Monday, February 11, 2008
Will Bike for Food
If you are looking for ways to eat cheaply, consider wheat. Whole wheat berries store well for years, making them a good source of food in times of scarcity. Wheat is also versatile, usable in many forms. Cook the whole berries for a tasty, chewy grain. They can be eaten as is for a cereal, added to soups and stews, used in cold salads, and substituted for rice. Soaking the whole weat berries and letting them sprout enables you to eat them raw or cook them in far less time than it takes for the unsprouted berries.
They can also be ground to make sprouted wheat bread. Let the sprouting continue and you'll end up with wheat grass, which can be juiced for a highly nutritious drink. If you have the proper equipment, you can make cracked wheat and bulghur. It will cook faster than whole wheat berries and is tasty as breakfast cereal, and in salads and stews. The most familiar form of wheat, though, is flour. Flour can be turned into many different forms of food such as pasta, pancakes, bread, and sauces. It can even be rinsed to separate out the gluten, which is used to make a high-protein meat substitute.
The catch with the latter uses for wheat berries is the need for equipment to convert it from whole berries to fine flour. My little grain grinder is fine for small quantities of grains - enough oats for breakfast or enough wheat flour to thicken a sauce. It is not practical for producing large quantities of flour. We hemmed and hawed for months, and finally decided to order a Country Living Grain Mill after researching it online and studying the comparison testing done by Walton Feed.
When it arrived, my sweetie put it together and gave it a test run. After about ten minutes, he took off his sweatshirt and continued working in just a t-shirt. Even with the power bar extension, it was hard work. This reinforced our desire to convert it to pedal power. The only problem was finding an exercise bike that would work. I scoured the ads on craigslist for weeks. We didn't want a fancy new exercise bike that could do it all. We just needed an old one with the big heavy flywheel in the front, and we didn't want to pay much for it. Finally, our bike appeared and I happened to be the first to see the ad. We rushed out to pick it up, while the owners answered several calls from other interested parties. Then my sweetie went shopping at the hardware store and headed out to the garage.
Here is our new pedal-powered grain grinder set-up. The whole set-up, other than the grain mill itself, cost under $50. The bike is relatively comfortable to sit on and we could set up a reading rack on it like this clever gal.
Here is a view from the other side, after I'd cranked on the pedals for a few minutes. It's not super fast, but using the large muscle groups in the legs is far easier on the body than using the arms and shoulders. This is a good way to get some aerobic exercise as well.
For those interested in pedal power for other uses around the homestead and farm, here is a sampling of what you can find online. Many projects have been done in other countries where they don't have the option of using any power other than what they can generate themselves.
Pedal Power Report from Technology for the Poor
Bicycle Machines from Maya Pedal
Pedal Power Prime Mover
Pedal Power - How to do it yourself
Pedal-Powered Washing Machine
Clothes Washin' Man: pedal-powered alternative to wringing clothes (watch the video!)
Have fun pedalin'!
Photo of wheat berries from Michael Newman on flickr.
TECHNICAL UPDATE (12/27/09)
Due to technical questions in the comments about how to attach the pulley to the bike, I am providing a couple of photos and more information about setting this up.
This is a picture of the pulley attached to the flywheel of the exercise bike.
Here is a close-up of the same thing.
The pulley is a cheap swamp (evaporative) cooler part - just a simple die cast pulley. My sweetie first drilled two holes through it. Then, with the flywheel removed from the exercise bike, he aligned it with the flywheel. He drilled two holes in the flywheel. To attach the pulley to the flywheel, he used tapcon screws. He tightened these to hold the pulley snug and advises not to crank them down or overtighten them.
This is a pretty simple project. You're only going to be generating about a fifth of a horsepower when pedaling so there is no need to over-engineer this.