Barnyard BBS

I say, let me never be complete.
I say, let me never be content.
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Followup: First Harvest
3/30/2007 6:41:00 PM

It's been 12 days since planting, and we've had our first harvest.  The wheatgrass had matured to a good size (about 8-9 inches), so we decided to engage in the first harvest this morning.

I thought that it would be a good idea to show a picture of the whole bed before the cutting.  The wheatgrass has done very well in the hydroponic setup.  I don't think I've every gotten better performance, even out in the sun. 

WheatgrassBeforeHarvest.jpg

I did learn a lot from this experiment.  As you can see in the photo below, I really didn't cut that much of the grass for this first juicing.  The whole tray is only 22 inches across.  Since I was cutting near the "pump corner" of the tray, I had a section roughly 3" x 17", or 51²" of grass total. 

WheatgrassAfterHarvest.jpg

I was especially surprised at the amount of juice that the wheatgrass produced.  It resulted in much more yield than I'm accustomed.  In this example, the grass alone resulted in 90 ml (3 full ounces) of juice.  I'm starting to think that although I tried to keep it hydrated; my previous experiments (outdoors) were actually under-watered.  Although my measurements are by no means scientific (the juicer did hold some juice that I later "flushed" with apples), they are a good conservative guideline.  You should be able to match my yields without too much trouble.

Here's a little wheatgrass math:

51²" x 8" tall = 408³" (cubic inches) of grass

408³" = 3 ounces of juice

408 / 3 = 136³" per ounce

If you were working with a 10" x 20" gardening flat, you would yield approximately 11.75 ounces of juice.

By the same math, my whole MegaGarden should yield a whopping 27 ounces of juice, if I were to cull the whole herd at once.

That's a lot of juice.

WheatgrassMug.jpg

For the record, let me visit my juicing techniques for a moment.  We use a Lexen HealthyJuicer. It is a small hand-cranked unit that uses a single-gear pressing action.  I originally purchased it when I started with wheatgrass.  Despite what you may have heard, a normal (fruit and vegetable) juicer is NOT suitable for wheatgrass.  I should know, I own a great one (a Champion 2000).  Although the Champion is a wonderful juicer; wheatgrass is quite different than most vegetables.  For starters, wheatgrass isn't very willing to give up its juice.  The Champion uses a masticating-style system to "tear and crush" the juice from it's victims.  This is usually very effective, and quite fast.  However, this doesn't work very well with the stringy grass.  The wheatgrass tangles the juicer's masticating gear.  Although it goes wring some juice from the wheatgrass, it's hard on the motor and is marginally effective.

Wheatgrass is where the little HealthyJuicer really shines.  It's a small and slow gadget, but it's "pressing" action is far superior for wheatgrass.  It squashes the juice our of it.  Although it isn't fast, it's very efficient.  Also, the HealthyJuicer has another huge advantage when dealing with wheatgrass: it limits oxidation considerably. Wheatgrass oxidizes rather quickly, and limiting the oxidation during the juicing process is a big advantage.  Wheatgrass has a very short shelf-life due to this fact.  If you've ever had wheatgrass in a juice bar, you've probably notices that they juice it right when you order it.  This isn't for show, it's out of necessity.  Wheatgrass degrades within minutes, due to oxidation.  I'm experimenting with vacuum storage, but I do not have an opinion on it's effectiveness yet.

WheatgrassJuicing.jpg

The picture above shows the HealthyJuicer in action.  The grass is fed through the chute in the top (while you turn the crank on the side).  The pump is ejected out the nozzle (on the right).  The margarine container is just to catch the pulp on the way out.   The juice runs out a hole (near the crank) and is collected in a cup (not shown, behind the juicer) for your use.  The whole thing is pretty easy to clean.  I recommend "flushing" the juicer with another fruit (like apple or pear) when you're done with the wheatgrass, so that you can force the remaining juice out (and into your cup).

In summary, the experiment has been a great success.  The yield is much better than I expected.  The juice is actually tastier than previous crops as well.

I plan on trying some new basket-style plantings, as soon as the MegaGarden is cleared of its existing crop.  Updates to follow. 

Followup: Experiments in Hydroponics
3/27/2007 6:48:00 PM

I have good news to report on the hydroponics and wheatgrass front:  Thus far the experiment has been a great success.

