So I now have a bunch of rye heads with some of the straw attached. Threshing them by hand is a pain. In any case, I just want to plant them out. Could I just spread the stuff over the ground, run around on it a bit to loosen it, and then start watering? It might be a little clumpy, but would that matter for a cover crop?
All I want to do is keep my cover crop going year by year, on different areas each time.
It works, but it takes a lot more grain to get a good stand. Not a big deal on a small garden plot but can really add up if you are doing it on a homestead scale or larger.
If you don't care about keeping it clean enough to eat, you can lay it out on a concrete floor and drive over it.
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TO: Gilbert Fritz
FROM: Eric Koperek = firstname.lastname@example.org SUBJECT: Threshing Rye
DATE: PM 7:52 Monday 1 August 2016
(1) Threshing small grains by hand is easy: Whack grain from heads using a plastic whiffle ball bat. Plastic bat has just enough weight to dislodge grain without damage.
(2) Clean threshed grain with an electric box fan. Set box fan on top of milk crate. Set plastic mortar mixing pan or old sheet directly in front of fan. Turn fan on high. Pour grain very slowly just in front of fan where air flow is strongest. Fan will blow chaff away; clean grain falls into pan or onto sheet. Repeat if necessary.
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I had great success planting barley in the head last fall. I spaced each head about a foot apart, then stepped on it to give it good contact with the soil. It was just a small patch, so it didn't take very long, but I wouldn't want to do it in a large area.
in a larger area, I tried something similar with rye. I scattered the heads, stepped them into the loose soil, and within about 24 hours, the birds had eaten them all - I got my timing wrong as we have some lovely migrating grain eating birds that come to these parts about the time the commercial farmer plants and harvests his grain, so I usually try to get it in a few weeks earlier or later than him when the birds aren't here.
My heads of barley have 20 to 24 seeds per head. That happens to be the same amount of seed that is the optimal planting density for a square foot of soil.
Preventing the seeds drying out during germination is key, as is some contact with the soil so the roots can get in there. This could be achieved with straw mulchFukuoka style.
The biggest challenge is dislodging the seeds and dispersing them. Small grains were originally chosen for agriculture because they contain a genetic defect that prevents the seed head from shattering. Under natural conditions, this is a distinct disadvantage because the seeds don't disperse. However, it does mean that people can harvest the seed without losing it all over the place as soon as it's moved.
If you are to simply drop a seed head on the ground (or bury it) then you will not end up with a very good result at all. I'm saying this because last growing season I planted very densely because I didn't have enough space for all my seed. I ended up with half the amount I started with. Repeat that a few times and you end up with nothing...
Planting a seed head is like planting a square foot worth of seed in only 4 square inches. The seeds are so densely planted, that only 2 or 3 out of 20 are going to survive to maturity (ignoring other factors like predation). Under good conditions, a plant will put out three seed heads. But I found that under densely planted conditions, they only put out one., if anything at all. So a planted seed head is likely to produce an equivalent yield of 1, maybe 2 seed heads (of lower quality than the original as they will be much smaller seeds).
IMHO, the additional energy required to break the seed head apart before planting is well worth the effort. Even using the most primitive methods, the calorific gains far outweigh the calorific input.
I have a mower with a bagger. I would lay out the dried grain on the concrete floor of my shop and mow it into the bagger The straw can then be easily raked off for bedding and the grain bagged . You may want to winnow the grain if you want to grind it for food . I use the mower to mow grass paths in the garden and feed the clippings to the animals .
I had a go at the chain in the bucket thingy. It worked well enough for me eventually after I'd balanced the weight of the chain. It's not perhaps the best solution for small scale, but it is indeed a solution.
I tried the fan thing to winnow, but it didn't work so well, and felt a little bit wasteful tbh. So I waited for a windy day and used the cleanest tarpaulin I could find.
As an aside I would recommend growing, reaping, stooking, threshing, winnowing, just a few square meters of wheat just to get an understanding of how much of a process it is!