Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Growing Bread Part 4 of 4: Threshing and Winnowing

Here's where I ran into trouble. The very modern strain of wheat I grew has many virtues: high yield, disease protection, and the ability to be harvested by combine harvester. A combine reaps and threshes at the same time. If you have a few hundred acres, this is great! You drive the combine and you end up with bales of straw and lots of wheat. Alas, to make sure the machine gets the maximum amount of wheat, the ears are bred to be shatterproof.

In practice, this meant that none of the hand threshing techniques used on old fashioned wheat would get the grain from the ear. What worked was rubbing the ears by hand... actually, not a bad way to while away an afternoon chatting with friends under a shady tree, but not a quick and easy way to get all the grain. I never found a satisfactory solution to this, if you do, please leave it in the comments!

On the plus side, I gave sheaves of wheat to all my homeschooling friends to try and, after the hand threshing, winnowing was a breeze. We used a fan and poured from one bowl to another: presto! Grain! I have a grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid, and I did get enough grain to make a few loaves of bread- bread we grew ourselves!

Growing Bread Part 3 of 4: Harvesting

Back to the wheat field... I planted in mid October and the wheat grass came up quickly. Among the many surprises from this project, the grass was lovely: soft green that rippled like the sea when touched by the wind. It stayed a little less than knee high all that winter and began growing again in the spring. At long last, I enjoyed being out standing in my field...

By summer the wheat was in the ear, first green, then gold. How do you know when to harvest? When the ears begin to droop, I was told, harvest soon or the ears will shatter and all the grain fall into the field. For me this was mid July.

How to harvest? If you sensibly only planted a few square feet, you could harvest with kitchen shears. I knew I wasn't up to trying a scythe (you can accidentally cut off a body part!), so I decided to try a sickle. I had a very hard time finding a sickle!! I eventually found one some ways away in an ag supply place.

What a surprise! I thought the sickle was a curved knife and you used the whole thing to cut... Nope. The knife is at the very end. You grab a handful of wheat, hold it taut and draw the sickle across, cutting it with the sharp end. You kind of figure it out as you go. I reaped and the kids tied together the sheaves and then we went rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves. Since I didn't have a barn, we used the porch.

When I had finished reaping my tiny hundredth of an acre, I stood up and thought: that was fun. If the field had been just a little larger, that would not have been fun!

Stalking the Giant Squid

Kate, this one's for you and your princess!

The truth is, catching an entire giant squid on film is extremely difficult. A giant squid in your house presents different challenges than one in the wild. In this case, since he was taking up 4 rooms, I couldn't get him all in one shot. Here is his tail.

And his mantle.

And here is the rest of him, except, of course, it's not.
There are 8 20' orange streamers which are his arms and 2 40' red streamers which are his tentacles. You can just barely see his eyes and the siphon is invisible.

The black cords are actually Christmas lights hung over the baby's cradle (adds interest!) and you might be able to make out the other stuff on the ceiling (body traces of my kids dressed as super heroes swimming with the squid). The arms and tentacles curve off to the left into the dining room and then on into kitchen. The squid can reach all the way around my house to scratch his tail!

Click on the last picture for a larger view.

Peach Picking!

Yesterday we went off to Homestead Farm and picked peaches and petted farm animals and picked the juiciest sweetest blackberries ever!

My toddler made the thrilling discovery that not only do sheep indeed say "baa," but they also will lick grass out of your hand if you have the nerve to stand there with your hand open (which he did not). Pure delight!

Other discoveries by other kids: Red on blackberries is bad and even a little red makes a big difference. Red on peaches is good.

My discovery: on a long car ride I can listen to all my kids to sing silly songs and that, for me, was sweeter than all the blackberries!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Growing Bread Part 2 of 4: Planting

The soil was ready, but what to plant? I live in cold hardiness zone 7 in Maryland and I wanted to make bread from my wheat. Bread wheat needs to be high in protein (gluten is the protein in the wheat that acts like rubber to make pockets to catch the gas from the yeast so the bread can rise) so I talked to my agricultural extension agent about what kind of wheat to grow. Hard winter wheat was the answer. Some very nice people from the wheat commission in Kansas gave me a pound of this wheat for free! I should probably mention that the ag agent and the Kansas people may have injured themselves rolling on the floor laughing at my 1/100th of an acre....

If you don't care too much about how high your bread rises, you go for the random wheat seeds sold as "Wheat Berries" in the health food section.

Still, I would encourage you to contact your ag agent (Google him based on your county) because he or she probably needs a laugh and because they can tell you things like: don't plant winter wheat (in my county) until after October 15th or it will all be eaten by a particular kind of fly!

