Time To Start Growing Your Own Bread

oats.jpg

From Gene Logsdon

[Gene’s long-awaited, and much-anticipated 2nd Edition of Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers is now available. -DS]

No sooner had the news come out that rice stocks worldwide were at an all time modern low, and that the price of wheat had hit historic highs, when I started getting calls and letters from all over. Modern homesteaders wanted to know where they could get a copy of my old book, Small Scale Grain Raising.

It is gratifying to know there are still Americans who, instead of wringing their hands at a possible problem headed their way, start figuring what to do about it. I only wish I had some copies of that book left. It was published in 1977 and was as high as $300 a crack on the Internet. But I am happy to report that a new edition is now available.

I don’t really know if the high grain prices have anything to do with renewed interest in that book. What seems to me more likely is that self-reliant people are taking a look at what is happening in our financial world and wondering if it is time to plow up the backyard or that old horse lot and plant some food.

In my little world of writing books about rural life and culture, this is all the talk right now, as it was in 1973, 1982, and 1995 when the economy did “readjustments” like it is doing now, only not quite so profoundly. (In an economy ruled by interest on “pretend” money, as I call it, about every ten years there has to be a shakeup to bring the dreamers of riches, floating around in their bubbles, back down to earth again.) The idea of growing and threshing out several bushels of wheat (a bushel makes about 50-60 loaves of bread) in the backyard makes sense to self-reliant people. It isn’t really that difficult to do.

My wife and I first tried it in the late 1960s when living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just for fun. We scythed the wheat we grew in our backyard, made bundles of it, shocked up the bundles and when the grain was dry we beat the bundles on a bed sheet with plastic ball bats, threshing out the grain. The kids thought it was great fun. We winnowed out the chaff by pouring the grain slowly from one bucket to another in front of a window fan.

That experience became the genesis of the book mentioned above, though at the time that wasn’t in my plans. I grew the wheat in the first place to feed to our chickens. I would just throw a bundle into the henhouse every day and the chickens would do the threshing, leaving the straw for bedding. It was only as a sort of afterthought that Carol decided to try to bake bread with it. She milled the grain in her blender, but that was very slow, so eventually, we got a hand-cranked mill which we still use today. I haven’t grown wheat for a few years now, having kindly farm neighbors who will sell us a few bushels out of their combine harvester.

A fellow small-scale farmer, Tim Moreland in Oregon, recently sent me a picture of his amazing way to harvest oats for his livestock. When it is nearly ripe, he cuts and windrows it like hay, then when it is suitably dry, forks it into huge sacks he found locally, suspending the sacks, one at a time, from the prongs of his front end loader (see photo). His whole family helps in the forking, which is another reason why we small-scale farmers do such crazy things. They involve the whole family. He then hauls the oat “hay” to the barn and feeds it to the livestock in winter or when pastures are short. The animals eat the grain and most of the straw as roughage.

I can remember when wheat was still ground into flour in mills in our county. It just beats me that in places burgeoning with grain like this area, that those local mills could not remain profitable. Did people just quit baking at home in the 1950s? Looks to me like home bread-making is on the rise (oh those puns) again, especially now with all the new kitchen flour mills and bread-makers available.

If you type “local flour mills” into your search engine. I think you will be surprised. There’s quite a few of them all over the U.S. and Canada. While the political pundits and the banking bandits wring their hands and steal our money and then promote rather tasteless mass-produced bread at over two dollars a loaf, there’s still a “grain” of contrariness in many Americans. That’s how we’ve survived so far.
~~

25 Comments

Thanks so much for this book. I’ve just harvested my first 1/2 acre of wheat, and thought the thresher idea I used might be of use to someone. I cut the wheat with a sickle-bar mower (though was fascinated with pictures from east Asia of gas-powered trimmers with cradles on them, leaving sheaves like scythes with grain cradles), raked it into windrows, and took cartload to my threshing platform (formerly my son’s “skatepark”). I decided quickly I wasn’t going to flail it–one thing you learn is which part of the work is a pleasure and which part is drudgery–and trolled the web for ideas. Guys in Oregon used a drill to power chain flails in a 5 gallon bucket. So I used a 30-gallon galvanized trash can. I made a loose plywood lid for it, with cleats to keep the lid from falling in or pushing to the side, and a kerf to slide the drill bit in. My husband has a powerful electric drill (a masonry drill) and a long half-inch bit (2′ long) with paddles on the bottom, for mixing plaster. For flails, I bought 5 of the 2′ black rubber tie-down straps with hooks on each end, and cut them in half, and fitted the 10 hooks through the existing holes on the ends of the paddles, crimping the hooks with a bench vise. It worked beautifully. Once the paddle bit with flails was in the drill, I slipped the lid over the bit so that when I placed the flail in the garbage can, the lid came along with the flail.

