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Hulling and processing homestead bread grains - which ones are easiest to grow and hull?

 
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Right now we buy rye and spelt from a farmer. I like these grains a lot but I've heard spelt is tricky to process without specialist hulling machines. I'm not sure what rye is like to process.

Are there other old grain varieties that don't need hulling machines?

Or are there any good hulling machines for a small homestead?

I've heard wheat is easy to hull, khorasan/kamut might be as well, which other bread grains are easy to hull?
 
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I am celiac, so can't comment on wheat,  rye, barley, or spelt... but I have the same question.

I am trying hulless oats this year, have read mixed reviews on how well they hull.  I think I saw hulless barley also available, Kate?

I will also be planting flour corn, which should be relatively easy to process ( probably wont nixtamalize) , and am trying quinoa and amaranth, maybe millet, and some beans. All of these are things I use as 'flour'.

Just a little of each to see what grows well and how easy it is to process.
 
Kate Downham
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Corn seems like a very easy crop to process. Mice ate all but one cob of my flour corn this year as it grew in the garden, so I'm not sure if the flour corn is extra tasty to them, or if here isn't a good place for growing it, I'd like to continue trying to grow it on a smaller scale and trying stuff to deter mice though.

I hope you'll keep us updated about your grains and processing, Catie. I eat lots of gluten-containing grains, but any tasty gluten-free grain that is easy to grow and process sounds like a good grain to grow too.
 
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I have flour corn past knee high as one of my trials.  Also have some buckwheat growing.  

Chickens planted some regular oats which are partly ready to harvest, but they get to eat that. Want to try some hull-less variety come fall.  Did see some smut on what the chickens planted, but not too bad.  Since I will hand harvest, I can eliminate that.

The rye I put in last winter isn't doing so well.  May get a bit, but looks pretty sad.  Chickens will get any I decide to harvest.  That was about 2500 sq feet in rows I planted with my Earthway seeder on ground leveled by the dozer clearing for my house. Hoping it at least put roots down far enough to start improving that plot for a more "real" crop of something.

Have amaranth seed, but not in ground yet.  Same with some millet.  Testing a lot of things.  Want to see what grows easy and that I like as a staple flour crop.  Have some grain sorghum seed too, and some rice.  Soil probably not yet in shape to try rice though.

Buckwheat all flowering nicely now.  Hoping to see seeds before too much longer.  Main issue so far has been wind (get some real gusts that knock over corn and buckwheat), but I think as it heats up that too will be a problem.  But as fast as buckwheat grows, should be able to do at least one spring crop and another fall one before first frost.  Maybe more.

I did buy some amaranth online and cooked some up.  Not bad as a mush/porridge.  Haven't tried anything fancy, but I have no issue using it in place of rice or polenta.
 
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Rye is super super easy. It's not my favourite grain, but I keep growing it because I always get a crop no matter the weather, and threshing and winnowing is quick and easy. It threshes very clean, as well.

I grew millet a couple years ago and still haven't gotten around to threshing it because my usual pillowcase method doesn't work. Rubbing between gloved hands is a little better, but not great either and you've got all the dust in your face. So I don't know how it tastes. The pearl millet I grew doesn't have the really hard hull like foxtail etc. so can supposedly be eaten without hulling. There's a thread on here somewhere about millet that I've posted on where someone says he's always been told the hull is bitter, though.

My hulless oats and wheat have been eaten by birds two years in a row, so I can't comment on them. This year I even covered them with quite a bit of mulch. The robins like digging though.

I harvested a bit of hulless barley last year, a six row purple variety, and it didn't thresh nearly as cleanly as rye. It took a bit more effort as well, but nothing crazy. This year, I picked out every grain that wasn't clean and planted only the nice ones. Hopefully a little selection is all it takes to improve threshing.

I'm going to try amaranth, teff, and buckwheat this year as well. Have only just learned to like amaranth.

