Growing Your Own Food in the Inland Northwest – Part 4, by D.F.

(Continued from Part 3. This concludes the article.)


I have tried several contrivances for hand harvesting grain or lentils etc., but each time I have been disappointed. Inevitably I have resorted to pulling a clean plastic garbage can behind me while I manually grab the grain heads and jerk or strip them off and deposit them into the garbage can. Surprisingly this procedure has been “perfected” such that I can harvest about a bushel worth of wheat per day. A bushel of wheat weighs 60 lbs. Because wheat and dry legumes have about 1,500 calories per pound a person could expect to survive decently for a year on five or six bushels of wheat and an equal quantity of legumes. Therefore, harvesting a bushel of wheat or peas per day is tolerable though also quite tiring. Harvesting lentils the same way is much slower and is really back-breaking work because they are such low-growing plants. This is a problem waiting to be solved.

Threshing was initially tried by abrading the wheat heads between screens or surfaces. This was clearly insufficient. My current method uses my electric drill with a bolt in the chuck. On this bolt I have attached a couple pieces of steel chain extending about 5-6 inches out from the bolt [forming a flail.] I shove this up and down in about 1/3 of a garbage can full of grain heads while the drill is running and complete the job in about a minute. I follow this by winnowing using a box fan and then further cleaning with a couple screens. Screen with ½, ¼ and 1/8 inch mesh from hardware stores can be nailed to a frame and provides some useful additional seed cleaning. I may need to repeat these steps to get satisfactory results. Field corn is certainly much easier to harvest by hand, but these methods make grain harvesting possible so I have largely decided not to grow dry corn.

Grain can be stored in white plastic food grade buckets as has been described many times by preppers.

Grinding into flour can depend on the cooking method used. Several people have talked about which mill they prefer. My experience is different. I bought a hand crank grinder like the Chard GM150 for trial. It was not even called a mill and was recommended only for rough grinding into meal rather than flour. To make it work I first adjust its screw tightener about one full turn less than totally tight. This just cracks the wheat into pieces but makes it easier to turn by hand for the next grind. After sifting out the fine powder the unfinished grain is returned to the grinder which is then adjusted for a tighter grind. The grinding and sifting is repeated until no further improvement seems evident The resulting flour is not uniformly fine. Much of it is about equal to commercial fine flour, but a substantial portion is more coarse. This produces a dense but tasty loaf when placed in a bread machine, but a 50/50 mix of this with store-bought flour makes quite a fine loaf.
This process can be used for oats to make oat flour. However, oat bread is not pleasing to my taste so I have left oats somewhat coarse when grinding them. This produces acceptable breakfast cereal which can be stored dry on the countertop. However, it is easier to simply boil whole oat berries until tender enough for breakfast meals. The downside for this is that they require a refrigerator or freezer for storage. This process is my current method and is fine as long as I have refrigeration. It works for wheat berries also. Dry corn also can be ground for breakfast cereal which is also called polenta.

This grinding process also works for lentils, dry peas, and dry beans although these don’t seem to grind as fine as wheat. However, because I use ground legumes differently this is fine. These legumes all have about 25% protein which rivals meat so they are my chief protein source. They can be used as whole unground seeds in soups and stews where they absorb two or three times their volume in water and become soft. To be used this way, however, dry beans and peas must be pre-soaked beforehand overnight. When ground they conveniently cook in a couple minutes in the microwave instead of significantly longer when not ground. Consequently, pea or lentil flour can be mixed dry with other dry flavoring ingredients and stored at room temperature or taken backpacking. They can then be ready to eat in minutes simply by adding water and heating them. Their slightly unpleasant flavor can be fixed by adding about 2% by weight of dry beef bouillon or some desired amount of chili seasoning or dried tomato powder etc. The result is quite tasty and feels filling. Bean flour can be used dry this way also, but it seems to produce more flatulence than peas or lentils. Beans can contain phytohemagglutinin which is somewhat toxic and requires boiling and draining to eliminate. Pinto beans which I grow have probably the lowest amount of this compound compared to other beans so they are probably safe, but I intend to not use them in the ground flour form anyway.

Survival Summary

My intention during extended emergencies is to rely on dry grains and legumes as the main food source. The garden vegetables green beans, green peas, beets, carrots, potatoes, squash, and small fruits are intended to provide supplemental nutrients. Salads come from lettuce and kale although other sources must also be found. Basic seasoning comes from six sources: tomatoes, onions, salt, sugar, vinegar, and pepper. Tomatoes can be grown, dried, and ground into powder. Perhaps onions can be dried and ground into powder also, but they store well enough to be acceptable in their natural form. The other flavorings can be purchased and stocked.

Growing these would require for each adult perhaps a quarter acre for wheat or other grain plus about half an acre for legumes which currently would be mainly field peas and lentils. In addition, a vegetable garden with irrigation would be needed for vegetables and small fruits like raspberries and strawberries. Professional farmers probably can produce much more with less ground than this, but the average novice gardener is not usually that good.

Using these provides:
• Breakfast of wheat or oatmeal or wheatberries plus fruit from strawberries or raspberries with nuts and toast. Dried milk can be reconstituted for breakfast if stored in bulk.
• Lunch can consist of soup from pea or lentil flour flavored with beef bouillon, chili seasoning etc. and bread with salad
• Dinner can consist mainly of soups that combine potatoes, grains, legumes, beets, onions, tomatoes (or their reconstituted powder) and vegetables and bread.

I know this diet sounds minimal and boring, but it is attainable. I use it often, although I currently can add things like cheese, a few ounces of ground turkey and apples or other fruit which I do not yet produce. With enough cleverness it can even taste anywhere between tolerable and quite good. Multivitamins can help complete the nutrition. Furthermore, most of these items can be purchased commercially in bulk and stored for use until the first crop can be obtained.

These can be supplemented by meat as opportunity allows, but raising meat animals requires significant housing and feed. This additional effort seems beyond my capacity at the moment. Furthermore, it comes as a surprise that meat provides fewer calories per pound than grain. Meat is nearly two-thirds water which leaves only about one-third for nutrition. With this handicap it is impossible for meat to compete with grain and legumes, and storing it is much more difficult than storing grain.

I think success at enhancing the flavor and variety of meals from legumes and grain is easier to achieve than raising and caring for animals. It may be safer in an emergency also because marauders are more likely to kill and steal a meat animal than pilfering wheat or beans from your field. They probably do not know how to harvest and thresh field crops, and would not know when they are ripe anyway.