Thursday, August 9, 2018

Grain Storage

If part of your post-TEOTWAWKI plans include growing your own food, you're going to have to store some for use in the months after harvest. Canning fruits and vegetables is a good plan for storing sources of vitamins and minerals, but the common sources of calories are starches in the form of corn, wheat, oats, and other “cereal” grains. Proper storage of these grains will ensure that you have edible, nutritious food to eat while you're waiting for the next crop to grow. Here's a quick general list of how to store grain.

  • Clean any containers thoroughly to remove any remains of the previous contents. Putting new grain on top of old grain is a good way to speed up the spoilage of the new grain.
  • If you're using containers that held something previously (5 gallon buckets, glass jars, etc), make sure the containers are clean and odor-free. You don't want your oatmeal to taste like pickles, do you?
  • Make sure you get all of the bugs out. Insects will eat the parts of the grain that you're wanting, so make sure there are none present at the start.
  • Clean up spills. Mice, rats, insects and other pests will be attracted to spilled grain and will try to get to the stored grain. Rodent droppings are just full of diseases that you don't want to get. (Hantavirus, anyone?)

Good Condition
  • Store the best quality grain you have, and eat or feed to your animals anything that isn't going to store very long.
  • Sift out the fines (broken pieces) as best you can to prevent spoilage from spreading. Broken or ground grain has the more volatile portions exposed to the air, so they spoil faster.
  • Don't move the grain any more than you have to once it's in storage. Every time you move grain through an auger or conveyor, you break some of it. Even shifting bags around will damage the grain closest to the cloth.

  • This one varies slightly by type of grain, but if you can get the temperature down below 50°F, insects will go dormant and molds will not grow. Keeping intact grain (not ground into flour) below freezing is not needed unless you are doing so to prepare it for spring/summer temperatures. 
  • As I write this, it's August and I'm emptying a large (90' diameter) bin of corn at work. The grain is coming out at 55°F despite daily temps in the 90s for the last two months. We blow cold air through the grain during January to get it as cold as possible so it will stay cool until we need to ship it.

  • Moisture is important, but hard to test without equipment. Corn stores best at less than 15% moisture, soy beans at around 11%, wheat at 14% , and oil seeds like sunflower and canola below 8%.I'll do some research on low-tech moisture testing methods and write an update.
  • Moisture is the key to preventing molds and fungi from growing. Moldy grain can kill you due to the wastes produced by the mold (aflatoxin, ochratoxin) so this is something you want to watch for.
  • Keeping the moisture below 14% will keep most insects from breeding and will stop mold growth.
  • Getting the grain dry before storage is often a challenge. Leaving it in the field to dry naturally works unless you have a rainy year, and that also leaves it exposed to damage or loss from weather and pests. Using a solar food dehydrator would work for small batches, but larger quantities will require a forced-air dryer of some sort.

  • Once you've got your grain dry and cool, it's all set, right? Wrong! You have to check it periodically to make sure it is still in good shape. 
  • In larger containers, you'll want to watch for condensation on the inside if the grain is colder than the ambient dew point and there is air flowing through the grain. Air-tight storage is best, but hard to accomplish with large quantities of grain.
  • If you have rodent traps or poison set out, you'll need to check them frequently. Keep the dead animals from contaminating your grain by disposing of them as soon as possible. Keep the poison bait stations full until you stop seeing activity, then check them once in a while to see if any new rodents have moved into your area.

Storing grain isn't hard, nor is it rocket science. We've been growing and storing grains for about 20,000 years, so it's not an impossible or even difficult job as long as you know what to look out for.

These guidelines for storing food grains also works for storing seeds for planting the next year, so as long as you avoid the hybrid grains you can use some of your stored grain to grow the next batch.

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