Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Our First Farm Venture!

This summer, the two of us began our first venture as farmers, wheat! Neither of us had much of an idea how to actually go through the whole process, but we wanted to see for ourselves what it really takes to start with planting a wheat kernel in the ground, then harvesting the finished grain, threshing and cleaning it, and finally milling it into fresh whole wheat flour to make tasty tasty bread!

The first part was easy enough. Plant it, weed it, and wait...

Then, in October, we had to figure out how to harvest all that grain.

We were able to get it harvested by an incredibly large swathing machine that cut down the whole patch in a couple of minutes. It only took that long because it had to turn around to make a second pass. Then we loaded all the wheat sheaths into large wooden crates and hauled it all up to the barn, 14 crates in all!

We decided to give hand threshing a try. We had to break the grain heads off of the straw, and rub the heads across a screen to separate the kernels from the chaff, and then drop everything in front of a fan so it could blow the chaff free. It was very hard work, and took 7 of us all afternoon just to get 14kg of grain threshed. This was maybe 5 percent of everything we had. And we wouldn't be able to keep all our friends if we kept asking them to thresh grain everytime we saw them.

Back in the field after the wheat had been cut, we had sort of dismissed the idea of "stooks", deeming them unimportant. Little did we know! Normally, once the crops are cut down the grain sheaths are tied in bundles, or stooks, that stand upright in the field so that they can properly dry. This also aids the threshing process (when done by hand) because all the grain heads have the same orientation. We ended up wasting a lot of time and grain getting our messy, non stooked sheaths onto the table and rearranging them so the grain heads all faced the same direction. Next time, we stook!!

At this rate, it would take us until sometime the next year to get all the work done. So we borrowed a combine...
And we didn't fill it by much. That's all our grain managed to fill the hopper up to on the machine:

It was pretty crazy. We'd spend ten minutes forking wheat into the front of the combine, then Stan Mills,a great support and resource we had through this whole experience, would quickly turn the machine on and off to thresh it. Each time the combine required a whole two seconds to suck back what had taken us so long to load. This way, we were able to take all those crates of grain, and reduce them to a satisfying 360kg. Now all we had to do was clean it. By hand...with screens:

But in the end, we've been able to turn a field of grass into fresh, whole wheat flour:

This has really been an educating experience for us. It might seem like grain farming should be pretty simple and achievable, but it takes so much knowledge and equipment, making it a fairly hard industry to start in. But it is so satisfying! We have exciting plans for this season...

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