Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.
—Proverbs 3:9-10 (KJV)
We did it! We actually succeeded in our goal to make a loaf of bread (or, as it turns out, a dozen bread rolls) starting from seed. We planted the wheat, tended it, harvested it, threshed it, winnowed it, ground it into flour, and baked it into bread.
The whole process took almost a full calendar year from start to finish, with the wheat berries planted mid-September and the bread baked and eaten on Lammas (or loaf-mass), the old pagan and Christian harvest feast celebrated on August 1st. It was a laborious process, but also incredibly interesting and rewarding. I have grown vegetables for several years now, but this experiment has given me a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for, the abundance of food to which I have effortless access. For more details about the process, see the end of this post.
Special thanks to my wonderful mother-in-law, Sharon, who is a world-class bread baker and guided us through the last step of the journey.[Another great harvest song, “John Barleycorn” performed by Mat Williams.]
For those interested in the gory details.
Growing & Harvesting
Our 4×8 foot raised bed yielded just over a quarter cup of wheat berries (a little over 1/2 cup of flour)—admittedly, a very poor showing. There were several factors that I believe contributed to this pathetic return:
1) Wheat was planted very haphazardly, which resulted in clumping that impeded growth.
2) Raised bed was too shallow for this crop—the roots of mature winter wheat are 4-6 feet long, so in this cramped space the roots just tangled around each other, unable to penetrate down through the landscape fabric that lines the bed.
3) Vermin! Squirrels, birds, and perhaps later mice (while drying in the garage) gobbled up the largest, healthiest, and most mature wheat berries, leaving stunted stragglers behind.
I plan to take all of these factors into consideration as I plan for next year’s crop which is to be planted next month. I will not be planting in a raised bed again, due to the root issues, so I am currently scoping out a good location in the yard that has adequate sun for growing grain.
It would have been really neat to harvest with a sickle, but as it happened we were pressed for time and just ended up snipping the stalks down with kitchen shears, bundling them with yarn, and storing in the garage (Note to self: Do not store grain where rodents live!)
It is VERY difficult to thresh grain—that is, free the wheat berries from the stalks—on a small scale. Most of the methods used to thresh grain without equipment do not work. In the end, the most efficacious method I tried was to hand-process each stalk, one wheat berry at a time (I pushed them out from the bottom up). That took me several hours over the course of two days. Other methods I tried (unsuccessfully) were bashing the stalks against the side of a bucket, and stomping on stalks inside a pillowcase. Both methods freed some of the wheat berries, but left so many still clinging that I had to go through each one by hand, anyway.
On the other hand, it is VERY easy to winnow grain—that is, separate the wheat berries from the chaff—on a small scale. It’s impossible to avoid getting any chaff in with the wheat when threshing it, even when threshing by hand, so it is necessary to separate the two later. I had great success using two buckets and a fan. I poured the grain from one bucket to the other in front of a fan—the wheat berries, being heavier, fell into the bucket, while the chaff simply blew away. It took about ten times of pouring from one bucket to the other to clear away all the chaff, which left me with just the wheat berries.
I ground the wheat using my Lehman’s Grain Mill—truth be told, my much stronger husband ground most of it, including the boughten wheat berries we used to supplement the ones we grew.