Since before recorded history, people have dried foods such as meats, fruits, and vegetables. Native Americans survived on dried buffalo, elk, fish and other wild game when early explorers discovered them several hundred years ago.
Today it's much easier and more sanitary for us to dehydrate foods for our use.
Molds, yeasts and bacteria need water in order to survive. When foods are dehydrated correctly, these microorganisms cannot grow and foods will not spoil.
Conventional ovens or self-contained food dehydrators are the most convenient ways in which to dry foods today. Drying times vary considerably when using either an oven or dehydrator, due to the types of foods being dried, the moisture conent and humidity in the room. It's very important to control temperature and air circulation during the drying period. If the temperature is too low, or the humidity too high, the foods will dry more slowly and microbial activity could occur which will cause spoilage.
Conventional Oven Drying
About 4 to 6 pounds of food may be dried at a time. Place the food on drying trays or wire cooling racks covered with cheesecloth. (This makes removal after drying much easier.) Use cookie sheets only for fruit leathers (they don't require air circulation.) Preheat oven to 150 degrees F. Place a fan outside the oven door for circulation. Place an accurate oven thermometer inside the oven. You want to maintain a temperature of 150 degrees F inside the oven.
Turn the foods often. You will learn as you dry more foods how much time each particular food takes to dry. Fruits are dried when no moisture can be squeezed from them. Meats should be extremely dry unless you are going to refrigerate them.
The easiest way to dry foods is to use an electric dehydrator. These have become more popular during recent years, and are more efficient than a conventional oven. Some things to remember when buying a dehydrator:
Get sufficient capacity.
Make sure drying trays are study.
Complex controls are not necessary.
Make sure the foods are not touchng each other when placing them on the drying racks. Follow the instruction manual that came with your dehydrator for approximate drying times.
Conditioning Dried Foods
Food should be conditioned for a week before being packaged for long-term storage. To condition food, place it in a container such as a cloth sack or a clear, covered container and allowing any remaining moisture to redistribute itself through the fruit.
If using a clear, covered container, watch for moisture beads. If they form, continue drying food. If using the cloth bag, hang it in a convenient location and shake the bag daily to redistribute food and moisture.
Storing Dried Foods
Place dried food in freezer-weight plastic storage bags, press out air, and then put in containers with a tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark, dry area.
Dried foods store well at room temperature for a month. Refrigerate foods if they will be used within three months; freeze foods for storage periods between three months and one year. Foods should be used within one year.
Paul’s Garden Tip
When watering, especially trees and shrubs sometimes it’s hard to get the moisture down to the root zone. If the soil is clay or compacted the water tends to run off rather than to soak in.
I’ve solved this problem by using a root feeder to water my shrubs. These are designed for fertilization. They have compartment in which to insert a fertilizer capsule. I bypass the fertilizer capsule and connect it to the garden hose. Insert it into the soil at the base of the plant to the depth of the roots. The water gets directly down to the root zone and eliminates the run off problem. I move it around the base of the plant several times while watering.
I find these all the time at garage sales for a dollar or two.
About Paul Rodman
Paul Rodman has been gardening for over 45 years. He is an Advanced Master Gardener, and American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian. He is President Emertius of the Western Wayne County Master Gardener Association in Wayne County, Michigan. He currently serves as the greenhouse chairman of this group. Rodman has amassed over 5500 volunteer hours in the Master Gardener program.
Rodman is the garden columnist for The News Herald newspaper, in Southgate, Michigan. He has also written for the Organic Gardening.com web site.
He is a certified Master Canner and has taught classes on Home Food Preserving for 7 years.
He has lectured on various gardening topics throughout southeastern Michigan.
His favorite pastime is teaching children about gardening. For the past several years he has conducted classes for second grade students teaching them about subjects ranging from vermi-composting to propagation.