This is an account of our family’s experience and learning while experimenting with growing oats and wheat in a garden setting. Storing food and preps are important; but, for us, the primary role of food storage is for the immediate emergency or to get us through the first year of a serious crisis. What then? No one can store sufficient food for a serious, long-term disaster.
The Key Is Growing and Gathering Your Own
The key is growing and gathering your own, and our favorite staples to grow are potatoes and corn. Living on the “wet” side of Oregon we got to wondering how feasible it would be to grow our own grains, oats and wheat in particular, on a small scale.
Great Fun and Valuable Lessons Learned
We had great fun and learned some valuable lessons in the exercise of growing our own grains that I’ll try to pass along. I’ve included some video of our methods and tools to better share our experience.
Two Sites Chosen
We chose two sites to grow in– pasture land and in an unused chicken coop. We cut and then rototilled a 25×25 foot area of pasture adjacent to our existing garden. This plot had never been intentionally fertilized. We wanted to see how well grain would do competing in grass land in the first year of planting. The 10×10 foot plot in the chicken coop was well fertilized and protected by fence for a more “ideal” growing situation. Both sites were roughly tilled and raked, and then they were planted by hand. Seeds were simply scattered and then lightly raked. We did plant several rows in each plot, seeding the rows more heavily and then covering the seeds with about half of an inch of soil.
Wheat and Oat Seeds Used
For seeds, we used wheat from our storage (winter white) that we had germinated inside over the winter to confirm they would germinate well. We also bought 50 pounds of “naked oats” for planting from an online source. We hoped their nakedness would simplify the harvest and eating of the oats. Both germinated very quickly and did well growing in our simple plots.
I believe any stored wheat could be used as seed, so long as it is kept viable and stored well. Testing seed by germinating some of it before planting is always a good idea just to check that it is viable. Our wheat storage is now much more than just food; it is future seed as well.
We planted in early June, when the spring sunshine became more regular in our soggy part of the west coast. It was impressive how quickly the seeds took to soil and sprouted. Our first key learning was how much our free-ranging chicken flock liked wheat and oats! To keep the birds (and deer) out, we quickly put up a temporary fencing of orange plastic construction barrier fence around the field plot. We keep several rolls of this inexpensive fencing to let us put up temporary fencing quick and easy wherever we might need it. It works great for birds and large livestock, including cattle.
First Surprise- Plots Grew Quickly
Both plots grew very quickly, surprisingly quickly! I do believe if the spring had not provided as much sunshine as it did (some years are very wet and overcast), the growth would have been slower. Both grains need significant amounts of sunshine, so keep this in mind when planting. The oats are especially hearty, however, and they have grown of their own accord during late fall and late winter (Feb-March) here in our mild climate.
Second Surprise- Little Attention Needed
The second surprise for us was how little attention the grains needed from us after they began growing. When the grasses were about three inches tall, the chickens no longer had any interest. The deer, however, took notice and seemed drawn to the grains, especially the oats, until they began to grow grain heads. The temporary fencing did well to discourage them, as did the dog.
Another Learning- Fertilizer Made a Difference
As the grain heads began to grown and mature, another important learning became obvious. The wheat heads growing in the old chicken coop were much larger and well formed than those in the former pasture land. They were beautiful! I estimate the chicken coop wheat had at least 40% more grain on it than what was growing in the pasture, and the wheat in the coop was thicker and taller. The fertilizer made a noticeable difference.
When we do this again or in a long-term situation, we will definitely take the time and effort to fertilize. The pasture wheat was nice and quite suitable, but the yields, which we are after, was very different.
Wheat and Oats Crowded Out Weeds
I was impressed with how well both the wheat and oats did with crowding out other weeds. The grains grew dense enough to keep other grasses and weeds at bay. The only significant weeds were thistles in the pasture plot, and these were easily plucked when large enough. I have since used most of the oats harvested to replant areas in the pasture where other weeds are trying to take hold; the oats crowd them out and are a real treat for the animals. This is a real win-win option.
It was only six or seven weeks, and we were ready to start attempting a harvest. Again the spring and early summer seemed warmer and sunnier than usual, so this was a big help. I’m sure rainier years will likely impact the timing more. The plants were golden and very dry, and grain could be coaxed out by hand fairly easily. It was time! Efficient harvest of wheat and oats were the big project we were most interested in. Without a combine or automated way to gather in our crop, how labor intensive would it be?
Tools For Harvesting
We tried several different tools for harvesting: scythe, sickle, weed eater, and by hand. The scythe was fun but not very effective, at least for us. It takes some practice and care to swing one effectively, and when cut, the wheat scattered about half haphazardly, making it time consuming to gather the stalks up for handling. For a much larger area of wheat, the scythe could be an advantage, but it was not effective for us.
Our weed eater worked very well to cut the wheat. But, like the scythe, it tended to scatter the stalks and often “choke” on them as they tangled in the spinning head of the machine. To address both of these, I took a piece of sheet metal and fixed it to the end of the shaft so the sheet metal sat level with the end and just offset from the spinning plastic blades. This metal caught the cut stalks, and gathered them in-line very well. This also took practice in order to become efficient using it, and the spinning head still choked on stalks too often for my limited patience. However, the design showed great promise.
The sickle turned out to be our favorite and most efficient means for cutting the wheat. Grabbing a handful of stalks, the sickle was used to cut them all at the desired length and they were stacked in a pile. The pile, when large enough, was then tied together with two or three stalks, forming a nice, tight bundle. We gathered these bundles into larger bundles piled on eight foot lengths of wire fencing, and then wrapped and secured the fencing about the bundles to stack upright under cover for further drying, if necessary. It was easier to keep the sickle sharp, and it never choked on the stalks.
We tried the same methods for the oats, which matured about the same time as the wheat. The oats required a bit more care in handling, because it shed its fruit much more easily. I’m not sure if the “naked oats” variety drops its grain more easily than regular oats, but we had to be more careful as the grain came out and scattered when being cut or handled. For oats, we found simply grabbing a handful of grain heads in our hands and then pulling upward gave us all of the grain and left the stalks in the field. This was faster. There was less handling, and we found it to be our best way to gather in the oats in-quantity. We had much less loss of grain in the handling, too.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue to tell you about our harvesting and processing as well as what we learned from our experiment.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been another entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value), and
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 73 ends on November 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.