Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter Malting Barley at One Month, Nov. 16, 2010

My small patch of malting barley at just about one month old. There has been ample rain and it has grown to between 4 and 6 inches.

Some has been nibbled by squirrels or rabbits, but that should not hurt it at all. Barley should not enter the coldest weather "winter proud" (too long). Some old time farmers would graze sheep on winter barley in late fall to give the sheep a green bite and also reduce the length of the barley to prevent tip die-back and encourage tillering (the barley sending out side shoots, which themselves produce heads of barley).

It has been frosting some nights, but has been in the 60s most days, so the barley plants are still growing. So far, so good. This looks just about the same as the plot did in each of the last two years when I also grew WINTMALT barley here.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


One of the main reasons we are keeping chickens is so we will have a supply of fresh eggs. We bought our six hens in May when they were five week old chicks. They finally stated laying in early-October when they were just a bit over six months old.


First we would get one egg every day or two. Then two. Now we get between two or four eggs a day, which I surmise means most but not all. of the chickens are now laying regularly. If all goes well, we hope to get an average of about 4 eggs a day from the six chickens, which will mean lots to give away.

The yolks are really orange and stand up on the bowl. They make excellent quiches (broccoli, bacon, and cheese , above) and scrambled eggs. We've also used them in cookies, muffins, and as a binder to bread fish (our home-caught striped bass).

Chesapeake Bay Chicken Coop

We bought six female Araucana chicks in May 2010 and set about learning about how to care for chickens. It first they lived in a large plastic box with wood shavings on the bottom and a feeder, a waterer, and a light bulb clipped to the wall for heat.

Throughout the early summer, the growing chickens spent the night in the box (with a hardware cloth grate over the top) and lived by day in a six foot around dog run that we moved every day for them to have access to new grass.

We knew they would need a permanent coop and protective run so I started building one. It ended up taking all summer, but we built a very substantial coop that is architecturally similar to our house and which fits very nicely into the setting. It is located about 200 feet from the Chesapeake Bay and has water views.

The hen house is 6x7 feet and the run is 6 x12 feet and is roofed in white corrugated plastic. Hawks, eagles, owls, foxes, and raccoons are all potential problems for our chickens .

The chickens lived happily in the coop until we went back to our regular house in early September. I transported them back in a dog crate in the back of my pick-up. They will live there again for two weeks at Xmas.

As I write this I just remembered that I have not completed the egg boxes at the shore coop! The chickens were not laying when we left. A project for our first days of vacation.

Suburban Chickens

I have wanted chickens for twenty years and this spring we finally made the plunge. We bought six Araucana chicks while visiting our vacation house in rural Virginia. Araucana is a fairly common breed for home poultry keepers in the US. Araucana is a breed of chickens originally from Chile and which are though by some to be descendants of birds brought to the Pacific coast of South America by Polynesian seafarers who sailed across the Pacific in pre-Columbian times. We got them because they were available and because they lay pale blue/green eggs.

Araucanas are medium sized chickens that are known as good egg layers, being friendly and calm, and able to handle both low and high temperatures, which is important where we live.

The pictures in this posting are of our suburban coop. The chicken house measures just six feet by four feet. It contains a four-foot long roost (for roosting and sleeping at night) and an egg box with two stations. I pre-fabbed the hen house at our vacation house, transported it in pieces to our regular house in my pick-up, and re-assembeled it there. The run is six by ten feet and is about 4.5 feet tall and was built in situ.

The house and run are enclosed in a brick garden that is located off our bedroom. The brick makes a very effective sight and sound shield. It is essentially impossible to see or hear the chickens even when you are just a few feet away outside of the brick wall. The chickens are extremely quiet anyway.

The chickens have been in their coop since early September and all seems well. They started laying eggs about three weeks ago. I will post about eggs next.

Barley Growth at Three Weeks, Nov. 4, 2010

My malting barley field three weeks after planting. The grass is about 4-6 inches high. It is raining today, which is good. We had our first hard frost on Nov. 2, but the days are still warm enough for the barley to grow (above 50 degrees). Looks good so far.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Suburban Haymaking

Since September I have been dumping a bushel of fresh grass clippings into the chicken pen whenever I mow. Our six chickens really like to eat the grass, pick through it, scratch, and generally play with it. They are especially happy when I dump a few handfuls of barley over the clippings so they can peck and scratch through the pile to get the barley.

