Montgomery County has a growing number and demand for community gardens. As a Master Gardener and someone who wants to grow at least some of my own food I was thrilled to be able to attain a spot at the newer Emory Grove community garden this year. I am growing a variety of veggies, fruit and herbs in my 200 sq ft garden. I’ve been harvesting a bumper crop of tomatoes even though some of the heirlooms are sustaining damage due to stink bugs (growing all organic with no control methods for these pests). So far the roma’s and cherry tomatoes seem to be holding out the best with the Cherokee purple doing fairly well and the Pineapple tomato doing the worst. In addition to 7 tomatoes I’m also growing 4 tomatillos, 5 green beans, 1 watermelon, 2 eggplants, about 6 varieties of basil, nasturtium, turnips (this has turned out to be a great trap crop), 1 cucumber (which I pulled out in early August), 2 squash (which I pulled out this week due to squash vine borer), sunflowers, 2 Malabar spinach and a couple of lingering swiss chard. Not a bad yield for 200 sq ft and it seemed under planted at first but now it’s quite a well planted garden!
I was away for a couple weeks in late July and when I came back I was really excited to find this solar dehydrator in the garden. I later found out that if these do well there’s a possibility of them being installed in more Mo. Co. Community gardens. For now though the Emory Grove garden is the test plot and the experiments are being led by one of the gardens, Moe and his wife. He found the designs and built the dehydrator after years of wanting to experiment with this idea. The information on construction design came from a sustainable food preservation project being conducted by Appalachian State University in North Carolina in conjunction with a group in Honduras. Most of the materials to build one can be found at a local lumber yard, save the solar collecting panels and stainless steel mesh screen, which were both ordered online. The overall cost was about $400 so it won’t pay for itself immediately and might be worth going in on with others if you’re thinking of building one yourself. This model holds 12 20” trays for drying fruits, veggies and herbs. Currently Moe and his wife are experimenting with the amount of ventilation needed, the thickness of slices, temperatures etc. to dry peaches, tomatoes and hot peppers.
If you don’t have access to a solar or more traditional food dehydrator, there are other ways to dry fruits, veggies and herbs in season. I often use the method of low oven heat (170 F or lower) cycled on and off a couple times over about 24-48hrs. This has been quite successful for me in drying pears, apples, blueberries and basil. How do you preserve the harvest?