{Northeast Grains System} wheat in the ‘hood

Howard’s rye and warthog wheat

Now that the wheat we planted really looks like it might become food, I’m beginning to dread its harvest. I feel like the Little Red Hen’s friend, ready to hide until there’s dinner. Even though I’m the one who convinced my family we should plant our new lot – behind our house in the city of Troy – with wheat.

I had to twist no arms. My husband and sons are always game for new tricks here at the 10th Street Agricultural Station. Me, however, the farmless wonder, should perhaps look a little harder before I leap.

Who will harvest the wheat? Who will thresh it, and winnow it? Milling, I don’t mind. I’m always happy to take a spin on Howard’s bicycle mill. But scything, or snipping the stalks at ground level is going to be a lot of work, work I’m afraid I’ll mess up. My eight-year-old Felix has made some combines from Lego’s, but I don’t think they are going to do the trick. And I hope we get more than will fit in the little storage bins he’s built.

Tackling any level of food self-sufficiency makes the efforts of farmers look good, and very worth supporting. You want to sit on a tractor and tine weed and fret over the weather and bugs for my daily bread? You’ll figure out the right time to harvest the grain and dry it and store it in giant bins with fans? Sounds like a plan. A plan I’ll keep using, except for this thousand square foot plot of warthog wheat.

Crystal’s warthog patch at her Capital District Community Gardens plot

Other people in the neighborhood have planted wheat, too. Howard and Crystal have plots, and they have none of my harvest dread. Howard has the tools and skills to get this food in by hand. He bought a scythe this winter, and has been refining his grain cradle for a while. He has a couple of winnowing methods. My neighbor Andrew is eager to be involved with hauling the wheat off the land. So the work will get done, and it will be fun, too.

Harvest might look like a painting from before the mechanical reaper hit the scene in the 1830s, with all of us bent to work. Before machines could help harvest, the whole community got together to get in the grains when they were dry enough, and before rains fell.

This is not the worst picture to enter. The conviviality of a shared project is appealing, as the Little Red Hen tried to convince her friends. Lucky I have my friends to help me find excitement for homegrown grains.

Felix using Howard’s threshing operation last year

Why this reluctance? I’m such a novice in the yard that it’s easy for me to get intimidated. The idea of cooking for everyone the days we harvest and thresh and winnow is not scary because I know that work inside and out. Will I someday be as familiar with growing things? I don’t know.

Rye planted for chicken feed by Felix

Until this year, we kept an indoor/outdoor line in the garden – Jack and the kids worked the land, and I did much of the prep for meals and storage. I always made sure to get greens in the ground, and helped weed and mulch. Jack is great at late night tomato sauce sessions, and other cooking projects, for the long haul and for everyday. This season, though, he’s been banned from the yard, so he can focus on shaping that hilly terrain into a more manageable landscape. So we will see what kind of gardener I will become.

My warthog wheat

I’m told that my wheat is a ways off from being ready. The plants will have to totally die down and the kernels will crack in my teeth. Depending on weather and summer trips, I might cut it early and hang all the plants in the abandoned bedroom to dry. I’ll keep you posted.

Amy’s past pieces in her “Scaling Up the Northeast Grain System” Series

{community voices} Scaling Up the Northeast Grains System

{Scaling Up the Northeast Grains System} Maine Grains

{Northeast Grains System} A Kickstarter Campaign

{Northeast Grains System} The Vermont Grain Growers Conference

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Pirate Jeni says:

    Oh my goodness! it never occurred to me that one could grow their own wheat!
    My father planted buckwheat when we were kids and I remember grinding and grinding and grinding it with an old coffee mill. Where does one get wheat seeds for planting?

  2. Amy Halloran says:

    What fun with the buckwheat!

    We got our warthog from Cayuga Pure Organics, online. I ground the extra on my Kitchen Aid mill and used it for awesome pancakes and bread.

    Wheat seeds are wheat berries — you’ll have to know if you’re planting a spring or winter wheat. Look at Heritage Wheat Conservancy and Fedco for what you want to grow. Good luck!

  3. Sara says:

    I didn’t realize there was a grain mill attachment for the kitchenaid!

  4. Amy Halloran says:

    Yes, there’s a Kitchen Aid brand one and another, whose name I don’t know. But it is a good tool to have in the food arsenal.

  5. Dianna says:

    the only problem is threshing. Winnowing is easy, threshing is the limiting factor. There is always someone (not me) willing to figure out how to scythe, so if it isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Concentrate on getting that grain out of its tight little hulls. We are thinking of expanding our wheat area this fall, by the way, so maybe we will have some good tips for you next year. Good luck and keep us posted, so to speak.

    1. Amy Halloran says:

      Thanks for the encouragement Dianna!

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