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Food storage research

 
pollinator
Posts: 116
Location: Western MA, zone 6b
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This winter I'm looking at more ideas for next year's food storage.    My new urbanish house is only 600 ft2 and no garage or basement.   I have my electric bill down to a very affordable $40/ month and I do not want to add appliances to that if I can avoid it.  

My two thoughts so far are   1) Fermenting and 2) solar dehydrator build.    I've already done *some* research into both of those ideas, and fermenting is something I can practice over the winter with store-bought produce.   The videos I've watched so far are suprisingly so much easier than I thought the process involved.  Picking up suitable jars at thrift stores, etc.   How much fermented food can one eat?    How quickly does it start becoming something you just can't stand the taste of another fermented thing (if at all?).    Maybe I'm thinking I could rely on that TOO much?  

Solar dehydrating;  I realize that will be a seasonal challenge,  with only things that are harvested while the days are still long enough to dry?   I've seen several models on youtube that look promising and some threads on this site that I can revisit over the winter months.   I'm fairly handy with power tools and with sourcing reclaimed materials.  I'd love any thoughts or suggestions regarding making this work.    

I should also spend some energy on finding ways to extend my outdoor growing/ harvesting season so less storage is needed.   I do have two outdoor sheds, but they get quite cold in the winter, not sure if there are things that can be stored under cover in "outdoor temperatures" without ruining them.   Depending on snow, even getting to my larger shed for access is a problem.    I have physical challenges (rhuematoid arthritis) that constrain my winter outdoor manual labor output abilities,  so digging out or shoveling to outdoor storage presents a challenge.   Underground root cellars, etc.  might be off the table for me.   Same with unsightly aboveground ideas (strict codes here,  things even in the backyard need to be unobtrusive and pleasing to look at,  possibly even with purpose disguised.    Let's not mention my illegal rabbit and future illegal quail.  
 
gardener
Posts: 3756
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Hi Heather;
Let me tell you about a simple air dryer you can build.

Super simple version, you build a wood framed screen maybe 2' x 2'. Sandwich a stainless screen or food safe plastic screen so there is air space above and below.
Place on sunny side of metal roof. You may need a simple stop to keep it there. Fill with produce . Place a piece of metal (roofing or flat) over top.
The sun heats the metal, the metal radiates that heat on your drying produce. the corrugation of the metal roof underneath allows the hot air to flow up and away!
Your herbs will stay bright green and be bone dry in no time!

This dryer can be built as a stand alone system with multiple screens. Mine is over 20 years old. It looks rough but other than faded wood and debris it still drys well.
Heck, I look rough (in a handsome way) after 60 years in the sun!
 
Heather Staas
pollinator
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Location: Western MA, zone 6b
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thomas I'd love to see pictures if that is possible, thank you for the reply!  
 
thomas rubino
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Hi Heather;  Here is a link to my original post.  (permies.com/t/25688/kitchen/home-built-solar-food-dryer)
Kinda snowy and cold outside this time of year for current photos.
As you can see in the full version you use a piece of greenhouse plastic or real glass to intensify the heat.
This works very well, it is moderately bug resistant and thing's dry super fast and super good!
Nothing tastes better than  home grown herbs , dried yourself!
 
master steward
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Heather, this is a great topic.

I learned fermenting because I like to learn new things. Sauerkraut and dill pickles is about all I eat that is fermented though I tried learning with other things like carrots and lemons.

I prefer to pickle stuff because I like the flavor and it gets done faster.  Besides stuff like india relish, I love pickled onions.

I also dehydrate a lot of herbs.  I have lemon balm that I just finished putting in a jar and started an another batch. My laundry room is where I dehydrate stuff.  I have a fancy Excalibur electric dehydrator that sits in its box.  Too much trouble to dig it out for just a few things. I don't even have one of those solar ones either, in fact I don't have anything but some platters on top of my washing machine.  I have a huge laundry room for such a small house.  The garage was turned into a bedroom and laundry room.