HydroFarmWheatgrassD.jpg

It's been about one week since we started the seeds in the MegaGarden (ebb-and-flow hydroponics system).  The wheatgrass is almost 7 inches tall now.  Admittedly, it hasn't filled in completely yet, but that's my fault.  I didn't properly soak the seed (to sprout it) prior to "planting" it in the hydro bed.  Thus, the seeds germinated over the course of a few days.  Some of the blades of grass are younger than others.  I expect that the seed will be fully filled-out within a few days, once the stragglers have a chance to catch up with their older brothers.

Here's a wider shot of the MegaGarden, for comparison with the previous post:

HydroFarmWheatgrassC.jpg

I've learned a few things during the course of this growing session.  In no particular order:

  • I've been using the wrong seed.  Even in this batch.  The seed I've been using is commercial wheat seed, not organic seed intended for wheatgrass juice.  From what I've read, the seed that I've been using isn't very uniform (which is in line with my germination results).  I've bought new seed from www.wheatgrassman.com, as they seem to know the most about the seed (and their prices are pretty good).  For the record, I bought the seven pounder as a trial.  I cannot make any comment on it at this point, except that the seed looks quite a bit different than my existing stuff.
  • It looks like the compact fluorescent lighting that I've got is working pretty well.  It's rated as 125W draw, which is just over what two normal incandescent bulbs draw normally.  I expect that my use of the lighting system will raise my electric bill by roughly $4 per month.  I can live with that.  However, I plan on using a portable electrical meter to verify (once I find one I like).
  • The MegaGarden is pretty easy to maintain.  I've drained it once and replaced the water.  It was pretty painless.  I used the "level indicator" as a drain tube (into a five gallon bucket).  I'd like to claim a more elegant filling method; but I ended up removing the circular plug (in the front-right corner), and simply poured water back into the reservoir.  It worked pretty well.  I checked the ph and added nutrient to the water.
  • I've been adjusting the water level to go deeper as the grass grows.  Wheatgrass grows very thick roots (the "wad" is almost 2" thick).  Since some seeds germinated later than others, the "younger" ones are basically "riding the wave" and are suspended above the base level of the flooding area.
  • Thus far, I've used water at ph 7.5 for the wheatgrass.  It's worked out pretty well.  If anybody knows better, please let me know.
  • I've been thinking about making an NFT-style system for growing wheatgrass.  I haven't yet found containers suitable, so not much progress yet.
The harvest should be next week.  I'll post another update as things progress.
Experiments in Hydroponics
3/21/2007 7:19:00 PM

My fascination with wheatgrass continues...

I've recently gotten tired of not having any wheatgrass during the colder months of the year.  Partly out of curiosity, I decided to buy some hydroponics gear and give indoor wheatgrass a chance.

There's a store in nearby New Jersey called Tasty Harvest.  We visited them a few weeks ago doing some initial research.  They are a pretty good place.  It's a family-run shop.  They know their stuff. I realize that most of the hydroponics gear isn't intended for wheatgrass.  Ideally, I'd use a custom setup, but I'm not at that stage just yet.

The demo that they have set up in the store is a pretty good indication of what you can do indoors.  They're running a 1,000 watt high-pressure sodium bulb, and they're producing a metric crapload of results.

If you've seen the Epcot section of the Disney report, you'll remember the hydroponics and aeroponics.  Although I'm still considering building an NFT (nutrient flow tray) system for my wheatgrass, I decided to go with a commercially-made ebb-and-flow system for the first round.  An ebb-and-flow system is made to periodically flood, then recede (on a timer).

I picked the MegaGarden kit from Hydrofarm.  It's a much cleaner and more compact design than I could have built from existing materials.  It's got a growing area of about 2' x 2'.  I also picked up a small full-spectrum compact fluorescent light for the kit.  It's not particularly high-output, but that isn't much of a concern.  Wheatgrass is a shade plant, and doesn't need tons of light (like tomatoes or cucumbers).

HydroFarmWheatgrassB.jpg

The tray has a pattern of "tunnels" to allow the water to flow evenly throughout the tray before rising too dramatically. On the advice of the Tasty Harvest folks, we're using a fabric-style planting medium to retain the seeds in the tray.  I actually expected that we'd need some kind of formal containment, but that really isn't the case.  The water level is set to only about 1/8" of an inch, so seed movement really isn't a problem.  In the picture above, the blue fitting is where the water flows into the upper dray during a "flood stage".

