Barley: From Our Farm to Your Beer

I posted an adorable picture of my dog AreenaJo in a barley field early this morning and it has put me on a “learn about barley” kick today. So I figured if I’m going to learn, we might as well learn together! It works out nicely that as I write this my resident barley expert, MyFarmer, is in the next room building a fishing pole so I can ask him as many questions as I want to and he can’t run away from me.

We are really lucky in southern Kentucky that we can “double crop” our fields, which means exactly what it sounds like… we can harvest 2 crops a year off of a piece of ground. To do this, we harvest the crop in the fall (corn) and plant the winter wheat or barley right behind it. We harvest the winter crop in late spring, then plant our “double crop” soybeans. (We always plant soybeans after wheat or barley.) The soybeans will grow all summer and will be harvested later in the fall. We don’t do this on all of our fields every year, but we do utilize this practice on fields that we want to prevent erosion of topsoil throughout the winter months.

We are one of the few farms in our little county that raise barley and we only raise on average 60-100 acres every year. Wheat is much more commonly grown in our area and we usually raise about 350 acres of it as well, but ScubaSteve is a humongous fan of barley. Why? Well it’s not because the price is better than wheat… that’s for sure. BUT it does tend to have a higher yield than wheat and most importantly the beans that are planted behind barley are higher yielding than the soybeans planted behind wheat. It’s enough of a yield boost to offset the difference in cash price between the wheat and barley and it helps our farm spread more risk out through crop diversification. Plus ScubaSteve loves barley… so we plant barley.

Barley is raised on every continent in the world that crops are grown and it is thought to be one of the first grains to be domesticated by humans. The top 4 countries for barley production are Russia, Germany, France and Canada. There are 2 types of barley grown around the world, feed grade barley and malting/food grade barley. Malting barley has a much higher starch content so it is preferred for making alcohol. About 60% of the barley produced across the world goes into animal feed, and the other 40% of the crop goes directly into human consumption via 2 main routes. 1) Milled/polished/dehulled barley or the barley is ground to make flours that can be used in a number of different breads/crackers/etc. 2) Beer. The majority of all barley that is used for human consumption actually goes into making beer! The types of barley used for beer are two-rowed barley and six-rowed barley. Different parts of the world prefer two or six-rowed for the purpose of making beer. The United States prefers six-rowed, but many other countries around the world prefer two.

So where does the barley from our farm go? Well… we don’t know. Some farmers actually contract their grain out to a specific company. There are a lot of farmers east of us that sell their corn directly to bourbon makers (this is Kentucky after all!) so they know that their corn is going to be made into bourbon. So the next time you drink bourbon pat yourself on the back for supporting a Kentucky farmer! 😉 I’m sure some farmers that grow barley near a beer making company take their barley directly to the source as well. We don’t have a local beer maker, so we take our barley to a local elevator where they load it on train carts and it can go anywhere in the US or world from there. (Fun fact about our little town.. until a couple years ago we were still a “dry county.” We had to go across the state line to Tennessee to buy any alcohol.) The type of barley that we raise is primarily used for animal feed, not beer, so sorry about kind of lying to you with the title. But I thought that sounded a whole lot better than “Barley: From Our Farm to a Cow’s Stomach to a Steak on Your Plate.” Please forgive me.

I’m not sure what your area of the world has been experiencing weather-wise, but it has been extremely unseasonably warm this winter for us. I think we have only had a few days where the ground was even frozen in the morning. Yesterday (February 24) was almost 80 degrees. That’s just unheard of. While the warm temperatures are great for walks with the dogs, it is a major concern for us on the wheat and barley front. We plant our wheat and barley after the fall crop has been harvested out of the field, so usually around October. This gives the barley and wheat about a month or so to come up and establish itself then it will go dormant for the rest of the winter. The problem with the extremely warm temperatures the last few weeks is that our barley and wheat have come out of dormancy and are growing like crazy. It looks great so that’s cool, but we are playing Russian roulette with the entire crop now. If the weather stays warm we should be fine and we will have a good crop come harvest time in June. The major BUT of this situation is this: If we have a cold snap come though it could really damage our wheat and barley and possibly kill it off. Seeing that we are just now in the end of February, a cold snap could very easily happen. Like MyFarmer says, “We will control the controllable’s and that’s all we can do.” Mother nature is most certainly not a controllable, so we will roll with the punches and see what she brings us this year.