Fall is here and there won't be any more mowing, so I have taken the last cutting of the year and am drying it (i.e., making it into hay) to keep for winter so I will have something to throw in to the chicken run and use for litter on the floor of the hen house. I am not sure that they will eat the dried grass, but it will still give them a change of pace and something different to scratch through.

I basically just let the lawn get pretty long (maybe six inches) then mowed with a push mower that catches the clippings in a bag. I usually use a riding mower and leave the clippings on the lawn. I filled about 16 mower bags with clippings -- about 10 bags the first time I cut and 6 bags the second time on a different part of the lawn about two days later -- and dumped them on the driveway to dry. I spread them out using a hoe so they are no more than 1-2 inches deep and there are spaces here and there.

Twice a day I used a leaf rake to "ted" the hay, (the act is called "tedding") which means I turned it over and fluffed it up to ensure it is drying evenly throughout and there are no moist clumps that could mold. The best hay I have, which is grass collected from the middle of the yard, was basically dry in two days (sunny days, daytime/nighttime temps: 68/40 degrees). I left it out one more day just to make sure. The weather was predicted to stay dry.

The second time I cut grass for hay -- two days after the first -- I collected clippings closer to trees and got more leaves in the hay. The leaves were just starting to fall in earnest here the last week of October. The picture to the left shows grass cut 2 days apart (older, dryer grass on right). I think this grass/leaf mix (left) will be fine for litter in the coop. I am storing the hay in big plastic bins, pressed down as firmly as I can get it, in the garage.

I processed and stored a total of two large plastic containers of the first cutting of the hay. I pressed down as hard as I could with the flat part and then the end of a grain scoop shovel to try to pack the material as tightly as possible into the containers. Each container is roughly the size if a commercial bale of hay. I am sure my hay is not packed as tightly as a real bale, so my actual mass of hay is definitely not two bales -- maybe about one-half bale total. Writing this gives me the idea that I should weigh the hay. I plan to store the second cutting of hay later in the week. I am hoping for no rain because I will be out of town for a few days.

Above: The finished product: completely dry and ready to be stored and used.

Hay being pressed into containers for storage in the garage. Unfinished (not quite dry yet) hay in background.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Malting Barley Growth: Fall 2010

This barley was planted on October 13, 2010 in Northern Virginia. The photo at left was taken seven days after planting and shows barley shoots emerging from the ground. The weather ranged from 49 degrees (overnight) to about 75 degrees during this period. It rained once, the day after I planted. I also watered using a sprinkler one time on about day 6. Birds and squirrels were remarkably kind to the barley this year with very little predation. The dog has been spotted walking through the plot and I just found my 7 year-old son Gunnar's soccer ball in the plot, but overall it is doing well. At this stage it is very resilient. Later, when it has heads of barley, it is prone to lodging (falling over, getting the heads wet, and getting ruined). If you look closely on the far left of the photo, in the middle, you can see a grain that has spindly white roots projecting (called acrospires).

Twelve days after planting (Oct. 25, 2010). The barley below is about three inches high and looking good. As you can see from the photo below (taken the same day) the barley comes up a bit unevenly. There are barley plants in the browner sections, just not as many as elsewhere. This is OK, because the barely will "tiller" -- put off side shoots which will become barley plants that will also produce grain. This barley still probably has three to four weeks of good weather here in Northern Virginia to grow before going essentially dormant for most of the winter (when the weather goes below 50 degrees -- we will have warm snaps occasionally throughout the winter where the barely will seem to be growing again).

It is this relatively mild weather that allows us to plant "winter" barley here in Virginia, as opposed to "spring" barley, which is planted in early spring in areas experiencing colder climates (i.e., upper midwest, the source for much of the US's malting barley). Many of the most famous and high-quality ale malts, like Maris Otter, are two-row winter sown. As far as I know, there is essentially no two-row winter malting barley grown in the United States.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Home Malting; Making a 12 Pound Batch of Malt in the Kitchen

Homemade crystal malt (left, below) and homemade green malt (right). The following post is about making green malt. I will post about crystal soon. Crystal malt is made from green malt.

Below (Left to right), weighing barley to be malted. This is a 12 pound patch -- 12 pounds of dry barley at the beginning). Malting reduces the weright of the barley a bit, so the end product will weigh less than 12 lbs. Adding cool tap water.

Left: Floating off the chaff. There will likely be some chaff in most barley you will buy or grow yourself. This is the chance to make sure it does not make it into your malt. Right: Steeping barley in cold water for 8 hours. I use 2 pots to make a 12 pound batch of malt.