To use, I filled it about 2/3 with wheat straw, stuffing it down. Then I inserted the flail bit, and, much like the electric smoothie makers I’ve seen at Target, worked the flail bit up and down in the wheat, for about a minute. Pulled the drill and bit and lid away, and because this thresher is vertical it also partially winnows, so I could lift out several handfuls of straw, and dump the wheat and chaff in a pile for later winnowing. Each Easy-Haul cartload resulted in about 6 thresher loads.

Since my wheat was grown on flood-irrigated level terraces constructed last year, where parts of the soil had been cut and part filled, it grew very unevenly due to the uneven soil characteristics. I can see the advantage in nice neat sheaves, and not having to process so much straw, but that wasn’t my situation. In general, on the web, I think I see a pattern that in more arid areas loose harvesting and animal threshing, rather than sheaved grain harvest, is used more (e.g. Morocco, and traditionally here in northern New Mexico).

Winnowing worked well. Again, I used some techniques beyond the very helpful ones you gave in the book. Fan yes. But then, I had a fair number of bindweed flower buds. I shook the winnowed grain in the pan receiving it, and scraped off the top a lot of the heavier straw bits and weed parts. Still, though, the grain was not quite clean enough for me to want to mill, though I appreciate your point about a bit of chaff being just more fiber. I finally decided to simply wash it, which caused the chaff to float to the top, and then dry it in the sun. Seemed to work like a charm. The next week, my neighbor handed me the “Edible Santa Fe” magazine, where in Deborah Madison’s interview with local, born-during-the-depression farmer Rose Trujillo, Rose says, when asked for something good she recalls (she’d mostly talked about extreme hardship): “…Grandpa used to grow a lot of wheat and we used to go cut it and put it to dry and get some goats to crush that wheat. Then we would sleep in the straw in the night [I wonder: to keep critters out?] and wait for the wind to come so my mother and my grandparents would blow that wheat clean. My grandma would have me help wash the wheat in the ditch, then we’d dry it and take it to grind. I mean, that was nice. It was a poor life but it was a good life too.”

Well, I am one of so many who like your style, and am deeply grateful for the guidance as to the kind of garden farming that appeals. Would love a word or two reply to know if these posts get back to you, Gene. Thanks for living the life you do, and sharing it with the world.

Katherine

    Katherine, I see all comments. Sometimes it takes awhile before I have time to reply when I’m asked a question, but I always try to answer direct questions. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It means an awful lot to me to see that there are still lots of plucky people like you searching for the independent life. And your ways of harvesting wheat are so interesting and so practical. Bless you. Gene Logsdon

Gene and readers:

I read Small Scale Grain Raising, and I will be planting a small patch of winter wheat this fall. I’m wondering if annual rye grass would be a good companion crop for the winter wheat. My goal is to have a good thick stand to out-compete weeds before winter. I then hope the dead rye grass will serve as mulch to further reduce weeds when the wheat begins to grow in the spring. Does this make sense?

Doug in Missouri

Cindy: “cutting crops in place and leaving them as mulch using only hand tools” — that’s heroic. Continued good luck in your gardening and with your website. I see a whole army out there, marching along in real time and down the Internet highway, bringing hope and good food Gene Logsdon

Hi Gene,

I was happy to hear that the 2nd edition of Small-Scale Grain Raising has been published. Your writings have influenced me since the 1970’s and I was always intrigued by the idea of growing grains in the garden. Your ideas gave me the freedom to follow my ideas. Always concerned about sustainability, I grew cover crops to cut for the compost pile. Then I added sustainable no-till methods, cutting the crops in place and leaving them as mulch, using only hand tools. With the help of my filmmmaker son I produced a video of my methods. Information can be found at my website http://www.HomeplaceEarth.com. I credit you for starting me on that path, so many years ago. Thank you so much.

