As February rolls along into March here in upstate New York, thoughts of gardening come out of hibernation as spring fever takes root. We have had an unsatisfactory snowfall this season, so it is even harder to think that planting time is only a few months away. (In our zone 4, we take a risk to plant before Memorial Day, especially without any protection from sneaking spring frosts!)
However, March is the time to start seedlings indoors, plan your garden on paper, prune fruit trees and grape vines, and tap maple trees, among other things. The barn will need cleaning, and the chicken manure will be left alongside the gardens to decompose a bit longer before spreading about the plants.
Come March, there is usually at least a foot of snow still left from winter’s reign, yet the ground has been bare and the frost is leeching out of the earth, leaving mud in its wake, so any clean-up chores in and around the garden are put on hold. March is known for bringing blizzards and Nor’easters here, so much is left up in the air. In like a lion, out like a lamb or visa versa? And so we wait!
By this time of year, the pantry pickings are getting low, which makes the longing to get growing stronger still. I preserve most of my produce by dehydrating, and store everything in glass half-gallon size canning jars. I make soup at least once a week from November til spring, and I never seem to put enough by!
Last year, I dried zucchini, onions, peppers, kale, collards, carrots, green beans, snap peas, lots of tomatoes, various herbs, mint (for tea), garlic and a good share of strawberries, apples, raspberries and some currants. My pumpkins and most of my squash fell prey to squash borers, else they would have been dried as well. I had hoped to dry some asparagus, but that was all gobbled up fresh.
Dehydrating is Easy
I used to do an awful lot of canning when my children were young… everything from ketchup, barbeque and tomato sauces, pickles and relishes, and pie fillings, jams and jellies. I depended on a chest freezer to hold frozen foods I would put by… applesauce, berries, greens, carrots, and so on.
Though I still use these methods, I prefer to dehydrate much of my fruits and vegetables. I have had my dehydrator for years, but have begun to use it these last 5 years a lot more than I ever have. I like the ease of dehydrating, and the simplicity of using dried produce. But I especially love the amount of space it saves! And the fact that should the power go out, I needn’t worry about food spoilage.
How to Dehydrate
There are many styles and models of dehydrators available for the gardener, but it is important to choose one to suit your particular needs. If you have a large family, or plan to put up a lot of produce, a larger dehydrator will serve you well.
If you only plan on dehydrating a few things, perhaps a small dehydrator is a good choice. It would be wise to compare prices differences and interior dehydrating space… it may be more cost-effective to purchase a larger model if there is only a small price difference between sizes. There are also plans available to build your own dehydrator, either powered by electricity or the sun. And if you have a gas stove with a pilot light, you can even dehydrate food on cookie sheets with that!
My trusty Excaliber dehydrator has served me well for almost twenty years with nary a problem. When I purchased it, I also bought some Teflon sheets to be used when making fruit rolls. I have gotten a lot of use from these sheets, and have not regretted either purchase. My dehydrator is the square, boxy style and takes up a good share of my countertop. I have known many people who have purchased the small, round style dehydrator, and each one of them have been disappointed with the performance and the small amount of space.
There is no other special equipment required once you’ve purchased (or constructed) a dehydrator. All dried food must be stored in glass jars (no plastic!) with tight-fitting lids. You may repurpose any jar that fits these requirements. Wide-mouth canning jars are perfect, too. Labels are important, as well! (It’s amazing how similar dried zucchini and dried green beans look!)
If you are considering a dehydrator, talk to folks who use one, do a goodly amount of research online, and pay attention to customer comments on each model you look into. I truly believe you will be amazed at the ease of dehydrating, as well as the space-saving food storage it yields!