10.18.2012 Mostly it’s about the buckwheat

Let’s just get this out of the way right up front.  Oats is oats.  The word oats is either singular or plural depending on your avocation.  English teachers will say oats is plural.  Farmers insist it oats is singular. I don’t yet really feel like a farmer (more like a housewife with a lot of pets and a really big yard.) but I do try.  Yet a singular noun that ends in s and which sounds plural creates no end of trouble for a person like me who was raised by an English teacher and not a farmer.  My ear and my inner editor cringes every time I write “oats” with a singular verb.  Like nails on a chalk board.  I will do my best to speak farmer, but understand when the subject of oats comes up, my chances of choosing the correct verb are not great. I am sure I will miss a few and time for proof reading is limited.  If you are an old school farmer and my verb choice offends your ear, I apologize.  If you are new to oats, conjugate according to your audience, lest you sound like a doofus.

(Before I moved to the farm, I read an excellent discussion about the singularity/plurality of the word oats, but for the life of me, I can’t recall now which book it was in.  It was either Gene Logsdon or Roger Welsch.  Must be getting old.  This is the kind of stuff my brain files away with supreme efficiency.)

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, my experimental pasture plot has been fruitful.  The vetch is blooming as are the field peas.  The annual rye is also forming up seed heads.  The clover has been thus far out competed but it is there, waiting for its chance.  The oats is nearly as tall as the buckwheat and at this stage in its development it is nothing more than a blue green grass that is as soft as a baby’s behind. But the buckwheat…it has gone to seed and the seed is ripe.  And here I am without a combine.   Hmmm.  I haven’t a scythe either.  I have a hand sickle and it’s mighty sharp and works quite well, you know, if you like working in the downward dog position…all day.

I did that for a while yesterday and cut about three and a half bushels of all the stuff growing in the plot – oats, peas, vetch, and buckwheat.  Because rain was forecast today, I spread my haul out in the barn to dry.  Then I just flat grew weary of yoga.  Since I am a bipedal primate and not an ape, I decided I would much prefer to work upright.  Happily for me, the buckwheat is just the right height for such work.  I spent another hour creeping through my field and running my fingers up the buckwheat plants and gathering the seeds in my hand before casting them into a bucket.  That seemed to work much better.  Sometimes I got the whole plant but mostly I got just the seeds with very little actual bending over.  But there are a lot of plants. After three hours, you’d hardly know I’d been in there at all.

It’s plain to me now that it is not likely I will come anywhere near close to harvesting the whole crop.  Most people who harvest buckwheat by hand grow it in a 10×10 plot.  My planting is more like 40×80.  I will get what I can in the time I have, but expect much of the seed to fall and give me a fresh crop come spring.  I am experimenting with several ways of extraction to find the most efficient.  My next harvest attempt will be simply pulling the buckwheat plants in their entirety, one by one, and dropping them into a garbage can to dry.

Threshing and winnowing comes next.  I have several options.  Most of the crop I will keep for seed but some I will set aside for household use.  I will likely fret all winter that the seed is not dry enough and will become contaminated with fungus that’ll make eating buckwheat pancakes a real trip.  But eating buckwheat pancakes presumes I can figure a way to remove the hulls from the seed and that my coffee mill does for buckwheat what it does for oats, and by that I mean make a nice, fine flour.  I do have a hand crank grain mill, but it is a bear to use.

All of which is a long way of explaining why I haven’t grown a lot of grain.  Grain is a pain and growing enough to feed the livestock and the family without 8 kids, a husband and a bevy of cousins, aunts and uncles out there laboring alongside me or without mechanical assistance . . . well, it’s just daunting.  But man, oh man, it sure is pretty!

A beautiful array of brown, black, tan and green. Unhulled and not winnowed, but lovely to look at and soothing to run your fingers through. So far, my efforts have yielded up about 5 pounds of seed.

Of course, there is always plan B.  Leave it all in the field and run the horses and chickens through it.  I’ve already tossed some of the tailings to the horses and they snarffed it all down like they were starving, (Which of course they are to hear them tell it, though their big fat fatty fat butts betray their lies.)  The dog is the only sensible creature on the farm when it comes to food.  The cat will overeat to a degree, but with him, well he’s got this deep psychological need to have food in his bowl at all times.  He’s a prepper.  Wonder where he gets it. (She says after spending several hours today pulling buckwheat seed off buckwheat plants . . .)

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