I have been doing food storage for a long, long time.
 
gardener & author
Posts: 1978
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
420
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I live in a very high desert so it's better for drying food than almost anywhere else on earth, but I can attest to the usefulness of dried foods. We can't get any fresh vegetables or fruit here in the winter months (because the only two roads from other regions close for the winter) so preserving food is essential.

It's so dry here that we can dry vegetables by just slicing thin and laying them out in the sun or breezy shade. I put trays or plates in a screened baby tent on our flat roof. It's a little small so I have to stagger the stuff I'm drying, and in September and October, the peak drying season, every day or two I put out another one or two plates of freshly cut stuff, and consolidate some from previous days. If I had a bigger drying thing I could do more, or do large batches less often.

I also ferment vegetables, and those are great, but they are not really our staple vegetables, they are eaten more like condiments.

I have been using these dried vegetables: tomatoes (huge amounts, both large pieces and powdered in the blender), leafy green vegetables of various types, mushrooms, eggplant/aubergine, broccoli, cauliflower, bitter gourd, turnips, beets. I had very poor luck with green beans and bottle gourd: the green beans mostly turned white and unattractive while drying, and the dried bottle gourd stayed tough no matter how much I boiled it in the pressure cooker. I tend to make pasta soups, cooking it all together in the tiny pressure cooker, making it different each time: an onion, a small handful of dried veggies, pasta, some kind of soup flavour, a protein such as a little meat or some local dried non-fat cheese. This year I also dried banana chunks and they came out nice. Of course I dry some of the herbs I grow -- that goes almost without saying!

Dried vegetables take up a lot less space than other forms of storage that keep the moisture, such as fermenting, canning or root cellaring. And powdering them takes even less space, though maybe that's only possible because of my extremely dry climate. But certain foods are great with certain methods, and it's nice to have a variety. I ferment a couple or few litres of kimchi and Indian pickle, but last year we didn't eat it all because my housemates have Indian moms who send lots of pickle. I salt a litre of moroccan preserved lemons. Last year I made garlic confit, where you simmer garlic cloves in oil for an hour and then just keep it. Some years I can some tomato puree, but the dried tomatoes also serve the purpose and use no power to dry, no special containers, and store in much less space. I used to make apricot jam because that's the main fruit here, but now I'm avoiding sugar so I didn't make any. I used to make vinegar-dill pickles, but kind of dropped that when I got into fermenting instead. I buy a wheel of cheese when it's available in autumn, and use it all winter (stored in a cool place in my house). I buy dried fruit (because I don't grow any yet), dried local non-fat cheese (called churpey), and dried green leafy veg (because it takes so much space to dry my own, and it's easily available locally).
20191014_drying-vegetables-on-a-roof-in-desert-Ladakh.jpg
[Thumbnail for 20191014_drying-vegetables-on-a-roof-in-desert-Ladakh.jpg]
Drying vegetables on a flat roof in the desert, Ladakh, in a screened baby tent
 
Heather Staas
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OH,  that's a good point about dried food taking less space!   Building some sort of dehydrator just moved farther up my to-do list.   I do already dry herbs, just hanging in my kitchen.   Thank you Rebecca!
 
thomas rubino
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Hi Rebecca;
Have you tried shading your tent to keep the direct sun from your produce?  With the air dryer I built, the sun never touches anything. Food colors stay vibrant. Particularly herbs, are bright green and the flavor is outstanding.  Are they better dried that way ?  I like to think so, but I've not experimented. A sheet over your tent would accomplish the same result.

On a different subject) Is there a post that shows some of the awesome place that you are living ?  Sure is a contrast to New England! Slightly similar to parts of Montana though.
Your photo of the drying tent was a tease for me.  I've always fantasized of going to Tibet . Would love to see a photo post from your area.
 
pollinator
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Location: Ohio 5b6a
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I hope some of these things we do may spark some of your interest.  Here in Ohio drying doesn’t happen. Everything I’ve tried to dry except tobacco and peppers seem to mold. We salt cure/smoke meat. We also can most vegetables.  We can mostly in midsummer when our solar setup is giving us more than we need. We keep onions, garlic, potatoes, apples and pears in the coolest spot in an unheated room of the house.  We also use this room to keep hibiscus and stevia alive, because the room never gets cold enough to frost. These will be good for most of our winter.  We do ferment cabbage.  Sour croute goes good with smoked meats.  We are always trying to extend our season with new ideas. The extra cabbage we keep by burying it in straw along an outside house wall.  We keep tomatoes/peppers by rapping them in paper.  We cut a white food grade barrel in half and plant kale,  radishes, and beats underneath the 2 halves.  They worked till this week when the sun has hid from us for about 10 days.

