Our Family’s Garden Grain Experiment- Part 2, by Wild BillB of OR

Our family did an experiment to see how we could grow wheat and oats in a garden setting. In part 1 of this article series, we shared that we used two different garden plots, one that was well fertilized and one that had never been fertilized or used for a garden. Additionally, I told about our seeds and how we protected our growing areas from animals. We began describing the tools that we tested to harvest wheat and how we found, for us, that the sickle worked best. Also, because the naked oats we grew dropped seed more readily, we ended up grabbing the grain heads in the field and collecting grain by hand rather than cutting the stalks. We shared a video in Part 1 of this. Let’s continue on now.

Removing Grain From Stalks

With half of our wheat in sheaves and most of our oats gathered by hand, the next step was removing the grain from the stalks. We tried three different methods for this– by hand, by machine, and by a paint stirrer spun by a drill.

Threshing By Hand

With a hard-tine rake head we took a handful of wheat stalks and beat them back and forth inside a large, clean, plastic garbage can. The rake head did well to encourage the grain to leave its mother stalk. We used the rake head in our hand, but found if we fixed the rake head on the inside of the garbage can we could more effectively beat the grain off the stalks. This method worked okay by hand, but impressed us with how difficult it was to remove wheat from the stalks. Only about 20% of the wheat came off with vigorous effort. This amount increased the longer the wheat had dried, but it never really felt efficient. And waiting longer and longer increases the risk for loss to mice, birds, or bad weather.

Threshing by Electric Machine

A friend of ours who also was growing wheat had made a thresher from a large electric motor. He had a very nice fixture for the motor, and had a large wooden dowel on the motor shaft with bent nails sunk into it. The motor turned at high speed, and by applying a bundle of wheat heads to the spinning nails, the grain was knocked off much better than by hand with a rake head! This setup was nice, but it was noisy and dangerous. The wheat heads required significant pressure to keep them into the spinning nails, too. Overall, this was a good way but not a great way to thresh the wheat from the stalks.

Threshing with Paint Stirrer

The paint stirrer, a large shaft with metal blades at the end and small chain links attached for stirring paint with a drill, was our best threshing tool. It was actually amazing how well this simple setup worked! To use it, we cut the heads off all the wheat stalks so very little of the stalk was left. We filled a large, durable (and clean) garbage can up with the heads. The tool was set into the wheat heads and spun. In 30-40 seconds, the entire can was pulverized into 1/3 its volume and consisted of grain and small, light pieces of chaff. It was like liquefying the mass into grain! We did worry about damage to the grain. However, on inspection, we could not really see any noticeable damage; all of the grain seemed fine. You really have to see this to appreciate how quickly it reduced so much biomass into grain. I’ve uploaded some video of it here.

Threshing went much smoother than we had expected. It is still the most significant part of the effort in the harvest, but after our experiences I am confident we not only can harvest well but very efficiently, too.


Winnowing the wheat was pretty straight forward, but this did take some time and care. Equipment needs were minimal: just a sheet, bins for the grain, and a wind source. We used a small and a large “box” fan for winnowing. Both of these worked well. The sheet was under the fan, and the bin was used to catch the chaff and stray wheat. It was also very helpful to put a bit of chicken wire over the top of the bin to catch large chaff.

Nothing Wasted

It is worth noting that throughout the harvest, nothing went to waste. The chickens were eager to clean up after us, and we threw the straw into the coop for them to glean, and to use in the laying boxes. They were very pleased.

Best Parts of the Harvest

The best parts were the pancakes. Harvest is about enjoying the fruit of our labor and the blessings of the Lord. He is the source of the increase. We all agreed that the pancakes just tasted better with our own wheat.

The Disappointment With Oats

The oats, however, were a bit of a disappointment after the harvest. We chose to grow “naked oats” to get the groats from the hull easier, but that was not the experience. We could not find an effective way to “shell” the oats, but we did try running them through a rough grinder with rubberized grinding plates, but this didn’t leave us groats in the end. What groats we did get took time. When we made oatmeal, there was still enough hulls to make the oatmeal taste like hay. It was disappointing overall but still very fun. The chickens were eager to help here, too.

Return on Investment of Sown Wheat

At the end of the harvest, we had sown about seven pounds of wheat in our two plots and measured about 35 lbs of grain in the end. That’s a decent yield and a great experiment. Thirty-five pounds of wheat is not very valuable, but the education was of great worth, and our time in the field with our kids was priceless.

The children really had fun with this project and trying so many new things. They delighted in the growth and seeing the wheat take head. They had fun harvesting the fruit and delighting in thanks to the Lord for His blessing. The children raved about the pancakes, and now as we eat store-bought bread they ask for the chance to bake bread with their mother. They are shocked to see how much cellulose (sawdust) is used in bread, ice cream, and even cocoa from the store, and are appreciative of what they have learned and enjoy. That is the true harvest!

Take-Aways For Long-Term Situation

In conclusion, there were a few important take-aways we had in better preparing for a long-term situation. First, we bought some triple 16 fertilizer (16-16-16) to keep on hand. We yearly add chicken, cow, and sometimes horse manure to the main garden, and now use just a cup or two of this synthetic fertilizer as needed for the corn and grain. A little goes a long way, and it stores easily for long-term. It’s very nice to have this powerful resource to boost yields.

