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Growing Grains: Harvest At Last

So it's been some time since I last talked on here and posted about my grain growing adventure. Covid has thrown a wrench into the world and it's a scramble to figure out what everyone should do. I have been busy with other projects that will be rolling out soon but one thing that didn't change with stay at home orders and closing of many businesses is Mother Nature and how she keeps on going...

Last update the grains had gotten a lot of growth with spring weather and were as tall or taller than me. They stayed up at that height for the rest of the time but once tall is when the fun begins. Aver the rest of April and through May the grains slowly started to change color from green to a dry yellow/tan color. They pretty much went from fresh grasses to what we most think of when we talk about wheat, those yellow stalks with curved tops. At they changed I grew more and more excited to see how it all goes and to start the harvest, but first I needed to see what I had to do...

First up was the wheat. It started to change color first and was ready to harvest at the very end of May. As the time approached I started to look more into how I needed to do this especially on a small scale since I'm not growing a whole field. Pretty much how it goes is you harvest, let it dry/cure in bundles or containers for two weeks, then separate the berry from the rest of the plant. Easy enough right?

Post harvest, now waiting to cure

So first step, cut and start curing. I decided to forgo the classic bundle and just use a storage tub for this. Plus I didn't want to deal with the full stalk but more so keep the tops and start getting rid of the parts I don't need. I went through and cut the grains about 1-2 feet long each and layered them in the tub. This process was pretty easy by hand with a pair of trimmers that I keep sharp for the garden. Just a bit hot in the sun for an hour or so. I have seen those videos of a sickle being used and how it works. I would have love to go through and do it in seconds with one of those but I don't have one, yet... so hand trimmers it was. Once all the wheat was cut and in the tub I placed it in the garage and left it for two weeks before moving onto the next step.

At one point I tried doing it all by hand...

After the two weeks were up, it was time to separate the berries. At this point I was getting super excited to see the final product. Now in my research on how to do small scale grains I found the old school ways of doing it. Place the grains in a bag, smack around, winnow to remove the chaff, poof you have berries. Seemed easy enough, but let me tell you the process of breaking the berries

This is the top of a stalk after the berries are removed

off was not that easy by hand. Plus they have little bristle hairs that poke your skin and after getting through half the wheat, my hands hated me. I didn't know how else to do it so I stuck with what I knew and with some help from my mom, we got through all the stalks and had a bucket of berries and the chaff. Chaff is the papery layer that surrounds the berry. We don't eat it so the next step was to remove it through a process called winnowing.

Now winnowing isn't something new for me. It's also used in chocolate making to separate the cacao nib from the shell. And similar to chocolate, it's pretty easy. Just run the berries in front of a fan and let air take the lighter chaff away. I set up a fan on a chair with an extension cord outside and started pouring the berries back and forth in two buckets. This was really fun and it was amazing to see the berries come out. Unfortunately the process of separating the chaff was not as successful and many berries still had their little skin. With the help of a very kind boyfriend, Ben helped me pick through and take all them out and get the last of the chaff out.

Box fan on a chair, simple method for best results.

At last I had my berries. At this point I could not stop smiling. A couple little packets of berries had turned into handfuls. I ended up with about 3 pounds in total which, for such a small space, I think is pretty nice. The last thing before turning my berries into flour is to freeze them. This step I read some small operations do to kill off any small bugs that might be in the grains. So the berries went into a bag then into the freezer. For now I'm leaving them there until I can figure out the best way to grind them into flour...

About the time the wheat was being finished the harvest was just beginning. The rye was changing as well and was ready to be plucked from the ground. By this time it was the second to last week of June. Took a little longer but I expected that. I did the same process of cutting the rye, this time a little shorter though, about 6 inches to a foot. That way I didn't take as much space. Once in the tub, they hung out in the garage for two weeks just like the wheat.

Now, once it was time to process the rye I knew I couldn't do the whole smacking again and end up sitting outside for a few hours cleaning up the last chaff like with the wheat. I did a little more research and I came across a video of a cute older woman that grew some grains. She separated the berries using a hand crank "corn mill" she had. The moment I saw it I started running. My sister, Courtney, bought me a hand crank flour mill a few years ago for Christmas and it looked just like this woman's corn mill. Now I don't use the mill much because it doesn't make a super fine flour like I prefer but it's cute and I will never get rid of it. The great thing is that I can open the pieces to allow the berries through but they grind on the gears to remove the chaff.

So happy to have a faster way to do this.

I put together a little set up and started going. This was so much faster and the berries came out so fast and clean from their chaffs. With some help from Ben to crank while I stuffed them through the mill, we got through the rye in half the time. Once separated, I winnowed again with the fan but this time I had just berries. When I winnowed the wheat I went back and forth at least a couple dozen times. Then decided to finish by hand since berries still had the chaff. The rye went back and forth three times and it was done! That's it! I was amazed at how fast it happened but I was done and ready to bag and freeze these grains as well. I ended up with a little less than 2 pounds of rye but plenty for me to play with once I grind into flour.

I'm so happy that I did this to better understand the ingredients I use daily in the kitchen and better appreciate the hard work farmers and millers do to help feed us all. Will I do this again? Maybe. I want to see about larger plots and having better equipment to process the stalks so my hands aren't itchy and scratched up. But growing my own grains, like any form of gardening, showed me the power of the Earth and how amazing the process of life coming from soil is.

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