Growing grains for the family?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Mountain847, Feb 20, 2004.

  1. Mountain847

    Mountain847 Guest

    Hi all, I'm new here.
    I was wondering if anyone has, or still does, grow their own grain for their own consumption?
    We are off grid and want to grow our own wheat, buckwheat and oats. We don't know how much land we will need to clear. Actually, we'd prefer to stick it here and there, rather than clear. We have a family of six who love to bake all sorts of stuff.
    I am trying to find out how much acres, etc we'll need to grow enough for the winter storage and maintenance through out.
    Any ideas, info and tips will be greatly appreciated.
  2. Roughly 26 bushels per acre--about 50 pounds of wheat per bushel or 1300 pounds per acre. A pound of wheat yields about .85 pound of flour or 1105 per acre. It takes about .8 pounds of flour per pound of bread giving about 1381 loaves per acre. With modern farming techniques and quality seed and soil and so on

  3. Windy in KS

    Windy in KS Guest

    Grains are relatively easy to grow. Where the difficulty comes in is harveting them and threshing them and cleaning them for use.

    In 2003 with a lot of drought areas still in Kansas, the state wide average yield was expected to be around 43 bushels per acre. The benchmark weight for a bushel of wheat is 60 pounds. As the test weight of wheat goes down, the protein content comes up. However a test weight of 56 pounds or less is usually a sign of very shriveled grain, which makes it very difficult to use easily for home flour production.

    Growing grain is patches should be easily enough done. Yields should be good since you will be giving them more attention than a farmer can give an entire crop. You may even be able to irrigate should the crop become in jeopardy due to a drought.

    I would suggest that before you plant a grain crop that you seriously figure out how you will harvest and thresh the grain.

    Will you be able to store enough grain for your needs without pest damage to it? Bugs love small grains. So do mice, and they love to urinate on it as they go across it. Flavorful flour eh?

    Depending upon where you live, can you get the crop dry enough before harvest to safely store it?

    If you determine that growing grain is indeed something you can do, then by all means get good hybrid seed and give it a try. Without a good hybrid you may find yourself with no yield or poor yields at all. You should also get a variety that mills and bakes well. No need to grow it if it doesn't have glutton, protein, taste, and the other requirements for a good flour.

    Good luck and have fun.
  4. bearkiller

    bearkiller Well-Known Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Northern California
    Mountain 847,

    Here's my take on this. Wheat is real easy to sow and grow. I do this simply by purchasing bales of straw then spreading them over tilled ground to form a light mulch. There is enough wheat seed still left in the straw to grow a fine crop. Before you buy the bales of straw talk with the farmer to learn what kind of wheat he has grown. As others have mentioned harvesting wheat is the problem. Scythe it down, bind it in bundles and stand in the field to let ripen. Yup, a lot of darned hard work.

    I don't eat all that much wheat myself so I looked at alternatives. What I came up with was growing milo. Milo, when small, looks like corn, but as it grows it forms a seed head at the top. When ripe it is easy to harvest with a pair of pruning clippers, bag it, and let it dry more. Easy to get the seed out, just beat the bag. Commonly grown for food in many places in Africa and tastes OK. But I mostly grow it for the chickens and pigs.

    Another grain that I grow is Amaranth. It is very similar in habit to milo, but the seed is very much smaller. Also higher in lysine commonly deficient in grains so of great value in balancing your protein. The chickens eat it up, I eat it up.

    Also grow sunflowers for seed for the chickens. Roots for pigs and corn for fodder for goats, pigs, sheep.

    I am a great vegetable hound so leave the grains mainly for the chickens and pigs, but they all are pretty easy to grow. Just how much work do you want to do for what you get?

  5. If you decide not to grow your grain, you might consider buying cleaned, bagged, untreated seed wheat to grind into flour.

    A 50# bag of seed wheat of a good milling and baking variety will be $7-$8 before shipping costs. If you can pick it up in person that would sure cheapen it up.

    The archives should have a couple of seed companies information that you can purchase from.
  6. Mountain847

    Mountain847 Guest

    Thanks, Windy in KS & Bearkiller & unregistered,
    that info was helpfull. I've been trying to "hookup" with people of "like minds" living off grid [no power], back to the basics, self sufficiency, growing your own food, raising your own meats, trying alternative methods of living.

    Windy in KS, do you personally know of anyone who has "grown their own family supply" in small plots? I know that you folks grow LOTS of wheat. We don't mind the manual labor, after all we've chosen to live off grid, back off the beaten path. Our land has a wide variety of moisture conditions, with all gravelly soil, no clays. Lots of woods with lots of open "patches" which is why I mentioned the "...rather stick it here and there..." What do you do for the mice, besides cats & poison. I don't want our wildlife, moose, deer, coyote, fox, rabbits, eagles, etc. affected by any poisons. I know that we'll have to grow "extra" for them too :D Do you know of any good sources for seed?

