So, you’ve grown a little patch of your first home grown wheat for human consumption or animal feed. You tilled the land, planted the seed, and now those amber fields are ready to harvest.
When it comes to hand harvesting wheat, there are a few old fashioned methods you can choose from which use either man power or beast power. Let’s check out a few of these options.
A sickle is a one-handed, curved blade that you use to cut wheat with a pull stroke, harvesting anywhere from a few inches off the ground ground to closer to the grain head. Some people prefer to use a sickle for smaller harvests. There are many different styles of sickles depending on the country of origin.
A scythe looks similar to a sickle- there is a handle with a curved blade for cutting grass and grains. However, a scythe’s handle is much longer, and requires both hands to properly maneuver. Using a swinging motion, a scythe’s blade is swept across dried wheat stalks close to the ground, to sever them for gathering.
A grain cradle is very much like a scythe… as a matter of fact it is a scythe… only it has multiple blades instead of a single one. It also has a long handle which requires the use of two hands to make the traditional sweeping motion.
The Amish use either horse-drawn or tractor driven combines to harvest wheat from their fields.
Of course, having a machine like this would save a lot of time! Unfortunately, we can’t always depend on having access to the necessary fuel in a SHTF situation.
Threshing wheat is the act of removing the seed heads from the stalks. As with harvesting, there are several ways to thresh wheat. It’s all a matter of personal preference. Let’s explore some non-electric ways to do it.
Threshing With a Flail
Beating dried wheat with a stick, plastic baseball bat, or something along those lines is an effective way to break the seed heads loose.
A Treadle Thresher
This is a pretty awesome foot-powered contraption for threshing wheat. Looks like it takes a team of people to get a good rhythm going to make faster work of it.
Pounding With a Mallet
Using a mallet to pound seed heads in small bundles at a time is another way to thresh moderate amounts of wheat by hand.
Board and Screen Method
By placing a piece of hardware cloth inside the bottom of a tray, and rubbing the seed heads across the screen using a chunk of flat wood, wheat grains can fairly easily be separated from the seed head.
Hand-Crank Corn Grinder
This looks like a good small-scale solution to threshing wheat. The lady in the video is using a corn grinder, with the grinding stones set as far apart as possible, to separate the grains of wheat from the head. Sometimes the heads need to be put through a second time, but it seems to be working pretty well for her.
Wheat berries, the grains themselves, need to have the husks (or “chaff”) removed before they can be ground. Winnowing is the process of allowing a current of wind to blow the lightweight chaff away from the grains to clean them of this leftover plant debris.
Traditionally, you would drop the seeds from a little bit of a height and use natural wind or a blowing fan to blow the light chaff away from the heavier seeds.
Now that the seed has been harvested and cleaned, you’ll need to store it properly to prevent pests from destroying the wheat. Weevils will hatch out in the grain and rodents will enjoy a feast if you simply set your wheat aside.
Wheat is best stored in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Place the grains in a plastic bucket with an airtight lid to keep pests out.
For long term storage (beyond a few months), you’ll need to take a few extra steps to prevent weevils from hatching out in the grains. Like it or not, tiny bug eggs are already on your wheat just waiting to hatch.
To kill the eggs before they hatch, freeze the wheat for at least 3 days. Alternatively, you can store the wheat in buckets lined with sealed mylar bags with oxygen absorbers, making it impossible for the weevils to survive.
You’ll need one 5 gallon mylar bag and one 2000 cc oxygen absorber per 5-6 gallon bucket. Line the bucket with an opened mylar bag, pour your dried wheat berries into the bucket, add one 2000 cc o2 absorber, then seal the bag with a hair straightener, iron, or mylar bag sealing tool. The oxygen absorber will suck all of the oxygen out of the bag, shrink wrapping your wheat and protecting it from insects.
For non-electric grinding, you’ll definitely want to invest in a good quality grain mill. I highly recommend a Wonder Junior Deluxe Grain Mill because not only is it fantastic for grinding grains, it’ll also do oily products, such as nuts, seeds, and coffee beans.
To grind wheat, simply pour the grains in the top of the mill…
… turn the handle, and out comes freshly ground whole wheat flour.
Making Whole Wheat Bread
With freshly ground whole wheat flour you’re now ready to make homemade bread from your harvest. As an experiment, I thought I’d show you a “no-knead” bread. I usually mix my dough in a bread machine and then bake it in the oven, but I really want to break my dependence on any electrical appliances.
I really like the concept of the following recipe for several reasons: it doesn’t require a bread machine or any appliances, it uses a simple recipe with only four simple ingredients, it’s quick to throw together, and theoretically if you keep it going eventually you should have sourdough starter and you won’t need store-bought yeast any longer.
Let’s give it a try…
No Knead Whole Wheat Bread
- 4 c. whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp activated dried yeast
- 2 cups lukewarm water
1. Add dry ingredients to a glass bowl.
2. Pour water over dry ingredients.
3. Mix with a wooden spoon until well combined.
4. Cover with plastic wrap (or a cloth if the bowl is deep enough that the dough won’t rise to the top), and allow to sit for 12-18 hours.
5. Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to scrape the dough from the sides of the bowl and onto a floured surface.
6. Flour your hands so they don’t stick to the dough, then shape it into a large ball.
7. If you have any, place dough on wax paper and allow to rise for 30 min. Otherwise, allow it to rise directly in a 3 qt. dutch oven.
8. Preheat oven (or Sun Oven) to 450*F.
9. If using wax paper, place the dough (still on the wax paper) in a 3 quart dutch oven.
10. Put the lid on the pot, and bake for 30 min. or until done in center. For a dark, crusty look remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes. (Note: if you’re using a solar cooker the bread won’t get that crusty look.)
The Results. Okay, so I definitely need to work on my artisan breads. My loaf didn’t rise very nicely like it should have. I think it might have to do with the fact that I greased the dutch oven with coconut oil instead of using wax paper, which I didn’t have. Also, it ended up rising for more like 24 hours because we just got busy. That definitely affected the flavor.
The bread had subtle sourdough hints, which weren’t overly powerful but evidently we’re going to have to acquire a taste for sourdough bread. A couple of my kids ate it with lots of jelly, but the majority of us decided we didn’t like it. I’ve tried sourdough in the past with similar results. Particular yeast cultures in the environment will affect the flavor of the dough, maybe we just don’t have the right cultures present for a good sourdough bread. I’m sure if we added some All Purpose flour to the mix it would have been a little more pleasant.
Anyways, I’m gonna keep trying my hand at no-knead recipes. If you have a favorite one you’d like to share I’d love to give it a try!