20140913_194528Last night, I harvested the ‘tamed’ wild grapes from the front fence and netted over 10 gallons of grapes. I noticed some grapes had dried on the vine. I tasted a few and was happily surprised to find they have the flavor and consistency of dried currants.

As I began separating the grapes from the vine this morning, it occurred to me, I’d like to dry some of the grapes for use in baking recipes – including my annual batch of fruitcake. I’ve been meaning to build myself an outdoor solar dehydrator for awhile now, but honestly, with all the projects going on around Wildlands right now, I don’t have the energy or heart to cut mitered-edges and assemble frames.

I was up in the art studio earlier and spied a stack of canvas stretchers and I was struck by an idea – why not use THOSE to to construct frames? They are sturdy, not made from treated wood and once I’m done using for them, they can be washed and stored as-is OR have the screening removed and the frames taken apart.

I pulled out four 36″ stretchers and four 16″ stretchers from the pile and carried those down to the plank table. Using nylon screening material (36″ in diameter) and a staple gun, the frames came together and were in use in less than 20 minutes. In fact, it’s taken me LONGER to write this post than it took me to make them and get the grapes drying.

The cost to me was free, but if you’d like to have a similar set up, the cost would be about 20 dollars to make a set of 2 frames. Nylon screening can be purchased by the roll or by the foot at some hardware stores (like Hollywood Hardware). Stretchers can be purchased at craft stores, art stores, or online for a few dollars a piece. The beauty of using the canvas stretchers, you could easily make the frames wider (up to 36″). I’d keep the frames to 36″ long (or less) unless you’ve got a source for wider nylon screening.

Assembling the frames requires no hardware, gluing, or nailing. The ends slide into grooves to form a corner.
Frames assembled in less than two minutes
I cut nylon screening (that I had rolled up in the garage) to the width of each frame. The frames were 36″ (finished edge) and the screening was 36″ wide. Perfect. Using a staple gun, I secured the four sides, pulling the screening taunt as I went.

TIP: If you’ve not done anything like this before, let me suggest you staple a long side, turn and staple the other long side, pulling the screening taunt as you do. Then, staple a short side then pull the other short side taunt and staple.

For the drying ‘rack,’ I filled the side of the frame that had the screen on the bottom, making a reservoir to put the grapes.
To provide air circulation under the screened frame, I placed two 2″ x 2″ blocks on either end.
I turned the other frame face down on top of the bottom tray. This way, there’s a deeper ‘reservoir’ to place fruits or veggies for drying.

Tip: to keep animals, or in my case, curious cats from disturbing the drying tray, I added four large binder clips to the corners.