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Wheat VS. The three sisters

 
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Most of the survival garden literature I'm reading suggest wheat as a solid cornerstone crop for a survival garden.  Maybe I have a blind spot, this isn't making a lot of sense unless you have a tractor or a team of horses.

1100 sq ft of garden space will produce 60lbs of wheat.  You'd need 3300 sqft to provide the suggested annual storage of wheat for one person, 150 lbs per year.

Under ideal conditions, 1100 sq ft will produce 660 lbs of Irish potatoes. (MSU)


Somebody school me on a way to do wheat or other grain with handtools.  Can you produce enough grain or buckwheat with handtools or are you just supplementing?

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This is a good question. What do you mean by only hand tools?

In the strictest sense say the methods employed by the How to Grow More Vegetables organization it can be done. They even have some nice YouTube videos. However in terms of getting enough calories they don't rely on wheat or the three sisters. They use space efficient high calorie root crops and I think they list only seven possibilities. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, garlic, leeks, salsify, and sunchokes http://www.growbiointensive.org/grow_main.html

So it seems to me that they are just supplementing with wheat.

In terms of growing food for yourself and your community variety is where food security becomes food sovereignty. If I wanted food security I would plant the 7 root vegetables. If I wanted food sovereignty I would add in everything else but especially whichever vegetable foods I really like or which are culturally important to me.

Wheat is very important culturally to me. I suspect that I come from a very long line of wheat farmers. The ability to make a roll or the occasional pizza crust would make me feel much better about life. So I will keep wheat in the mix even if I am just seed saving it for a day when I am able to grow more.

The three sisters are very handy survival crops and create a complete protein. They are designed perfectly for hand harvest and simple cooking techniques. If you have an good hoe such as an eye hoe you can grow them. Seeds are easy to obtain and live a long time in storage. Even if you cant get seed packets. Dry beans will germinate, fresh sweet corn can be dried to germinate, popcorn will germinate, and any squash you buy whole almost certainly has viable seed in it.

I suspect that growing enough wheat to really have enough flour to live on might entail at least owning something on the order of a small tractor, large rototiller, steer, donkey, horse, or mule for pulling a plow.

Tools for wheat: scythe with or without grain cradle, sickle, threshing stick, tarp or large hide, and grain grinder.

 
Scott Foster
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Good input William,

When I said hand tools I meant your typical, shovel, hoe, rake and scythe.    I think all of the grains would be supplemental unless you use machines or animals, then you're looking at needing fossil fuel or more grain.  It feels like a board game.

That's an interesting list of vegetables from bio-intensive.   I have potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, and sunchokes on my list of cornerstone vegetables but I didn't think of the others. Honestly, I've never heard of salsify.  I will check it out.

I haven't grown it myself but buckwheat looks pretty good on paper (not actually wheat) but I think you go back to the acreage thing...you need a lot of it to get a substantial crop.

I agree 100% on needing food sovereignty.   Long-term the psychology of survival is very important and underrated.

Thanks for the response.

Regards, Scott
 
William Schlegel
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We planted buckwheat as a cover crop and let it go to seed years ago. It was pretty easy to grow. I don't think it would be terribly complicated.

Just getting started with Salsify myself mainly because of that same list. Have a couple plants up from some seed I seeded last fall. Planted another packet already this spring. Also fall seeded some leek seed but not sure if that was a good idea.
 
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I tend to agree that it is difficult to grow, harvest,  and process grain crops on a small scale.   That said, over the centuries many have done just that with a minimum of tools. With occasional slips, my wife and I use about 75 pounds of wheat, each, during a year. Our greatest direct consumption would never pass 100 pounds each.
 
Scott Foster
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John,

Interesting information on grain consumption.  Would you say you only use 75lbs because of your other gardening, or animal husbandry measures, or because you can buy or barter for the other things you consume?  

The minimum amount of wheat per person I can find is in an LDS Emergency Food Pamphlet.  I'm seeing other numbers up to 300 lbs per person.  Honestly, I have no idea.  I know I use 3 1/2 cups of wheat flour for bread and that's usually with a cup of oats thrown in.

It may seem like I'm asking these questions in a vacuum but it's hard to figure end results if I don't do it that way.

