Written by Andrew Bennett, KBFA AdvisorPart 1: Tech Wizards Feature Blog
Gord Cooper and Monica Nasmyth have a 2-acre farm and a spacious workshop on the fringe of Grand Forks where they grow a variety of grains — rye, wheat, barley, spelt, oats, flax, sorghum, millet and more — in a patchwork you could measure in loaves.
Chinese 3-Wheel 4L-0.5 Combine
As retired metallurgical engineers, Gord and Monica gravitated to the technical challenge of growing, harvesting, threshing, and winnowing grains on a small scale. Gord wrenched away in the shop and made working machines for all these operations — we’ve described some below — but inevitably they were drawn to the promise of the do-it-all combine.
The typical North American combine is massively out of the question… so Gord and Monica looked overseas, to China, where fleets of small, maneuverable, three-wheel combines such as this 15HP “Model 4L-0.5” harvest enormous quantities of rice. These can be bought on Alibaba for $4000 plus not-so-cheap shipping, but a used unit (very rare in Canada) was found locally.
It can harvest an acre in about 4 hours: A sickle-bar mower cuts the stalks low to the ground and a second sickle-bar with a scoop cuts the stalk again just below the grain heads. The grain heads are raked up into a threshing drum, followed by a fan to winnow the chaff and a bag to catch the grains.
Gord spent this spring refurbishing and modifying the 4L-0.5, and when I visited he cranked it up and got the whole thing rattling away with all 15 horses. Since then he’s got it “ready to roll” and he and Monica look forward to reaping what they’ve sown later this summer. We’ll see how it goes!
Other Gadgets Back in the shop, they have a lot of grain processing gadgets, each tried-and-tested. “I get whatever I can, wherever I can,” Gord explained. To harvest their crops, Gord modified a weed-eater with a grain-cradle, much like the traditional scythe-plus-cradle that lays each cut in a tidy row at the side.
To thresh the grains, they put bundles head first into a thresher Gord built with plywood paddles and beaters attached to a motor. A variable speed drive pulled off an old treadmill allows him to adjust the RPM. “It’s not powerful enough to take your fingers off,” he assured me. A made-in-China soybean mill was modified to be an impact mill to dehull buckweat, oats, and barley. With a few adjustments to the milling stones, it can make flour.
Sunflowers are dehulled in a roller (crusher) Gordon was given: “It’s slow,” Gord says, but it can work away without supervision.
Gordon also has a hand-cranked fanning mill that works very well to winnow the grains, separating seed from chaff. It belongs to the local seed co-op and is available for others to use.
They’ve also got a wide selection of screens to sift through different seeds. The latest innovation are these custom-made screens made with their son’s 3-D printer. The trapezoidal cross-section of each hole or slit — slightly wider at the bottom than the top — allows smaller particles to fall more easily through the holes, jamming less often. You can’t buy a seed cleaning screen like that, but the idea is well-known in the metal processing business.
Fancier still, Gord made a seed-separator with another old treadmill. The belt is tipped on its long side, he added some baffles, and voila (with some tweaking) seeds dropped at the top corner roll off the treadmill at different points along its length depending on their shape, size, and texture.
Intrigued? Stick around for our next blog where innovator Drew Gailius of Full Circle Farm, Creston, show us how he and Joanne have worked their 40-acre farm for 10 years on “Sparky” the trusty solar tractor. Drew has recently rebuilt an “e-Gravely” walk-behind tractor with an old Nissan Leaf battery, and soon all the power the farm needs year round will be produced on-site through a combination of solar in summer and microhydro in the winter.