Just a pile of strawberries.

Can You Freeze-Dry Strawberries Without A Machine?

Summer has settled upon the northern hemisphere, which means that it’s time for sweet, sweet strawberries to be cheap and plentiful. But would you believe they taste even better in freeze-dried format? I wouldn’t have ever known until I happened to get on a health kick and was looking for new things to eat. I’m not sure I could have picked a more expensive snack, but that’s why we’re here — I wanted to start freeze-drying my own strawberries.

While I could have just dropped a couple grand and bought some kind of freeze-drying contraption, I just don’t have that kind of money. And besides, no good Hackaday article would have come out of that. So I started looking for alternative ways of getting the job done.

Dry Ice Is Nice

Dry ice, sublimating away in a metal measuring cup.
Image via Air Products

Early on in my web crawling on the topic, I came across this Valley Food Storage blog entry that seems to have just about all the information I could possibly want about the various methods of freeze-drying food. The one that caught my eye was the dry ice method, mostly because it’s only supposed to take 24 hours.

Here’s what you do, in a nutshell: wash, hull, and slice the strawberries, then put them in a resealable bag. Leave the bag open so the moisture can evaporate. Put these bags in the bottom of a large Styrofoam cooler, and lay the dry ice on top. Loosely affix the lid and wait 24 hours for the magic to happen.

I still had some questions. Does all the moisture simply evaporate? Or will there be a puddle at the bottom of the cooler that could threaten my tangy, crispy strawberries? One important question: should I break up the dry ice? My local grocer sells it in five-pound blocks, according to their site. The freeze-drying blog suggests doing a pound-for-pound match-up of fruit and dry ice, so I guess I’m freeze-drying five entire pounds of strawberries. Hopefully, this works out and I have tasty treats for a couple of weeks or months. Continue reading “Can You Freeze-Dry Strawberries Without A Machine?”

Revolving Plant Tower Is Solar-Powered

Do you live in a small or yard-less space, but want to grow things anyway? You’re not totally out of luck — you’ll just have to get creative and probably vertical with your planting scheme. And since apartments and other smallish dwellings often have a limited amount of exposure, it would really help a lot if you could somehow rotate the plants so that they receive even sunlight.

[JT_Makes_It]’s rotating strawberry tower ticks all these boxes and more. The 12 V solar cell powers a small DC motor that spins at the gentle speed of 0.6 RPM. The tube is hanging from a swiveling carabiner that acts like a clutch — if a strong wind comes along or something bumps into it, the motor will continue to spin the carabiner.

[JT_Makes_It] already had a tube with holes, though they did cut several more into it. As built, this is not exactly apartment dweller-friendly, unless you have off-site access to things like plasma cutters and welding equipment. But as they point out, you could theoretically use PVC and a hole saw and make it shorter and therefore lighter. We think this looks great, although we’re a bit concerned about the weight. Not so much on the mechanism itself; that looks strong. We’re just wondering how long that carport frame will support it. Judge the build quality for yourself from the video after the break.

Did you know that strawberries can do tricks? Fasciation makes fanned-out berries, and vivipary makes them hairy.

Continue reading “Revolving Plant Tower Is Solar-Powered”

The Fascinating World Of Fasciation

The other day, I saw this gigantic mutant strawberry on reddit that looked like it had either been growing in a radiation zone, hitting the gym regularly, or sprinkled with magic dust. I immediately felt more than mildly interested in this phenomenon, which is called fasciation.

As it turns out, fasciation is fairly rare occurrence that nonetheless occurs in a wide variety of vascular plants. These mutant strawberries may be a bit unnerving to look at, but they are totally safe to eat. The only problem is that you’re more likely to come across a fasciated dandelion or daisy out in the wild than a strawberry or pineapple at the grocery store because the so-called ugly produce tends to be weeded out.

Fasciation is essentially unregulated tissue growth that occurs when the apical meristem, better known as the growing tip of the plant strays from shooting upward in cylindrical fashion and instead splays out flat, resulting in ribbon-like plant stems, elongated or multiple flower heads, and semi-circular strawberries.

Regular and fasciated mule’s ears from Wikipedia

Although fasciation tends to present as a flattened main stem, the phenomenon can occur nearly anywhere in the plant — the root, stem, leaves, flower heads, or fruit. It can be localized to just one area, or it affect the entire plant.

Fasciation gets compared to cancer because it has a number of causes and ways of expression, but it’s not quite as harmful or scary. Some races of plants exhibit extreme expression of fasciation. While it’s not fatal, it’s also not ideal, because the condition can result in broken tissues, distorted organization, and a decrease in fertility.

Fasciation: How does it work?

One absolute unit of dandelion. Image via Wild Yorkshire

Fasciation has many causes both internal and external. Internally, it happens because of a hormonal imbalance in the growth cells, a bacterial or viral infection, or a random genetic mutation. There are also environmental causes, like chemical exposure, cold and frost exposure, or fungi, mite, and insect attacks.

The wonder of fasciation knows no geographical, climatic, ecological, or taxonomical bounds among vascular plants. It equally affects annuals, biennials, and perennials; woody and herbaceous plants; shrubs, trees, and vines. Although fasciation can occur in any vascular plant, it is quite common in the rose (includes strawberries), legume, sunflower, and cactus families, and is often found among dandelions and snapdragons.

Some vascular plants are prone to fasciation and prized for it, like the cockscomb (Celosia cristata) flower. A few fasciated flora have even become objects of reverence, like the Virgin Mary appearing on a slice of toast. There was once a fasciated pumpkin vine growing in South India. The twenty-foot-long fasciated portion drew huge crowds of people to worship it, believing the vine to be an incarnation of King Cobra or Naga Sarpa, messenger of the god Vishnu.

This spring, I’ll be looking high and low for abnormal dandelions and daisies. I’ve already started scouting the produce at the grocery store for giant strawberries and found these two in the same box. Won’t you join me? We’re probably more likely to find fasciated fruits or flowers than four-leaf clovers.