Of my five children, Jacob is the one who shows a deep-down interest in agriculture. He happily takes exclusive care of our flock of laying hens. He also carefully watches the herd of beef cattle pasturing at our place, and is quick to help in the garden. Last spring he started asking about grain: Where does it come from? What kind of plant does it grow on? What does grain look like? What better way to answer all these questions than to grow a little wheat the old fashioned way. Here’s how we did it.
After tilling about 600 sq. ft. of our garden, I handed Jake a bag of hard red spring wheat seed and showed him how to use our hand-crank seeder. It didn’t take long for the patch to turn green. “Wheat sure grows strong, doesn’t it dad!” The only thing more thrilling than seeing the vigor of young grain growing is to see a young person experience that thrill for the first time.
As the patch came into head, Jacob learned that young grain makes a delicious snack. Pick it, roll off the chaff, blow it away and eat. He couldn’t get enough of it.
After a lot of chomping at the bit, I finally let Jake into the patch to cut the grain on September 1st. We sharpened up an old sickle that’s been in my family for about 100 years, and the cutting proved hard work for Jake. I count that as a good thing, since so many of us forget how hard-won food is when you’re not relying on fossil fuel and big equipment to make food happen.
After cutting, we put the stalks on a tarp, then walked all over it to thresh out the grain. We also made an old-time flail with two pieces of 1” dowel and rope. Hitting the pile of stalks as a final step knocked the last of the grain out and on to the tarps, leaving the straw to be forked off and used as chicken bedding.
All that remained was to wait for the right kind of windy day, then pour the grain that was full of chaff and beards from one container to another, letting the wind separate the good stuff from the bad. After that, we ran the grain through our hand-operated wheat mill and baked some bread.
Was all this a lot of work? Yes, and not just for Jake. In the same way he invested time and care to make his wheat crop happen, it also takes time and care to nurture that special interest in agriculture that some kids are born with. It hardly ever happens any more, and that’s too bad. Television, video games and too much time spent doing regular kids’ “activities” usually gets in the way. Perhaps the story of Jacob’s wheat will change that a little bit for some of you.