Thus far, we've had pretty good results.  It's hard to judge though.  I've just found out that I've been using a sub-optimal seed; and I'm waiting on a new batch of seed to arrive.

Here's a picture of the whole setup at the moment:

HydroFarmWheatgrassA.jpg

You may notice that I built the light stand using some 1" PVC piping.  I didn't want to do anything permanent or expensive until I was more sure of my plans.  The stand was built from a single 10' section of PVC and some fittings.  Total cost of stand: ~$8.

The pump is controlled by a simple timer.  I'm manually switching the light for the time-being.  I'm not sure my long-term plans just yet. 

Projects
6/1/2005 6:20:00 PM

For those of you that have been reading, you may have noticed that I have a facination with wheatgrass.  Although my Champion juicer is a good all-around machine; it is less than ideal for wheatgrass.  Since I was already ordering a juicer as a Father's Day present; I decided I would pick up a small dedicated wheatgrass juicer.

After shopping for a while, I settled on a Lexen HealthyJuicer. It is a small hand-cranked unit that uses a single-gear pressing action.  When I ordered it, I expected it to be a lightweight toy.  I was surprised at its quality design and construction.  It is solid and well-built.


The suction base actually holds it to the counter like you would hope.  It's sturdy and did a good job with all the fruits and vegetables that I sacrificed to it.  The only downsides to the little guy were the obvious ones.....

  • Cranking becomes annoying when you have a lot of fruit
  • It really isn't built for the high-volume / continuous operation (where the Champion excels)

Also, I was very pleased with the self-screening juice cup that was included.  It really does a good job, and it's quite convenient.


Don't get me wrong.  My Champion isn't going anywhere.  The Champion is still a superior machine for general juicing (it takes a lot of cranking to juice six apples).  However, for the leafy or grassy vegetables, the little guy works wonders.

I hadn't actually planned on buying a dedicated wheatgrass juicer; but I was already buying something from www.877myjuicer.com; and the little guy looked like he needed a good home.  For the record, I was there buying a Champion Commercial for the upcoming Father's Day holiday.  I called them just to make sure that there was a human being on the other end.  They were quite helpful and knowledgeable.  I had already made up my mind; but it was helpful to hear the story from the experts.

Projects
5/16/2005 6:28:00 PM

Since I have not found a lot of "objective" information on wheatgrass on the internet; I've decided to start my own repository.  When I'm done here, I will likely post a page on the site with my total findings.  I may also add it to Wikipedia, as they do not yet have a page on wheatgrass.


Wheatgrass is a grass that contains many nutrients that are beneficial for humans.  It contains lots of chlorophyll, which is the blood of the plant.  I have read that wheatgrass can contain the nutritional equivanent of 23 times its weight in normal vegetables.  It contains 17 different amino acids; and retains up to 92 of the 102 minerals that can be found in its growing soil.  Some of the notable minerals are calcium (much greater amounts than milk), magnesium, and postassium.  It has more vitamin C than oranges, and double the vitamin A of carrots.  It also contains vitamins E, K, and B.

 

Amazing Grass - Wheat Grass - Superfood
  (credit to amazinggrass.com)
 

Since wheatgrass is a grass, it contains lots of fiber.  We humans aren't that good at digesting fiber.  To get the benefits of the grass, we need to extract the chlorophyll and juice from the fiber.  This may sound rather simple; but wheatgrass is fairly troublesome to juice.  Because of its grassy and fiberous nature, most juicers are not able to deal with it easily.

If you want to do much wheatgrass juicing; you should have a single or dual gear juicer.  The Omega Nutrition Center and Green Star Green Power models are excellent.  Personally, I own a Champion.  The Champion is not technically ideal for wheatgrass, due to the minor oxidation; but it works wonderfully on the wide variety of items that I juice.  Here are some pictures of the different models that I mentioned:
                
    Omega 8003 Juicer
    Omega Nutrition Center
thgreenpower.jpg (4934 bytes)
Green Star Green Power
thchampion.jpg (5291 bytes)
Champion 2000


Ok, back to talking about wheatgrass itself...

It really isn't very hard to grow.  All you really need to grow it is some seed (also called wheatberries).  I tend to grow mine in standard garden flats; but I suppose that you could grow it in nearly anything.  Flats work well, as you don't need a lot of depth for the grass to thrive.

(To Be Continued)...