Sunday, October 4, 2009

Finishing the Wheat: A Backlog Post

This post has been on my backlog list for some time now. For convenience, I am linking to previous wheat entries: Walls and Wheat, and Eat Your Wheaties.

Way, way back in July, I harvested my long-awaited crop of hard red winter wheat, which was growing in two long beds inside the garden fence all throughout the winter. It took a long time to ripen, since we had a lot of cool, foggy weather in the late spring/early summer. But at last, I harvested it, and dried the bundles in the mudroom and in the open sun.

Now, this process is one of those lost homesteading arts that everyone in the old days knew how to do, but since no one grows wheat anymore, there isn't anyone around who can tell me what to do. I do have the luck of having a written source that describes how to "flail" the wheat, which basically involves beating it with a stick to get the grains loose from the dry seed heads. The ideal flail is a broom handle with a shorter stick attached to the end with a leather "thong", as the literature puts it, so that it can swing freely. You know, you get a little momentum going and it really whacks the stuff.

But since I haven't grown wheat before, nor has anyone I know, I don't have a flail. So I found a stout piece of redwood, left over from another project, with which to beat my wheat. I assumed it wouldn't be so hard, since the grain was pretty dry, but it actually took quite a bit of beating, and thorough beating at that, to get the maximum wheat grain out. Thoroughness normally wouldn't matter, but since I had such a small harvest, every last grain was VERY important to me!

Once the grain was flailed, I then winnowed the chaff from the grain, which involves a very high tech process of slowly pouring the grain between two containers outdoors where there is the right amount of wind. Pour too quickly, and none of the chaff blows away. Pour too slowly, or when the wind is gusting a little, and the hard earned wheat berries dive into the grass, never to be seen until next winter.

Wheat Berries with Chaff, ready for Winnowing

All told, my dear wheat harvest readers, I collected eight precious cups of wheat berries. Not even enough to make one batch of bread. Nor enough to sow the same amount I planted last year. Certainly, I made some gardening mistakes, which I will remedy this year. But still a bit disappointing. I'm aiming for a better turnout next year. Partly, this involves planting the wheat in the area where the chicken run was, hoping that the chicken poop will feed the wheat, will feed the people, will feed the bucket, will feed the fruit trees, will feed the chickens, will feed the wheat, and so on.

I've got some more work to do to finish closing those loops....

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