Thanks,


Scott
 
John F Dean
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I imagine, if we are speaking of direct consumption, much depends on pancakes, pastas, cake, pie, etc. My wife and I seldom eat any of those. In this past week we have consumed 1.5 pounds of bread and 1/2 pound of pasta.  I would say that is typical for us.  So that would be a little over 100 pounds a year for the two of us.  But, I am willing to add in a few more pounds for error.  My mother was Bohemian and my wife's mother was Irish.   Soup is a large portion of our diet.
 
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I think wheat consumption varies significantly from person to person.  To really know, just keep track of how much you use for a week or month and do the math.  I think the missus and I go through about 50 lbs per year total.

300 lbs per person is a huge amount.  That would be eating nearly a pound of wheat a day.  Or at least it seems like a huge amount to me.....
 
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Scott Foster wrote:John,

I'm seeing other numbers up to 300 lbs per person.  

Scott



at 300lb per person you're talking 1200 calories a day from wheat, it sounds like a old workers ration of a loaf of bread, pound of meat per day kind of thing.

One reason for wheat may be where the literature was written, for me the three sisters would be straight starvation, we cannot grow dried corn and struggle with beans, some squashes will manage to make it to maturity. the key staples here were rye, barley and peas.

Potatoes are a much better choice for a subsistence crop that wheat certainly and that is why they took over in Europe as the main calorie source from wheat. (historically speaking) They are more forgiving, heavy rain at harvest does not ruin the entire crop you can simply leave them where they are until the weather improves.  

In my personal experience your figures for potatoes are a bit low, I cannot claim to have anything like ideal potato conditions but I manage higher than that yield per ft2.  

660lb of potatoes is approx 229020 calories or 627 per day. and the 150lb suggestion of wheat is also about 600 per day Neither of which I would class as enough, as I would assume in a survival situation other calorie choices would be limited.



I'm going to swap into kg and hectares here for my own convenience, but the average yield of potatoes in Denmark is around 42 ton per hectare link Wheat yields are about 7 ton per hectare (wheat does not really grow very well here)
Which means that Potatoes produce 25% more calories than wheat per unit area Not a deal breaker really when considering calorie crops.

Now I grow around 1000lb of potatoes each year, and I would really not want to do more without machinery and to be honest I cheat slightly as I get the field ploughed. But everything is planted and harvested by hand. I've only ever harvested small amounts of grain and I've done it by hand just pulling the ears off into a bucket, then pounding up the bucket with a stick and pouring it into another bucket slowly to let the chaff blow away, I then just boil it and serve like rice. For a survival situation I would most certainly grow potatoes as the main calorie crop as not only are they easier and more forgiving but they also contain VitC and nearly the same levels of protein and to top it off they are easier to prepare for consumption and easier to store.


 
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Harvesting 1/10 of an acre per person, this doesn't seem extreme
Threshing
Winnowing
Milling

You are correct wheat is grass seed, desert/famine/wartime hunger food. Way too much work to get food from it, but it is what saved us during the hard time as a species so we have a certain reverence and love towards it.
 
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With the use of secateurs, tarps, buckets, and sticks, I can harvest, thresh, and clean enough wheat in an hour to feed me for a week.

I could probably feed myself for a month with the same labor when growing corn.

I can grow wheat without irrigation. I have to have irrigation to grow corn.

 
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Wheat keeps for many years.
This allows the accumulation of surplus.
I know some squash keep 18 months,  and beans keep pretty darn long as well.
Corn is the closest to competing with wheat,  as it keeps a long time and you can make booze and bread out of it.
I think wheat is considered  a more complete food than corn.

I have never grown the three sisters, but I have grown corn and for me it is greedy for nutrients and thirsty for water.
I believe the traditional way to grow corn included fish carcass waste as fertilizer.
I'm not sure how much fertilization is needed for wheat.


I wonder, could one raise livestock,  rabbits for instance,  on the straw left over from growing wheat?
 
William Schlegel
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You can graze wheat stubble, but I don't think it would be adequate feed for non-ruminants like rabbits.

You can feed flour corn to rabbits supposedly- I read this somewhere, haven't tried it.

Wheat can go a very long time without fertilization but yields are lower in consequence. My grandpa didn't used to fertilize his he ran some trials and the fertilizer didn't pay. The farmers who rent his fields now do fertilize and use more modern equipment and perhaps varieties. They get a lot more yield in consequence. Though their expenses may also be higher.

