Let’s talk about… grain storage

You already know that I bake a lot and mill my own flour. I do it mainly for convenience, because freshly milled tastes just so much better than storebought. Another advantage is that I only had to find places to store the different grains, a couple of sifters, the grain mill and the flaker. All the different flours, flakes, semolinas, brans,… I use would take up way more space.

How do you store your grains?

I have two storage places: Long term storage is in the basement. I store a lot of different varieties, and all the grains in both places together are a bit over a year’s worth. I use airtight, foodgrade buckets in the basement. The small buckets contain 3 kilos, the big ones between 7 and 8 when they’re full. Not all are.

Working storage is in the kitchen. I’m sure you’ve seen the jars before in the background in one of the making of photos. They’re 2 liter fliptop jars from Ikea and easily fit 1.5 kilos of grains. They have an airtight rubber seal.

You might have noticed that not every jar has a corresponding bucket, and not every bucket has a corresponding jar. It all depends on how often and how much of a certain grain I need. Some I use daily in tiny amounts, some I use only 2-3 times a year for bulk projects. So I store it wherever it’s the most conventient.

Why do you use airtight jars and buckets?

When I buy my grains, they come in very convenient and sturdy, multi layer paper bags. Ideally, I’d leave them in there, because they’re the perfect storage place: dry, with a bit of airflow to prevent mold. If you’d ask the mill where I buy my grains, they’d tell you that there’s no better storage than a paper bag for grains as well as flours.

Unfortunately, I don’t live in an ideal world. “My” mill steam-disinfects the whole place once a year, so their stuff is free of bugs. I never had a problem there. But they’re not the only place where I buy. And I’m not exclusively storing grains in my basement pantry. I get most of my ancient grains from a different place, and while I never had a problem there either, I don’t know what they do to prevent bugs. Besides the grains, my pantry has a small batch of firewood, some winter apples curing, herbs drying… So there’s a big chance of dragging bugs in that could try to gain access to the paper bags. And I don’t want them in there.

All kinds of flying insects can gain access to my kitchen. I do have insect screens, but sometimes the door is open, or one of the neighbor cats tries climbing the screen and rips it down. Better safe than sorry.

The huge drawback to those airtight containers is the possibility of mold. But I’m not storing for the next 25 years, I’m in and out of those buckets at least once a month, and I’m using (opening) the jars several times a week. So there’s airflow and constant rotation. And the air in the basement is bone dry. No climate for mold.

What kind of critters will want to eat my grains?

Bugs and rodents. I’m not too worried about the second ones, because my basement is underground, concrete floor and walls, and has a very fine metal grate in front of the light shaft. Too narrow for mice, too sturdy to bite through. They’d have to go through my apartment to reach the pantry, and I’d definitely notice that!

I’m worried about bugs though. And with bugs, I mean everything from tiny weevils to pantry moths. I had moths once, brought into the kitchen via a small bag of oats from the health food store to hold me over until my mill delivery arrived. I was lucky though and used the bag the same day I bought it and noticed the impending armageddon. I don’t even want to think about what that bag could have started in the basement pantry without the buckets.

Since then, everything that’s a grain, a dry bean, a seed, or a flour, goes 48 hours into the freezer before it’s allowed in the kitchen or the pantry. Freezing kills all the bugs and eggs that might be in there. I don’t mind the extra protein as long as I don’t see it. But I definitely mind the extra protein multiplying like crazy and overcrowding and eating my food!

The USDA has a booklet about grain pests and what kind of havoc they can create in your storage. You can download the full pdf here.

How often do you stock up?

I place orders once every three months, alternating between my mill and the ancient grain place. That gives me big enough orders that the shipping is free while the postman can still carry it. And I have always enough stocked that a missed order doesn’t matter too much.

My mill’s shop was closed for weeks several times during the last two years, just to catch up on covid orders. Everybody started stockpiling flour like crazy, the supply chains couldn’t hold up to the increased demand, and people started looking for alternatives. Same when the war in the Ukraine started, nevermind that we grow more than enough wheat here ourselves. I had the luxury of just not placing two orders in a row and being happy with what I have in the pantry.

How do I best build a stockpile of grains?

Slowly and with your needs and habits in mind. Stock what you like and what you certainly use. Make notes of how much you use in a certain amount of time, and go from there.

Keep in mind that it’s not just the grains you have to buy. You need storage containers, storage space, (temporary) freezer space, a grain mill, and maybe a flaker and sifters. Don’t underestimate the skill it takes to exclusively bake with wholegrain flours. Rye and ancient grains are even fussier to work with than wheat, so don’t try to tackle everything at once.

Space it out. Buy a little extra every month or so, that way it’s not too much of a strain on your budget. Meanwhile, you can keep working on your skills, try new things. If you like something and are comfortable with the process, add it to your recurring shopping list. You’ll get there!

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