Fighting Pests in Grain

Trouble with bugs in stored grain can be really bad. It's hard to store a sizable quantity of grain for very long without bugs and mice getting into it. It's best not to let bugs get into stored grain, because once you have them, it can be a terrible struggle. The insect eggs can be invisible to the naked eye, carried right into your storage from the field. If you have an insect problem in storage, there will be kernels with insect holes and insect chew marks—along with the adult insects, alive or dead. If the bugs are coming in from the field, the only totally effective treatments are freezing, heating, or carbon dioxide. After you freeze or heat grain, sift to get rid of bug bodies and debris, repackage, and seal. Secrets of Minimizing Insect Damage to Stored Grain

1. Don't store near an "old shed." It's liable to be full of critters looking for food.

2. The grain should be very dry—down to 10 percent if possible.

3. Clean your grain to make sure there are no green leaves or twigs in it. They drastically raise the moisture count.

4. Store the varieties of grains that don't have bug problems in your area. Barley, buckwheat, corn, oats, sorghum, and soybeans are less likely to have insect problems than wheat and dried beans. Use up first the ones that do have insect problems.

5. Don't keep any grain with which you have insect problems stored over a year. Use it up by the winter's end, feed it to the livestock, or plant it. That way bugs can't get a full annual life cycle going.

6. Store in insect-proof, rodent-proof containers in a cool, dry place.

7. Inspect stored food of any sort, including grain, regularly to check for insect or rodent problems or too much heating going on.

Treatments for Insect Infestations in packaged Grains: If you are storing dried grain or legumes in cans and believe you have insects or insect eggs in your grain, you can defend your harvest in any of the following ways:

Carbon Dioxide. Dry ice changes into carbon dioxide, which displaces oxygen out of your storage container. Carbon dioxide doesn't harm your grain in the least, but it does discourage insect and mold growth, which require oxygen. In general, use V2 lb. dry ice per 100 lb. grain. For containers that are made to seal airtight (usually these are 5-gal. cans), put 1 T. crushed dry ice on the bottom of the can, pour in the grain, wait 1 hour, put on the lid, and seal airtight. For food stored in a metal ("garbage") can, line it with 2 tough-grade plastic sacks, the second right inside the first. Pour in a 1-inch layer of grain, add a chunk of dry ice, and finish filling the can with grain (not so full that you can't tie the bags shut). Tie the bags, leaving enough space for the oxygen to get out as the dry ice melts into carbon dioxide. Let alone for 12 hours; then tie the bags as tightly shut as you can and put a lid on the can. Tape the lid to the can to make an airtight seal if you can.

Pit Preservation. A very primitive version of carbon dioxide preservation was used by Stone Age farmers. They first dug a pit in soil that would be staying dry, then lined the pit with woven straw, then put in the grain, and finally sealed the pit totally airtight with clay. Grain sealed like that gave off enough carbon dioxide over time to preserve it. Heat Treatment. Spread the grain 'A inch or less deep in a tray and heat at HOT for 30 minutes—or at 125°F for 1-2 hours. Then pour in and put on the lid. (But your germination rate will be harmed.)

"Dry Canning." Kathryn Dodds, Independence, MO, does this: "Lentils, rice, oats, beans, split peas, barley, powdered milk—any grain except oily types can be canned in this way. The storage time is from 30 years to indefinitely. I can a dry soup mixture—lentils, rice, dried onions, and salt— this way. Sterilize clean jars in a 200°F oven for 30 minutes. Then fill the sterilized jars. The filled jars—without lids— are then returned to the 200°F oven for 2 hours. Jars are removed one at a time and a bay leaf is added (to grains only). Wipe rim of jar with a damp paper towel; then place a sterilized lid on jar, followed by a screw lid. For this type of canning, you leave the screw top ring on until used. Make sure the jar is definitely sealed." Freezer Treatment. Store (sealed to keep out moisture!) in the freezer 4 days before shifting to dry storage. That will kill most insects and their eggs.

Bay Leaves. This is the least reliable, but bay leaves scattered through your grain may deter wimpy varmints; the more bay leaves, the stronger the deterrent.

Diatomaceous Earth. Any worm that crawls across D.E. or ingests some gets sliced open and bleeds to death. Any bug that breathes it tends to die. These microscopic bits of glass aren't good for your lungs, either, so wear a mask while working with it.

Use "natural grade" or "food-grade" D.E. only. The quality of these deposits greatly varies. You can order food-grade D.E. from Mack Byard, Box 99, Elk Falls, KS 67345; 316-329-4327. Perma-Guard D.E. carries a food-grade designation from the FDA and can be ground directly into flour with the grain. Order from 115 Rio Bravo S.E., Albuquerque, NM 87105; 505-873-3061; www.permaguard. com. A 50-lb. bag costs about $25.