 
Rebecca Norman
gardener & author
Posts: 1978
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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thomas rubino wrote:
Have you tried shading your tent to keep the direct sun from your produce?  With the air dryer I built, the sun never touches anything. Food colors stay vibrant.


Yeah, I've got a long-term plan of building a drying rack with a roof to keep sun and rain off. We do get rain once or twice a year, sometimes even for a few days, though that doesn't happen every year. When it rained this year I moved the plates into the stairwell to the roof.

thomas rubino wrote:
On a different subject) Is there a post that shows some of the awesome place that you are living ?  Sure is a contrast to New England! Slightly similar to parts of Montana though.
Your photo of the drying tent was a tease for me.  I've always fantasized of going to Tibet . Would love to see a photo post from your area.



Yeah, Cape Cod has to be the lowest and humidest place I'm ever been, and Ladakh is the highest and dryest!

I should make a "my project" post but somehow too lazy, sorry!
 
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Heather Staas wrote:This winter I'm looking at more ideas for next year's food storage.    My new urbanish house is only 600 ft2 and no garage or basement.   I have my electric bill down to a very affordable $40/ month and I do not want to add appliances to that if I can avoid it.  

My two thoughts so far are   1) Fermenting and 2) solar dehydrator build.    I've already done *some* research into both of those ideas, and fermenting is something I can practice over the winter with store-bought produce.   The videos I've watched so far are suprisingly so much easier than I thought the process involved.  Picking up suitable jars at thrift stores, etc.   How much fermented food can one eat?    How quickly does it start becoming something you just can't stand the taste of another fermented thing (if at all?).    Maybe I'm thinking I could rely on that TOO much?  

Solar dehydrating;  I realize that will be a seasonal challenge,  with only things that are harvested while the days are still long enough to dry?   I've seen several models on youtube that look promising and some threads on this site that I can revisit over the winter months.   I'm fairly handy with power tools and with sourcing reclaimed materials.  I'd love any thoughts or suggestions regarding making this work.    

I should also spend some energy on finding ways to extend my outdoor growing/ harvesting season so less storage is needed.   I do have two outdoor sheds, but they get quite cold in the winter, not sure if there are things that can be stored under cover in "outdoor temperatures" without ruining them.   Depending on snow, even getting to my larger shed for access is a problem.    I have physical challenges (rhuematoid arthritis) that constrain my winter outdoor manual labor output abilities,  so digging out or shoveling to outdoor storage presents a challenge.   Underground root cellars, etc.  might be off the table for me.   Same with unsightly aboveground ideas (strict codes here,  things even in the backyard need to be unobtrusive and pleasing to look at,  possibly even with purpose disguised.    Let's not mention my illegal rabbit and future illegal quail.  


For fermenting check out the cooking forum on here. There are a few great threads on different types of fermentations. It still takes up the same amount of space as pressure canning food but it has the added benefits of not needing electric to can and the probiotics. When I use my regular dehydrator it uses very little electric and it is very time and space efficient. Since you have electric at your house, it might be a good idea to look into regular dehydrators. Can you build a breezeway to link your house to your storage shed for winter use? The breezeway could double as an arbor for vines in the summer garden. How is your rabbit illegal? I'm fairly confused by that one, what did he do?
 
Posts: 188
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I dry the herbs I won’t dry in the oven’s dehydrator setting in brown paper lunch bags. I write what’s in the bag, the source, and the date on the bottom of the bag with grease pencil. Parsley is always Oven dried, it turns an unappetizing straw brown in the bags. The basil that isn’t turned into pesto and frozen is mostly salted. Love salted basil, tastes like fresh!

