Notes from Windward: #69

Laying in the Wheat

checking off another item
on our fall "to do" list


     We live in an area that produces a lot of soft winter wheat. It's planted in the fall and is germinated by the fall rains before the hard snows come. In the spring, it uses the moisture from the melted snow and the spring rains to grow carpets of green that later dry to summer's fields of gold.

     Windward doesn't currently grow more than test plots of wheat, but if we had to produce our own food for real, wheat and potatoes would be central to that production. The wheat grown locally isn't the hard winter wheat that's preferred for bread making, rather it's preferred use is for pancakes, noodles, biscuits, crackers, flat breads, etc.

     A decade ago, we would routinely go to the grainery in our county seat and bring home a couple hundred-pound bags of wheat to supply the kitchen and feed our animals. When we decided to locate Windward here, not only were the county's grain silos filled to the brim, wheat was stacked up on the ground and covered under a huge circus-like tent.

     Now days, our county's wheat crop is quickly loaded on barges for the run down the Columbia to Longview, WA where it's loaded onto tankers bound for China. So, for the past few years, we've been making sure that we stock up on wheat in September before the silos are emptied. It used to be that there was an annual hold-over from one year to the next, but that's a thing of the past.

     The grainery isn't used to selling wheat by the single ton, so we're working with them to streamline the process. Last year they downloaded directly from the silo, a process which required us to weight the work truck before and after in order to determine how much wheat we'd actually received.

getting ready to load the wheat

     Readers of these Notes will recognize the 300 gallon plastic bins that we haul the wheat home in. They're called "IBCs" which is short of Intermediate Bulk Container. They're the next step up from a 55 gallon drum, and they come in a variety of formats. In this case, they used the type of IBC that holds a ton of sugar.

     The wheat with the IBC sack was lifted up over the work truck, a cinch was loosened, and half the load was drained into the first of the 300 gallon IBCs. Then the cinch was tightened to choke off the flow of wheat.

half goes in the first IBC

     I moved the work truck forward a few feet until the sack was over the second IBC, the cinch was loosened again, and the remainder of the wheat dropped into the IBC. Each of the IBCs was only about half full, but that way we don't loose wheat to the wind on the drive home.

     Once home, we have the challenge of unloading the wheat and getting it stored away from rain and pests. What's working for us is a string of the plastic IBCs secured in a metal storage container. The shipping container keeps large pests out, and we use crude mint oil to keep rodents and insects at bay. I don't know if the mint smell hides the smell of the wheat, or if the mint is an effective repellant, but either way, while the mice keep doing their best to get to our store of triticale seed, they leave the wheat alone.

     We're not shy about using equipment to move heavy loads, but some tasks just aren't worth the step-up time. One of our morning rituals involves going for a group walk around the property, so since we have a group of ready hands gathered, we just set up a bucket brigade to move the wheat from the back of the work trunk into the storage container.

plastic sacks keep the wheat clean

     In order to keep the wheat clean, Sarah slipped a pair of plastic bags over her feet, and climbed into the IBC. She bailed up a couple gallons of wheat, and passed the bucket to the next person. It was handed from person to person and finally dumped into one of the empty IBCs. The goal there is to keep from mixing last year's wheat with this year's. We'll keep feeding the older wheat until its gone before starting on this year's wheat.

bailing the wheat

     A lot of the work we do here is individual, so it's a special treat when we can all come together to do something that touches the core of our ability to care for ourselves. A song helps with the rhythm of the work, and in about twenty minutes we had the two IBCs unloaded and were off on our morning walk.

     The old saying remains true: many hands make light work. Sustainability is just too demanding a goal for one or two people to master--it takes a community to do it, and tasks taken on as a group feel more like a celebration than work.

the bucket brigade quickly moves the wheat to storage

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69