Dehydrating your own fruits and vegetables is fun, easy and makes a great nutritious food storage snack your whole family will love. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a dehydrator, there are about a million ways to build your own dehydrator—the basic principles governing the laws of dehydration are not rocket science, you just need to figure out the best way to remove moisture from your food before it spoils.
You can easily build your own simple dehydrator from household items and have your favorite dehydrated foods drying in no time. For those of you with a little more ambition and skill, there are larger, more efficient dehydrators that can be built. For the purpose of this article we will discuss the basic needs a dehydrator requires and we will explain how to build a simple dehydrator for using household items.
The Required Basics
Just like people need food, shelter, and love; your dehydrator has many of the same needs.
Love. Your dehydrator needs some “love” - in the form of heat! Heat lamps do a great job. You can also use electrical heat coils, an old crock pot base or anything that can put off heat for an extended period of time.
Shelter. Next, you will need somewhere to foster that love. You will need some sort of shelter: a box, an old cooler, an old refrigerator or a wooden box of your own creation. Place your heat source at the bottom with vents near the top of the dehydrator so the heat can rise through the bottom and out the top.
Note: You don’t want to use any insulation that will trap moisture inside and grow mold. Installing a fan will increase the rate of the dehydrating process - a fan from your old computer will work great.
Racks. Once you have your dehydrator built you will need some racks. Make sure your racks are removable so that they can be cleaned after use. Preferably, you want your racks to be able to breathe so the air can pass freely through your food - something like a cookie sheet won’t work as well. A wooden frame with wire mesh stapled to the bottom makes a great rack.
Note: Place old window screens on top of the wire mesh for even easier cleaning and to prevent the metal from burning your food.
Food. Once you have your dehydrator built, the only thing left is to give it some food. Your new dehydrator will love some bananas, apples, apricots, meat, or anything else you may want in your food storage.
The temperature of your dehydrator is very important in the dehydrating process. You want your temperature high enough to draw the moisture out from the food but not hot enough that it will cook your food and kill nutrients in the process. Each food you dehydrate will have a different optimal dehydration temperature. As you do your research you will find everyone has a slight difference in opinion for optimal dehydration temperatures. The following list is an overall average ballpark range to shoot for:
|Fruit & Vegetables||130°-140° F|
|Meats||145° F or higher|
These low temperature ranges are what makes using a conventional oven to dehydrate your food difficult - most ovens do not operate below 200 degrees.
Also keep in mind, the ventilation of your dehydrator will affect the amount of moisture trapped inside, which will in turn affect the efficiency of your food dryer. If there is a lot of moisture inside the dehydrator it will take longer to dry your food.
Building a Simple Dehydrator Using Household Items
Yes, it is true; you can build a dehydrator using household items.This is no Snackmaster Express by any means, but if you have the time and patience this dehydrator will get the job done. It only took me about 20 minutes to have this dehydrator fully operational.
Items you will need:
- Large, closeable box
- One of the Following: Light socket, lamp assembly, extension light, heat lamp, or some kind of safe heat source.
- Aluminum foil
- Wooden slats or dowels
- Racks (cookie cooling racks work great)
Step 1 Select a large box (preferably one that can stand up on end for easy access) and line the inside with aluminum foil using tape. I used a 10” x 14” x 14” box.
Step 2 Cut a hole in the bottom side of the box to insert and mount your heat source (try and keep the hole as small and insulated as possible; if you are using an extension light you can just have the cord come out the bottom of the door crack.) I used a 75 watt bulb in our extension light.
Note: Make certain there are no exposed wires in contact with the aluminum foil—moisture may also accumulate inside.
Step 3 Cut holes in the sides of the box to slide your wooden slats or dowels through to place your racks on. I used ½-inch PVC pipe.
Step 4 Make vent holes at the top to allow the moisture to escape. I’ve found that having more small holes work better than fewer large holes. I made seven 1/4-inch holes at the top and had some bad condensation accumulation where I did not have holes. You might consider placing four smaller holes along each top edge and additional smaller holes spread throughout the top.
Step 5 Prepare your favorite fruit and place them on the racks.
Note: Do not leave your dehydrator unattended.
Step 6 Close your box and let the food dehyrate!
I dehydrated two racks of apple slices and one rack of banana slices. After 10 hours the apples were completely dehydrated (My assistant did a poor job slicing the bananas; the thin bananas were done but the thicker banana slices still needed more time in the heat.)
So, go grab your items, build a dehydrator and start drying your own foods in 20 minutes. Let us know your story and how your dehydrator turned out. Don't forget to pick up some storage accessories and food processing tools to improve your preparation.
Dehydrating Food: A Beginner's Guide