Small Grain Growing
After several years of experimentation, we have decided that there was a reason the Native Americans planted beans, corn and squash. They do extremely well in our climate and are easy to grow, harvest and store. Wheat, Oats and Buckwheat are more difficult, mostly to thresh. The growing is not so hard, the harvesting is also not extremely difficult, however to get a decent harvest and enough wheat to make it worthwhile, the threshing and winnowing are very hard to do. Many people have come up with interesting solutions to this problem, just search YouTube, but none of them are really practical for a small producer. What we finally decided was that for us, buying white whole wheat flour from the Amish bulk food store made more sense than trying to grow our own wheat, and the same applied to the oats. We never use buckwheat flour anyway, but they also sell that at the Amish bulk foods store. I applaud the inventor of the combine, it certainly made the growing of wheat easier. If I ever had to grow all my own wheat, I would try to find others to go in with me on a small combine, that is the most efficient way to process wheat. Below are our experiences with growing small grains. For now we will continue to grow our own corn, sweet and dry for grinding and our own dry beans. Sunflowers are fun to try from time to time. I probably won't grow them in any large quantity unless I really get bored and want to make sunflower oil.
Wheat - We have definitely determined that in our climate/growing conditions winter wheat is the only viable option, which we should have known since that is the only kind of wheat local farmers grow. With that in mind, we planted a small patch of hard white winter wheat on October 6, 2017. We have tried and failed to actually get our wheat successfully threshed and winnowed in the past, so we are planted small and tried a different harvest method than in the past. We got a small amount of wheat, but it was difficult to thresh and winnow, and we ended up with wild onion seeds mixed in, which is fine for savory foods, but not so great for cookies!
Oats - I planted a small patch of hullness oats in the garden. I mixed white Dutch clover seed in with the oats at planting. We broadcast seeded and raked with a landscape rake. By early July it was looking quite good, not too many weeds and a reasonable size patch to harvest in the fall. I only need enough to feed my morning oatmeal habit. We harvested the oats with our scythe in August. It did have a lot of weeds, which made it hard to separate out. I am processing a small amount to use, the rest we will feed in its entirety to the poultry. Next year I will harvest with a hand sickle so we just have the heads, and then thresh and winnow.
Buckwheat - This is also a small experimental patch interseeded with white Dutch clover. So far it also looks good. When the soil got soggy wet it looked a bit stressed, but otherwise seems to be doing well. We only need a little of that, too, for occasional buckwheat pancakes. This did not materialize into much. We decided the seed is designed for cover cropping and not seed production for flour, so we need to find a different cultivar to plant if we want buckwheat flour.
Sunflowers - We also scaled this back to a couple of cultivated rows on the edge of our garden. Since we have it located in the actual garden area we have been able to keep them weeded and so far they are doing well. We are growing Mammoth Russian sunflowers which can be used for oil if we choose to use them that way, or just for feed supplement. The sunflowers grew tall and made nice heads. To make life easy, we are cutting them and feeding them directly to the poultry. This seems to be working well so far.
Dry Beans - Last year our dry beans did very well and we pretty much grew enough to last us most of the year and save a little back for seed. We planted most of the same varieties as last year plus some garbanzos and some favas. We also are experimenting with an heirloom snap bean - dragon's tongue. All the beans look terrific.
The beans were wonderful this year. We were able to harvest at just the right time before they got too old and deteriorated. We didn't need to additionally dry them. We threshed them by whacking the pods in an old feed sack and then winnowing with a fan. This method worked so well we are going to try it with the small grains next year. We will also harvest the snap beans for seed in this manner. We may have enough beans to last the whole season, we will see.
Corn - We have lots of varieties of corn in the ground this year. All are heirloom varieties. We have sweet corn, field corn, popcorn and some that are dual-purpose. We only planted a little popcorn because we had such a bumper crop two years ago we still have a lot left. The corn is doing very well also. This year for the first time ever we were able to harvest enough sweet corn to can and dry for our own use, enough for the whole year without buying any from anyone else. The field corn looks great and will most likely have a great harvest. Our biggest challenge is getting it to dry down properly. We planted Japanese white hullness popcorn also, that looks wonderful. There will be a lot of that, too.