Friday, July 1, 2016

Hooray for wood! (and sun! and power tools!)

The wonderful thing about wood is that it can have so many lives, and it can fit together in so many interesting ways.  Like this pile o' wood on the ground, for instance.  This summer, I moved the fence that goes around Miser Dog's yard, shortening the perimeter a lot, and so we have a lot of boards that used to be dog fence, but now they're just boards, waiting for their new life as . . . well, as Adirondack Chairs and maybe another bench, possibly, but also possibly many other cool things.

This other pile o' boards comes from a garbage can from a near-by neighborhood.  It's a very wealthy neighborhood, and not at all frugal, so my Thursday-morning runs, which happen to coincide with trash day, are always part Treasure Hunt.  "Treasure" as in, I've seen bicycles, fans in working condition, Big Stuffed Dogs, and many other perfectly wonderful objects sitting at the curb, next to over-stuffed trash cans full of giant cardboard boxes indicating the newest additions to the inside of the houses.

At any rate, I often round out my Treasure Hunt Runs with a subsequent bike-with-trailer gathering expedition, and that's the way these giant garden stakes (or at least, that's what I thought they'd be) came home to live with me. But they decided not to be garden stakes after all, and chose instead to team up with a cohort of former fence boards to become a Solar Dehydrator.

Boy, is it fun to futz around in the shade of my tree on a sunny day with a cordless drill and a bunch of useful scrap material!

Last summer I had some desiccating success with a make-shift dehydrator, composed of a small mountain of pieces of scrap wood and screens and storm windows, piled up on my garden table.  I was so happy with that, that I decided to make an easier-to-transport version.  Last summer's version had two small problems: (1), that the garden table isn't easy to move, so my dehydrator missed out on some of the sun each day, and (2) there were so many various pieces of scrap wood propped around the screens and such that set-up and clean-up took a bunch of trips from the garage and back.  

Neither of these was really a huge problem -- in fact, the set-up worked so well that I'm still enjoying dried cherries from last year, which is a blessing because this year's cherries were killed off by the cold, wet spring.   But I've been realizing it would be nice to have a quicker way to get things out into the sun.   It's not just dried fruits and vegetables; I'm hoping to be able to convert pieces of this contraption into a solar cooker, and also into a "Magic School bus" that allows me to take my canning-jar-started tomatoes out to play on sunny days in April and early May

Here's what my new dehydrator looks like. At the bottom level, there's my trusty old Little Red Wagon, with the red side slats removed.  Sitting on top of that is a base made of fence boards, held together with a frame made of Neighbor Wood.

I thought I'd need a way to fix the base to the wagon, but the base is heavy enough that it sits there happily without sliding or bouncing off, even when I pull the wagon across bumpy ground.  Huzzah! Someday this will also be the base for an awesome solar cooker (like this old cardboard one that finally disintegrated) and for the young tomato seedlings heading out for their spring field trips.
You can barely see the wagon handle off to one side, but it's there!
On top of the frame, we rest the first screen.   I made a second frame (not shown below) that holds a second screen.  Off to the side, standing up, is the third frame, screwed onto plexiglass from an old storm window.

Here they are, resting skew from each other, just so you can see the various layers.

And here are all the layers -- wagon, base, two screens, and a plexiglass top, all together.  I'll be able to wheel this around so it stays in the sunny spots, and when everything's done, I can carry the pieces easily back to the garage for standing-up storage.

This is so much fun -- a sort of grown-up version of the wooden blocks and Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys I used to play with often as a kid.  In fact, my sisters and I played with those so much that our dad made us a set of person-sized "Lincoln Logs" that we used to build forts in the basement, playing together in the forts we'd built, and then taking the forts down to rearrange them into other configurations.

So I'm glad that I have a solar dehydrator on wheels now.  But even more, it's nice to know that I can still go out and play with pieces of wood in my back yard.


  1. I am quite impressed! I've never really played with dehydrating food - when you're done can you just store it in a cabinet without any refrigeration? I've read that there are issues with the screen - like you have to get special stuff that's "food grade" - is that something you worried about?

    Anyhow, I haven't had a chance to use my solar cooker this year since I've been, ahem, absorbed in the beetle battle, but it's lasted seemingly forever. It's just the cardboard box variety, but it works quite well. Here's a link to an ancient post that I wrote about it if you're curious:

    1. I have also read the "food grade" stuff. When I read extra carefully, I decided that I'm not super worried about my own old screens. It's not what I'd cook on if it were my primary way of cooking, but the small amount of aluminum (or whatever) doesn't rise to scary levels -- it's below the background noise of the rest of regular living.

      I love your solar cooker -- the felt is a great addition! My solar cooker finally got attacked by squirrels, and the squirrels won. This gives me an excuse to try a new configuration, though.

    2. I think your take on the screen makes perfect sense. And I'm totally lovin' the visual on squirrel vs. solar oven, though I'm sure it wasn't nearly as exciting as my imagination has made it!