Cindy Conner

Here’s a link to “Performance of Agronomic Crop Varieties in Alaska 1978-2002” published by the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in 2004:

http://www.uaf.edu/salrm/afes/pubs/bul/B111.pdf

Hats off to those hard working people! They spent considerable time and energy trying to figure out what grains would grow in Alaska and what uses those grains had. And they even trialed amaranth!

Kerri in AK

Gene,

Oh, I know all about lambsquarter having once wrestled a six foot monster of a plant out of a Wisconsin CSA farm field where I lent a hand now and then. It’s found in Alaska but the climate doesn’t allow it to get so large – maybe 18-24″. Pigweed is around, too, but not nearly as much. In fact, when I decided to try growing amaranth (too late in the season last year) I went all over the neighborhood looking for it. I found exactly one plant about half a mile away and I was checking vacant lots, alleys and snooping around yards.

I considered lambsquarter a pernicious weed until I discovered that the leaves of young plants tastes just like spinach when steamed. While it will cross with quinoa (so I’ve read), since I’m not as excited about growing quinoa, I’m happy to let the lambsquarter sprout wherever it wants to. It’s the first fresh green vegetable that can be harvested around here. I don’t call it weeding – it’s harvesting!

The agricultural extension service up here, bless their hearts, has spent considerable energy over the years trying to determine which grains will grow in Alaska. The short answer is barley and oats. We don’t have the moisture in the spring for wheat and not nearly enough season for corn. I grew a short season colored corn last year – Painted Mountain – which made it all the way through its life cycle within the season. But I started the plants in the house in early April. Here it is nearly the end of April and if I get organized can finally plant peas. Corn couldn’t be planted outside until after Memorial weekend. First frost hits about the end of the second week of September.

The instructor for an organic gardening class I took last year recommended growing amaranth. So I’m going to give it a try. I like it popped first and then added to soups or combined with cooked fruit to make a porridge (the young leaves are edible, too). It certainly is not a wheat substitute but then I don’t eat a lot of foods made with wheat flour. And I love whole oat and barley groats even better than I like brown rice. Good thing both will grow here. Now it’s just finding which variety works best.

Kerri in AK

I sometimes wish I would have too. But I have a cultural problem with it. Amaranth is a fancy name for pigweed or redroot (actually it is a much improved strain). When I saw Rodale’s rather large experimental fields of amaranth (and lambsquarter), my mouth fell open, literally. I laughed. I had spent a boyhood hoeing these rascals out of gardens. Anyway, I salute all those who experiment with this grain, but I will make you a little bet, Kerri, that very few of them will continue with it. Really, wheat, oats, barley, corn, and dry beans will get you to your destination quicker when you travel the road to better breads. Gene

I, too, received my copy of the 2nd edition of Small-Scale Grain Raising this week and have been poring over the sections on barley and oats. Having acquired two 10′ x 20′ community garden beds very close to home, my upstairs neighbor and I will be trialing amaranth, jet barley, hulless oats and culinary flax. I figure a 10′ x 10′ section is adequate to see how each would work. The garden space is on the north side of a large treeless park and has water access. I can’t wait to get started!

Now if you’d just written about amaranth…

Kerri in AK

I just received my new 2nd edition of Small-Scale Grain Raising” and I am so excited! Thank you so much Gene for all the work you did to revise and renew this cherished book. The first edition is the one I saw people most desperate for in the used book sites on the web. You have made a great many people happy and more prepared for the future.

I just happened upon your blog and really like it so far. Organics & growing produce, etc are very near and dear to my heart, so i look forward to looking around more. Thanks!!

One more thing – the small thresher and seed cleaner designs available to the public domain here:

http://sustainableseedsystems.wsu.edu/nicheMarket/smallScaleThreshing.html

There are so many great resources available online… eventually I’ll get around to building as many of them as I can. It’s a wonderful time to be on a small farm.

