June 17, 2020

Wheat Harvest

June is wheat month. I plant our wheat in the fall (winter wheat) and it's ready to harvest in June. Cutting and gathering takes the good part of a day, and once harvested, processing takes up the rest of the month.


Wheat is ready to harvest when most of the plant has turned golden brown and the grains in the seed heads are hard. If they can be squished between one's teeth, they aren't ready yet. From  experience, we've learned that harvesting too early makes it difficult to thresh. Wait too long and the heads shatter, i.e. the seeds fall to the ground on their own. The trick is getting a patch of nice weather at the right time to do the job. Because we only get to do this once a year, we're still learning.


The stand was patchy but the seed heads were the largest and fullest we've ever grown. Not all of them, but most of them.


Processing is easiest if the grain heads are lined up, but scything leaves cutting helter-skelter. To cut grain for threshing, a grain cradle is traditionally used.


Trouble is, no one makes these any more, so it has to be a DIY project. There are lots of ideas out there, and Dan has experimented with some of them, but none with satisfactory results. Scything with a cradle takes a slightly different technique, and since we only get to try a new idea once a year, it's a slow road to figuring it out.

One problem we had this year was that the ground was still very soft from recent rains. Many of the wheat plants were pulled out by the roots. Another problem is that not all of our plants were the same height, so getting the heads lined up in neat bundles was near impossible. We end up removing most of the heads by hand. You may think that's an awful lot of extra work, but it's actually a matter of where we put the work; either in separating the heads or in extra winnowing because there is more chaff in the grain from the stalks.


We've tried a number of methods for threshing, but so far have had the best success with our thresher converted from a small yard mulcher. You can see that in this post. The only drawback is that it tends to break some of the grains. This year Dan tried something different.


It's two short lengths of chain on a paint stirrer. The seed heads are put into a 55-gallon food grade barrel, and the chains beat the seeds out of the heads.


Winnowing is next. That's the process of blowing away the chaff to get the wheat berries. I do this with a box fan, as you can see by scrolling down toward the bottom of the threshing post. Winnowing is quickest with the least amount of chaff. By only threshing the seed heads, we have less chaff to winnow.

So, we're still threshing at the moment. I'm anxious to get on with the rest, so we can make some flour and taste our new wheat!

Next time, I'll show you what we're doing with the wheat patch, now that the wheat has been harvested.

Wheat Harvest © June 2020 by Leigh

23 comments:

  1. I love your dedication to growing your own wheat! Just wondering if you grow it to avoid GMOs.

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  2. Beautiful grains! How big of a patch did you grow?

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  3. We found and bought our scythe at a farm auction. All it needed was to be sharpened. Many hands over decades of use made the hand hold points smooth.

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  4. Gorges, :)

    Daisy, in part. Technically, GMO'd wheat hasn't been approved for commercial use, but the problem is that many producers still spray it with glyphosate as a desiccant to dry it quickly and evenly for threshing. Also, it's part of our quest for self-reliance. My goal is to produce at least one thing in my designated food categories, so wheat for bread seems a likely choice. We also produce our own cornmeal, and I'm working toward producing our own rice.

    Jo, farm auctions are the way to go!

    Our's isn't a large patch, roughly 30 by 62 feet. We can expand it somewhat, which will depend on how much the yield is this year and how long it lasts.

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  5. You 2 are amazing! I wish I would have had the internet and known people like you when I was young. My husband was not into any of that though and, by the time I was on my own, I got sick so evidently, it wasn't meant to be. So glad I get to read about your "adventures" though! :)

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  6. Sam, we wish we'd had the internet and started younger too! lol. That being said, it helps to have a partner with the same interests.

    RT, thanks!

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  7. Thank you for the wheat update, Leigh. We have been very curious about the subject, as we would like to try planting this fall. Looks like a lot of work, but the reward would be excellent. I know there must be an extreme learning curve involved, but one learns nothing if not tried! We will be grateful for the update on flavor ;) ! Have a wonderful week!

