Our Family’s Garden Grain Experiment- Part 2

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Our family did an experiment to see how we could grow wheat and oats in a garden setting. In part 1 of this article series, we shared that we used two different garden plots, one that was well fertilized and one that had never been fertilized or used for a garden. Additionally, I told about our seeds and how we protected our growing areas from animals. We began describing the tools that we tested to harvest wheat and how we found, for us, that the sickle worked best. Also, because the naked oats we grew dropped seed more readily, we ended up grabbing the grain heads in the field and collecting grain by hand rather than cutting the stalks. We shared a video in Part 1 of this. Let’s continue on now.

Removing Grain From Stalks

With half of our wheat in sheaves and most of our oats gathered by hand, the next step was removing the grain from the stalks. We tried three different methods for this– by hand, by machine, and by a paint stirrer spun by a drill.

Threshing By Hand

With a hard-tine rake head we took a handful of wheat stalks and beat them back and forth inside a large, clean, plastic garbage can. The rake head did well to encourage the grain to leave its mother stalk. We used the rake head in our hand, but found if we fixed the rake head on the inside of the garbage can we could more effectively beat the grain off the stalks. This method worked okay by hand, but impressed us with how difficult it was to remove wheat from the stalks. Only about 20{5f621241b214ad2ec6cd4f506191303eb2f57539ef282de243c880c2b328a528} of the wheat came off with vigorous effort. This amount increased the longer the wheat had dried, but it never really felt efficient. And waiting longer and longer increases the risk for loss to mice, birds, or bad weather.

Threshing by Electric Machine

A friend of ours who also was growing wheat had made a thresher from a large electric motor. He had a very nice fixture for the motor, and had a large wooden dowel on the motor shaft with bent nails sunk into it. The motor turned at high speed, and by applying a bundle of wheat heads to the spinning nails, the grain was knocked off much better than by hand with a rake head! This setup was nice, but it was noisy and dangerous. The wheat heads required significant pressure to keep them into the spinning nails, too. Overall, this was a good way but not a great way to thresh the wheat from the stalks.

Threshing with Paint Stirrer

The paint stirrer, a large shaft with metal blades at the end and small chain links attached for stirring paint with a drill, was our best threshing tool. It was actually amazing how well this simple setup worked! To use it, we cut the heads off all the wheat stalks so very little of the stalk was left. We filled a large, durable (and clean) garbage can up with the heads. The tool was set into the wheat heads and spun. In 30-40 seconds, the entire can was pulverized into 1/3 its volume and consisted of grain and small, light pieces of chaff. It was like liquefying the mass into grain! We did worry about damage to the grain. However, on inspection, we could not really see any noticeable damage; all of the grain seemed fine. You really have to see this to appreciate how quickly it reduced so much biomass into grain. I’ve uploaded some video of it here.

Threshing went much smoother than we had expected. It is still the most significant part of the effort in the harvest, but after our experiences I am confident we not only can harvest well but very efficiently, too.

Winnowing

Winnowing the wheat was pretty straight forward, but this did take some time and care. Equipment needs were minimal: just a sheet, bins for the grain, and a wind source. We used a small and a large “box” fan for winnowing. Both of these worked well. The sheet was under the fan, and the bin was used to catch the chaff and stray wheat. It was also very helpful to put a bit of chicken wire over the top of the bin to catch large chaff.

Nothing Wasted

It is worth noting that throughout the harvest, nothing went to waste. The chickens were eager to clean up after us, and we threw the straw into the coop for them to glean, and to use in the laying boxes. They were very pleased.

Best Parts of the Harvest

The best parts were the pancakes. Harvest is about enjoying the fruit of our labor and the blessings of the Lord. He is the source of the increase. We all agreed that the pancakes just tasted better with our own wheat.

The Disappointment With Oats

The oats, however, were a bit of a disappointment after the harvest. We chose to grow “naked oats” to get the groats from the hull easier, but that was not the experience. We could not find an effective way to “shell” the oats, but we did try running them through a rough grinder with rubberized grinding plates, but this didn’t leave us groats in the end. What groats we did get took time. When we made oatmeal, there was still enough hulls to make the oatmeal taste like hay. It was disappointing overall but still very fun. The chickens were eager to help here, too.

Return on Investment of Sown Wheat

At the end of the harvest, we had sown about seven pounds of wheat in our two plots and measured about 35 lbs of grain in the end. That’s a decent yield and a great experiment. Thirty-five pounds of wheat is not very valuable, but the education was of great worth, and our time in the field with our kids was priceless.

The children really had fun with this project and trying so many new things. They delighted in the growth and seeing the wheat take head. They had fun harvesting the fruit and delighting in thanks to the Lord for His blessing. The children raved about the pancakes, and now as we eat store-bought bread they ask for the chance to bake bread with their mother. They are shocked to see how much cellulose (sawdust) is used in bread, ice cream, and even cocoa from the store, and are appreciative of what they have learned and enjoy. That is the true harvest!

Take-Aways For Long-Term Situation

In conclusion, there were a few important take-aways we had in better preparing for a long-term situation. First, we bought some triple 16 fertilizer (16-16-16) to keep on hand. We yearly add chicken, cow, and sometimes horse manure to the main garden, and now use just a cup or two of this synthetic fertilizer as needed for the corn and grain. A little goes a long way, and it stores easily for long-term. It’s very nice to have this powerful resource to boost yields.

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