"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Please-don't-keep-secret revealed - "Foothills DryAway"

So, for all of you who have been waited with baited breath for the reveal of my not-so-secret secret, with no further delay here it is.

But first, a bit of background.

I have been trying, far and wide, to source wood locally which would allow me to manufacture and sell, a solar food dryer / preserver in order to preserve my excess harvests.  I have looked longingly at all those wooden ones overseas - and trust me they come in all sort of different shapes and sizes.  I even purchased plans to make one.

However, the wood, which is the majority component in all the various solar structures, was the only drawback, because all the wood available here has been chemically treated.  So, enclosing that chemically treated wood inside a closed "heated" space would only cause the dehydrating food to absorb those chemicals.  A completely wasted exercise as far as I'm concerned, and completely against my eco-friendly ethos.

Then, last year in November, a post of Tania's cause me to have a lightbulb moment.  She posted about her husband manufacturing a structure that would allow her to air dry her excess produce.

Duh!!  Why am I thinking like someone from the more inclement northern climes?

There is a flimsy molded plastic model available here which is mainly used to make biltong (jerky), but that requires plugging in a 40watt light bulb, and that, together with the small circulating fan is left on 24 hours a day for as many days as it takes until the food is dehydrated!  40watts X 24 hours = almost a kilowatt of electricity per day!  I don't need to add anything unnecessary like that to our electricity consumption.

I need a unit which will allow me to take advantage of our warm, sunny weather.

I wrote to Tanya and asked her permission to copy her idea, and received a generous reply in the affirmative.

So, I got to work, and using into the skills of a local woodworking craftsman, I now present the "Foothills DryAway" :)  (Like our animals, and chickens, I love naming stuff, so ditto this has also been given it's own identity lol  "Foothills" after our smallholding and "DryAway" after the function of the unit that happily works away on it's own, and after the fact that I can fold away the legs to make wall-hanging winter storage of the unit easier).
Dehydrating grapes worked very well using a black
oven tray and food net, but didn't prevent the
flies from accessing the food on which the net was
Whilst I was waiting for the craftsman to find time to make it, I used a black baking tray and a food net cover to dehydrate some homegrown grapes.  What I noticed was that the flies could still easily access the food through the netting as I was unable to prevent the netting from making contact with the food.  Not good!!  I had to ensure that the food was well away from those filthy probing proboscises.  
"Foothills DryAway" - the perfect solution to dehydrate
excess harvest.  And it is 100% Proudly South African
The "Foothills DryAway" is a modified version of Tania's model.  It has two outer surfaces of extremely strong fly-proof netting...
I couldn't wait to use the unit, so I shoved in some
pineapple sage as the first item
Dehydrated pineapple sage - specifically made for
a very special friend...
... and a "suspended" middle drying surface net which prevents the dehydrating food from coming into contact with any flies whatsoever.
Flies have tried their very best, but they are
unable to access the food drying within :)
The unit has two latch hooks on the longer opening side to :

1  ensure a tight fit of the two frames to prevent smaller fruit fly type of insects from entering the inner area;
2  prevent the wooden frame from warping during it's long exposure to the sun / any humidity in the air.
As the pineapple sage was drying I added
half a peeled pumpkin
The legs enable the heat / air to easily circulate around the dehydrating food.
The dehydrated pineapple sage was replaced with
 peppers - I have a longing for some ground
piquanté pepper this winter :)
In addition, the wing nuts which secure the legs to the unit will enable folding away the legs to allow for easy winter storage of the unit.

The unit is easy to clean (a hosepipe and some spurting water, or a jug of water and washing-up brush takes care of any food which may, or may not, stick to the drying surface) and all the wood has been sealed with an eco-friendly, food safe sealant.  (I purposely left the legs lying in a puddle of rain water for three days, and discovered absolutely no swelling / distortion whatsoever.  Please note though, that leaving a unit filled with your excess harvest out in the rain is pointless as the food will, obviously, just absorb the moisture, and you'll have to start the dehydration process all over again.)

