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Harvesting, threshing, winnowing, and dehulling backyard grains

Wheat shockNow that you've got an idea of which grains to try growing in your backyard and how much space you need to grow the grains, let's talk about the actual growing process.  Most of grain-growing is pretty similar to growing anything else.  Some grains are planted in the spring and others in the fall, then you weed them and hope that bugs and diseases don't do much damage.

One major difference between grains and vegetables is that grains are traditionally planted in solid blocks in America rather than rows.  Commercial farmers depend on heavy applications of herbicides to keep these fields of grain weed-free, but Logsdon suggests that the American farmer might be better off using the Chinese method of planting in rows so that your grains can be hand-weeded.  Alternatively, you might rotate your grains after a crop that's cultivated intensely for weeds like strawberries or potatoes.

The main differences between growing grains and vegetables, of course, come during the harvest.  On the backyard scale, most grains are harvested by cutting the whole plant down with a scythe when the seeds are mostly or fully mature.  You can tie plants into bundles and then into shocks to dry in the field, or bring them under cover and let them dry inside.  Either way, in a couple of weeks once the plants are fully dry, it's time to separate the seeds from the head.
Threshing wheat
The first step is threshing --- lay the plants down on a big bedsheet on a flat surface and whack the daylights of out them with a bat or stick.  Alternatively, beans can be threshed by putting the whole plants in a bag and beating the bag around.  When you're done threshing, the seeds should have fallen out and you can take away the bulk of the plants for the chickens to peck through and then to be used as mulch.

Winnowing grainOf course, a lot of bits of chaff (excess plant matter) end up in with the seeds after threshing, so the next step is winnowing --- removing the grain from the chaff.  Logsdon advocates pouring the grain and chaff mixture from one bucket to another, either outside where a breeze can pull away the chaff or in front of a big fan.  In either case, you will need to pour each bucket of grain six to ten times to end up with clean seeds.

If you're working with wheat or some other grains, you are now done with the grain separation steps, but oats, barley, buckwheat, and rice all need to be dehulled.  These seeds are coated in a tough substance that won't be very tasty, and which is, unfortunately, hard to remove effectively at the home scale.  Logsdon suggests heating the grains at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and a half, putting them through a blender, then sifting out the hulls, but he admits his method is only moderately effective.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has instructions for turning your grain mill into a dehuller, which might be worth a shot.  Or just grow hull-less oats and feed hull-covered grains to your livestock.

Try your hand at a homemade chicken waterer that dispenses clean water all day.



This post is part of our Backyard Grain Growing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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