Monday, July 5, 2010

What do Farmers do on their day off? …FARM!

By Nina Berryman
Ok, so we are not THAT boring every weekend, but this weekend we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to partake in a rare and exciting farming event…on our day off! This Sunday was the first wheat harvest at Fernbrook Farm in Bordentown, NJ. Small scale, local grains are sadly even more difficult to come by than local vegetables. Most of the tools, terms and methods for growing grains on a small scale have quietly slipped into museums, outdated books and the memory banks of retired farmers. Because of this, the invitation to help with the harvest of about an 1/8 of an acre of wheat this weekend was something I couldn’t pass up.

Fernbrook Farm is about an hour away and is a 375 person CSA. Tucked away in one of the fields is an experimental patch of wheat that was planted last October. The field was first disced with a tractor, then the seed was broadcast (meaning not planted in rows but spread out all over). A winter-hardy variety was planted so it grew a few inches in the fall, stayed alive during the winter, then shot up in the spring, putting on a few feet of growth. According to the farmer who planted this wheat, you want to harvest the wheat when the wheat berries feel harder than stiff dough, but are still soft enough that you can indent them with your fingernail. If you harvest the wheat before this time, the wheat berries on the stalk will not have much gluten in them and if you make bread with flour from the wheat it won’t rise properly. If you wait to harvest the wheat beyond this point, you run the risk of the wheat berries sprouting after a rain.

With a crew of about 13 people, we cut the wheat down with scythes, picked the wheat stalks up off the ground, placed them in piles, and tied baling twine around them. We filled the back of a pickup truck twice on Sunday and once on Saturday. Then we stacked the bundles in a barn to let them dry and allow the wheat berries to fully harden. While taking my turn cutting the wheat, I was reminded of what a lost art scything is. I thought about the fact that the dimensions of an acre are based on the amount of land a person is supposed to be able to mow with a scythe in one day. Anyone who can scythe that much land in one day has my respect!

Now the wheat will sit in the barn for a few weeks until it is ready for threshing, then winnowing, and then grinding to turn it into flour. All of these tasks are also great large group projects so if we go back to lend a hand we’ll keep you updated on the process!

No comments:

Post a Comment