The fact that wheat doesn't need irrigation and corn often does is important. I have 3 1/4 tillable acres but doubt I could water it all with my well. In that case a mixed strategy might be requisite. Really depends on how much water you have, and how big your garden is.

 
Scott Foster
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

Scott Foster wrote:John,

I'm seeing other numbers up to 300 lbs per person.  

Scott


the key staples here were rye, barley and peas.



I looked into Rye and Barley, can you suggest a white paper or a website that discusses this trio?  I know that Rye is popular in Germany, Poland, and Russia but it seems to be used mainly as livestock feed in the U.S.  Are you using Rye, Barley, and Peas in a polyculture or are they planted independently?

Thanks for the great info.

Regards, Scott
 
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I guess that's how the native Americans survived so long with success producing corn, beans and squash, the three sisters, it was manageable with the labor that they could put into it.
all I know about growing grains on a small scale is from planting buckwheat as a cover crop. it grew very well, attracted lots of honey bees and produced very well, but what I was not successful at was the harvesting of the crop.
after seeing the ripe seeds drying on the plants in fall and trying to pick them I quickly realized I was not prepared or equipt to harvest what I grew. I would need some sort of apparatus like an an oversized leaf rake with the tines close enough to pull the seeds off the plants, is what I envisioned, and then a way to get the husks off the seeds.
 
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S Bengi wrote: ....it is what saved us during the hard time as a species so we have a certain reverence and love towards it.



A fairly significant factor in the discussion I wager. :-)

A table that *may* aid the home producer, yet as Joseph L. and others alluded to, context/region of cultivation is important when considering yield/nutrition at your location:

http://www.gardeningplaces.com/articles/nutrition-per-hectare1.htm

 
Skandi Rogers
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@John Weiland wow those numbers in that table are very very low for grains in kg per hectare less than 1/2 of the average yield here.

While I do grow barley, rye and peas I don't grow them as staples or together, I don't think together would work well as the harvest times are different, and they all have to be harvested exactly when they are ready or you lose the crop. Rye (Barley as well) is the main grain in much of northern Europe, wheat historically does not grow well here and was generally reserved for the rich and holidays.
 
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We rely heavily on 3 sisters crops here in Minnesota. They do extremely well for us, as does grain sorghum and amaranth. Cereal grains in small plantings are targeted by birds and unless you're growing a field of them you won't have any left to eat, so for that reason we buy millet and oats. Sorghum does well with minimal rainfall, amaranth can survive some drought, corn needs more water. Planting all of them covers the bases. Beans like water except in the dry down stage, but even in a wet year there are techniques for getting a good harvest. We also have dry peas and cowpeas as part of our legume supply. Squash is a major calorie contributor and the butternut types keep extremely well. I would add potatoes and sweet potatoes to the list of staple crops that we rely on instead of small grains. By the way, we work our entire garden with hand tools and harvest and process the crops by hand also, although we have taken to using a leaf shredder to thresh amaranth the past couple of years (we are in our mid '60s now).
 
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It depends a lot on your area, your knowledge and your preferences.  I like potatoes.  When I had a kid come up with celiacs, my response was "I'm fine with potatoes and rice, I don't need wheat."  My wife however, really felt the lack.  I've read in several survival books that corn is just tougher and easier than wheat.  My problem is that I know a lot more things I can make with wheat than corn.  Some varieties of corn are more demanding than others.  

The 300 lbs of wheat per person is survival amounts, not necessarily healthy amounts, assuming you don't have much else as a carb source.  Potatoes are wet, so it takes more potatoes because you have to factor in the water weight.  

Wheat keeps very well.  All you need is one bad potato in the batch to start rot.  (Remember the song "One Bad Apple Won't Spoil the Whole Bunch Girl"? It was a dirty lie!)  This is probably why grains became dominant over tubers in many areas.

Potatoes will definitely out produce grains both pound/pound and calories/calories, if you have the right conditions for potatoes.

An diet that's pretty much all corn can easily lead to pellagra, a deficiency disease caused by lack of niacin.  (Pellagra is fairly common now in some parts of South America, once common among share croppers in the southern US).  


A variety of foods, especially with different colors, is going to give you better nutrition.  A multi-vitamin is a poor substitute for a varied diet, but if you were trying to live on a very limited diet, it will probably help keep your hair and teeth from falling out.
 
