|The world’s smallest patch of Sonora wheat|
Reasons to grow grain
Why grow some of your own grain? I can think of a bunch of reasons:
- You can plant unusual varieties
- The large amount of biomass for your compost pile
- Forage for livestock
- Easy to grow and maintain
- Part of a rotational strategy for maintaining healthy, disease free soil
- Know that your grain is not contaminated with pesticides
How to grow grain
Growing grain is pretty much the same as growing a lawn (most grains are grasses, after all). The main problem, as with a lawn, is dealing with weeds. I can weed by hand the ridiculously small Sonora wheat patch I planted in January. When dealing with a bigger piece of land, the traditional, organic approach is to grow some sort of weed choking, nitrogen fixing plant such as cowpeas the season before planting grain. In Southern California, wheat is planted in January, as far as I can tell. In most other places it is planted in the fall.
I looked through a couple of books for growing grain at home and the best I could find is Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon, originally published in 1977 but recently updated and re-released. Logsdon covers the full spectrum of grains as well as legumes. Included are instructions for harvesting, threshing and winnowing by hand. Logsdon is an entertaining and engaging writer who calls small backyard grain fields “pancake patches”. My pancake patch will probably yield exactly one pancake, but I’m looking forward to the result. Logsdon was my guide.
How to winnow and thresh by hand
At a Grow Biointensive workshop in Willits last year they taught us how to thresh and winnow wheat with just hardware cloth and an electric fan:
Using your feet you rub the seed heads against a piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth attached to a board. You then lift off the hardware cloth and sweep the grain into a kitchen trash can.
Then you dump the grain in front of a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff. Several passes are necessary.
An optional last step is to pass the grain through special seed cleaning screens. It works great, but the screens are expensive.The alternative is more passes in front of the fan. I’ve done this process with flax and it worked just fine.
If you’ve grown grain tell us how it went by leaving a comment!
On Monday the final post of Root Simple’s grain week in which we will tackle why eating grains and other carbohydrates are so unpopular in the past decade.