February 18, 2009

small scale grain; not if, but how.

When I farmed in BC on a 126 acre homestead, we had a neighbour who sharecropped several neighbourhood farms in the area. He could work magic on his old John Deere combine and was a sight for 21st century eyes taking up the road with his big antique beauty. He took on about 60 acres of our land to grow wheat, spelt and oats. It worked out beautifully with our vegetable and pasturing rotations. Having a really handy guy with an old combine and all the other equipment necessary to grow grain is a rare honour; Not always easy to find.

If you are handy and live in an area where old agricultural equipment rots in fields or goes through auctions cheap, you could find an old combine like this farmer has.

But what are the other options?

The potential for intimate relationship with food is a thing seen clearly when a year's supply of grain is grown, harvested and cleaned by hand. This intimacy approaches oppressiveness when it is done for more than one's own bread...unless of course there are many of us doin it! (and then it becomes intimate again!)
Patience, perseverance and modest needs indicate a good scythe and a fan or very windy day. Dan Jason in Grain in the Garden (PDF) has an excellent essay on how to do just that.

To be self-sufficient in grain for a large family and their animals or a csa it would be good to look at equipment that is suited for that scale.
Small scale binders, threshers or combines are certainly not a mass produced commodity item and are difficult to find and usually jaw droppingly expensive.
Asia and eastern europe have produced some of these great little machines - some days I day dream of traveling and buying small farm equipment and then I realize ..we have to build them! What a time as the present for small scale local equipment fabrication; lets get to work manufacturing and importing implements for small and 2 wheel tractors (like the BCS) or small stationary units- recycled biodiesel, or ox, or horse - what ever each of our sustainable farming communities decide - and get the workshops humming in community colleges. To get the tools that we need (while we still can) maybe a multi-community effort to import together would be useful as well.

Here are a few links to combines and threshers for two wheel tractors or stand alone.

(A combine cuts and threshes in one operation. A thresher is fed (one would use a sythe or a sickle bar mower to cut the stalks).

Cicoria mobile thresher

thresher made from converted chipper shredder

Small scale corn thresher

Ferrari has here everything to fit a 2 wheel tractor but a combine. But in an article about small scale grains they mention a number of models.

Gene Logsdon's book Raising Small Grains is still arguably the bible on whole topic of grain growing - and its just back in print! http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/smallscale_grain_raising


ChristyACB said...

I so agree with you! Talk about and open niche market with potential!

I've searched and searched for multi-purpose, switchable use (uses a standard base and motor system but utility parts can be changed for many uses) and had 0 luck.

Everything is either really obscure, custom made or just plain ridiculously priced.

anne said...

Hey CHristy,
Thats why I love the BCS - so adaptable with the PTO in front or back. Yes a huge market. Things are so bloody expensive cause this kind of equipment is extremely rare.
I like the chipper shredder conversion. The sickle bar on the (say a ) BCS for cutting, then switch machines to the converted chipper/shredder. Anyone done that?

Owen Bridge said...

Thanks for such an informative article on an important topic. Growing grains on a family scale seems to be an elusive goal to me. Last year we planted a big patch of red fife wheat which we harvested with a sickle and bundled into sheaves. That part was easy enough, it's what to do with it after that which causes the trouble! My plan was to use a flail, which didn't work as well as planned. After 20 minutes I had maybe 2 cups of threshed wheat! I ended up cutting the seedheads off so I could finish them in my threshing box (based on Dan Jason's design). I think I'll have to find some kind of larger-small scale threshing machine if I ever want to grow enough grain to be truly self sufficient in bread.

p.s. Greetings from up the Valley!

anne said...

Hi Owen, I'm looking forward to meeting you.
There are a number of combines in our area...but they are mostly busy with GM corn.
Dan Jason at one point (maybe still) was part of a group on Saltspring Island that shared a combine among a group of growers. That might be a good idea if one could find enough people, closeby, to participate.

Owen Bridge said...

Hi Anne,

Yeah, we'll definitely have to meet sometime! I've been reading your blog for a little while now but I counldn't figure out how to contact you!

As for the grain, my goal is to eventually grow about 1/4 acre of wheat, which should be enough for the five of us. It's a bit small for a combine but a bit too big for a threshing box! One of those converted chippers would seem perfect, that way I could just feed it the sheaves for threshing.

I've recently made some modifications to my threshing box to make it work better for grain. I just made the slats on the bottom very thin on one half for grain, while the other half is larger for beans and other legumes. Maybe if I get really good with that it could get a lot done!