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Home-grown oatmeal

I see where the FDA is cracking down on some breakfast food manufacturers for claiming that their oat food products help lower cholesterol. Hmmm. Whatever the outcome of that debate, oatmeal is still a healthful food and now there’s an easier way to grow and process your own. The problem with oats has always been the hulls which grip the groats so tightly that getting them off is difficult. Commercial hullers are available but getting a small satisfactory machine that is practical in the kitchen is still an on-going process.

But then along came porn oats, as I call them when I want to attract attention. Various oat varieties, referred to has naked oats, don’t have tight hulls and because of that are now becoming popular. You can find them offered for sale on the Internet. The dried grains look more like wheat than oats. Threshed and dried, these oats can be run through a flaker or crimper attachment on a kitchen food processor like the Bosch Compact kitchen mixer in the photo above. Presto: oat flakes to cook for breakfast.

We got our first taste of home-grown oatmeal when my wife and I visited Russ and Beth Miller in central Ohio. They are an example of what I call the “complete” farm marketer. At their booth at the farmers’ market in Bellefountaine, Ohio, they sell, in addition to vegetables, sausage from their own hogs plus their own eggs and homegrown grains— all produced organically. That’s Beth at her food mixer in the photo above, flaking a batch of oats that she is about to turn into baked oatmeal for our lunch. The rest of the delicious meal was Russ’s cooking: fried blue corn mush from their own cornmeal, pancakes with a combination of their oats, blue corn and a white wheat they get from a friend, plus a special omelet from their own eggs with cheese and bell peppers in it, and their own sausage. Needless to say, the meal was very tasty, once again proving the worth of my standard advice to all people in all times: “Always make friends with the cook.”

I tried to raise hull-less oats many years ago some 50 miles north of the Millers. Birds, mainly red-winged blackbirds, swooped in and ate most of the acre I planted when the oat groats were in the milky stage. So my first question to Russ was about birds. He shrugged. He hasn’t had any significant problem. Blackbird populations aren’t high in his area, or, as I suspect, aren’t as high in Ohio anywhere as they were 30 years ago.

Russ grows his oats just like any other oats, in the age-old rotation with alfalfa and corn. The only thing different is his practice of storing the grain after harvest in an old “wagon drier,” a rather strange piece of equipment that was popular for a brief time back in the late 1950s when farmers, switching from harvesting ear corn to shelled corn (I still think that was a big mistake) desperately needed a way to dry the grain down quickly at harvest time in wet years. The wagon drier looks sort of like a regular farm wagon, but has a screen floor to make drying with artificial heat easier. Russ doesn’t need hot air to dry his oats, but the screen floor provides extra insurance that the grain won’t mold when stored on it until completely dry, because air could circulate naturally up through the grain.

The Millers farm about 22 acres organically, with a 16 acre field divided into four rotated fields of corn, oats and two of alfalfa in the traditional manner. A pasture on the other side of the farm is divided into rotated plots for a small brood cow herd. Russ took off four cuttings of hay this year and in late October, the stand was lush and tall enough to cut again. Although it was too late to make regular hay, he was thinking about taking a fifth cutting as balage, wrapping the wilted hay in plastic bags in the usual manner. I asked him if he worried about potash shortages in his alfalfa since he was taking off four, maybe five cuttings a year and did not use chemical fertilizers.

“I apply about 8 to 10 tons of manure per acre every year,” he replied. “I take soil samples regularly and so far no shortage of any nutrients has shown up.”

His chickens, Golden Comets, get whole corn coarsely ground and some of the hull-less oats too. “As far as I can tell, the hens lay just as well on that ration plus a little supplement mixed in than with a traditional milled corn and full supplement ration,” he says. The oats, being relatively high in protein, helps make that work.

(A longer version of this article appears in
Farming magazine in the current 2009 Winter issue.)

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