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Words and Photos by Mark Masker
Model: Lexus “Pepper” Shaffer
Usually when I play with wood, it doesn't involve vegetables. Moreover, most times I finish in less than a month. Making this solar pepper dryer, though, was a notable exception to both. Part conversation piece, part raisin maker, the box dryer is a cheap way to dry vegetation without sucking juice from a power grid. I swear some of my neighbors thought I was building a coffin when I started. Glaring at them and nodding my head did little to discourage this, but I'm kind of twisted like that.
I could have just hit a local appliance shop and picked up one of those plug-in kitchen dryer thingies, but they're hard to pimp out and a higher power bill means less cash for the little comforts like strippers and bail. Since the box is a lot bigger than a tabletop dryer, I can also fit a lot more food on its 16x36-inch rack than you can cram into an electric. And who doesn't like a 36-inch rack? The box dryer is also more organic, since you can't get more natural than, um, sunlight. On the downside, though, you need either a fully cloudless day (8-10 hours with an internal temperature of 100 to 140 degrees F is recommended) or a few days of in-and-out-of-the-dryer (under less than optimal conditions) to make this baby work.
This solar dryer is basically a wooden box full of rocks that draws cool air in through the bottom where it's heated by the stones and sunlight. The warmed air then rises up through a rack of peppers (or other flora), taking the moisture with it as the hot air exits through the top. The dryer has a lid with a clear plastic panel that focuses sunlight into the rocks while insulation along the walls and the stones underneath trap the resulting heat.
Building it is a pretty straightforward affair. You'll need some basic tools to make it happen (cordless drill with a selection of bits and screwdriver attachment, a thick black marker, box cutter, miter saw, heavy-duty stapler, and wire cutters). I wanted it to complement the black-and-red trash can smoker in my yard (read how to make one here), so I painted the box to match. If you go that route, you'll also need masking tape and masking paper.
Fruit and veggie dehydrating is a pretty cheap way to preserve food. This is Pepper. Drying her is a tad more expensive.
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