Larisa Walk

pollinator
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since Jun 29, 2010
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Recent posts by Larisa Walk

The key to using a passive solar food dryer without "crutches" is to achieve sufficient drying in the first day to allow the food to "coast" through the night until the sun resumes the process the next day. This works in humid Minnesota summers where the night time temps can be either quite warm (70-80*F) or cool (50-60*F) to cold (near freezing) with dew points that make most mornings quite wet. I think you should try to maximize the initial day of drying, then in subsiquent days perhaps you would need some shading on the glazing in your more equatorial location as you will need less heating as the moisture content of the food is removed. For foods that need more than a day of drying, the first day's forecast needs to be optimal and the second day (and beyond) is less crucial.
1 week ago
Our chickens love them too and I've noticed that crows appear to work the tree tops for them. We use both the nuts for eating and the hulls for dye and the maggots are nothing more than a slightly gross nuisance. Once the nuts are hulled, you can sift out a lot of the maggots with a hardware cloth screen and either feed them to poultry or spread out on a driveway to feed wild birds, to dessicate, or get run over. No problem if they end up in the dye pot.
1 week ago
We use a 2 bucket humanure system and have for over 38 years. The "solids" bucket can have some pee in it, but is mostly poo and paper. It goes in an outdoor composting chamber. The "liquids" bucket is pee and occasionally paper. You could run your bidet water into this bucket no problem. This bucket is poured on the outdoor garden compost heap or added to irrigation water if desired. We don't add sawdust or other high carbon material until the solids bucket is emptied into the compost bin. The fresh addition is covered with used wood chips, recycled from the root cellar where they were used the previous winter to pack veggies. The used chips are kept in a garbage can next to the compost chambers. One bin holds 6 months of poo from 2 adults plus the poo from 5 poultry. After 6 months we switch to an empty bin. We have another 2 bins with aging poo compost which is used on corn and sorghum plantings after a year.
3 weeks ago
To be clear, when I said I blanch it's not a matter of "disinfecting" or cleaning the produce. I blanch to partially cook the food so the finished outcome is enhanced. For instance, with sweet corn, the cobs are steamed until the color slightly changes to a brighter color, beads of "sweat" on the kernels. It's a bit on the underdone side for eating for most folks, but enough so that the corn will stop its march to starch which is what mature corn kernels are all about. The same for beans and other seeds that are trying to store up energy for future germination. I don't time any of the blanching as it depends on how big a batch is in the pot, but the color shift is what I'm going for, pulling the produce out of the pot as soon as it gets the brightness in color that I want, then putting the hot produce directly in the dryer, getting it spread out right away to stop the cooking process. For some non-fruit veggies, like asparagus, the texture is better in my opinion if lightly steamed first. But some veggies are better left alone, such as peppers and eggplant. If you're unsure, experiment to see what you like.

As for washing before drying, I try not to do it immediately before processing but rather when the food is harvested. I usually pick for the dryer in the afternoon so I can have ready to go produce ready first thing the next morning to get it into the solar dryer early. I also have the kitchen set with whatever cutting tools/bowls/etc. needed so I can get to work right away. The exception to this advance harvest and prep is fresh herbs/greens which are picked after the morning dew has evaporated. I'm careful when I pick (nothing with obvious dirt splash or bird poo) and put these items into the dryer without washing first.
1 month ago
Blanched versus unblanched - most notable difference in green beans and sweet corn. More palatable, sweet, and tender when blanched. One of my first forays into drying food was to make "leather britches" where you take a needle and thread and string up green beans to hang and dry. The name should have been a clue as they were about as edible as leather britches - maybe if you were starving you might want to eat them. If you're not convinced, you need to experiment on a small scale before committing big batches. As for using our dryer design in other climates, you can permanently tone down the efficiency by using a paint color other than flat black. Dark blue or brown works too. But rather than making this a permanent "fix" I suggest using shading over the glazing that can be removed when conditions like cloudy weather would warrant the full heat output of the collector. A sheet, cardboard or window screening can be placed over all or part of the collector as needed to reduce the heat input. You will still have the passive air flow through the slightly tilted unit as hot air will still rise and draw off moisture. No sun on food, rain no problem, critters kept out. Having the screens in a single layer, not stacked, makes solar drying more possible in all climates as you're not trying to move moist air through multiple layers of screens/food. As for burnt or carmelized foods, that is also possible here in the midwest. We've had it happen with sweet corn, tomatoes, and even melon. The first time it happened I thought the corn was ruined, but found that in some recipes the carmelized flavor was an additional bonus. And for tomatoes, a little blackening gives the flavor of roasted tomatoes without the effort and energy inputs. Really nice added to chili along with some of the carmelized corn. The melons are still edible with a different flavor profile. Not sure if I would strive for this outcome with melons but putting very sweet foods in the "lower" trays, positioning dryer off the north-south axis (face to the south east), or using shading, reduces the chances of this happening on extremely hot days.
1 month ago
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes. One year we got together with 3 other farmers/gardeners to have a sweet potato tasting. All of the 13 varieties were early ones that grew well in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We baked them up on a large restaurant tray and mapped out the varieties on paper and with toothpicks inserted in some of the roots. We served each variety up on its own plate and passed it around the table of about a dozen participants, making comments and taking notes as we went. The grower shared comments on the plant - its growth, leaf shape, etc. The root's skin colors were pale to dark purple and interior colors varied from various shades of orange to purple and white. The flavors were quite different as were the textures. The drier fleshed varieties would probably cook up better when fried and the mushier ones would probably lend themselves to puree or pie. Just like Irish potatoes, picking the right variety can make the difference in your recipe.
1 month ago
You can use the salt crystals that are sold for use in a salt grinder. They are just salt, no iodine added. I use them in pickling/canning as well.
1 month ago
At minimum, to preserve nutrients that are bleached out along with the vibrant color, you can simply put your food screens under a "tent" of black fabric. The tent can be made by using another screen on top of the food screen to keep the fabric from sticking to the produce. Put a window over this and you're at the stage we were when we were experimenting with this concept. Tilt it all slightly and you're completely there. No need to "build" a dryer completely. This concept also works with a car parked with its biggest window facing the equator, screens inside with black cloth over the food and the windows down about an inch.
1 month ago
Use a steam juicer first to take off the bulk of the juice. This can be bottled right out of the juicer into wire bail type beer bottles with no further processing. Then you can run the remaining cooked pulp through your Victorio for canning or leave the skins and seeds in if you prefer. If you don't have a steam juicer, you can cook the cut up toms in a stock pot and use a colander or strainer to separate the juice and proceed as above.
1 month ago
We always very lightly steam blanch green beans, peas, sweet corn, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. This process inactivates enzymes that would otherwise turn sweetness into starch and the eating quality is better than not blanching.  If I were to dehydrate carrots and beets, etc. I would do the same for those veggies but we prefer to store them "live" in the root cellar. Our dryer keeps sunlight off the veggies so the color is retained. You can read about our dryer here: http://geopathfinder.com/Solar-Food-Drying.html
1 month ago