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Well friends, I hope you have learned a little bit more about barley with me today. I also hope that you have a great weekend and that in the spirit of supporting farmers you have a beer or bourbon… if you’re into that sort of thing.

Laney

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2017: The Year of No Fun

MyFarmer and I have deemed 2017 The Year of No Fun. As the #littlehouseontheranch build moves closer and closer to fruition, we have decided that getting our savings account as packed as possible is of the utmost importance. We are giving ourselves $100 a month for anything “extra” we want. Going out to dinner with friends, coffee shop stops(ughhhh!), new tops just because they are cute, etc.

no-fun

We sat down one Sunday night and budgeted for hours. While not thrilling, it was a great way to find out where all of our money goes and where we can make cuts. We were also able to see what our finances would look like once the new house was built. Mortgage vs rent, renters insurance vs home insurance, gas vs electric, etc. MyFarmer and I have looked through this budget before, but Sunday was the first time we truly did it with purpose and that really changed our way of looking at it. Before it was just “we want to be able to put X amount in savings every month.” This time it was, “we want to put as much as humanly possible into savings every month!” And you would be surprised how having that mentality allows you to find places to save.

It always becomes devastatingly obvious that our (my) animals take up the vast majority of our money. There is a reason I spent the first year of our marriage “transitioning” into sharing one bank account. I didn’t want to give MyFarmer a stroke with the sudden onset of money hemorrhage that is horse ownership. But luckily I’m married to a very understanding farmer that will never say, “It’s me or the horses!” Because, well, I’ve had Theodore and Alvin longer than MyFarmer… I’ll let you draw your own conclusions there.

critters
These precious critters deserve all the pampering they get!

Besides the animals, the other area that we are throwing hundo’s at like we makin’ it rain in da club is eating out and groceries. And no, the irony of farmers spending too much money on food is not lost on me.

Growing up mom always packed a cooler for any road trip or for weekends at horse shows. We never ate out at home or on the road. (Unless dad was with us… ha!) Mom, I totally get you and your egg salad now. Eating out is ridiculous! Whether fast food or a fancy sit down restaurant like the Cracker Barrel, it’s a rip off… Side note – can anyone in the world spell restaurant on the first try? I sure can’t. Or the second or third for that matter.

It’s wasn’t just eating out costs that were nutso – the grocery total was also seriously disturbing. Two average sized human beings do not need that much food! I knew that buying in bulk is more cost effective, but once I really started looking I was shocked by how much cheaper things like meat are when you buy the larger amounts. For example: ground beef. Our local WalMart’s sells 1 pound of ground chuck for $3.96. The 4.5 pound tray of ground chuck is $12.83, which equates to $2.85 per pound. That’s a $1.11 per pound difference between the 1 pound and 4.5 pound sizes! The average american eats around 50 pounds of beef a year, so our house of 2 consumes around 100 pounds of beef per year. Just by buying beef in bigger packaging we can save somewhere around $111.00 per year!

So the next day I bought this giant package of beef and I had to figure out what to do with it. I wanted to go ahead and get it all cooked at once because I didn’t want to risk it spoiling in the fridge if I didn’t use it. (I’m really bad at remembering to set out meat the day before for dinner, so I prefer not to freeze raw meat.) I ended up browning 3.5 pounds of it, adding a large jar of spaghetti sauce and putting it in 3 freezer bags. 2 bags went to the freezer and 1 bag in the fridge for another dinner that week. The remaining 1.5 pounds I made taco’s for dinner that night. There was enough leftover beef for me to have two quinoa/black bean/beef burrito bowls for lunch this week AND for MyFarmer for dinner on a night that I’m not home. With 4.5 pounds of beef and one hour I made 7 meals. Cheaper, time saving, and convenient. That’s what I’m talking about!