For each 5-gal. container of grain or beans to be stored, add PA c. (about 3 oz.) diatomaceous earth. Or about 1 full cup per 40 lb. grain. Just dump the D.E. on top of the grain, or pour the food and D.E. into the container in alternate layers: a layer of food, a dusting of D.E., and so on. mlce: If you don't keep your grain in lidded containers, the mice will find it. If you have mice, you'll know it because they invariably leave their little dark calling cards mixed in with whatever they are eating. Despite the fact that I have a large, expert mouse catcher on patrol (a gray cat named Smokey), my cellar is afflicted with mice. Those critters can climb straight up a wooden or concrete wall to get on a shelf. They'll gnaw a hole in the corner of anything gnawable—such as thin plastic—until the contents spill out. The grain stored in the barn needs to be in mouseproof containers too. We keep it in a special small room for livestock feedstuffs, which helps keep out the bigger animals too.

Once I had a cat that I refused to feed; I kept her on an exclusive diet of mouse. She did succeed in absolutely exterminating a mouse population in both house and barn and thrived on it. But after the mice were all gone, she wasn't interested in my handouts and moved on to the birds and baby chicks. She wiped out $30 worth of young chickens the following spring, so I finally took her to the pound and traded her in for Smokey. Smokey catches mice for fun rather than hunger, and she isn't nearly as efficient.

Ergot

NOTE: Warning about ergot—read text below!

Wheat, rye, wild rice, and other cereal grains can have ergot fungus. It's rare but possible—especially when harvest has to take place in cool, damp weather, and stored grain has some dampness in it. Don't ever eat moldy grain, or feed it to livestock. Don't eat it even if you know for sure it is not ergot, because there are other kinds of grain molds that can make you sick, too, and some are highly carcinogenic!

Ergot is a fungus disease. It can strike both wild grasses and cereal grains, especially rye, rice, and wild rice. Its scientific name is Claviceps purpurea. It's spread by the wind and insects. The fungus attacks the developing grain inside its husk and produces a hard black or dark purple body that replaces the normal kernel in its position in the husk. The sclerotia (those dark ergot masses) are larger than regular kernels and have slightly curved, crescent-moon-type shapes.

Ergot grows on damp grain—in the field or in storage. If you encounter something that might be ergot in grain of any variety, don't eat it. Don't feed it to your animals either, because ergot is likely to cause miscarriage. Call your county extension agent and ask him or her where you can get your grain examined for ergot. Then you can know for sure and either quit worrying or get rid of the fungus. Coping with Ergot-Contaminated Seed Grain. If you do have ergot, don't plant any of that grain, because the seed will carry the fungus with it. Best to plant a non-grass grain crop on that land for at least 3 years. That will starve out the ergot, although it is said that all the fungus will die if you use seed at least 2 years old. If in desperation for seed grain, it is possible to remove ergot sclerotia from grain by soaking and stirring the seed grain in extremely salty water. The sclerotia will float up to the top and can be skimmed away. Wash off the salt.

Ergot Poisoning. In the 1300-1400s, ergot was a tremendous problem in the rye bread in Europe. Ergot is a poison; a dose of it can cause violent contractions of involuntary muscles, miscarriage, hallucinations, coma, and even death. Mild ergotism can cause extremities to tingle or have a burning sensation. That's why in the Middle Ages the disease was called "St. Anthony's fire." Ergotism can also cause disorderly speech, odd gestures, strange postures, and convulsive fits of various degrees of severity. In modern medicine an extract of ergot is used to induce labor because it causes involuntary uterine contractions. LSD can also be extracted from ergot. The root cause of the bizarre "mass hysteria" in the Middle Ages and the "bewitched" symptoms of those testifying against the Salem "witches" are now considered by some medical historians to have been unidentified ergot poisoning.

The Salem trial records describe numerous incidents when young girls were stricken with violent fits. At that time the fits, miscarriages, etc., were believed to be caused by torture from invisible, evil entities. In Science magazine, writer Linda R. Caporeal explained that "Accusations of choking, pinching, pricking with pins, and biting by the specter of the accused formed the standard testimony of the afflicted in almost all the examinations and trials. The choking suggests the involvement of the involuntary muscular fibers that is typical of ergot poisoning; the biting, pinching, and pricking may allude to the crawling and tingling sensations under thé skin experienced by ergotism victims ..." Luckily, after a series of deplorably damp summers, the next harvest season in Salem was finally dry. And the witch trials ended.

Other Reading. Read Ergot and Ergotism by George Barger (London: Gurney & Jackson, 1931). An issue of Science some years ago contained the great above-mentioned article speculating on ergot poisoning as a probable cause for the Salem witch trials; succeeding issues printed supporting letters from experts. More recently, The Economist, May 16, 1992 (vol. 323, no. 7759, p. A31) carried the article "Misogyny, Ergot, or Envy? The Salem Witch Trials." The March/April 1990 issue of In Health (vol. 4, no. 2, p. 11) offers the article "Let Them Eat Wheat," which speculates that ergot poisoning was a factor in the French Revolution.

Continue reading here: Grinding Your Grain

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