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Scythe and wheat production  RSS feed

 
Heather Strouhal
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I just watched a video on harvesting wheat and how to use a scythe to cut and then how to separate the chaff using a fan.  I think it would be really educational to do this; however, it does look very time consuming.  Has anyone ever grown wheat and hand harvested with a scythe and separated to make their own breads? 
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Last time I harvested wheat, it took me about an hour of labor to harvest and clean 5# of grain. That consisted of harvesting the seed heads with a pair of nippers, jumping up and down on them on a trap, beating them with a stick, winnowing, and picking out the few seeds that still had hulls on them. Then I made pancakes.



 
Travis Johnson
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I am not sure about the threshing part, but I know my Great Grandfather would not hire a hired man to hand scythe his crops who could do less then 3 acres per day, while a really good worker was one who could do 5 acres per day.

I have little interest in this myself, but should you be inclined, I would suggest you take a look at YouTube and do a search for "Homemade wheat threshers" or something along those lines. People have been raising wheat for 9000 years, about 8800 years before McCormick came out with his thresher, so it is completely possible. I would think using a scythe and harvesting would be the easy and quick part, while the threshing would be the more difficult part.

I always thought a mechanical way to do this on a small scale production would be to own (or rent) a walk behind sickle bar mower, build a home made thresher, then get a small grinding mill.

It may be interesting to note that my Great Grandfather (many times removed, not to mention a Maine family back in the day) started General Mills in 1866 and people stated that his innovation of building steel milling rollers would never work (they used stone mills at the time). When he proved them wrong, they said it was so productive that he could never get enough wheat to the mill, which has been debunked ever since then. I think small farm grain production and micro-grain production is one VERY under-developed area that Permiculture could thrive in and make profit from. Who would not want something that went from soil to a warm loaf of bread?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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One thing that I see over and over again is people saying, "If only I had the right machine or tool, then I could grow grain". So they never grow grain, because they think that it has to be done mechanically, and that the machines are too expensive.

I am participating in the Heritage Grain Trials which are sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance. The small-scale grain growers that I associate with use simple tools and equipment. Shears for cutting the grain, a tarp to lay it on for threshing with either sticks or feet, and buckets on a windy day for winnowing.

 
Travis Johnson
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Good for you Joseph, and I completely agree.

After reading your post I realized I came across wrong and do wish to apologize to everyone. I did not mean to imply that hand-work was not a lofty and workable goal, I just tend to me mechanical in nature and having a father as a mechanical engineer, we try and build our own equipment.

WITHOUT question starting is a major hurtle to overcome, yet by doing things by hand, a lot can get accomplished, grain harvesting included.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I think that a scythe would be wonderful to have and use on the farm, perhaps even for harvesting grains. I've spent many a winters night daydreaming about equipment.

Call me sensitive... The topic of not having suitable equipment is something that comes up repeatedly while I'm teaching about growing and harvesting seeds and particularly grains. People really want to learn about seed harvesting and cleaning machines. I love the response of Don Tipping of Siskiyou seeds.  As I remember, it's something along the lines of, "That's the wrong question", and he goes on to explain that he has all the fanciest seed harvesting and cleaning equipment, and more often than not ends up using his hands, a tarp, a fan,  and a couple plastic tubs.

As human primates, we are perfectly capable of using our own bodies and muscles to harvest enough grain to feed ourselves. The fresh air, the sunshine, the birds singing, the butterflies flitting, the sensual enjoyment of a lithe body moving through a row of grain are all sufficient incentive to harvest grain by hand. Sure, my neighbor can harvest more grain in a few seconds on his combine than I can in an hour. But I got fitter while I was harvesting, he remained sedentary. 

At the rate I work, an hour of labor provides enough grain to meet my caloric needs for a week if that was the only thing I ate. I'd probably work quicker with a scythe.


 
Travis Johnson
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I understand what you mean.

Back when I got sheep, I bought a whopping...FOUR. yep four. So to feed them, I went up in the fields, cut down corn stalks my family had planted for their big dairy farm (1200 cows), hauled them home and ran them through a tiny 5 hp chipper. It was a lot more work, but the same quality as what the $250,000 silage chopper produced. And it was fun too.

Oh in another lifetime I might try and raise grain for my sheep, but now I have too many to dedicate the acreage I would need to such a venture. Sadly if I was to reduce my grain bill, it would be by raising corn due to the tons to the acre that could be gotten from it.

I am not sure about other places, but Maine has a huge Artisan Bread culture where you can buy bread from soil to bakery on the same acres. Those micro-farms do well from what I understand, and I think it is a path other micro-farms could follow up on. I think few people follow up on it because of recent books regarding corn and wheat and those kinds of things, but raising things yourself has a whole new meaning, and can be healthy...especially the exercise in obtaining it.
 
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