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Harvesting rye

The weekend was sunny and exceptionally warm. The forecast said that during this week there will be rainy weather, so I decided to harvest my tiny field of rye as it seemed to be already ripe and dry. The rye was almost as tall as I am, so I had been growing well despite June and July being rainy, cloudy and not that warm. I cut the rye with a sickle, and tied it to small bundles so that they are easier to handle. I took the bundles inside the sauna, so that they can stay there even if it gets rainy. But I don't yet know exactly how am I going to thresh them.

I grew up in Savo area, Eastern Finland, where slash-and-burn agriculture had been a tradition for centuries - although, nobody did it anymore in the 1970-80's, so for me it was something I only saw in the history books. Savo was especially known for its local variety of rye, kaskiruis, which was specially adapted to growing in a soil rich of ash. And already as a kid I somehow felt that the modern technology makes us humans alienated from nature in an unhealthy way - for me the pictures of slash-and-burn agriculture represented a traditional lifestyle, where people were much more connected to nature. So, for me, kaskiruis was some sort of symbol of connection and balance between nature and mankind. Yes, slash-and-burn agriculture is all about cutting down forest, and burning it to get some arable land. First two years they grew rye, then turnips and then linen. When the soil had lost most of its fertility, it was left to be a pasture for animals, until the forest slowly regrow. So, that way of doing slash-and-burn agriculture is essentially cyclical - human activity and agriculture kind of a blended in the on-going cycle of change of the woodlands. And this is essentially different than the modern consumption of use-once goods, which just exploits the natural resources and dumps waste on ever-growing dumping places.

When I was twenty-something, I was living in the city of Tampere, and felt that I don't quite fit into the urban life. Around those times I heard that in Savo there are museums and some traditional farmers, who actually do slash-and-burn. And one small museum was located near my parent's place. I always wanted to participate in the process of slash-and-burn, but never got a change to do so...

Well, nowadays on my tiny homestead I haven't been thinking of growing rye nor other cereals. I don't eat bread nor other cereal products that often. So I've been more interested in growing vegetables. But last summer I found a mystery barley growing with my broad beans - I have no idea where did that barley come from, but I stored the seeds and sowed them this spring - now I got a multiple amount of barley growing. My plan is to keep on increasing the amount of barley, so that someday I could try to brew beer of my own =) And, last summer one of my friends gave me some left-over seeds. Among those seeds were a fistful of rye seeds, and not just any rye seeds but namely kaskiruis seeds.

When I bought my place, in one corner of the yard there was a small storehouse build of logs. And that storehouse was not included in the deal - the sellers said that they'd like to move the storehouse to another location. Last summer they did so, taking down the building and transporting the logs to their home where they rebuilt the storehouse and made it to small museum of their family history. Since the roof was already badly damaged, we agreed that they can just leave the scrap wood on the deconstruction site. I decided to burn that scrap wood, which was kind of a doing a mini slash-and-burn. When the ashes had cooled down I threw the rye seeds there. It was late autumn, the rye started to grow. This spring I was delighted to see that the rye had survived the winter, as soon as it was warm enough the rye was re-growing.

So, that fistful of kaskiruis seeds made me a nice amount of harvest. Maybe I can do another small patch of burned soil this summer, just to keep up the tradition and to learn the related skills of processing the rye. Maybe when I learn to thresh them, I could grind the kernels and cook porridge of the whole-grain flour.

a bundle of rye
a bundle of rye
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Good luck with threshing, I heard in the past they used an ox walking circles, but with smaller amounts it seems more practicable to do it by hands.
Agriculture seems fun to me. Hope to try it once I got a proper homestead too.
For now on I only could comfort myself in brewing homemade wine :)

I think in Finland the traditional method of threshing was something like this:

First, bundles of rye were taken into a big sauna. The sauna was kept warm for couple of days, to ensure that the rye is completely dry. Then the bundles were placed on the sauna floor, and beaten with a grain-flail. But I don't know how they then collected all the seeds from the floor... Sami was doing that at least once, I can ask him. But, anyhow, I think that a grain-flail would be an overkill with my small amount of rye. Maybe if I just put a big canvas on the yard and then beat the bundles against the ground - shouldn't that leave me with a bundle in a hand and kernels on the canvas, hmmm...

And "kippis!" for your wine :)

In the old days here, the barns were always built facing so that the wind would blow through them when both of the doors were open. Then they would thresh the grain, and throw it up in the air. The chaff, being lighter, would be blown outside by the wind, while the grain itself would fall back down inside the barn. Perhaps you could accomplish something similar with a small amount by dropping it from some height onto a tarp while the breeze is kicked up, after beating it with a stick or something.

Nowadays we just use a combine, though. ;)

Even if you don't eat much grain, I bet you could make beer with it. Mmmmm, beer. :D I am hoping to do that with some barley once I get settled into the new/old house.

Yup. Maybe I can test different methods of threshing.

I'd just like to thank you for the blog and pictures, they're absolutely wonderful!

I grew up in a small village in eastern Finland, and I never liked big cities, being much more comfortable in nature. Somehow I ended up living on the other side of the world in a city with more than 20 million people and while it's been nice, after reading and re-reading your stories over the last month or so, my desire to move back to Finland to a house with some land (and of course a sauna by a lake) has increased a lot.

In a way I think you're living pretty much an ideal life, very much in tune with nature and using all the resources fully.

And of course, thank you for the work with UnReal World, I love the game!

Ka päevvee, Arska! =) Thanks for the feedback, it is always nice to hear how the blog resonates with real people out there.

Well, coming from a small Finnish village and living in a city of >20 million people sounds like a rich life experience. Anyhow, I think it is often healthy to spend at least some time living away from the place one grew up. It kind of a gives a wider perspective.

Slightly off-topic, but here's a video to fuel your lake-side Finnish nostalgia:


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