Whoohoo - the "Foothills DryAway" will enable me to preserve more without having to rely on available freezer space, nor loads of cupboard space for all those (potentially limited lifespan) water-bathed, or pressure canned, jars of food.  Plus, dehydrating my excess harvest means that I'll never have to top up my veggie stock out of the growing season by purchasing shop sold produce in order to serve it for dinner, or when I have unexpected visitors.

Properly dehydrated food lasts for ages and offers the convenience of eating easily reconstituted summer produce out of season.

What a pleasure :)

This dehydrator is working so well, I need to order more units so that I can dehydrate whilst the weather is still suitable... :D

Footnote:  The pumpkin slices I dehydrated were cut a little too thick so they took 4 days to dehydrate.  In future I am going to try 1) cutting the slices much thinner, and 2) coarsely grating the pumpkin and spreading that on the drying net.  Other than that I'm very happy with my South African solar dehydrator


  1. Brilliant bit of kit you have done, well done, so mass production is on the way :-)

    1. Dawn - Thanks.

      LOL - hmmmm, mass produced? Dunno if there would be any interest...?

  2. Congrats to you for making something that would work for your dehydration needs.


    1. Lorraine - It certainly does work - I'm very happy with it :)

  3. That's amazing Dani, well done. I'm afraid the vet has siphoned my wallet so I need to steal that idea and make my own. I wish you lots of luck with this, it's ideal for prepper homesteading off-the-grid people.

    1. pqsa - Yeah, know all about vet bills! Lucky you that you're handywoman, personally, the task was beyond my expertise...

  4. Brilliant! I wonder if that would work for me here. Humidity is usually the demise of anything I've tried to dehydrate out side of the electric dehydrator (that or pantry moths.)

    1. Leigh - Dan is such a wonderful handyman, why not get him to make you one to try out?

      I'm going to store the dehydrated goods in glass jars, so hopefully the pantry moths are kept at bay ;)

  5. How much would you charge for one of those? Would it not be possible for your carpenter to add one or two extra 'tables' to that. In other words, add two layers in the same little box? Our sun and wind is good enough to dry three layers of goodies in one go. I can almost see that in my mind......

    1. Marlene - Regarding the two layers, I was thinking of asking the carpenter if he could make them "nest-able" units - i.e. one of top of the other with the legs in between.

      Given the carpenters costs (wood, glue, nails, screws, hinges, nuts, fly-screen, netting, latches, labour, etc), plus it would need some packaging for transportation, I would probably have to charge R535.00 each (excluding delivery). Are you interested in one or two or...? ;)

  6. What a terrific solution! I hope you have many years of use out of it.
    And I never added up how much electric the dehydrators use---OUCH!

    1. Sue - Check out how much energy your dehydrator uses - I think you'll find it's rated 140 watts!! That's 140 watts 24 hours a day or 3.36 KwH / day.

      Yeah, the unit is sturdy and well made - it's going to last a long time... :)

  7. Very nice! I admire your resourcefulness.

    Another technique Cherie sometimes uses is to dry herbs on the dashboard of the car (parked in the sun).

    1. Bill - There is a saying here "A boer maak a plan" (a farmer makes plan). Being unable to run an electric dehydrator, this was the only other option open to me.

      Yeah, car dashboards are brilliant :)

  8. Great stuff! Not enough sun here but I still think it's a great idea. I bet they'll be plenty of interest in it.

    1. Kev - Thanks. Yeah, it's going down a treat :)

  9. what an awesome idea. How do you think this would work in a higher humidity environment? Would the food mildew before drying out? And secondly, are you going to be selling these? Or selling kits?

    Brilliant job you and RMan have done!!

    1. 1st Man - Not sure - maybe if there was a breeze as well? Yeah, I am going to be selling them. Unfortunately, installing / securing the fly screen and net to the frame is tricky, so kit form wouldn't work, unfortunately.

      Thanks 1st Man :)

  10. I just love the dryer, very keen to get one from you.

    1. Jackie - Please send me an e-mail. I am currently having a sample made by a new carpenter, and as soon as I have it - and the costing - I will contact you ;)


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