Straining steeped barley and letting it rest for a few hours before steeping again. The goal is to let the water penetrate the starchy parts of the barley corns and begin the sprouting process. I have read that you can suffocate the grains if they are underwater for more than 8 hours hence the drain and rest process. I cannot corroborate this, but still give the grain a couple hour's rest after each 8 hour steeping.

After steeping and straining twice, transfer the barley to a trug (I use a plastic mortar basin bought from Home Depot) and keep it moist but not sodden. The grains should be chewey when, well, chewed at this stage. Turn the barley frequently and keep it relatively cool. Ideally between 50 and 60 degrees, but 70 is ok. The goal is to avoid mold while maintaining temperature and moisture that facilitates sprouting, so not too warm and not too wet, but not too dry either. This process will go on for between 1 and 4 days. Some sources say it may take 14 days for barley to sprout! In my experience it is much shorter -- in the neighborhood of 1-3 days to sprout and 4-6 days for the whole malting process.

No aspiring maltster is going to want to hear this, but it helps to get up at least once at night to check the moisture level and stir the barley. As you get out of bed at 3 AM it helps to mumble to yourself, "Time to make the malt. Time to make the malt." like the guy in the old Dunkin' Donuts commercials. It takes 2 minutes to stir and adjust moisture, if needed.

Barley two days into the malting process (below). The acrospire (roots) are starting to show. They are the little white shoots at the pointy end of the grains. This is called chitting.

Barley 3 days into the malting process. The acrospires (the visible little white roots) are prominent. The shoot under the husk (which would become the grass of the barley plant) is visible under the husk at this stage, but should be less than 1/2 the length of the grain.

Barley ready for kilning (below) . Notice the shoots starting to emerge from under the husks of some of the grains. I read that you want to kiln when the shoots (not the thin white roots) are the full length of the grain, but still under the husk. At this stage, some shoots are emerging from the husk, some are half the length of the grain, and others are in between. Its a judgment call. I judged this barley to be ready to kiln.

Wet malt going into the dehydrator and oven (below). I find the dehydrator works much, much better, probably because it also has a fan that draws moisture out of the equation. With the dehydrator, I can also keep the temperature around 117 degrees (and always below 125) with great accuracy so as not to kill the enzymes in the barley that facilitate conversion (note the electric thermometer with cable). Unfortunately, the dehydrator is not big enough to kiln a 12 pound batch of malt. Kilning like this takes about 12 hours. I have plans to build a much larger kiln that can handle as much as a bushel of barley (48 pounds) with a thermostat, space heater, and electric box fan. I bought the thermostat and will eventually get around to building the kiln. If it works, ramping up the scale of the rest of the process should be relatively straightforward. limited kilning capacity is the restraining factor at this point.

The finished product. Maybe not as pretty as bought malt, but something to be proud of, especially of you grew the barley yourself.

Growing Malting Barley at Home: Threshing, Winnowing, and Planting

I have been remiss in taking photos and adding text to this blog showing my efforts at home barley growing for malting. In June 2010, I harvested by hand barley from my 1,000 square foot garden plot (photo at left). Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the harvest.

Here are photos of me and my younger son, Ture, threshing the barley a couple of weeks ago. I made a two level wooden box with a 1/4 inch galvanized hardware cloth screen attached to the bottom of the top box. I basically rub the barley heads through the screen and the barley and chaff fall into the bottom box. A pair of leather gloves help since the barley has brittle parts that can be sharp and cause splinters. This has proven a pretty effective way to get the grain off the heads and the awns (long stalks coming off the tip of each grain of barley) off the grain. The process does not damage the husk of the barley, which is important for all-grain brewing. I can thresh 25 pounds of barley in a fifteen monutes using this cheap and effective method.

Here are photos of me subsequently winnowing the barley. The process involves separating the lighter chaff from the heavier grain. The chaff blows away (notice it on the ground) and the barley grains fall into the tub below the fan. The day was not windy, so I used an electric fan to make breeze. The process works very well (probably removes 98% of the chaff), but does leave some heavier chaff in with the grain. I will have to pick through the grain I will malt to remove as much of the residual chaff since I will want my malt to be free of this non-barley stuff. Note that all the "equipment" for processing barley on a small scale is basically stuff you have sitting around the house. I did have to make the threshing box, but it was from scrap wood, screws, and mesh I already had laying around. I think I could probably process up to maybe 200 pounds rather easily using these techniques.