Brad Hedges

Gene,

I wrote you back in 2000 when I was stationed in Korea. I am now retired from the Army and living on ten acres in SE Oklahoma. I have searching for a copy of your Grain book and knowing a new edition is coming out is very exciting and most appreciated.

Please look into the stripper harvester manufactured by Prairie Habitats in Canada. Your earlier comments on the model made in Weatherford, OK, lead me to investigate the possibility of building my own, and I think I have refined the idea enough to be practical. I am beginning construction of a prototype and hope to have it operational by next spring/summer’s harvest time. If you have any concrete examples of small grain being harvested by a brush-type stripper I’d sure love to read about it!

Thanks for all your motivational words,
Brad Hedges

To Greg Massa: And now that rice and wheat prices are rising dramaticly… all I can say is your are a smart man. I will check you website and possibly mention your work as I re-do Small Scale Grain Raising with our permission. I am short on experience when it comes to rice. Gene Logsdon

Hi Gene, I’m currently growing 40 acres of organic wheat that I will be direct marketing at farmers markets and to local bakeries. I haven’t been able to locate a mill to grind the wheat for me, so I’m considering purchasing a farm-scale stone burr mill. We’ve been successfully marketing our organic rice in this way for over two years now, and I’ve seen that people do care where their food comes from. We started with one product at our market stands (organic brown rice), and by the end of this year, we’ll have wheat berries, whole wheat flour, almonds, and perhaps even ducks that were raised in our rice fields. You can see what we are doing on our website at massaorganics.com.

Thanks for the great essays.

Greg Massa

Thanks, I’ll try it again this summer. During the growing season the chickens get most of their food from the pasture. I keep them one paddock behind the goats and cows, and they do a great job cleaning things up. In the winter there isn’t much to clean up, so my feed costs go way up. If I could use lawn clippings to supplement this a bit, that would be great.

alan, my only personal experience is with feeding grass freshly cut, or letting it dry like hay. What I hear or read from others is that as silage, the grass should be in a more or less airtight container, like a plastic sack. Farmers are doing this now on a large scale with haylage or balage and they tell me it makes good feed. The trick, I think, is to let it dry a little first, maybe to about 30- 40% moisture as you would do with alfalfa or oatlage in a Harvestore airtight silo. As you know from farm silage, silage from grass or corn can emit a gas that can kill you in a big silo, so I wouldn’t recommend taking a whiff of your sacked up grass to see what it smells like. Gene

Gene,

On a somewhat related topic, I’ve been wanting to pick your brain on the idea of grass silage you proposed in “all flesh is grass” (one of my favorite books”. I tried it last year, but the results weren’t very good. Do you have a mix ratio, or am I on my own on this one? I’ve acres of grass and chickens to feed through the winter. I hope you have some clues.

That’s great! I know some folks over at The Beginning Farmer (thebeginningfarmer.blogspot.com) were talking about Small-Scale Grain Raising and what a bummer it was they’d probably never get to read it. I will be sure to let them know about the reprint.

Gene,

That makes my day to learn you are working on an updated copy of Small Scale Grain Raising… I couldn’t afford a loan for an original copy!
Best Wishes

Bookfinder.com has used copies from $38 to $450…

Gene,

Since commenting on your last entry, I picked up and have been devouring The Contrary Farmer. Thank you for writing this wonderful book. Within the next few years, my fiancee and I plan to start farming on exactly this scale (meanwhile working in the “proving ground” of our back yard). Your book is proving inspirational and will no doubt be very useful as well.

I mentioned to my best friend–who also aims for such a life–your work and passed along to him your recent entry. He realized quickly that he’d already read one of your books–Small Scale Grain Raising, which he praised highly. Your comments confirm his experience of how difficult it was to find, but I guess I know where I, at least, can find a copy.

Regards,
John

I am ecstatic to hear this book is coming out again. I bought myself a copy on eBay for only $41 back in January and was happy to get it so cheaply (I’ve already read it three times). As soon as the new updated version comes out, I’ll buy that one too.

I love your books. I am currently reading Organic Orcharding and have Successful Berry Growing on order. My Gene Logsdon shelf is getting quite full.

Gene,
It sounds like investing in your books is a much better deal than the stock market. A lot more fun too!

I don’t know if you agree with that, but the text of your book is available at the Soil and Health Library.

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>