Anyway, we scattered the wheat and let some of it fall on the path (sidewalk) where birds really did eat it very quickly, some on stony (untilled) ground and so forth. And we waited.

Growing Bread from Scratch Part 1 of 4: Soil Prep

We've been making our own bread since my oldest was a few months old, but there was that time we decided to grow our own bread from scratch. It takes some time a piece of your lawn, but it was terrific! I'd been thinking about because I was curious and then, my oldest daughter showed signs of getting ready for her First Communion. I thought it would be great to go through all those parables about sowers and reapers and tares and so on. I actually had hoped to have a home Mass and make the hosts out of this wheat. Well, that didn't happen, but it was a really great experience.

We have a side yard on a bit of a hill that I hated to mow so... that became our field. You can use anything with sun. Wheat is grass, so if you have a lawn, you can grow wheat. Since you won't starve if you don't get the maximum possible yield, it's OK if your soil is bad or you don't have full sun. If all you have is deep shade, try a smaller version in a sunny window! Dig up as much of a field as you like (or have energy for!). Just get the grass off and loosen the soil. If you are doing more than a few square feet, renting a tiller is a wise investment! We tilled ("we" being my dear dedicated home schooling hero of a husband!) 1/100th of an acre (about 15' by 30'). That gave us enough for a theoretical 60 loaves of bread. I think 3' by 3' will give you enough for at least 2 loaves if it's full sun.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Infamous Giant Squid

We made the giant squid mostly out of paper and streamers. I have a roll of white butchers paper 4' wide and a zillion miles long. The mantle and head together were 20' long and about 2-3' wide because we taped it to the ceiling so that it would bulge out in 3D. The eyes are the size of dinner plates, so we traced our plates. The siphon was a rolled up piece of paper inserted through a slit where the mantle met the head. The arms were 20' of orange streamers and the tentacles were 40' of red streamers with paper suction pads on the ends. Since squids, like octopi, have chromataphores and can change colors and patterns at will (very rapidly), everyone colored the mantle as they pleased!
Interesting squid facts:
Do you know that when squids swallow, their food passes through their brains on the way to their stomachs?
Their blood is green because it's copper based instead of iron based!
Little squids sink if they aren't swimming, big squids float if they don't swim!
They float because they are full of ammonia!
You can't eat a giant squid because it tastes like floor cleaner, but a sperm whale can because it has no taste buds!
The only reason we know about these huge squids is because they float when they die. What else could be down there that we don't know about?!?

How we home school

I think a big part of how you home school has to do with why you home school. We home school in order to allow each child to become the person God created them to be. We are interest led with an emphasis on fun. We do have certain musts: math and learning to read and write, but we are very flexible in terms of how and when they get it. We also tend to be really immersed in what we are interested in. Our high tides tend to be a week a month or a day dedicated to a particular topic (often a requested topic). We subscribe to the tidal homeschooling philosophy, with times of high and low tides.

A memorable example would be Squid Day. We built a life size model of a giant squid (where do you display a 60 ft model of a squid? On the ceiling of 4 rooms!), looked at books and internet resources, colored pictures of squid anatomy, made playdoh squids, did ink and waterjet experiments, squid math (7 squids each with 8 arms and 2 tentacles...) and who could forget the squid puppets!!! We had to put up a squid crossing sign on our front door...the giant squid started at the front door.

That's about as high as the tide comes in around here - must have been a full moon!

Welcome to Zoom Times

Why Zoom Times? The first reason is that the more kids I have, the faster the time goes and since I just had my 6th baby, we are really zooming along! The second reason is that this is a blog primarily about our homeschooling adventures which is , in turn, primarily about my crazy kids.

Usually kids ask parents the big question: where did I come from? My kids didn't ask me, they told me where they came from. They come from the planet Zoom. Never heard of it? It's in the galaxy of Oom along with a number of other inhabited planets with names like Boom, Doom, Foom...you get the idea. When they arrived on our planet, the oxygen in the atmosphere caused them to develop legs. Although they were each hundreds of years old when they arrived, the legs took some getting used to, so they were raised by swamp monsters, then mermaids, and then they came to us. This explains a great deal to me and, as you peek in through this window of our lives, I am sure it will explain a lot for you too!

So, why blog? I mean it's great having a house full of crazy home schoolers, but don't I have enough to do? I am hoping that this will be read by other home schoolers with a sense of fun and we can share great ideas for fun ways to learn. I am also hoping that the pressure to come up with something fun to blog about will keep me on my toes!