Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Which came first? Beer or Bread

We have gone down this road before. I grew wheat and realized that wheat was not the staff of life. So I decided to try  hull less oats. The package came with about 30 seeds. I prepared the bed and planted in the fall- like for winter wheat. WRONG.
Oats are a spring crop. Warm and wet is what they want. So eventually they did grow because it is not so cold here, and the did go to seed. And I did harvest several bowls full from my 20 or so plants.
As plants, each seed makes a large clump of grass about the size of a small dessert plate. It grows at different speeds so some parts are going to seed while others are still growing and go to seed later. This will mean your harvest is several stages if you are harvesting by hand, which I did.
As the plant starts to go to seed, the first few stalks of flowers (I am not sure what these parts are called on oats) are mostly for making pollen. The plants seems to need gravity to pollinate although I did see some bee activity and some other bugs. This might also be a wind type of pollination. Which ever it is, the lower parts get pollinated better than the first top ones.
Now for the tricky part- competition and harvesting.
The literature I read said to harvest in the Dough stage, when the seed is still soft. If you wait until it is hard, it will fall out while harvesting. There was no discussion about insects or birds. Birds love this stuff. They attack the seeds even in the milk stage. The insects love this stuff also. They attack the whole plant. Big and small, insects were causing lots of seed damage at all stages.
When the harvest was in, I let the seed pods dry in bowls and watched little bugs run all over. Then it was time for the fun part- getting the good seed out of the pod or husk.
About 1/3 of the seed was not Hull Less. what a surprise! I got to see how both types work. Here again, with rustic tools, probably what pre-civilized man could make, I attempted to extract the seeds from the hulls. Extremely time consuming. Yet, the process, like with wheat, is perfectly suited to a birds beak.
Now a cow can eat the whole plant down to the ground. The cow can digest the grass, hull and seed. The birds are there for the seeds and maybe will use some of the grass to build a nest. They might also enjoy a few of the bugs.
So this brings me to the original question- what came first? Beer or bread? And I say it was beer. This is because you can sprout the grain for the enzymes needed to convert the starch to sugar, then ferment the sugar, without having to remove the seed from the hull. Just ferment the whole thing. There is a pounding that happens after the seed is sprouted, but this can be done in a rock bowl with a heavy stick. After fermenting, the liquid is strained through a woven basket and the residue is fed to the cows, chickens and other grazing animals.
It is possible to pound some grain out of this for human consumption, but to get enough to make bread would take a week of hard labor. I would rather have beer and steak and skip the bread altogether.
If I were to try this on a large scale, I would grow the grain and feed it to chickens, then eat eggs and chickens. If I have large fields, I would have cows for milk, cheese and meat. There are much better things to eat than grains. Maize is pretty easy to grow and eat. Potatoes are lovely. And all fruits and vegetables seem to be great for  growing and easy harvest. So I am content to let the grains feed the animals. I have collected a bowl full of oats. I might make some oat meal later on, but for  the most part, grains are a  modern food.
Final numbers- The oats produced 4 ounces of grain. The wheat produced about 1 pound and the corn (maize) was the real winner. If I have to grow grain, it will be maize/corn. Easy to harvest, easy to extract seed, easy to prepare (polenta). Next year, a bigger corn crop.