Re: 100% homegrown

Thu May 17, 2012 11:51 pm

skibikejunkie wrote:
drummstikk wrote:This is a pretty cool development, but if you malt the whole field as crystal for Almanac, what happens to your stated objective of brewing a 100% homegrown beer?


Indeed, I will probably reserve a few pounds of grain to do just this! It would just be one batch, but I'd check off my goal, and a bigger audience would get to enjoy the rest of the harvest.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Thu May 17, 2012 11:52 pm

My buddy brought a handsaw to hack into the Scottish bere barley.

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And just like that, the bere is out of the field:

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Most of it needed no further drying, so I set up the thresher with a box to collect seeds and a black tarp to check to make sure no seeds ended up in the chaff:

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Here's the problem -- this thresher is rough enough to break a few seeds out of every handful of finished product (they can't be malted once they're broken), but it is not thorough enough to remove the awns from every seed. As a result, on the highest setting, the fan will blow these awned seeds out with the chaff onto the grond. The black plastic tarp is very useful for spotting these seeds. I fixed this problem by stopping down the airflow until no seeds are blown out of the machine.

But that creates another problem. When you feed stalks into the machine (this happens whenever you have some heads on long stalks and some on short stalks -- the longer stalks always get fed deep into the thresher in order for the short stalks to be threshed), the long stalks are chopped up into large pieces. They should be blown out along with all of the smaller chaff, but because I had to decrease airflow to the fan, these stalks now end up in the box with my seeds -- half of which still contain awns! You have to turn the machine off after every few handfuls to unclog a mass of stalks and awned seeds from the seed shoot.

Ok, so the thresher sort of doesn't work properly for bere, but there's another problem that's more serious. The opening that receives plants is a 6" x 8' rectangle, but when you grab a handful of plants, the heads are sticking out all over the place, way wider than the mouth of the thresher. To get them all in, you have to guide the heads carefully using both hands, sometimes even sticking your hands a little ways into the hopper. That's a huge problem, because finger-gnawing mutilation awaits anyone foolish enough to let their hand slip down too far. The machine needs a much deeper and wider hopper before it would really be safe to use on large bundles of a grain.

So there you have it -- doesn't work quite right, and I have to constantly be cautious that it doesn't turn my hand into handburger. I decided after an hour to go manual.

I know, it sounds crazy, but with all the guiding, prodding, and stopping to unclog, it ended up not even being that much slower to thresh by hand. You can take a big bundle of grains in one hand and strip off the heads with the other into a plastic garbage pail. Then you bash the heads with a PVC pipe, and stir them around.

Threshing takes a long time. I think this is the very first annoying aspect of the entire experience of growing barley. Threshing is the bottling of farming. I'm sure that if I ever had the pleasure of a good combine, like kegging I would never go back.

I'll certainly try the thresher again for the 2-row Conlon barley when it's time. Seed size and stalk length are different, so there's another chance for ol' Threshy to do good.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Fri May 18, 2012 4:27 am

Were there a bunch of the 3 head seeds? My guess would be that these won't germinate properly...


Would you be able to use a pair of clippers or something to cut just the heads off to feed into the thresher? It would be more work, but might allow it to work smoother and you wouldn't have to do all the threshing manually...
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Re: 100% homegrown

Fri May 18, 2012 6:48 am

spiderwrangler wrote:Were there a bunch of the 3 head seeds? My guess would be that these won't germinate properly...


Would you be able to use a pair of clippers or something to cut just the heads off to feed into the thresher? It would be more work, but might allow it to work smoother and you wouldn't have to do all the threshing manually...


That's a pretty good idea...
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Re: 100% homegrown

Tue May 22, 2012 2:56 pm

These next photos all were taken by Jesse Friedman.

The timing for the harvest was just about right for the primary tillers. They are uniformly straw-colored:

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This next photo shows the massive extent of lodging. It definitely made harvesting a pain, and probably reduced yield. My best guess is that planting 6" rows with the appropriate seeding rate, and giving less frequent but deeper irrigation would fix this problem.