    Bearkiller, I am going to let my pigs forage through the woodlands, penned, I read that it's good for them. I like your "don't waste anything" way of thinking;
    Also grow sunflowers for seed for the chickens. Roots for pigs and corn for fodder for goats, pigs, sheep. We also want to make full use of all that we grow, for us and the livestock, considering the labor
    involved. As for the " much work...for what you get..." we care more about knowing what exactly it is we are putting into our stomachs and that of our children, rather than convienance. The home grown pork is unbeatable in taste, quality, and health vs any buthcher bought pork. As for time, yes maybe, ok definitely, it's less work and cost to run to the butcher & store, but I'd rather wait until I'm reeeeaaaalllllyy sick before I pump my body full of hormones and antibiotics, get my drift. I mean no offense to those that chose to store buy their products, I was there too, but our ability and choice now is otherwise. I don't like to depend on HUGE conglomerates to supply my food when they are only thinking of $money$.

    Thanks again all, just what I was looking for. :)
  7. Windy in KS

    Windy in KS Guest

    I don't know why I can't stay logged in to post. So frustrating. I thought the new site was going to be better?

    I personally don't know anyone that has grown small areas of wheat. Here in Kansas it is just too easy to go to a farmer in the harvest field and ask to buy a few bushels. That way you know it is untreated, though may have been grown with chemicals.

    I did write an article on small plot wheat growing after a request for such on the old Countryside magazine forum site. Unfortunately there is no longer a forum there with stored articles. I understand those archives are here if you can find them. The article was written by me as greenbeanman if that helps with a search.

    The article or follow up posts give two seed dealers that are local to me. Both are still in business and are willing to ship the 50# sacks of seed wheat. Be sure you ask them for untreated. They may no longer carry it for all I know. They will have sunflower seed too. At least they should. Millet, etc.

    I'm getting read to head off to work, but will try to post them again later this evening.

    I would consider barrels with sealed tops for storage. A one time cost, but the barrels should last for many years if kept out of the sun and weather. They should protect from vermin. Various storage methods to protect against insects can be done. I'd probably use the dry ice method. As it evaporates the gas goes throughout the wheat killing what may be there. Then the lid is sealed. Farmers use metal storage bins that typically hold 2,000 bushels or more. Insects can still get in, so a small amount of insecticide is added as the bin is filled. A diluted gallon of malathion might be used for the entire 2,000 bushels. At least that is what I used in the 1970s and 1980s. Malathion might even be banned by now.
  8. E. Ely

    E. Ely Active Member

    Jan 10, 2003
    Gene Logsdon has a book out, which I believe is titled Small-Scale Grain Raising, that you should look at. I got it through my library. It tells all about how to figure out how much you need to plant, and talks about harvesting and threshing too. It's a great book, very easy to read. Good luck.

  9. Mountain847

    Mountain847 Guest

    Thanks, Windy and E.Ely
    I'd prefer the untreated seed if I can obtain it. I want to stay away from any chemicals, including storage. I'm way out in the boonies, if dry ice were even available by the time we drove all the way home it'd be gone :(
    I am definitely going to check out that book, though.
    Thanks again
  10. Pops Black

    Pops Black Member

    Feb 16, 2004
    My $.02

    I don’t know the exact number but I’ve read that 70-80% of the cost of food is for petroleum based products – fuels, chemicals, transport, etc.

    Should (when) oil prices skyrocket, raising you own grain will become more cost effective and maybe even a requirement.

    BUT, on a sustainable basis there will be no “modern” methods. Check out
    That link may have come from this site, I think Sedition posted it, I don’t remember.

    Mountain847 you are way ahead of us, we’re only now in the process of finding our place. But what I hope to do is expend all the time and money I can on improving the soil and localizing our crops. That means not relying on hybrid seeds, they produce more but you can’t save the seed for next year. I’ve done this on our little acre for years. At first I planted as many varieties of open pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds as I could find for whatever crop I wanted, vegetable, grain, etc. Then saved the seed from the best plants and replant that next year. Soon you find the variety that works best and in time your crops become even better adapted to your individual site and more resistant to pests and disease.

    (Unless Monsanto has its way )

    The other consideration for a sustainable supply is that without cheap petroleum products and hybrids, your yield will be drastically less. In the old days (pre-oil) the rule of thumb was to raise enough to feed you, the bugs and the mice. Between 1866 and 1920 average yield of wheat for the US was between 11 and 16 bushel / acre. Compare that to 1999 – 42.7 bu/ac!

    Now since I’m a pretty good gardener but not a farmer I think MY yield might be only a quarter to a half of that.

    Search for “open pollinated seed” and your area.