Corn would be nice, but my soil is poor, our summers are hot, and I don't really water anything.
 
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Catie George wrote:

I am trying hulless oats this year, have read mixed reviews on how well they hull.  I think I saw hulless barley also available, Kate?

I will also be planting flour corn, which should be relatively easy to process ( probably wont nixtamalize) , and am trying quinoa and amaranth, maybe millet, and some beans. All of these are things I use as 'flour'.

Just a little of each to see what grows well and how easy it is to process.



How did it go? I’m especially interested in the hulless oats. Also- what are your growing conditions like?
 
pollinator
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I have looked for home scale huller.  I found a homestead scale machine, but it was not a homestead budget.

Most of the round seeds can be run through a flour mill with the hulls and then separated.  Either run really coarse (cracked) and then winnowed or ground fine and then sifted.  Whichever works easier for you.

 
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I've used a bucket thresher to remove grains from the stalks, but those were always hulless varieties. It's possible that the same method could work to knock the hulls loose on grains like wheat. Just strain the stalks out, put the grain back in the bucket, and run the thresher for several minutes. The grains might be a bit bruised by the end, but I assume this would only be used for eating grains and not next year's seeds.
 
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There are many hulless varieties of wheat, barley, and oats that are easily threshed just by walking on them, hitting them with a stick, or rubbing against a screen. Followed by winnowing, and they are ready to eat.
 
Anna Marie Spackman
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:There are many hulless varieties of wheat, barley, and oats that are easily threshed just by walking on them, hitting them with a stick, or rubbing against a screen. Followed by winnowing, and they are ready to eat.



I would love if you would share specific varieties and your personal experiences with them 😊
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I'm not into variety names. At my place, the names get lost before I plant the seeds. I want to trial everything based on how it does in my garden, and not be influenced by stories from far away and long ago.  

I've grown thousands of varieties of wheat, and dozens of varieties of barley that all threshed easily. I've grown varieties of Emmer and Einkorn, which I dislike because they are hard to very hard to thresh.

I've  grown about 6 varieties on hulless oats. The only one I liked is Amber's Hull-less Oats, which I developed for my own use on my farm. The varieties that I trialed were too shattery, and not sufficiently hull-less for my liking.

I recommend tall grains, so that I can harvest them with secateurs without stooping over. I really don't like stooping while working. My varieties may be available from https://store.experimentalfarmnetwork.org/collections/lofthouse or https://rockymountainseeds.org/heritage-grain-trial-grower-application/ or from seed companies that appreciate genetic diversity and human scale agriculture.

Awnless is a wonderful trait in a human-scale grain, though it may make them more susceptible to predation.
amber-s-hull-less-oats.jpg
Amber's hull-less oats
Amber's hull-less oats
Rocky-Mountain-Hull-less-Barley.jpg
Rocky Mountain Hull-less Barley
Rocky Mountain Hull-less Barley
Rocky-Mountain-Wheat.jpg
Rocky Mountain Wheat
Rocky Mountain Wheat
Rocky-Mountain-Awnless-wheat.jpg
Rocky Mountain Awnless wheat
Rocky Mountain Awnless wheat
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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To answer the question more directly... For me, corn is an order of magnitude easier to harvest and clean than the small grains. In other words, in the time I can harvest, thresh, and clean 5 pounds of wheat for culinary use, I could harvest, thresh, and clean 50 pounds of corn.
shelling-corn.jpg
[Thumbnail for shelling-corn.jpg]
 
Catie George
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Anna Marie Spackman wrote:

Catie George wrote:

I am trying hulless oats this year, have read mixed reviews on how well they hull.  I think I saw hulless barley also available, Kate?

I will also be planting flour corn, which should be relatively easy to process ( probably wont nixtamalize) , and am trying quinoa and amaranth, maybe millet, and some beans. All of these are things I use as 'flour'.

Just a little of each to see what grows well and how easy it is to process.



How did it go? I’m especially interested in the hulless oats. Also- what are your growing conditions like?



