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.
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.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part two of a two part 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.