Mick Fisch
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Any single crop, depended on without a backup is a potential problem.  Remember the Irish potato famine.  You should aim for at least 3 crops, with each planted in excess so if one totally fails, you can gather by.
 
Scott Foster
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Mick Fisch wrote:Any single crop, depended on without a backup is a potential problem.  Remember the Irish potato famine.  You should aim for at least 3 crops, with each plant in excess so if one totally fails, you can gather by.



for sure Mick., I'm looking at these crops independently so I can figure out what the best staple crops are to build a foundation on.  what I mean is I'm trying to figure out the pieces so I can put the puzzle together.  There are a lot of variables.

 Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the three sisters seem to be a good start.  

I think I will just try small batches of grain to see what I like and what grows well.  There are some other issues like do I even want to "eat that."    I would have to be really hungry to eat, for instance, quinoa.  I don't like the flavor one bit.  I love Oats but I'm not sure they would do well, etc.


*Millet seems to be a good candidate for crop failure- it grows in harsh conditions and is ready to eat in 30 days.
 
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Scott,
I'm guessing you've tried insufficiently washed quinua, which I find nasty tasting stuff.  There is a coating on the outside that is nasty.  I've heard its function is to make it less attractive to birds, etc.  It certainly works against me!

If you take a couple minutes to scrub the grains against each other in warm water the coating comes off and it has a very mild rice like flavor.  

Folks lived a long time on eating the three sisters.  They can be grown with minimal tools.

Another option, if the conditions allow, is chestnuts.  Chestnuts were a major food source in many places.  Up to the 17th century in some parts of France it was a major food source.  I've read that the church didn't like it because there wasn't a lot of work involved, so folks found sinful ways to spend their time.  Landlords didn't like chestnuts because it was harder to collect their share.  As circumstances allowed they cut down trees and moved the people over to grain.
 
William Schlegel
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Planted a wheat grex start today.

Threw in the following:

Pima Club
Purple Spring (I pulled this out of land race purple winter from Eli Rugosa)
Ethiopian Blue Tinged
Einkorn
Khorasan
Turkey Red
Lofthouse
Sin Et Pheel
White Sonoran
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I think that grass grains are one of the least efficient luxuries in the garden.  If you grow potatoes well, you can get about 1lb per square foot.  So if you're looking for a space-efficient carb/starch that doesn't require fancy tools or extra work, stick with taters.   If you're set on having flour grains though, you can't compare that to a potato.  I haven't tried it yet, though I hoep to this year, but I expect there are other  grains that have a higher yield, like amaranth, millet, and quinoa.  Even sorghum/broom corn probably yields more per square foot than conventional grain grasses.   I personally don't eat wheat, so I use these grains instead anyway, wherever I might need grains in my diet.  
 
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I've been playing around with buckwheat for a few years. Super easy. It grows good even in poor soil. It does even better in guality soil. I grow it mostly for bee food & soil building but I do harvest some. My early test planting for this year has spouted but they're looking weak. A bit too early but we're so very close to spring planting time around here. Will start another slightly larger batch probably tomorrow. It grows quick & is very nutritious. Good chicken food too. Harvest is fairly easy. It's tedious to remove every single bit of husk for perfect flour but a quick bashing in a molcajete & some quick sifting removes a large percentage. There are probably easier ways for larger amounts. I throw buckwheat pretty much anywhere during warm weather & most grows. I really like breads & pancakes made with it. It makes a nutritious & easy porridge too. Here's a good website about buckwheat!!! It's been easy to observe the very good reasons the pioneers relied on it. I'll try to grow several other grains this year too but buckwheat is the one I'm relying on most.

More on topic of three sisters gardens ... that is strongly encouraged also. I would recommend anything edible or useful someone can get to grow in their soils this year to just do it.
 
Scott Foster
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William Schlegel wrote:Planted a wheat grex start today.  



It looks like a great start William.  What is a grex?
 
Scott Foster
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Mike Barkley wrote:I've been playing around with buckwheat for a few years.




Great information Mike, I will check out that Cornell link.  It sounds like you have my disease, "throwaseeditis"  I've been known to throw a bag of seeds, crush a flower head and start an entire pack of seeds on a whim.   Haha.  I have some areas that I don't really know what's popping up, could be a perennial seedling, an annual flower or a weed.  


