Sunday, June 5, 2011

Flailing away

Last year, you may recall, I grew some oats as an experiment. I have plenty of room, and I like to eat oats -- especially the steel-cut kind. None of this Quaker oat stuff, processed within an inch of its life. Or your life, if you believe in dietary sanity. However, I am now processing last year's oats. The thing about grains is that there are two steps involved -- sometimes only one. First you must thresh (or thrash) your grain. This step involves separating the grain from all the plant infrastructure. Second, you may have to hull the grain; remove the protective (and inedible) husk or hull from the grain.

The big boys ("Big Agro") use megabuck equipment for this task. Once upon a time you could buy hand-powered equipment to do these jobs. No longer. For the small-scale agroperson, the choices are (1) buy equipment made for experimental farms, at very high prices or (2) make it yourself. Well, said I, let's go back to primitive methods first.
So here is the really primitive way of threshing grain. The yogurt container is the receptacle for the final product. Just above it appear two sticks tied together with cord. This is your flail. Above, the raw proxuct. In order to avoid the hulling trap, I grew "naked oats," AKA avens nuda. It doesen't have to be hulled. The stuff you don't want is called chaff and it is recommended that you do the thing on a windy day, so's it blows away, but that day there was no wind and I used a (kaput) hair dryer to simulate it. Not that I use hair dryers, but they are useful for many purposes, such as blacksmith forges. Oh yes, and the blue thing is a Royal Mail postal bag, courtesy of Camden Miniatures, a wonderful place to buy books. Her Majesty's bag keeps the grain from going away. Thank you, ma'am. At the top (12 O'clock) of the picture is some of the raw material, i.e oats. But this winter I separated off the straw and tossed it on the compost heap. The straw is that part of the oat plant that you don't really want. The stem of the plant. A real thresher gets the whole plant and produces grain at the end.

The procedure is this. You place the oats on top of H.M. bag. You take the flail and beat the tar out of it. This will deconstruct avens nuda into grain and chaff. If there is a wind blowing, the wind will blow the chaff away. No wind? Ply your hair-dryer to blow the chaff away. Be careful, because you can also blow the grain away!

OK, after about two hours of this megillah I have come to the conclusion that the labor involved in the primitive procedure is not just excessive. It is impractical for one person. Need to build a thresher. Some pointers on the net (try googling thresher and homemade). Yet another project into the queue.

And, to forestall some objections: in Asia (India in particular) they build exactly what I want. But not for me. These things are not exported. Not enough market. I understand that exactly, because nobody is in business to lose money! But esteemed manufacturers in India, nowadays we have the Internet. Put up a good web page, and the world will beat a path to your door. The homestead market in the US alone might be worth it. Do be prepared to cope with the problems of international shipping. Put the word "homestead" in your web page. Just a thought.

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