Friday, February 14, 2014

Homegrown Oats - Harvesting and Dehusking Grain

 Last summer marked my first year growing grains for an edible crop. I came across a variety of Irish oat seeds called 'Sonas,' and thought I'd give it a whirl! Being a Baker by trade, I'm very intrigued to the growing, harvesting and processing needed to get grains from the soil all the way to flour. With little research I made a small border 4ft long to grow them, and away they grew. Very satisfying to watch, as oats are one of the easiest grains to grow. I had my own notions of homegrown porridge in the year to come.

It's worth noting here when growing oats for grain in your backyard, to purchase a 'hulless' variety. Traditional oat grains have two barriers of covering; the outer husk and a hull coating the grain. The husk is easily removed from the oats, and with a 'hulless' variety that is all that is needed. The 'Sonas' oat does happen to have an inner hull. Which requires cracking and winnowing further, this is hard to achieve without a grain mill. 

I have yet to buy a grain mill, so no porridge for me! I am in the market for one, and the grains will keep till it arrives. I have in-the-mean time just recieved a package full of new grains from, Brown Envelope Seeds, including: Hulless Oats! (the oat saga continues...) I will be devoting 1/3 of my potager to grains this year. Among the oats I'm also experimenting with sweetcorn, flint corn, quinoa, wheat and rye grains.

Freshly harvested 'Sonas' oats     

After weeks of curing the oats are ready to be 'thrashed'

Pulling the grains from the stems seemed to be the most effecient way of removing grains.

Ready to bake and seperate the Chaff (seed heads/husks) from the grain.
Winnowing the husks on a windy day
Rubbing the grains helped free the husks a bit better
Dehusked. Ready for cracking and winnowing a final time. 
When growing oats you will find the time to harvest, when pressing the oat grains they are hard and no milky liquid seeps out. To harvest, simply cut the base of the oat stalks and bunch the stems together. The oats will need curing to dry out further, it's best to do this by leaving them up right for a good few weeks, I waited months until I got around to it! Once cured you can begin thrashing and dehusking the grains

The following procedure works for both hulless and hulled varieties of oats. As I mentioned you will have to process the hulled varieties further, to get to your whole oat groats.
Dehusking Oat Grains

  • Using a large receptacle, (rubbish bins work well) hit the side of the container forcefully with the oat stems. The oats should seperate from their stalks.
  • If you find the grains are being stubborn, as I did,  you can pull them off by hand.
  • Once removed pour the oats on to baking trays, bake for 1 hour at 80C (180F). 
  • The husks will become wispy and dry. Let cool and rubb the grains by hand, to help seperate the grains.
  • On a windy day go out doors and pour the grains with their husks onto a seperate tray. 
  • The husks will float away in the breeze leaving you with happy little oat groats or, if you grew the hulled variety like me, oat groats in their hull jackets. (pictured above)


  1. So, what weight of useable grain did you end up with? I imagine you would need an acre or more to produce enough to feed a family!

    1. I got 300gm out of my lot, that's a 4ft long row. I would have had double that but my chickens broke into the garden when the plants were small! You definitely want a bit of space to provide for a family. I was reading about 100 sq ft is a good size for a manageable crop. (it would probably get 7 kgs of grain) For me growing the oats was an experiment, I really enjoyed the process and the stalks look almost ornamental in the garden among everything else. Learning the technique of harvesting and processing oats has given me a new respect for this commodity crop.

  2. Very interesting. I am particularly interested in your experiments with quinoa. Are you planning manual or electric grain grinder?

    1. Planning on manual grinding to start! Mainly because electric mill cost upwards of €150. I'm pretty confident abt the quinoa crop as it's a cool climate grain.