 
Heather Staas
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Thanks Gail,  I will check out the cooking forum!   I didn't realize that even existed.   I'm trying my first batch of fermented cucumbers (store bought sadly) right now,  to see what happens lol.    

As for my rabbit,  all outdoor livestock of any sort is illegal inside the city here.    No hens, no rabbits..  nothing.    
 
gardener
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A common saying in the plant/food storage area is "plant what you eat - eat what you plant", and its corollary, "store what you eat and eat what you store". I encourage you to let that be at least part of your guide.

I like fermented foods, and I think they really help my gut, but I've not found much that I can get the family to eat, so it's hard to get myself motivated. I've mostly done versions along the sauerkraut/kimchee line.

I dry lots of herbs for two reasons - one is to extend the season, but the other is to absorb liquid in dishes that I prefer a bit thicker. I admit I mostly use a commercial electric dryer as we are near the ocean and the humidity is pretty high. The alternatives I've tried haven't worked as well as I would like. Trees interfere with the sun in most places, so I'd have to be moving a solar dryer frequently. I've been promised a new metal roof for the house for next summer, *and* the removal of some trees that are close enough to be a fire hazard, so it would be interesting if thomas rubino's dryer would work on my roof fast enough that I could save some electricity.

Also as a thickener, I sometimes grate and dry squash. I generally wait until I'm about to use it to crush or powder it because I think that might preserve more nutrients, but maybe someone with more experience knows it that's true or just wishful thinking.

I do lots of canning - applesauce, tomato sauce, jams, pickles, salsa and relish. Canning take time, energy, and storage space, but it's convenient to just grab a jar and eat!

I would sooo.... love to have a decent root cellar. We have a cool spot on our north wall which I try to make do with, but lack of a proper cellar discourages me from growing more things like turnips etc. We were given an old freezer which promptly died, so this year I layered sawdust and potatoes into buckets and put them in the dead freezer which is in an insulated, but not heated trailer. If they called for days of freezing weather, I would have to move them elsewhere, or possibly just cheat and put an incandescent light in to give just a little heat. If your sheds weren't too far to get to in the snow, dead freezers are easy to get and you could possibly add a little extra insulation and put it in the shed. That would possibly at least extend the season.

If you decide to build some sort of greenhouse to extend the season, I have also heard of people having animals inside to add heat in the winter. So your bunny isn't "livestock", it's a grass-powered greenhouse heater! (That at least might get a laugh out of the inspector.)
 
Jennie Little
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Another idea, the trash can root cellar? I’m pretty sure that your neighbors won’t be able to tell that under the straw you have a galvanized trash can buried, esp. if you use straw under strawberries as a ground cover nearby or mulch with straw in your flower beds.

I’ve never done this, but. I keep running into the idea. Here’s a link

http://www.thefoodguys.com/rootcellar1.htm

We aren’t that far from each other, I’m zone 5 in a state north of you. I use wooden crates and pine shavings to store carrots and parsnips in an unheated pantry . Potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions are hanging in the same room.  I should be able to do a real root cellar next year, hurrah! I don't have the town restrictions you do.

I hope this is helpful!
 
gardener
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I dehydrated a lot of pears and persimmon recently. Vac sealed them in mason jars. Its a good go to item for a quick snack.

My reason for posting though is nuts. Pecans, almonds, pumpkin seeds. They serve the same puropse for an easy snack but can suffice as a meal. They need no special attention for storage.
 