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My girlfriend worked harder than anyone else yesterday, harvesting a huge amount of plants while the rest of us generally drank beer and posed for photos:

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I did a little too, though. Here, I'm removing cut plants from the field and laying them in stacks, with the heads all aligned:

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We worked our way down rows, clearing them out one at a time:

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A big crew of excellent hard-working friends was crucial for getting the harvest finished:

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Once enough rows were cleared out, we began stacking the cut grains in the field,

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which sped things up a bit.

Once the grains were all stacked up, we tied them in bundles with jute cord and propped them up in shocks to dry:

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Yesterday's harvest was finished by sunset, but I returned this morning to finish bundling and clearing out the shocks:

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The rest of the field is being watered intensively to prepare for corn planting, and some of the bundles were in the line of fire. It was a cold and wet morning that transitioned into a blistering day, but it's done!

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My buddy and I raked up the field to glean the heads that didn't make it into bundles. You might think this step wasn't worth it, but we got two heaping wheelbarrows full of plants that might have been left behind. Also, check out the collection of shocks in the back.

Nothing to do now but wait for the secondary and tertiary heads to mature and dry out. Thanks to you guys for all the advice and replies that got us here!
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Re: 100% homegrown

Tue May 22, 2012 4:07 pm

drummstikk wrote:My girlfriend worked harder than anyone else yesterday, harvesting a huge amount of plants while the rest of us generally drank beer and posed for photos:


Yes, Asians come in handy when there's grain to be harvested...

Image
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Re: 100% homegrown

Wed May 23, 2012 4:46 am

Awesome job, and great dedication...I enjoyed reading about your progress and all of the issues you had with growing your own grain, the photos were great too...let us know how many pounds you acquired and how the beers turn out. Again I say awesome job.
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Re: 100% homegrown

Thu May 24, 2012 11:24 pm

spiderwrangler wrote:
drummstikk wrote:My girlfriend worked harder than anyone else yesterday, harvesting a huge amount of plants while the rest of us generally drank beer and posed for photos:

Yes, Asians come in handy when there's grain to be harvested...

My girlfriend is Asian???

Ah...yep, I see it now.

Never really clicked until you posted that highly illuminating and on-topic photo.
iceclimber wrote:Awesome job, and great dedication...I enjoyed reading about your progress and all of the issues you had with growing your own grain

Thanks for your kind words! I think I may have overplayed the difficulties, mostly because I was interested in them. But I don't want to discourage people from trying this out if they have some land. If you throw some grains in the ground and irrigate them (or not even if you live in the East or South), you're going to get barley.
iceclimber wrote:the photos were great too...

I know, right? The pics were by Jesse Friedman from Almanac. He's an awesome photographer.
iceclimber wrote:let us know how many pounds you acquired

Coming up! And, see below...

Oy, what a week! After an evening of harvesting on Monday and bundling, raking, and fertilizing on Tuesday, the field was roto-tilled by Webb Ranch on Wednesday morning, and then I hoed out rows for the corn people:

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and with that, my work is done!

Just for comparison, here's what the field looked like last November:

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I think I dug better rows back then.

Well, the timing was last-minute, just like I wanted it to be. The corn kids came in today setting up netting to protect their seeds and seedlings:

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While the Conlon is drying, I got all the Scottish bere down to seeds. I cut heads off of plants last week:

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In retrospect, it was not the best to put these heads on the ground. The awns are super-catchy, and they pick up sticks and rocks, which remain with the grains, even through winnowing.

It was enough heads to fill up a 100 gallon garbage pail,

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and enough straw to fill up a giant wheelbarrow full of hay!

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Solo hayride, anyone?

The thresher really had some problems removing the awns from this variety -- it could be the fault of the thresher (fixed concave) or the landrace bere. Anyway, it wasn't working. So I put on my calf-high boots and climbed in the garbage pail! After stomping around while I watched an episode of Modern Family, the chaff was reduced to a free-flowing consistency. I poured the slurry in front of a box fan several times, and I ended up with 8.2 lbs of grain!