    P.S. I’m not going to start an argument about the “Oil Peak” here. I’m just stating my opinions and experience FWIW.
  11. Annie in S.E. Ohio

    Annie in S.E. Ohio Active Member

    Jun 17, 2002
    SE Ohio
    I have ground flour for home baking from FEED hard red wheat purchased from our small local feed mill, 50 pounds is only 3.35. It does need hand picked over just like you would pick over dried beans, but it is relatively clean just as it came from the combine. Made decent bread.

    The trouble with raising your own grains is the harvesting, enough to put up for all years use is very, very labor intensive without the use of a commercial combine, it is way more cost effective to purchase what you need from your local feed store/mill. Some feed mills can order organic for you as well, and since it will come on the weekly truck they don't charge you for freight. Check with the prices from your local mill, it might really surprise you how cheap they are, but be forewarned, the feed wheat they sell is technically for animal use only, they can't sell it for human use, they aren't licensed to sell it that way, much stricter controls over handling and storage for human comsumption.
  12. bearkiller

    bearkiller Well-Known Member

    Apr 21, 2003
    Northern California
    Mountain 847,

    Obviously I didn't make myself clear. My comment about how much work do you want to do for what you get was not intended to mean go the grocer or meat market. I stay away from those places as much as possible. What I meant was growing other crops and feed them to the pigs and goats produces better (lower) labor returns for me than growing crops like wheat which is hard work for a product I personally don't eat much of. The pigs like it soaked or ground, but then that again is more work.

    What becomes very obvious over time is that there are many ways to produce your own groceries on the farm, but the choices eventually devolve to labor inputs versus products. If there is something that is very difficult to produce, but you like it hugely in spades, then the work is worth it. For me, most grains are stock feed, but I prefer to raise roots and maize (for fodder where the entire plant is fed). Pigs, goats, and sheep all eat it with relish. I've raised enough wheat and been through all that so I know it is not how I want to spend my time.

    Mama likes her pancakes and bread so I break down and purchase organic wheat berries for us to grind into flour and for home use. I'm still grinding wheat with a 1982 date on it. It holds up that well.

    I suspect we are quite in agreement about what we consume either directly or indirectly. There is no question that the homestead raised pork is so far superior to anything you could purchase at the meat market. Likewise for my potatoes and all the rest of the vegetables I grow. The stuff in the market is almost devoid of taste, let alone nutrition.

    Lastly, I second the recommendation about Gene Logsdon's book. He got me started with the grains way back when that book was new! At any rate, keep on learning and enjoy the trip.

  13. I'm Rambler, but too hard to always register 2 times before this system picks me up without disconnectiong....

    So, as everyone says, the hard part of small grains is the harvesting & storage. All grains have a moisture % that you need to be at or below to store safely. Wooden open storage greatly reduces spoilage from moisture, but then you see the bigger pest problem. Sealing in a barrel greatly increases the spoilage issue.....

    Small grains like to be planted very early in the spring in cold weather, and like a hot dry spell while they mature. They need hot dry weather to ripen & dry down. Your problem with small plots within the trees will be a lack of sunshine & heat for them to mature, and a lack of moisture as the deep tree roots take it all while the grain is trying to fill out. Then there will not be enough breezes & sunshine for the crop to dry down to low (12-15%) moisture levels for storage because of the trees.

    Your system _can_ work, but you will need to pay special attention to these issues. I'm not saying no - I'm saying these are the things you need to figure out, make work for you.

  14. Mountain847

    Mountain847 Guest

    Thanks all,
    Pops Black, I couldn't agree with you more. Monsanto is BAD NEWS to large farmers as well as the small homesteader. Thanks for the link.

    Annie, I don't think that I would really feel comfortable with any product labeled for livestock consumption, but it's an idea.

    Bearkiller, I will look into getting organic berries, I am going to get the book to have a read and look into other grains as flour products or mixing.

    Rambler, thanks

    Everyone, I really appreciate the "eye opener" to what may be more work than realized. I think somehow though we still may try a small plot to just kinda experiment with. You know get a taste, ha.

    I'm sure as we continue on this adventure I'll be back to "pick everyones brains" on other homesteading issues.

    Bearkiller, I was reading your post on the "spring water digging", very good ideas.
    Thanks again, all
  15. Terri

    Terri Singletree & Weight Loss & Permaculture Moderator Staff Member Supporter

    May 10, 2002
    Mountain, you might like this recipe.

    Take 1/2 cup whole wheat berries and soak, Place the berries in a blender, measure the water left and add water to bring it up to 1 cup. Add that to blender, also.

    Blend and dump into a bowl.

    To the now half-cracked and half coarsely ground wheat, add 1 heaping teaspoon of yeast, 1 heaping teaspoon of salt, a generous dollop of honey, and enough ordinary flour to make a proper dough. Knead and bake.

    I like to use white wheat berries for this because they have a mild flavor. I get them from a health food store.