Saturday, September 12, 2009

Planting Day - Supplemental

I harvested what is probably the last of the red, summer wheat today. There is still a little bit of green wheat out there, but I’m expecting the birds to eat it before its mature enough to harvest. We’ll see.

The total is 4.5 ounces of wheat out of 115 sq. feet of garden. So if we follow the math out we get:
1 pound = 16 oz. which would need a garden 3.55 times larger = 409 sq. feet
1 acre = 43,560 sq. feet which would produce 106.5 lbs

These number might be quite a bit off, since we’re dealing with quite a small sample and projecting those numbers very big.

According to Neolithic Farming in Central Europe: An Archaeobotanical Study of Crop Husbandry Practices a person needs about 660 lbs. (300 kg) of wheat/year or 3300 lbs. (150 kg) for a family of five. That would be 6.2 acres / person or 31 acres for the family.

Which says to me that my yield was pretty low, which is hardly surprising considering my lack of skill, the patch of the garden (maybe one-fifth of it) that didn’t grow anything, probably because it was under the tree, and the poor weather for the season.

Neolithic Farming figures that yields of 300 kg/hectare (2.47 acres) were well within reason for pre-historic Europe.

All in all I’m very pleased and ready to try again and see if I can do better.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Meadmaking Update - 10 weeks in

The short update is that it’s chugging along slowly but surely. It’s been ten weeks and I’ve racked it twice. Racking is when you transfer the proto-mead from one container to another, leaving behind the dead yeast and other residue. It has continued to bubble steadily, which says that the little yeasts are still doing their thing.

The specific gravity is 1.100, which means it hasn’t changed much. It tastes very good; still quite sweet (even a little too sweet for me) and not very strong. So I’ll let it keep going. I’ll post updates as they develop.

As a non-medieval aside, I’m also making Apricot Wine, which was too bland, so I added apricot juice to it as I bottled it, which then just settled out in the bottom of each bottle. We’ll have to see how that turns out. And I’m about to try making Blackberry Wine, as my neighbor kindly offered the bounty of his bushes for a share of the wine.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

New Book - Neolithic Farming

I’ve had the opportunity to look at and flip through Neolithic Farming in Central Europe: An Archaeobotanical Study of Crop Husbandry Practices by Amy Bogaard.

This looks to be a fabulous book full of all sorts of the in-depth, technical information that I have been looking for. It references numerous European experimental farms and the results that they have had using a variety of proposed medieval, ancient and pre-historical techniques. It talks about yields, crops types and methods.

This is definitely one that is going to be read and re-read.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Planting Day - 21 Weeks in

Like in the last picture, some of the wheat is a nice, harvestable, tan, straw color, while some of it is still very green and growing. So all of it was certainly not ready to be harvested. But there were two issues.

First, I was worried about mold. I’d gotten sooty mold on my winter wheat from letting it sit out on the stalk longer than it should have. I didn’t want that to happen here and some of those dry stalks had been ready to harvest for quite a while.

Secondly, some of the stalks, especially those that had fallen over after the rain storm of a few weeks ago, were missing some or all of there wheat berries. Under them was the chaff that belonged to the ear, and I first thought that the seeds were falling off the stalk. But when I looked more closely, there were no seeds on the ground. So I immediately blamed the squirrels that are always chittering around the back yard and even came inside to rant to the wife and kids about how those damn squirrels were eating all of my grain. When I went out the next morning to go to work, however, there was a flock of little birds (wrens?) sitting on the fence above the field. They were easy to scare off, at least temporarily, but I think they are the grain-eating culprits.

So I wanted to harvest those ears of wheat that were ready. I’m not sure if this phenomenon is normal or not. Gies and Gies in Life in a Medieval Village make a big deal about the September harvest and about how quickly it had to be done and the labor shortages associated with the harvest. You think of people out in the fields with scythes, mowing down all the wheat, not taking time to select some stalks and come back to others. So I wonder if this particular harvest is a bit odd because of the dry summer and the hard rain about 2/3 through. (I also have some questions about the Michelmas harvest, but I’ll save this discussion for a later date.)

Following the technique I used successfully on the winter wheat, I went out there with a large plastic bowl and my kitchen shears and snip, snip, snipped. I quickly determined that for an ear to be ready for harvesting, the entire ear had to be tan with no bits of green. Otherwise the wheat berries were soft and unready.

Once I had all of the ears that I could get, they went into the old pillowcase. The red wheat needed more beating than the white, winter wheat did, but they did eventually all separate from the stalk and husks.

Then I got an old bed sheet (that matched the pillowcase!) and poured the contents of the pillowcase onto the center of the sheet. I recruited my reluctant daughter and we spent 10-15 minutes tossing the wheat and chaff into the air. I was downwind, so all the chaff blew in my face, and it all worked surprisingly well. The hard seed kernels fell straight back onto the sheet, while the stalks and husks were whisked away into my hair.

That all actually happed about a week and a half ago, on August 23rd. I went out again yesterday and harvested more, though it is still sitting in the pillowcase. There is still quite a bit left green in the field, and I have probably only harvested about half.

I forgot to take pictures of any of that, so I will make sure to take pictures next time I harvest.