I’m still in need of cheap eating ideas… and that’s where you all come in! Although this is the year of no fun I don’t want it to be the year of ramen noodles. Give me your dinner money saving hacks!

Have a great weekend friends!

Laney “No Fun Allowed” Snider

Decision 2017: Mum Varieties

It’s like Christmas at Ruby Branch Farms! The mum plug catalog is here! I get so excited marking the mums that I want that sometimes I get little carried away. If we grew all the mum varieties that I HAVE TO HAVE we would raise about 20 million mums. Ha! But I somehow have to rein myself into around 1,000 for this year, which is 20 varieties. Wish me luck!

When we first started our little mum ranch I thought that we would just order some red, yellow, and orange mum plugs and that would be that. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. I had NO IDEA just how many mum varieties are out there and all the factors you have to consider.We have had some really good mentors and a whole lot of luck thus far and we have learned a ton as we go.

We have to buy our plant plugs from a broker who then takes care of ordering from the company that raises the plugs. We actually changed broker and companies from year one to year two and we really liked our second choice, so we will be using Raker again for our plugs. They ship varieties in trays of 51 instead of 70 and that works out better for our farm setup. They are a little bit more expensive of a plug but we found that the quality was higher than the other company that we tried. Plus, they have really nice catalogs and easily accessible horticulture specialists that we can ask questions.

In our 2017 Raker Catalog there are well over 200 fall mum varieties that we have to narrow down to our 20. That’s difficult because they are all beautiful, but there are a few things we have to keep in mind before choosing a mum variety that helps to narrow the search down.

  1. What do our customers like? The past 2 years have given us some good insight, but we have also found that quizzing our Facebook followers is both fun and informative! What the customer wants, the customer gets!
  2. How many trays of each color we want. It wouldn’t make sense to have, say, half of our mums to be purple. Sure, a lot of people like purple, but with the space we have available we want to make sure we have a good mix of colors to choose from.
  3. Flower date. All of the varieties will have a projected flower date on them. The flower date is an estimation of when the mum will be about 75% bloomed out and the desirable to the customer. Since southern Kentucky is really close to the southern-most region that mums are generally grown, we have to keep in mind the probability of a heat delay. Mums require cooler temperatures to bloom, so the hot, humid fall temperatures we tend to have early in the season can delay the blooming. For that reason we usually try to find mums we want with a bloom date that is a week or two before we actually want them to be blooming. If you recall in 2016, we had very few mums blooming through September and early October. Everyone across the nation did! There was actually a “mum shortage” early in the fall season because of the hot temperatures across the US, even in the northern states. So when I called the horticulture specialist in melt down mode because our mums weren’t blooming, she re-assured me by saying, “Don’t freak out, there aren’t any mums blooming anywhere.” Ha!
  4. We look at the response number. We need the response to be between a 6.0 – 7.0, with above 6.5 to be preferred.There are some cool varieties that have a low response number, but we really try to stay away from them because they will not be uniform with our other plants.
  5. Have we had issues with that family before? Some of the mums have a “family” where they are the same mum but different colors. If we have any issues with a particular family in the past we stay away from them. We have had mums that are prone to breaking and seem to have more issues with pests, so we don’t go back to those again.

Whether you are farming mums, soybeans, wheat, chickens, or cows there is an intense amount of planning, knowledge, and effort that goes into making the year happen. If you jump into anything willy-nilly you are going to end up with a lot of headaches and not much profit… if any.

I hope this gives you a little look into how we decide what mums we raise! As always, if you have any questions please shoot them at me!

Laney