Raising your own food – Wheat and grain
Everybody likes bread – it has been a staple of the human diet for thousands of year. So how do you make bread when the Piggly Wiggly has been looted and there are no bakers?
A bushel of wheat berries is 60 pounds and an acre of land can produce 55 bushels of wheat (in medieval times yields were estimated at 6-10 bushels per acre, in the 1800s yields were up to 13 bushels per acre). For planning purposes, you might not be as efficient as a modern day Kansas wheat farmer with a honking huge combine to harvest his fields but you should be able to top the yields of a farmer in the 1800s.
If you each two slices of bread for breakfast lunch and dinner each day, you need about two bushels of wheat for a year (per person). I have seen some sites recommend 200 lbs of wheat per person per year, that seems a little high.
So how much land should you set aside for growing wheat for a family of four? A quarter acre or less should be sufficient (about 100 ft x 100 ft) even in a bad harvest you should get 8 bushels or more in a better year. You will have to rotate the fields or leave an area fallow to prevent depletion of the soil. Plus you can use the chaff and stalks as animal feed.
One pound of seeds can yield ten times its weight in wheat or more. Set aside a sack of seeds per person each year to grow your next crop.
Harvest: Wheat can take five months or more to ripen. If you squeeze the wheat berry and any juice or milk comes out, the wheat is not ready for harvest. Best indicator is when the heads start to droop over. When the wheat is dry you can break off the heads. Leave the wheat straw / stalks behind. You can use them later for composting or feed to barnyard animals.
Threshing that much grain can be a big job. Step on it, hit it with sticks, use a field expedient device with rotating head to flail the heads, or do it by hand. There are YouTube videos of guys using weed-whackers (seemed to work well) and food processors (for smaller amounts). There is a neat method at http://fivegallonideas.com/home-grain-thresher/ using a five-gallon bucket and a hand drill. But anything that works is fine. The idea is to knock the hard seeds off and away from the chaff. You can run the threshed material trough a sieve, the wheat berries will drop through and most of the longer pieces of chaff will not.
Winnowing: pour the threshed wheat in front of flowing air and the chaff will blow away and the wheat berries will drop through. If you lay down a large tarp, you can throw the wheat up in the air in a breeze and the chaff will blow away. The goal is to get only the wheat berries left behind. You may have to pick the last pieces of chaff out by hand.
Storing wheat berries: wheat berries will keep for a long time (up to 20 years if stored properly). You want to put them in an air tight container. Food grade plastic buckets with sealable lids are ideal. You might even try some with screw on lids to keep pests out. Add some moisture absorbing material (like the small silicon packets you see in some pill bottles or food packets) to keep it dry.
Grinding flour: you can get a wheat mill for $100 or less. You only need to grind a couple of cups (3-4) to make a loaf of bread. Wheat berries keep longer than flour so you can grind small amounts as you need it. If you retain an alternate power source in a grid down event, you can still grind wheat berries in a food processer, a coffee grinder – always be looking for multipurpose devices instead of a single-function device. A small mill takes some muscle power, some people hook their mill up to a stationary bike to take advantage of larger leg muscle groups but this would really be for when you have to grind large quantities.
Just note that if you don’t strip the bran and the wheat germ from the endosperm portion of the wheat berry, you will get brown bread not white bread. Since brown bread is more nutritious, you probably don’t need to worry about this. A lot of flour is enriched (the nutrients are artificially added back into the flour after being stripped away).
Now make you some bread Basic ingredients are some yeast, some salt, some sugar, some water.
Ok, lots of work for loaves of bread. You can also just go out and buy sacks or buckets of wheat berries. As of this writing, the cost is over $1 a pound (including shipping costs) for bulk sacks or buckets. If you need 800 pounds for you family of four… do the math! But you might want to get some from a local farm co-op and try out growing your own. You may have to do that some day regardless.