We planted our first crop of wheat mid-November of 2011. After 170 days, it was finally ready for harvest! Wheat is ready once it begins to dry and turns a golden yellow color. You can also check by pressing on a wheat berry with your fingernail, which should dent under the pressure. If it crushes and releases a milky substance then it is not ready for harvest yet.
There are several ways wheat can be harvested. Nowadays, most wheat is gathered using a combine harvester. Combines not only harvest the wheat, they also thresh and winnow it in a single process. Since we had a relatively small plot (15′ x 30′), we had to research how it was done in the past and in countries with limited machinery. We found that most hand harvesting is done with either a sickle or a scythe. Sickles seemed to be used on short wheat, and since ours was approximately 5 feet tall, we thought a scythe might work better. As it turned out, my father just so happened to have a wooden scythe in his garage! We sharpened the blade and gave it a whirl! The scythe cut well, but it sent pieces of wheat flying all over the place. Most scythes used for wheat harvesting have a cradle attached to them that catch the wheat as it is cut, leaving it in a nice pile. Ours did not so to expedite the harvest, we resorted to using a weed wacker. One person gathered up a bunch of wheat and held it together while another person cut the bottom of the stalks until it could be lifted away.
This worked out great as you can see from our time lapse video below.
Next, we tied the wheat into bundles and stood them outside to dry (covering the tops with sheets so the birds couldn’t eat the scrumtrulescent berries). After a week, the wheat berries were hard and could not be dented, meaning it was time to start threshing.
Threshing involves separating the edible grain from the stalks. This was by far the most time consuming and labor intensive part of the harvest. We found many techniques that people used in the past to thresh wheat. Some people layed the wheat on a blanket and stomped on it with rubber shoes. Others used large barrels and bashed the wheat heads on the inside to release the berries. We tried both techniques with a little variation. We purchased large rubber buckets from the hardware store and banged the wheat heads on the inside. This did work well, but it was not enough force to release all the berries from the heads. So we tried the stomping method, except instead of shoes we used a rubber mallet. We layed the heads out on a blanket and struck them with the mallet. This worked very well and did not crush the wheat berries. After many hours, we were finally ready for winnowing.
Winnowing involves removing the chaff and other debris from the berries. The chaff is much lighter than the berries so the easiest way to remove it is by using gravity and forced air from a fan (a gusty day works too!). By pouring the wheat/chaff mixture in front of a fan from one bucket to another, the light chaff is separated from the grain. We had to do this many times before the wheat was almost clean. The remaining pieces of debris were removed by hand.
After all that work, we finally had our wheat! We stored our grain in thoroughly clean/dry glass canning jars. Overall, we planted ½ pound of seed and ended up with 25 pounds of grain. We were pleasantly surprised by this figure and can now enjoy the fruits of our labor. Here are a few delicious recipes we have already tried:
Next year, we’ll try to build a human powered machine to speed up the threshing process and also make some screen filters for separating the grain during winnowing.