Heather Staas
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Love all the ideas here, thank you all.    My neighbors have been wonderful so far,  everyone seems to MYOB, so as long as I keep things discrete and hidden from the street/ gate view I can probably get away with a lot.     I have heard stories of neighborhood watch people "helping" the zoning commision though, and doing walk throughs of neighborhoods INCLUDING going up driveways to look through back gates into fenced back yards.   I have 6ft privacy fence but an open wire gate with a strategic view lol.     Funny about the rabbit and calling her a greenhouse heater LOL.  When I got her I was calling her a grass powered lawnmower.   Again,  with a visible greenhouse I have to be careful what I put up as a "structure" @@.   I'm still researching that area of regulations to find out what size it can be before it's not allowed,  or how open it has to be to not be a "structure" in the yard.   It's not ideal,  but I stayed with relatives for 6 months house hunting in a competitive market with a small budget.   The size and price of this house/ lot was perfect, and after being outbid in neighboring towns for something similar (with much better garden/ livestock regulations) I had to grab up this one.   All things considered,  it is GOOD in many ways.   Working within or around regulation parameters is an interesting challenge and only sometimes frustrating.   If it gets too ridiculous I'll consider moving again,   although leaving gardens behind is SO HARD!    

Nuts:   I put in pecans and hazelnuts,  will be a few years before I see anything from them!

Loving the outdoor, perhaps below ground storage ideas!  Will give that a good think over the winter too.

As far as growing and storing what I eat,  that's a challenge I didn't mention in my OP.    I don't do carbs.   Almost at all.   Managing insulin and joint issues with diet and yoga requires limited sugar/carb intake.   So that is another layer of challenge with winter storage that is so often root crops/ starchy veggies!   Canning IS something I'm also looking into,  but want to explore non-cooking options.    Day 3 on my first batch of fermented cucumbers...    
 
Jay Angler
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Heather Staas wrote:

As far as growing and storing what I eat,  that's a challenge I didn't mention in my OP.    I don't do carbs.   Almost at all.   Managing insulin and joint issues with diet and yoga requires limited sugar/carb intake.

I don't want to divert this thread, but "season extension" is another form of storage. Have you considered building a light weight cold frame which you can move from bed to bed so that you can start cold tolerant greens for longer periods? You will want it light weight to make it easy to move, but that means you may need to include brackets that you can spike down into the soil to stop the wind from taking it (like tent pegs on hormones - we use 10 inch "nails" pushed in on an angle). We had a structure we used where we installed hinges with removable pins - pull the pin and one section came right off, making the unit lighter to move. We have a very wet climate and it eventually decomposed, so I can't post a picture.

As for the wire gate - is it possible to "strategically" place plants to block that view? Or decorate the gate with a pretty flowered "flag"? How often do you use the gate as an entrance? If the answer is "rarely", a large planter on wheels with some view-blocking stunning plant in it that you just roll out of the way when you're going to use the gate might make it harder for strangers to snoop. Finding creative ways to solve problems can be a challenge, but also a lot of fun.  
 
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I've come to the conclusion that dehydration is my best bet for most food storage. Compact, no special conditions required other than a good seal.

Fermentation doesn't seem the best for food preservation to me. It can be good as an extender, but you have to keep most things cold to stop them from overfermenting, which for most people, means taking up fridge space. A cabbage can last almost as long as a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge. I have trouble with the amount of salt in ferments as well. If I have a meal with kimchi, I'm puffy the next day. I eat very little sodium though, so I probably notice it before most people would.

I'm trying out the garbage can root cellar this year. I'll report back in the spring.
 
Heather Staas
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More great ideas, thanks everyone.    Season extension is something I'm definitely looking into with cold frames and double-hoop covers.   I was managing to grow several cold hardy greens  uncovered through mid-November, that was encouraging.     Fridge space isn't an issue for me, mine tends to be much too empty most of the time,  so storing fermented jars after they have finished is a benefit for me, takes up air exchange space.   Freezer space is at a bigger premium for me.    Do they make units with a bigger freezer and smaller fridge?   Hmmm something else to research.   Didn't think about the salt intake..   that needs some consideration.  
 
Jay Angler
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Heather Staas wrote:

Freezer space is at a bigger premium for me.    Do they make units with a bigger freezer and smaller fridge?