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  8. Brings back a lot of memories for me. I can feel and taste wading out in the feel and trying a few of the seeds in my mouth to see if they were hard enough to combine. One thing we used to do to see how they would thresh is to take the tip and pretending it was like a cigarette that we were putting out, push down into our palm and twist. How easily you are able to remove all the seeds gives you an idea of how easily it will thresh.

    Whenever I was unloading wheat from the first wagons, my mom would come out with her containers and I would load her up straight from the wagon. All she had to do was winnow them and then proceed to baking. It was always nice eating that first loaf and knowing everything that went into it.

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  9. Wyomingheart, you're welcome! I have found wheat easy to grow, so hopefully it will be the same for you. I can already tell you that the flavor is so much better than anything you can buy. That may be the sweetness of all the work we put into it, but that's part of what makes it worth it!

    Ed, they sound like good memories. Good tip on checking readiness for threshing, thank you for that. I agree, that first loaf is really special. :)

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  10. I planted about a quarter of an acre of wheat in 2015 and my husband and his father scythed the field and I sheaved it. It was a blistering day and we all thought we were going to melt but it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. There is something so profoundly moving seeing the men in the field, watching the stalks fall and then gathered into bundles to dry.
    I almost felt as though I had seen this before, done this before and felt an odd desire to live this ancient way for the rest of my life. It was a very spiritual experience for me.

    You guys have come a long way and I have enjoyed watching your journey immensely. Very inspiring!

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  11. Leigh,
    We do not have enough room to grow wheat here.
    But by building raised beds from Pallets we do have things growing. Went out this morning and picked 2 1/2 lbs of Cucumbers, A Big Tomato and a few Zucchini.
    We also found that our Onions are coming up and a couple "Patty Pan" squash are poking their heads up.
    Sue planted so corn seeds into a plastic egg carton and they are sprouting, So I have to get the bed for them built today.
    I also wanted to tell you that I have taken your advice and am working on a new BLOG. Should be up by next week!

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  12. Looks great Leigh. I cannot grow grain here because the rains still come too late in the season. When I did grow grain, I had to remove the heads by hand, put them into a cat litter bucket and then thresh with a aluminum baseball bat, and winnow via wind or fan. It was not a fancy system but it got the job done.

    If I ever get back to Old Home, grain is first on the list.

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  13. Jamie, I so agree that there is something wonderful about the whole hands-on process of wheat. I feel that way about producing as much of our own food as possible. Have you grown wheat since?

    Tom, that's great news about a new blog! I'm very curious as to how you ended up in Hawaii. Sounds like your garden is doing great!

    Nancy, it's very rewarding!

    Thanks, TB! Your method sounds like some things I've tried! Sounds like it worked well for you, which is all that counts!

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  14. Seems to me that I read that cradle scythes are made in Europe. They were not cheap

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  15. Deb, good to hear from you! I'll have to check into that. The two websites (that I know of) that sell European scythes say they don't have a supplier. Of course, if they have to be shipped from Europe, cost plus shipping may make the cost out of sight.

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  16. Leigh, I cannot speak to their reliability but they look pretty slick: https://scythesupply.com/outfits.html

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  17. TB, that's very similar to the outfit Dan got from One Scythe Revolution. The nice thing about these scythes, is that they're sized for each individual. He likes it much better than his American scythe.

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  18. Catching up with all your blog posts, while I was away. So you'll have a lovely backlog of comments to publish, lol, sorry about that. You've been very productive with your growing season, and it's great to see everything you've been putting your hands to, being used or socked away for later.

    The winter solstice is coming for us, tomorrow! So I imagine the summer solstice won't be long for you either. Our days will slowly get longer, as yours begin to wane. Winter is our most productive time for getting work done outside. So we better get cracking, before the days get too hot.

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  19. Chris, thanks for the heads-up about the comments! I forget to check the comment moderation folder! I love comments, and especially appreciate yours. I also appreciate winter being the best time for getting things done. It's that way here too. Summer is usually just too hot.

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  20. The best line in this post, it's a matter of where you want to put the work. That's so true with many things. Happy Harvest and more so, Happy Learning and thanks for sharing.

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