I tilled the plot three times, each about a week apart to try to give weed seeds a chance to sprout and then be killed by the subsequent tilling. I put come lime and some 10-10-10 fertilizer on the plot and tilled it in.

Today was supposed to be about 60 degrees and rainy, which is perfect barley sprouting weather (barley sprouts above 50 degrees and likes cool weather to grow), so yesterday I tilled the plot (using my 17", 5 hp Sears gas tiller) for the last time and raked it smooth. I broadcast (casting it evenly out of your hand -- think middle ages agricultural techniques here) about 4 pounds of my threshed and winnowed barley seed evenly across the plot. Photo of broadcasting barley seed below.

I then very lightly raked the top of the plot to lightly bury some seed and increase its contact with the soil. This also helps thwart some birds and squirrels, which are tenacious barley-eaters until it puts up shoots.

It rained overnight and the plot looks good. The rain is also helping to keep the pests off the plot, at least temporarily.

If all goes well, I should see green shoots in about a week to ten days. My the time the weather gets really cold here in Herndon, Virginia the barley grass should be about 8 inches high. This grass will sit under the snow and tolerate the cold throughout thew winter. In the spring it will get going early and start putting up the sprouts that will hold the barley heads in April. Then harvest will be in June after the barley turns golden and a grain cracks between your teeth.

Weeds are a big potential problem (which is why I tilled 3 times to try to get resident weed seeds to sprout so I could kill them with the tiller). The goal is not to eliminate all weeds, which I will never be able to do, but to control then so they don't smother the barley. Once it is established, barley grows robustly and can hold its own against most weeds except ones that put up vines.

Above: Photo of planted barley plot (50'x20'), October 13, 2010.

I will publish a post on home malting shortly.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Growing Malting Barley at Home: Back Story

I have been gardening for twenty years and homebrewing for a little over a year (not counting a brief and mainly unsuccessful effort in the late 1980s). I am very interested in mingling my two hobbies by growing barley at home to malt and make into beer. My goal is to grow and malt barley,

grow hops, use our well water, and buy yeast to make a truly estate bottled beer that has terrior. I am not especially concerned about consistency, but want to brew quantities of drinkable beer.

I am strictly a gardener and not a farmer. I have two locations where I can grow barley -- my backyard in Northern Virginia (NOVA)and our vacation house on the Eastern Shore of Virginia (ESVA), about 250 feet from the Chesapeake Bay. I can grow about 700 square feet of barley in Northern Virginia and up to a quarter acre on the Eastern Shore (+/- 10,000 square feet). I also have hops planted -- second year Cascade, Nuigget and Wilamette in NOVA and first year Cascade and Northern Brewer on the ESVA.

In our area, farmers grow winter wheat. They plant the wheat in October, it grows a bit in the fall, does not grow during the coldest months (like your lawn) then springs to life in March and is ready for harvest in June. As far as I know, very little or no winter barley is grown in my area, but it is safe to assume that winter barley is the best suited for our area.

I began in 2008 by trying to locate suitable two row winter malting barley. This was harder than I anticipated -- most malting barley grown in the US is spring grown. I finally was able to obtain 10 kilos of a two row winter malting barley called WINTMALT from a company in Germany that sent it to me free. I have subsequently read that WINTMALT did not make the grade as a new and better malting barley in Europe and has been discontinued (it was evidently fine, just not better than the varieties being currently grown). Nevertheless, it is the seed I have and the seed I will use.

To make a long story shory and bring the blog up to the present day, I planted WINTMALT in both locations in the fall of 2008. I had terrible problems with my large plot on the Eastern Shore and got zero barley. The barley was smothered by very persistent vetch. Fortunately, despite a very wet spring which resulted in extensive lodging (the barley stalks falling over and some of the heads getting sodden and ruined), I did get seed from a 15x15 plot I planted in Northern Virginin and my friend Buck grew another small plot and gave me the resulting seed. So, in 2008-2009 I managed to turn the 10 kilos of barley seed into about 3 kilos of barley seed! But I learned a lot.

In the Fall of 2009 I tried again. I planted a 15'x45' plot in NOVA and a 20'x25' plot on the ESVA. They overwintered very well and today, as I look out the window at the NOVA plot, I see a tiny field of wispy, waving green barley heads. If all goes well I should be able to harvest (with scissors and a 5 gallon bucket) in June in both locations.