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July 17, 2011 / 74

Making Grain (The Continuing Saga)

Yesterday in the heat, I mostly finished “mowing” the rye. When we planted our little grain patches last fall, we dubbed them “experimental” – which means we expected to learn from them. We thought we knew a lot, because we’d raised winter wheat before. But that time we planted it in a big field using a tractor, and hired a guy with a combine to mow and thresh it. This time we were going primitive – except for the rototilling, we were doing it all by hand. We did have a lot to learn.

Planting and harvesting the grain was not so easy this time around. First, I rototilled the soil until it was fairly fine grained dirt. Then I raked it smooth, and used a walking/hand crank spreader to scatter the wheat and the rye. Then I raked the seed in and waited through the winter watching the rye grass grow well, and the wheat grass struggle (while I tried to figure out how the baby rabbit was getting in to eat the wheat grass!!! Yes – it started waaaaay back last fall.)

Eventually Spring came and the wheat grass grew well, so we figured that the rabbit problem had gone away. We were wrong, as you can read elsewhere in this Blog.

So now it’s time to harvest. But I don’t have enough grain to bother with using a $100,000 plus combine and must mow it with a hand scythe or sickle. I tried both. The sickle does a neater job, and the straw with the grain heads ends up neatly piled with the grain all on the same end of the sheaves. But it takes a LONG time.

So, yesterday, I took scythe in hands and mowed most of the rye. Once mowed, the grain needs to be threshed – which is the process of removing the grain from the heads and straw.

I eventually decided to thresh the grain by putting a couple of plastic tarps in the back of my pickup, and tossing the straw into the box, and beating the hell out of it with something. Most of the “threshers” I’ve seen in the old books show a guy with a long stick with a swinging club on the end of it. I figured out that the stick would have to be oak or hickory to take the abuse, and would thus be heavy as all get out. Picture taking two sturdy table legs made of oak and swinging them around on the end of a 6 foot pole for a while. Yeah… me neither.

Now, here’s where I offer you some Farm Wisdom. Here’s where  I say that going to farm auctions is a fun and interesting thing to do on a weekend because you can find some really neat stuff. And when you are buying the really neat stuff, you sometimes end up with stuff you didn’t want, but that got thrown onto the stuff you want and you end up with that too. And sometimes, you see stuff that looks like it COULD be handy someday for something – you don’t know what or when, but you just know that maybe someday… So you bid on it and buy it, and because no one else there has your foresight and intelligence, you get it REALLY CHEAP!

In my basement is one such purchase that consists of fan belts… lots of fan belts of lots of sizes and lengths that have been hanging from a nail with a rope in my garage for the last two years. I had absolutely no use for them at the time I bought them but I found a use for four of them yesterday.

I took the four longest belts and cut them. They ended up being about 4 or 5 feet long each. Then I took that single most useful item on any farm (after the bailing twine) and bundled them together thus making a handle for them by wrapping Duct tape around and around the four belts joining them together… and I had me a flexible and durable flail!!! What is a flail? It’s a thing that goes around and beats the snot out of something. A Cat ‘o Nine Tails is a flail. MY flail works like this – I take hold of the handle, and then swing the thing over my shoulder and WHACK the rye straw. At the same time I”m whacking the rye grain heads and KNOCKING the grain out of the head. Threshers do that too – only they do it faster and better and easier. But MY flail didn’t cost $100,000. And it doesn’t burn gas. or wear out tires.

So after making my flail,  I tossed some of the rye straw into the back of the truck, and beat the snot out of it!!! The grain separated wonderfully and it was much faster than beating the grain heads a few at a time in a bucket, which also works – but it’s REALLY SLOW! Then since we had a nice stiff breeze, I poured the grain and chaff from one bucket/tub to another and let the wind take the light bits away – a process generally known as “winnowing”. (I’m sure you’ve seen those pictures of people in primitive societies tossing grain up into the air with a shallow basket? the wind blows the loose straw and bits away, and the grain falls straight down into a pile. That’s winnowing.)

But when I had the winnowing done, there remained yet pieces that weighed about the same as the grain, so that the wind wouldn’t blow it away.

Last year, we bought an old “fanning mill”, and since it’s a sin to clean up things until the day AFTER you urgently need them, the machine was still not usable. So instead of using the fanning mill, I just used the screens that came with it to sort the remaining stuff out.

When the grain was sifted, I discovered that it had a bunch of dirt in it. Where did the dirt come from? Wellll… the rye was kind of loosely rooted and so sometimes when I tried to cut the straw close to the ground, like you’re supposed to do, it just ripped the whole plant out of the ground, dirt and all. And then I beat hell out of it with my home-made flail, dirt and all, and ended up later  sitting and picking tiny grain-sized dirt clods out of the rye after the dust and larger clods were screened out.

So today I’m taking a pair of scissors up to the field with me to cut the dirt-ends off of the straw. There will be NO dirt clods in today’s grain!!!



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