Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Park Wheat

I am honoured to be able to post on this blog. I can see that it may develop into a useful source of information for the growing number of smallholders who wish to venture into successful grain and pulse production on a small scale.

First I guess I should introduce myself. My name is John Schneider. I have been farming most of my life and family generations as far back as we can trace have also been farmers. It has been in the last 10 years or so that I have been focused on organic grain production; heritage breeds of grains and livestock have been my further interest for the past 3 or 4 years. We farm in central Alberta, Canada very near the city of Edmonton.

I thought for my first post I would share with you a little info. on the main grain variety that we currently produce. It is called Park Wheat. It was developed here in Alberta at the Lacombe Research Station back in the 60's. It is far from an ancient grain, but it is what I would call a heritage variety. It is an open pollinated Hard Red Spring that was initially bred to resist rust.

Aside from its resistance to various diseases I have found that it is a very early spring variety and seems to be fairly drought resistant. It is also very high in protein and we have had it range anywhere from 13.5% to 14.5% protein. The falling numbers have varied a little more but generally have been in the 330-350 range. It is a very suitable baking wheat with good dark colouring and a moderately rich taste. Not as dark and rich as something like Marquis or Red Fife, but still pretty good.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Corn Harvest

Painted Mountain Corn - From skyline

We grew three varieties of corn up at Skyline Farm, just outside of Portland, OR, this year: Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH popcorn, and Nothstein dent. These were very experimental for us and we're learning a lot through the process, which I thought I'd share a little of with all of you.

All of the varieties were grown without supplemental irrigation of any sort. They were seeded to moisture the week of May 4 and didn't see much more than a couple of inches or so of rain for the remainder of the season, most of that coming in small drizzles, just heavy enough to germinate some weeds. Mostly we used 36" row spacing and thinned to about 12-18" between plants after direct seeding with an Earthway seeder. We grew less than a quarter acre total in corn.

For one section of popcorn we did a three sisters planting and the row spacing was 108". We seeded five different varieties of pole beans for dry bean harvest three weeks later, right along side the germinated corn rows. Three to four weeks after seeding the corn we direct seeded hills of winter squash (10 varieties) half way between the corn rows. This planting had the best looking corn plants and seemed to yield similarly per row, if not a little better (this is only based on how many bins per row we were filling when we harvested). I was skeptical about this planting scheme but I have to say the plants all looked great. More on those plantings, along with photos, are over at the Slow Hand Farm blog. Gophers got many of the beans in the end but the squash yielded impressively and the corn looked healthier than the corn which was planted alone in a block (same variety).

Robust 128YH at harvest - From skyline

We weren't particularly well set up for drying corn. Most of the corn we harvested with the husks on, but we switched to husking in the field and this was definitely better, mostly just in how much space it took up and how easy it was to move. The Painted Mountain was dry very early in the season, in late August/early September, but we didn't have time to pull it out of the field until the week of September 21. Balancing how dry the corn was in the field, and the coming rain, we chose to harvest all of the corn the week of the 21st and 28th, with the popcorn being the last to come in. We piled the cobs in shallow fruit bins, 48" square and about 12" deep. These stayed in a covered area for a few weeks until it started to get cold and damp and then we brought them in the barn with the front loader forks.

We did experience some molding in the bins, as there wasn't enough air flow really and we should have had fans circulating air earlier than we did. The humidity here is quite high and it's really difficult to get the moisture down.

The Sheller - From skyline

Video of the sheller (with bins in the background) - From skyline

Fortunately one of the crew had an antique sheller sitting around and he was kind enough to bring it up to the farm. We shelled all of the corn in November in our spare time (actually there's still a little popcorn left). The dent corn was easiest, with big fat kernels, the narrow cobs of the popcorn went through the sheller without taking all of the kernels off on the first pass so we still need to run them through a second time. I have a VacAway seed cleaner, which cleaned most of the remaining silks, broken kernels, and pieces of cob from the good kernels.

(l to r) Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH, Nothsteins Dent - From skyline

(l to r) Painted Mountain, Robust 128YH, Nothsteins Dent - From skyline

I've ground a bit of the Painted Mountain and Nothstiens, by hand, to sample the two. I hope to get more done on an electric mill soon. The yield on the Painted Mountain was about 2300 pounds/acre of grain (38 bushels?). The Nothsteins yielded about 3500 pounds/acre (58 bushels?). Trying to remember back, and estimate, I'd guess it's costing us around $1/lb to produce the grain, plus whatever it ends up costing to mill it. This of course is a very rough estimate and it depends on the yield, although more of the cost, as I estimate it, is actually post harvest rather than in the field.

I'll try to give an update when we're all done milling, tasting, etc.