Freezers that are part of a fridge are "frost-free" which means the fridge lets the food warm up during the defrost part of the cycle. Food will keep longer and safer in a chest freezer even if you just get an "apartment" sized one, which is what my sister did when she had a fairly small fridge freezer in an apartment. We put old plastic coke bottles filled with *very* salty water and a couple drops of food colouring in the bottom of our freezer where I can't really reach. This is protection from 1-3 day power outages. The brine bottles will thaw before the food will, releasing their energy to keep the food safely cold longer. Near the top of the freezer, I keep light food like raspberries in containers inside a cloth bag - if I need to get what's under it, I just have to lift the whole bag out. Unfortunately, my spouse has a habit of messing with the system, so now I just give him a list and tell him to go "freezer diving" for whatever I want.
 
author & gardener
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Very interesting topic. I'm especially intrigued with solar dehydrators, although I fear my humidity is too high for that. I've found I can air dry greens and herbs without getting moldy, but for fruits and veggies I need my Excalibur.

One thing that helps longevity for dried foods is to vacuum seal the jar.

Heather Staas wrote: How much fermented food can one eat?    How quickly does it start becoming something you just can't stand the taste of another fermented thing (if at all?).    Maybe I'm thinking I could rely on that TOO much?  


I think it depends on how well you like sour flavors. If you like pickles, you will likely like fermented foods. My husband and I find we've developed a craving for them. Lacto-fermented turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, and daikon radishes are especially good. For fun, you can experiment with shape too, i.e. sliced, diced, or shredded. Fermented food become more sour over time, so keep them in the coolest place possible. If a batch gets too sour, I rinse it before serving. That helps.
 
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I second the stand alone freezer as a great investment.
I have one that's  about 6 cubic feet( I think) ,and having it full of food is great comfort to me.

For keeping ferments,  I have considered converting a similar sized freezer into a fridge, with two layers , the top layer in a lift out basket/tray.
The bottom would be full of fermented foods,  the top,  typical produce.
Right now,  I have an ancient  stand up freezer in the basement that I have vowed to never move again.
It's inefficient but it's there,  so it will become my ferment keeper eventually.

An old fridge/ standup  freezer  could be converted into a large dehydrator, with a light bulb for heat, and a bathroom fan for air  circulation.

Thinking of the salt that most ferments require, I have noticed that store-bought bagged coleslaw mixe will start turning to kraut if left to its own devices.
Cabbage is perhaps the perfect host/food for lactose acid producing bacteria.
A cabbage ferment or even one started with juice from a cabbage ferment might do fine with minimal salt.
I say this without any direct  experience, so take it with,  you guessed it,  a grain of salt.

Dried food stored in vacume sealed jars seems extremely economical,  in terms of time and money.
Recent threads on vacuumed sealing demonstrated the use of recycled condiment jars.
A trove of vacuum sealed dehydrated morninga sounds like a treasure to me.

Freezers are actually a very cheap way to keep food , and sometimes fresh frozen beats the taste/nurition of "fresh" produce that has been shipped in from elsewhere or grown in a hydroponic set up.



 
pollinator
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Heather Staas wrote:
I have heard stories of neighborhood watch people "helping" the zoning commision though, and doing walk throughs of neighborhoods INCLUDING going up driveways to look through back gates into fenced back yards.   I have 6ft privacy fence but an open wire gate with a strategic view lol.      



Off topic, and at the risk of alienating some of your neighbors, going up your driveway and looking in your back yard is illegal.  That may give you some leverage in the future if it comes to that.  Hopefully it never will and you can take advantage of the great advice in this thread instead.  It reminded me that I want to start drying produce.  I haven't done it and it sounds like an adventure.
 
Jennie Little
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We bought last year a convertible fridge/freezer. Ours is a Danby. The reason was that spring and mid-summer there’s too many veggies for our side by side regular fridge. In fall and winter, I’m desperate for freezer space. I don’t can, I dry or freeze.

Yes I know that a side by side is inefficient, but it’s a compromise to deal with the 1’+ height difference between us and our differing back issues. That’s also the reason our second freezer isn’t a chest.

Here’s a link for something like what we’ve got. It was cheaper than all the green slime and supermarket food I had to buy Because the equipment we had didn’t fit our usage.

https://www.thebrick.com/products/midea-13-8-cu-ft-convertible-upright-refrigerator-freezer-mu138swar1rc1
 
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