Eco Bites has the goods on building an inexpensive solar-powered food-preservation machine of your very own. All you need are two cardboard boxes (or timber, if you have the handy skills), a clear plastic sheet, a piece of cheesecloth, and a little tape. Resourceful types can even salvage most of the necessary materials at the neighborhood dump.

Use the illustration (below the fold) as a guide to assembling your dehydrator. When you're finished, place it on a support facing the sun, and you're ready to go. Here's how to test for optimal dryness:

1. Rely on appearance and feel to judge.

2. Test a handful by cooling for a few minutes before deciding if the fruit is done.

3. When no wetness can be squeezed from the fruit when cut, it can be considered dried. Fruit should be pliable and tough. Don't overdry as the fruit is not as nice to eat.

4. Vegetables should be dry and brittle.


Difficulty level: Easy

Tip: Make sure your food is cool before you store it, because condensation build-up can result in mold.