This week’s Internet prepper site is an old friend. Backwoods Home Magazine has a website you should really check out even if you’re not a subscriber. (However, I highly recommend a subscription to this now-online magazine.) For over 28 years, BHM has been providing prepping, self-reliant and homesteading veterans and neophytes with serious articles on self-dependent living.
Despite the website’s principal purpose of enticing you to purchase a magazine subscription or BHM-published book, even if you don’t spend a dime there, you can find many free articles on such topics as:
- The Seven Core Areas of Preparedness
- Chickens: The most valuable animal on the homestead
- Avoiding common canning mistakes
- Raising Rabbits
- Your survival depends on water
As you can see from just the few article titles listed above, this site doesn’t depend upon click-bait fluff like “Seven uses for patchouli oil in a grid-down situation.” The BHM site is also a gateway to a number of other great sites and blogs like “Homesteading with Jackie Clay” and “Massad Ayoob on guns.” The webpage has its own search engine that allows you to peruse literally hundreds of different articles written by serious and experienced experts in the areas of homesteading, food preservation, guns and other topics of self-sufficiency. You can’t go wrong by spending a little bit of time there to save you a lot of time later.
Is prepping the right thing for to do for Christians? Or should we just be trusting in the Lord? Learn about that balance in “Be Thou Prepared” by Carl Gallups – “Equipping the Church for Persecution and Times of Trouble.”
This week, I’m going to leave the philosophy behind and take a look at a very popular means of food preservation. Specifically, we’re going to delve into the home production of freeze-dried food. If you listen to any AM radio at all, you’ve probably heard ex-congressman Ron Paul sing the praises of the Harvest Right home freeze dryer.
The process of freeze-drying has been around for a long time. It was invented in the very early 1900s, but most of the early use of the freeze-drying process was related to protecting medical supplies for long voyages and as a way of preserving live viruses to be used in the development of vaccines.
The actual process of freeze-drying is pretty complex, and since I have limited space I’ll boil it down. Basically freeze-drying as a means of food preservation means taking some fresh food, freezing it solid, then applying a vacuum in a sealed container while slowly increasing the temperature to withdraw as much vaporized water from the food as possible without allowing that frozen water to ever re-enter the liquid phase.
If it’s done right and properly sealed afterward, the freeze-dried food can be stored safely for many years. In its infancy, home freeze-drying was pretty much cost prohibitive. But in the past decade or so, that’s changed. Home freeze-drying units are now readily available to the public, and the price for such a machine has gone down over the last few years.
But the real question is whether or not home freeze-drying is actually worth the effort and the expense when compared to the more traditional methods of food preservation, like canning and dehydrating.
Last week’s recommended blog site, Simply Canning, has a very good article on the use of a Harvest Right freeze dryer. Sharon Peterson, the owner of the website and author of the article, includes the disclaimer that she is now a Harvest Right freeze-dryer affiliate. But despite that association, her piece is very even-handed. I recommend you read the article because she has a good list of both the pros and the cons of home freeze-drying.
I’ve never owned a freeze dryer, although I’ve eaten an awful lot of freeze-dried food over the years. Some of it wasn’t much good, especially those backpacking meals I ate many years ago. But I now have a number of neighbors who own home freeze-drying units and I will admit the quality of what they produce is very good.
Nevertheless, I’ll never buy one, and that’s despite the fact that one of my original reasons – the price of the unit – has come down. Harvest Right is now offering home freeze dryers for far less than they did just a few years ago, but it doesn’t change the fact that, for me, canning and even dehydrating are simply more efficient in terms of overall cost and time.
Currently a mid-level unit from Harvest Right can be purchased for a little over $2000. But for the same amount of money, I could, if I wanted to, purchase a year’s supply of freeze-dried food for two people. Now you might say, “Yeah, but Pat, what are you going to do after your supply is used up?” My reply to that would be, if the conditions are so dire that I have to use a year’s supply of freeze-dried food, then I’m already in trouble and unlikely to be in any position to fire up a freeze dryer.
Here are some other things to consider: In a three-hour period, I can pressure-can about two gallons of food. That’s about as much food as a mid-range freeze dryer can make at one time, except that the freeze dryer requires over 24 hours to process the same amount. This means if I was canning for just nine hours a day, I’d be putting aside three times as much food as the freeze dryer.
Another point: Freeze dryers are noisy. Many people describe them as essentially making the same volume of noise as a vacuum cleaner. I don’t know about you, but I’d probably get pretty annoyed at having to listen to a vacuum cleaner running 24 hours a day.
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Finally, they impinge upon one of the basic Pat McLean Laws of Life, to wit: more moving parts means more breakdowns. I’ve seen that particular law operate frequently with home freeze dryers owned by my neighbors, and that doesn’t even include the frequent oil changes they require.
Freeze dryers also need electricity to operate. A lot of electricity. If I need to pressure-can something in a pinch, I can even do it on a campfire. Sure it’s nice to be able to pack that lightweight preserved food in plastic bags for ease of travel; but if, like me, you already live at your bug-out location, traveling is a low priority. And even if you’re not like me, I’ve said repeatedly that if you’ve got to bug out, you should already know where you’re going. If you have to carry a month’s supply of food in your backpack because you have no firm destination, you’ve already lost the game.
So my recommendation is, instead of spending a few thousand dollars on a home freeze dryer, you spend far less than that on a year’s supply of food for your family. I also recommend that you take the time to find a good-quality pressure canner, acquire some jars and lids, and take a few classes on canning, dehydrating, and other methods of food preservation from a local master food preserver.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own some freeze-dried food; but in the long run, it’s probably cheaper to buy the limited supply you’ll need instead of purchasing a machine that I suspect – if my neighbors are anything to go by – you will use less and less.
So learn to can, hit a thrift store for a used-but-serviceable dehydrator, bucket up some dry-goods, and spend the remainder of your cash on prepper supplies you’ll actually use. That’s the best way to get prepared.