Harvest Right – The Good, the Bad, the Tasty…….
You have seen the ads – the pretty housewife in her gorgeous state-of-the-art kitchen, slicing turkey breast into the trays of her Harvest Right Food Freeze Dryer. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Freeze dried ice cream! What a way to wait out the Apocalypse!
My husband and I recently purchased a Harvest Right Food Freeze Dryer. While not unhappy with the appliance, we had some frustrations and surprises along the way. This appliance is a major expense. We wanted to share our experiences with you in an unbiased way, so you can make the best choice for your family.
While not a full scale prepper, I have concerns about the future. I live on small farm, and try to produce as much of my own food as possible. I am a gardener and into home pressure canning. But canning has its limitations — I cannot, for example store the excess eggs my hens produce in the summer or the excess milk my goats produce. We were without power for 5 days last November, after the Northern Idaho windstorm, and only saved our frozen meat by dragging it outside each night to re-freeze in the subzero temperatures. Finally, I am running out of room to store my home canned meats and veggies. The option of freeze drying food, sealing it up with an O2 absorber, and forgetting about it until the black helicopters start circling, is very appealing. (I also believe that home grown and processed food will be less likely to be seized by the authorities, but that is the subject of a whole ‘nother article.)
Here is what we did not expect:
- The wait. It took a full two months from the time we ordered the freeze dryer until its arrival. It is a little disheartening to watch your plums ripen and fall to the ground. I later learned that Harvest Right’s orders have gone from 30 a month to over 900 a month. Yes, they are back ordered. I’d watch for a price drop in the winter.
- Delivery is by freight, and someone must be home to take delivery. We were given a four hour window on the day delivery was scheduled, with the promise that the driver would call us one hour ahead of time. The driver gave us 30 minutes, and thank goodness he missed our dirt road the first time, or I would have missed him. Since the appliance weighs almost 200 pounds, plan ahead where you are going to place your freeze dryer. The driver was helpful in delivering the dryer near where we would set it up.
The dryer is bulky, noisy, and needs a drain. Rather than residing on granite counter tops in our designer kitchen (Ha!), we found space for our dryer in my husband’s shop. My husband built a stand for the dryer. It took 2 people to lift the dryer to the stand. Our dryer drains into a 5 gallon bucket we empty after each cycle.
- The dryer works with an external vacuum pump (pictured) which is not clear from the Harvest Right promotional literature. Design your space to allow room for the vacuum pump. You will be instructed to drain a teaspoon of oil from the pump prior to each batch, so you will need access to the underside of the front of the pump. For this reason, we did not bolt our pump to the top of the stand.
- Vacuum pump oil is hard to find. We ended up ordering more from the pump manufacturer.
- It took us a while to find the freeze dryer drain. The drain hose and clamp is coiled up under the dryer. You will need to reach up under the right rear of the dryer to pull the drain hose and clamp out from under the dryer. The side of the dryer is cut away to allow the drain hose to exit.
- We had difficulty initially getting an adequate vacuum. The problem turned out to be that Harvest Right sent the wrong hose washers for the vacuum hose. The problem was immediately solved when the sent us the RED washers, not the white washers which came with the vacuum hose.
- Customer Service is cumbersome. You call Customer Service, leave a message, and they call you back the next day. Our customer service rep was nice enough, but it was clear he was reading from an “if this, tell the customer to do that” algorithm. We spent hours trying to trouble shoot the vacuum leak, until the rep suggested that maybe we needed the RED washers.
- Only put the black round gasket on the rim of the opening of the dryer about ½ inch. Let closing the door of the dryer push the gasket in the rest of the way. You get a better, visible seal around the opening of the dryer, and reduce your chance of a vacuum leak.
- The freeze dry cycles take a LONG time – more than 24 hours, depending on the moisture content of the food. Any problems we had were in the drying/vacuum cycle of the process. One disadvantage of placing the dryer in the shop is that we cannot hear alarms if there is a malfunction.
- Written instructions tell you to only place food one layer deep, while the photos show food being heaped on the freeze dryer trays. I wish the dryer had a larger capacity.
The manual recommends that new owners start with simple foods and then move on to more complex foods. Our old apple tree, with tart green apples, was producing so we gave it a whirl. The chips were crispy, sweet and delicious (freeze drying concentrates the sweetness.) Zucchini chips require a little garlic powder and dill sprinkled over the slices. The Harvest Right will be a great snack machine for potluck events! I am eager to move on to dehydrated entrees.
Was the Harvest Right the right choice for our family? Only time will tell. It is wise to have food put by for your family and neighbors. But we are going to stick to farm produce rather than ice cream!