Unfortunately, I ordered them in the COVID crazy time, and the oats arrived far too late for planting oats in my climate, took a few weeks to ship and more than a month in the mail. This year I have grown corn - easy, but being eaten by animals- and amaranth (gorgeous, great germination, but hasnt dried down yet so dont know if it will be easy to thresh, drought tolerant, love the taste of the greens so ate the thinnings). Quinoa didnt sprout outdoors, and I refuse to grow a grain I need to transplant. Didnt try millet, dried beans had not great germination, soybeans didnt germinate. I find with a lot of things they grow better for me on the second year.

I am in Ontario- last frost was late May, then followed with a bad and unusually hot drought from early June to July, quite unusually wet all August.
 
Anna Marie Spackman
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:To answer the question more directly... For me, corn is an order of magnitude easier to harvest and clean than the small grains. In other words, in the time I can harvest, thresh, and clean 5 pounds of wheat for culinary use, I could harvest, thresh, and clean 50 pounds of corn.



Thank you so much for sharing your experience!!! I’m going to give hulless oats a try, but focus some more space and energy on productive corn 😊
From what I’ve read, corn is also gives more food for its space. I see cornbread in our future 😁
 
Anna Marie Spackman
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Catie George wrote:
I find with a lot of things they grow better for me on the second year.



Thanks for the reply!
I find that is true here too- I’m in SC- hot and humid summers are really hard on some varieties. It really helps to save seed because they adapt much better to their environment. I’m excited for next year to see if they get better again!
I’m sorry to hear about your weather etc. hopefully  next year is better for all of us ❤️
We’d love to hear how threshing goes with your amaranth!
 
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Does anyone have any ideas on the best way to hull barley? I did rye last year that was easy but the barley looks like it's going to be a pain in the neck. I'm only talking about a small amount just some to do a proof of concept with really. For some of us corn is not an option it just doesn't grow to maturity here.
 
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One thing people might consider trying is malting the small grains. Basically sprouting and then toasting dry to stop the germination. I know that sprouted grain breads are touted for their health benefits and the sprouting process will break off the chaff. You could do it in small batches that you could toast in your oven as you need it.
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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I just remembered another way to dehull grains. Burn them!

It sounds weird, but it's a method used in the Middle East, called freekeh. It probably originated when somebody's field was hit by drought and then caught fire.

Harvest when the grains still have a fairly high moisture content. I'm sure the drying and burning process is more of an art form than what could be explained here. It would take a lot of trial and error to get it right, but if you are able to develop that skill, it would provide another way to dehull grains without fancy equipment.
 
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Grain sorghum is very easy to grow. Depending on the variety, the heads can be right at waist height for easy cutting. Drought tolerant if you don’t plant it too thick. The heads can get big if its not too thick, about a pound, I think. Birds are less attracked to the white varieties. I have grown it but never eaten it. Has anyone used it for flour?
 
Ellendra Nauriel
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Ken W Wilson wrote:Grain sorghum is very easy to grow. Depending on the variety, the heads can be right at waist height for easy cutting. Drought tolerant if you don’t plant it too thick. The heads can get big if its not too thick, about a pound, I think. Birds are less attracked to the white varieties. I have grown it but never eaten it. Has anyone used it for flour?



I haven't used it for flour, but I have used it for cereal. It tasted a lot like Cream of Wheat. Maybe a tiny bit nuttier.
 
