|Volunteer wheat and tomatoes|
Down in Louisiana in cajun territory, they have a special word for a little extra given, but not asked for: lagniappe. My compost pile has given me two lagniappes this summer: I have what my mother always called 'volunteer' tomatoes growing on one side of the pile, and around the perimeter, I have mystery grain that has sprouted from the straw I used in it. It's patently obvious that I've not managed this pile particularly well, because if I had, neither the tomato seed nor the grain would have sprouted. However, I'm nurturing both as assiduously as I would had I actually planted them on purpose, especially the grain. I am pretty sure that it's wheat, because I know that it's not barley, which comes as two-row or six-row; this stuff has four rows. Steve pointed out last summer when I pulled whole seed heads out of the first bale of straw we bought that we don't know the provenance of the seed, so we don't know whether it's been genetically modified or not. He had a good point, so I decided against trying to grow it intentionally. But since it's sown itself, I'm willing to leave it where it is as an experiment.
It's been my intention for a few years now to try to grow my own grain. When we were still living in Beaverton and the idea of growing our food in the backyard was still a notion, I ran across a book at the local library called Small Scale Grain Raising, by Gene Logsdon. It was out of print at the time, and I was sorely tempted to 'lose' the book, but happily it's back in print again. I won't consider myself self-sufficient until I can grow our flour, maybe not all of it, but a good majority of what we use. The grain mill we purchased this year was a step in that direction. Eventually, I want to be able to raise all the feed we'll need for chickens and rabbits too, but that's still in the very far future. I just can't consider myself self-sufficient until I'm not relying on outside sources for essential inputs to my garden.
What the volunteer grain I'm nurturing offers me is the chance to learn on a very small scale and with no real skin in the game what it's like to grow, harvest, thresh and winnow grain for personal consumption. It's still at a very green stage, and, I expect, still in its 'milk' stage, but I'll be watching for the kernels to get hard. Gene says that the wheat is ready to harvest when it turns flat yellow to a dead brownish red (depending on the variety), and that the seed heads will point down. At this point you can pull off a few grains, thresh them in your hand, blow off the chaff, and take a bite. If it's crunchy hard, it's ready to harvest; if it's chewy, it's not.
|But what kind is it?|
If this experiment turns out well, we've lots of organic soft white and hard white wheat grain to try growing. I've really learned to prefer the taste of whole grain pancakes and tortillas, but to be sure, it's because we're grinding it right before we use it. Most whole grain flours you find on the shelf were ground months ago by machinery which makes them pretty unpalatable- the machine grinding destroys the nutrition and flavor because of the heat it produces, and then the oils left in it by the germ go rancid while the flour sits on the shelf. Yuck. If you want to try whole grain wheat flour but can't stand the way it tastes, you owe it to yourself to seek out freshly milled flour, preferable ground by hand or by water. I guess in this regard we're pretty lucky that we live just around the corner from Bob's Red Mill, where we can buy twenty-five pound bags of organic wheat. Our second fifty pounds (twenty-five each of soft and hard) are cooling their jets in the freezer. By the time we go to pick up the pork, they'll have been in there for thirty days which is long enough to kill any insects and their progeny that might have been in them. The other good thing that having to grind your flour first before you bake with it does for you is that it makes you find other things to eat. We're not supposed to be eating so many flour-based products anyway, but at least most of what we do eat is whole grain.
So what do you think? I'm interested to see if I can actually get the grain far enough along to harvest it. If I can do that much, I can do the rest, and I'll have a really good idea of what it takes to put bread on the table.
I guess we'll find out together that even if I can't do eggs, maybe I can at least do toast.