Wheat–From Broadcasting Seed to Baking Bread, by John and Abigail Adams

I thought that the SurvivalBlog readers might like to hear about our experience in raising wheat for our own use. My wife and I have lived on a small farm for many years. We raise most of our own vegetables, have chickens for eggs, run a couple of steers in the pasture and at times feed out a hog. We both have full time jobs so there is not enough time to raise everything that we need but we do what we can. As most of our kids have moved out or are off at college we no longer need to put back as much canned and frozen vegetables as we had in the past. Last fall I cleaned up the plant remnants in our garden and then simply broadcast seed wheat on top of the ground. I purchased a 50lb. bag from the local feed store, it took about 1/2 of the bag to sow the garden, the rest was stored in a sealed 5 gallon bucket, to be used on the garden this fall. By spring, even though we had an exceptionally cold winter, the wheat was several inches tall. When planting time came we plowed the wheat under as “green manure” in the upper half of our garden the lower half was left in wheat. I plan to rotate halves and see if I can gain some weed control from a year in wheat. At this point raising the wheat was simplicity itself, we did nothing other than watch it grow as we put out the rest of the garden. No hoeing, fertilizer, weeding or bug dust like with the conventional garden.
As the wheat ripened I kept an eye on my neighbors commercial wheat fields. When they started harvest I checked my wheat, it was dry enough that you had to bite fairly hard to get it to crack, not real scientific but in the event that you can’t get to your local grain elevator to have it tested, a handy gauge.
Abigail and I see this type of exercise as training in the event that the balloon does indeed go up. So as the next step is the harvest I sharpened up the hand scythe, grabbed the wheel barrow and filled it with the wheat and straw.
I then wheeled it over to a shaded area in our yard and we started the gleaning process. I had considered using the flail method to glean the wheat, but chose to use two washboards instead. I wanted to have some washboards around the house just in case they were ever needed for their intended purpose, and it would appear to take about as much time either way. Sitting on an old bed sheet we would take a handful of grain heads in the palm of our hand and rub them up and down on the washboard, the grain and chaff would pile up on the sheet. We would pile the empty straw behind us and when finished gleaning we would lay the straw between the rows in the conventional garden for weed control. We then scooped up the grain and chaff from the sheet and placed it in a large plastic bowl. It was then swirled around as we blew on the bowl. This removed about 90% of the chaff. One wheelbarrow load took two of us about an hour to process. After 3 wheelbarrows we had a gallon jar full of grain. We then took an electric fan and dribbled the wheat in front of it removing most of the remaining chaff. This process took us an additional hour as some of the wheat kernels were still covered with a sheath that we removed. We then ground the wheat in a electric mill that we had recently purchased from Lehman’s. That took about 5 minutes and yielded a little over a gallon of delicious whole-wheat flour.
1.) While the gleaning process was not hard work by any means it took far longer than I ever anticipated. It was enjoyable in the fact that my wife, daughter and I had some quiet time together, in these busy times an all too rare occurrence. If the balloon would ever go up, and the neighbors won’t or can’t show up with their combines, I can easily see a return to the threshing floor that Ruth and Boaz enjoyed. The neighbors will get together and help each other thresh their wheat as a social event.
2.) Economically this made no sense whatsoever. We spent 4 hours of labor to obtain maybe 10 lbs of whole wheat, which I can buy at the local bulk food store for $4.70. That works out to 59 cents per hour per person, not very good wages these days.
3.)In terms of satisfaction, the experience was great! We raised, harvested, gleaned, milled and baked our own bread from our own wheat. Not too many people can say that.
4.) Because of the amount of time involved we more than likely will not harvest the rest of the wheat this year, but it will be there in the unlikely event that we need it.
5.) I plan to repeat the process next year switching halves of the garden.
6.) It was a great process and very educational. We now know what will be required if we ever have to depend on raising our own wheat. I would urge people to give it a try. Not much land is required and you too will be better informed.
7.) Because of this I am now getting into sourdough bread cooking, a whole new challenge, and a skill that may come in very handy some day.
If you or anyone else has any questions please let us know and we’ll do our best to answer them. (JWR adds: I will be happy to post or forward your questions to John and Abigail.)