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As an aside, I've had good luck "hacking" both my small Mantis electric tiller and a small electric lawnmower as threshing machines for barley...the only small grain I'm currently growing.  For the tiller I made a wooden box that it sits on top of with a chute off to one side to shove handfuls of heads into.  It would take two or three passes to separate most of the grains...still quicker than beating or dancing on them on pavement which is what I did before.  The mower was MUCH quicker...and easy to set up since it fits just right into a wheelbarrow!  So I fill the barrow half way or more with cut heads, set the mower in it and whiz away.  The frame of the mower keeps the blade away from the wheelbarrow, and the wheelbarrow keeps the grain from flying everywhere.  I pick the mower up after a couple minutes and fluff the stuff up with a pitchfork, and repeat till all the heads are broken up.  Then winnow the fine stuff out with two buckets in the wind and then it's ready to store.  This would work with wheat, too, I'm sure, and with that it's then ready to grind or boil or do whatever and eat.  The barley has a hull, though, and for that our heavy Vita-Mix blender comes to good service....set on medium speed for just the right amount of grain and time, will grind off and powder the hulls and leave the mostly intact grain....winnow again and it's ready to cook!
 
Jan White
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Saw this thread pop up again and it reminded me of my bucket of unthreshed millet. I can now confirm that threshing pearl millet by hand is a pain in the ass.

There may be better ways to do it, but what I settled on was dumping the millet into a big tote bin and doing a bit of a shuffle twist dance number on it. A lot of the grain didn't release all that easily, so I did this for quite a while. I winnowed a bit in between dances to see how things were going. Slow.

Also turns out that there's a bit of chaff at the base of the millet grains that stays attached on a decent number of them.

I really like how well the millet grew in truly terrible soil with no watering, so I'm going to work on it. I had a bag of seed selected from the biggest, fullest, earliest heads that I was just going to plant without cleaning. I did a quick shuffle twist on it and separated out the grain that released right away. Then I picked out all the grains that had that little bit of chaff stuck to the base. I'll plant that next year and see how it goes. Maybe a couple years of selection will give me perfectly no-tech threshing millet.
IMG_20200824_142655657.jpg
what you get once you've removed the stalk
what you get once you've removed the stalk
IMG_20200824_143032680.jpg
that pesky bit of stubborn chaff
that pesky bit of stubborn chaff
 
Anna Marie Spackman
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Jan White wrote:Saw this thread pop up again and it reminded me of my bucket of unthreshed millet. I can now confirm that threshing pearl millet by hand is a pain in the ass.

There may be better ways to do it, but what I settled on was dumping the millet into a big tote bin and doing a bit of a shuffle twist dance number on it. A lot of the grain didn't release all that easily, so I did this for quite a while. I winnowed a bit in between dances to see how things were going. Slow.

Also turns out that there's a bit of chaff at the base of the millet grains that stays attached on a decent number of them.

I really like how well the millet grew in truly terrible soil with no watering, so I'm going to work on it. I had a bag of seed selected from the biggest, fullest, earliest heads that I was just going to plant without cleaning. I did a quick shuffle twist on it and separated out the grain that released right away. Then I picked out all the grains that had that little bit of chaff stuck to the base. I'll plant that next year and see how it goes. Maybe a couple years of selection will give me perfectly no-tech threshing millet.



Thank you for sharing! I’m curious with those conditions, how large of an area did you plant and what was your yield like?
 
Jan White
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Anna Marie Spackman wrote:

Thank you for sharing! I’m curious with those conditions, how large of an area did you plant and what was your yield like?



It was an odd-shaped bed, so I'm not sure of the exact area. Maybe 40 square feet or a little less. After threshing, I ended up with a little over a kilo of grain. I threw out A LOT of grain with the chaff because it wasn't threshing  easily. Also the millet was a little long for my season so a lot of it didn't mature before frost.

A 32 sq ft bed of rye in slightly better soil usually yields 2.5-3k for me.
 
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Kamut was the easiest wheat for me--worked well as a winter or spring wheat, and the grain pretty much just fell out as I beat it against the wall of the house in a bag. Very little was left to in the hulls. Same when I tried the bucket process.

Emer was stupidly clingy. Red and white (modern) wheat were OK but nowhere near Kamut in either production or ease. The oats I got were supposedly hull-less but they were impossible. Rye just came right out of the hulls, no problem, but I haven't grown that one to maturity in my yard yet.
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