April 9, 2023

Another Experiment in Threshing Wheat

Wheat harvest is in June, and we try to get it threshed and winnowed as quickly as possible. It's much easier to store as grain than in a bulky, non-threshed form (easier to protect from moths, too). In the past, both Dan and I worked on this together, but last year, I had an abundance of tomatoes, figs, and pears, so that I didn't have time to spare for the wheat. The other day, I got out the last of the wheat heads and thought about how to thresh it.

Some of our unthreshed wheat from last summer.

 Of growing wheat, I'd have to say that the growing is the easiest part. Scything isn't too bad, or last year, we had a small enough patch that we could just cut off the heads with a hand sickle. The hardest part is the threshing, which is separating the grains from the seed heads. Winnowing is just tedious.

To thresh, we've tried stomping, pounding, flailing, and rubbing. Dan even tried converting a little yard chipper into a thresher (pictures and explanation here.) Even so, every year we're still looking for an easier way to do it. 

And that's where my experiment came in. 

I filled a couple of pillowcases about a third full with wheat heads, added half-a-dozen golf balls, knotted the pillowcases closed, and tied them off with string for good measure. Then I put the bags into the clothes dryer.

I turned the heat off and set the dryer to the longest timer setting, which was 70 minutes. Then I let the bags of wheat bounce around in the dryer until the timer went off. Here's what it looked like when I dumped it out.

It worked!

I think this is the most thorough separation of wheat from the chaff we've ever had. And it required very little effort on our part! This method is a keeper! Now, I'm wondering how it would work for oats and buckwheat.

There are two caveats that I want to mention. The first is the type of fabric the pillowcase is made of. For my first load, I used one cotton pillowcase and the other polyester. When I dumped out the threshed wheat, the polyester pillowcase had chaff and wheat beards stuck all over it. It was a mess. The contents in the cotton pillowcase, however, dumped out cleanly and nothing stuck to the cloth. For my second load, I used only cotton pillowcases.

The second noteworthy point is that tying off the bags is a must. In the second batch, we tried leaving one bag knotted but not tied with string. Bouncing around in the dryer for over an hour managed to work the knot loose and much of the contents spilled out into the dryer drum. 

Next, I have to finish winnowing. No shortcuts for that, unfortunately. I'll just have to find the time to work it into my increasingly busy spring schedule.


Ed said...

How I wish my mom were alive to tell her about your test and have a good laugh. I distinctly remember my mom going out to one of our wheat fields and picking a sack of wheat, threshing it by hand, one head of wheat at a time, and then making a single loaf of bread out of it. The very next year, and every year after, she would simply come out when I was emptying a wagon of wheat that had been threshed by the combine and fill up her bucket.

Ed said...

Happy Easter!

Michael said...

I'm looking for the PVC winnower I built but here's one example that looks similar.


A Part 1 from Survival Blog




If you copy title put in the survival blog search the rest comes up.

I've built a shop vacc powered PVC winnower much like the English Birder did in first example. Worked well and the chickens LOVED the chaff and odd bits of seeds.

Boud said...

So you're really winnowing, not the metaphorical winnowing I do with my house. Very cool inventive method. I wonder if you could harness goat kid energy to drive a winnower.. Might be a bit random though!

Leigh said...

Ed, doing anything by hand makes one appreciate a clever invention!

Happy Easter to you too!

Michael, THANK YOU! Some help winnowing would be wonderful! Lots of good ideas. I think your shop vac idea could be adaptable and useful.

Boud, yup, the real thing! I had to chuckle at the idea of harnessing goat goat energy. People do train goats for work, such as pack goats or pulling carts. But the problem with goats is that they are goats. They instinctively don't want to do what we want them to, lol. Good idea, though.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

This is brilliant! (He says, thinking of various grains he has hither and yon to thresh). Thank you!

And Happy Easter!

Leigh said...

TB, thank you! Happy Easter to you as well. I confess to being relieved to finding an easy way to do the threshing. It will save a lot of time.

Michael said...

Since I've done a bicycle powered clothes washer and a spinner to dry it a bit before the "Soar Powered" Linear Clothes Dryer (A clothesline).

I am thrilled about the cotton bags and golf balls trick to thresh the grain.

As Iron Sharpens Iron comes to mind.

Leigh said...

Micheal, great name for your clothesline! The internet community is a wealth of experience and ideas. I love that we share and learn from one another.

Cederq said...

Leigh, do you and your husband have an uncontrollable desire to wear funny checkered trousers, wild design shirt and a Scottish golfers cap with spiked shoes after threshing your wheat? Just reading your article has me thoughts of joining a golf club and I don't even like golf...

Leigh said...

Kevin, ha! Neither one of us is a golfer. Our collection of golf balls comes from our neighbor, whose hired help hits golf balls when he takes his break. A lot of them end up on our side of the fence (even though we've asked them to please be careful because of the goats). We've ended up with a big bucket of them, so at least we've finally found something to do with them!

Nancy In Boise said...

Great idea! Where did you get your initial seeds from? I might try growing a small section

Leigh said...

Nancy, the wheat in the photos is hourani, an heirloom wheat. I believe I first bought the seeds from Sherck Seeds, but it seems their website is gone. Seed is available lots of places, though.

We also plant commercial hard wheat that we buy from our feed and seed store. Both do well for us and it's easy to grow. Pretty too! Everybody should plant a pancake patch!

R's Rue said...

Hope you have a great day. Hugs.

Anonymous said...

Fun idea with the dryer and golf balls. I use a weed whacker in a poly tote. I put the heads in the tote, then the weed whacker with blade attachment. Works really well. The I screen it with hardware cloth and then I winnow it with a fan. Last year we processed 59 lbs of berries. Stephanie

Leigh said...

Stephanie, that's a good idea too! We tried something similar by attaching a length of chain to a paint stirrer and using that to thresh wheat berries in a barrel. Your idea seems a little easier.

Shepherdess55 said...

This website has DIY plans for a winnower that uses a shop vac. I'm sure Dan could make one with his carpentering skills.


I also found DIY winnowers using squirrel cage fans.


Leigh said...

Shepherdess55, great links! Thanks!

Quinn said...

Good thinking, Leigh! It's the wonderfully successful experiments that keep us optimistically trying all the ideas that come into our heads :)

Leigh said...

Quinn, I so agree. When something works out, it's definitely exciting.