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8.2 lbs in 4 x 33' rows, spaced at 14" is 2300 lb/acre. Commercial bere yields are 2500-3400 lbs/acre. I'm not too far from the low end of commercial yield -- all right!

You might already guess that the commercial yield for bere is a lot lower than the yields for modern 2-row barleys; they are closer to 4-7k lbs / acre. Now check out the difference in the grains:

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The bere (right) is much longer and thinner than Conlon (left). (Conlon is an especially plump modern 2-row, and bere is a pre-industrial 6-row, so this is an extreme comparison.) This makes the ratio of protein to starch a lot higher in bere. My guess is that most barley used to be more like the bere, with skinnier grains. Academic and industrial breeding selected for more starchy grains, but bere never caught that train. Today, maltsters and brewers would never choose to include excess nitrogen in their products -- excess soluble protein can lead to hazing, and excess free amino nitrogen can lead to shorter shelf life and the proliferation of contaminating microbes. Still, I think it's pretty cool to at least have access to the old stuff. After all, the English word for barley used to match the Scotts word bere -- an etymological reminder that bere is a window into beer's past. Sadly, 8 lbs isn't enough to make a bere beer and have any left over for a future crop. This all must be used for seed. But next year...next year.



The Conlon is drying out nicely. Kernels from the slowest portion of the field still yield a bit to a fingernail, so they're not ready to thresh. But my girlfriend wants to get threshing, so I think we'll try some primary tillers from the most advanced bundles this weekend:

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On to hops!

More burrs from the precocious columbus bine. I think I misjudged the new nodes in a previous post, because these are definitely the precursors to cones:

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I realized I have really been slacking on the hops farming. To be fair, there wasn't much to do. But now that the barley is done, and the hops have a little bit of growth, I have been trying to learn more about how to prune them. It seems the consensus is to have two twines per crown, 3 bines per twine. That's a total of six bines per plant -- everything else gets pruned. All my plants are either transplanted 2nd years or transplanted crowns from Great Lakes Hops, so I'm not going to do the 1st year rhizome technique of letting every single bine grow.

That's the idea at least. Let's just say that in practice, mistakes were made. First mistake: if you see three bines crawling up a twine, don't assume they all have living tips! Sometimes the tips have died (due to transplanting damage in this case), and then if you prune away all the other basal bines, you're left with fewer than the desired six bines per plant. Oops. This mistake isn't so bad, because more basal shoots can grow, and the bine I mistakenly pruned wasn't very far along.

Second mistake: Don't forget to check if the bine you're pruning is an early lateral to a trained bine. I have no idea why my Cluster plant had such an early lateral. But I decided it needed to go, and didn't realize that it was connected to a strong main shoot. I followed the bine down to the ground and cut, instead of clipping the lateral off at the axil like I should have. Of course, I cut the trained bine off, which was already 3-4 feet up the twine. Will be painful watching it turn brown and crispy. This is a terrible mistake to make, because it destroys a lot of good growth. At least nobody likes Cluster.



Ok, enough with the hand-wringing. There is an interesting choice to make when growing with a low trellis. I have a 6' fence. I can either allow my bines to grow horizontally along the fence, or I can encourage them to grow laterally by clipping off apical tips when the bines reach the top.

Most of us would probably think to let the bines grow horizontally, because this is what we've been told to do, mostly because commercial hop yards are set up for 16' or 18' trellises. Well, it turns out you can get decent yields from common hop varietals with a low trellis. The technique involves planting rhizomes just 2-3 feet apart and cutting the apical meristem rather than training it to grow horizontally. Still, the low trellis system never beats a traditional 18' trellis unless you're growing a dwarf hop.

But what about the bushy low-trellis training vs. horizontal low-trellis training? Does anybody know if this low and bushy technique actually produces a better yield than the horizontal growing technique?

I want ahead and tried it on two bines. I don't know if I'll have a great comparison since I don't have any duplicate crowns, but there you have it -- an uncontrolled experiment:

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I also see brown tips and fringes on some of the older leaves:

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Anybody know what's going on here? I am watering at 1/3 gallon per plant 3 days a week. I upped it to 1/2 gallon just in case this is water stress.
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