Regards, Scott
 
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Well, it might be useful to see if it's a weed you can eat.
 
William Schlegel
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Scott Foster wrote:

William Schlegel wrote:Planted a wheat grex start today.  



It looks like a great start William.  What is a grex?



I guess I hang out primarily in the plant breeding forum. A grex is a plant breeders genetic mixture. You let it cross and mix up and recombine. Wheat is actually interestingly capable of cross ploidy hybridization. Outcrossing rates are a little lower than in some crops but it does cross.

Historically wheat land races were/are sometimes composed of complex mixtures of different ploidy levels and wheat wild relatives. So in some ways I am trying to recreate that evolutionary environment where wheat can readapt to new or changing conditions. In a modern context that is evolutionary plant breeding or what Joseph Lofthouse calls a modern landrace.

Basically though I am pretty focused on tomato breeding the last few years and my collection of wheat samples has gone unused for a long time. So I finally managed to plant some of it again. Not really enough to do much with, but a seed increase with maybe a little crossing that should leave me with fresh seed for next year.

Would be more efficient to plant the same amount of space into potatoes or corn for food production, but not a huge amount of my garden and I need to start isolating tomatoes, so I can't use the whole fenced garden for tomatoes as I can only put one variety or so in it.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I finally put on my mathemagician hat...

On a per pound basis, wheat provides 4 times more calories. That is because potatoes are wet, and predominately  water, while wheat is overwhelmingly dry matter.

A pound of wheat contains 1500 calories, while a pound of potatoes contains around 340 calories.

A field of wheat produces about 4.3 million kCal/acre. A field of potatoes produces about 7 million KCal/acre. So while the potatoes might be more productive, they are not that much more productive.

Digging potatoes is hard work!!! Harvesting wheat is easy in comparison.

Wheat is easy to store for ages. Potatoes are quite perishable.

mathemagician.jpg
Mathemagician
Mathemagician
 
Scott Foster
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I finally put on my mathemagician hat...

On a per pound basis, wheat provides 4 times more calories. That is because potatoes are wet, and predominately water, while wheat is overwhelmingly dry matter.

A pound of wheat contains 1500 calories, while a pound of potatoes contains around 340 calories.

A field of wheat produces about 4.3 million kCal/acre. A field of potatoes produces about 7 million KCal/acre. So while the potatoes might be more productive, they are not that much more productive.

Digging potatoes is hard work!!! Harvesting wheat is easy in comparison.

Wheat is easy to store for ages. Potatoes are quite perishable.



Thanks for the information, Joseph.  Things are not always as straightforward as they seem.
 
John Weiland
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Digging potatoes is hard work!!! Harvesting wheat is easy in comparison.

Wheat is easy to store for ages. Potatoes are quite perishable.



Joseph,  I think this came up in a previous thread somewhere on kcal per acre harvested, but would it be fair to say that the kcal spent to harvest and render wheat/potatoes in an 'edible state' (don't know how exactly to define that phrase) were the same in terms of kcal harvested?  Your added comments on storability are not trivial of course,----both in their 'ripe' stage would be susceptible to pathogens/pests, but potatoes (as most root crops) could be kept in the ground in certain climates whereas wheat would almost necessarily be binned..?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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The energy that I expend on harvesting, threshing, and winnowing wheat is barely above basal metabolism. (Mostly done standing)

The energy that I expend on harvesting potatoes is aerobic, very akin to an exercise class. (Lots of squats, heavy lifting, digging in heavy/hard clay soil, etc).

I could harvest, thresh, winnow wheat all day without exceeding my working capacity. I might be able to harvest potatoes for a couple hours before exhaustion sets in.

Mice eat grains in storage. Voles and gophers eat potatoes in the ground. Depends on a lot of factors.  

 
William Schlegel
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Have some sand piles right now. Thinking I'll get some seed potatoes. Toss them on the ground in a row and wheel barrow sand on top of them. Then I won't be digging in my heavy clay this fall and the ground will end up permanently improved in that row.

I sure hear that about the mice and voles and pocket gophers. I have all three. I don't think that old dodge where parsnips are sweeter left in the ground would work for me. Works fine for a seed crop but I think they often just leave me a nub.
 
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