer, or you can now purchase a SunWorks dryer online at www.solarfooddryer.com or in Eugene at the Green Store.
Eben Fodor is a Eugene consultant on community planning and land use, with an emphasis on growth management. He is author of Better Not Bigger: How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community.