Secondly, it would take significant space to grow a meaningful crop of wheat. If we were growing our own wheat to live on, it would take at least one acre to get a harvest that could add value to our family’s diet. Given the space, I would try to plant three acres for our family to live well off. That is significant work and would make the wheat a full-time job for at least one adult. The Pacific NW grows incredible amounts of wheat, even on the “wet” side of the region, like the Willamette Valley, so finding a volume source would be important, if that is your main food stuffs. The ability to grow it yourself is great, but not really a feasible objective in a disastrous situation. We are exploring other sources or options to get large amounts of wheat rather than relying on our own farming.

Try Our Experiment Yourself

I hope our experiment and experience is of value to you, and that it peaks your interest in trying it yourself. It seems lately everyone eager to prepare for disaster is fixated on firearms, or is stockpiling supplies. Both are important; however, they will not feed you in the second year of a disaster. “No man is truly free, who depends on another for his bread”, and our ability to produce, grow, learn, experience, and call upon the Lord will be what makes us ready for whatever we are called upon to go through in these last days.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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  1. We grew some wheat for a number of years. I threshed it using a “leaf eater” which is, essentially, an electric weed whip in a drum. It was quite fast and easy to use. The only safety concern is that a wheat berry was shot out now and then. There are probably several on the market.

  2. Great article, thanks for sharing. I recently experimented growing grains in the home-garden as well (Corn and Rice – still trying to figure out how to de-hull the rice!)
    What a great experience for the kids, too. Wish mine were half as interested, LOL!

  3. Some farmers will sell super sacks of corn and wheat to individuals. I recently purchased one that contained 1800 pounds for $200. I have also done the same with wheat.

    1. yes, craigslist is how we found several farmers doing this as well. we’ve purchased these for animal feed, and considered using it for ourselves. in a difficult situation it would be fine, however we found the super sacks of grain were quite dirty, and had a lot of weed and other ‘seed’ in them, so we haven’t pursued eating/grinding this for ourselves. good option to be aware of, though!

  4. wonderful article. i just have a question about your estimate of needing 3 acres to grow a meaningful amount of wheat. here in western oregon yield is about 50 bushels per acre. 3 acres should yield 150 bushels or about 9000 pounds of wheat since wheat weighs in at about 50 or 60 pounds per bushel. seems to be far more than any family can eat or use for feed.

    1. I am with Jay M here, the numbers I have seen for wheat is 6500lbs per acre, must be where I live. I figure that 3 acres of wheat would be enough to feed the town, not just your family. Very good information. I know when I move out of the city and on to some land I want to grow grains for a Grain CSA, vs a vegetable or a fruit CSA. Thank you for sending time writing the article.

    2. great point. i think these numbers are for automated planting/harvesting. when we did it by hand, our yields were no where near this level. my estimate of 3 acres was a SWAG, and based on the square footage we had planted and yielded. there is loss and significant inefficiency in how we did it, but the chickens made the ‘loss’ up for us 😉 also, we have a big family (>9 people) and many neighbors that in a life-down situation we would be helping as well. so… i agree with you completely but my estimate is very conservative. i should have been clearer. thanks for the input!

  5. I’ve adapted a 7&1/4″ De Walt or other carbide tipped 24 tooth thin kerf skil saw blade to my heavy duty weed wacker. It will lay down tall grass nicely in a row.This has proven also to work very well for trail work in heavy brush in So Cal. It will take down brush up to 4″ in in thickness. You must use it with a straight shaft weed wacker and be very careful of which way you cut into the brush with the leading edge. I’m sure someone will comment on the danger of the carbide tips flying off and hitting someone. This has never happened in 20 years and many blades later. They hold up amazing and cut even when they are fairly dull to the touch. If you can figure out how to adapt them you will figure out how to use them safely. Do this at your own risk. I always wear eye, ear and hand protection. Also Chain saw chaps are a must to keep rocks from hitting you in the legs.

  6. We grew “streaker” hulless oats and had no such problems. Stripped from the stalk by hand, run through the thresher then winnowed for really nice groats. Did need to get a flaker to get rolled oats, and produced really nice oatmeal. Only real issue with growing grains at home is the need for a few specialized tools. Once you either buy or make these, the rest is pretty straight forward.

  7. Keep reading articles like yours hoping for different results than what I or you have found. Just remember CORN is KING. One of the highest calories per acre and one way to get rid of humanure using hill method.

      1. Yes! Our experiments with potatoes confirmed this to ourselves as well. Love corn, love wheat, love potatoes (lefse is a family favorite for generations!). Gene Logsdon is a favorite author and after reading his book we thought we’d give wheat a try, since it is of value and not a ‘typical’ garden or small production crop. Thanks for your comments!

  8. Your yield calculates to 2030 lb. per acre. That’s very good for hand seeding and harvesting. Commercial farms get about 1-1/2 tons per acre, about 1/3 more. If you left 10% or so to the chickens, that’s all to the good. Commercial farms can’t open up their land to chickens, so it’s mice that reap the windfall. Congrats on your success.

  9. As so many people, you speak of “growing the plant”. If we were growing our own wheat…

    I ask you to consider that we plant, tend and harvest the crop. The One who grows it provides for us all.

    1. yes, you are right – it is God who gives the increase. i appreciate you pointing this out, because i didn’t speak to it enough. the BEST part of a garden is that it teaches our family how DEPENDENT we are upon the Lord. we put our work in, but without His blessing, it is for naught. i LOVE feeling that renewed realization of our dependence on the Lord – we often lose it so easily in our modern, convenient world that He has blessed and prospered us in. thanks for pulling us ‘back in’!

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