Corn is planted, usually winter sown wheat eg Aquilla, Maris Widgeon, Maris Huntsman along with other old varieties as new grain varieties have straw which is too short for thatching. This corn will have been retained from previous harvest and production as they are specific to thatching straw nowadays.
Cutting and Drying Sheaves
The field of corn is cut with a binder to make sheaves which are stooked or hyled (depending on where you come from there are different names for this). Four or five sheaves are made into a stook by standing them up to dry as this traditional method of harvest means cutting when the corn and straw is still a little green – ie a couple of weeks earlier than you would harvest with a combine.
Storing Sheaves of Corn
The stooks are collected after a couple of weeks and stored in a barn or rick. The latter would have been thatched to keep the rain off the harvest.
When time allows, usually over the Winter the rick or stack is threshed out using a thrashing machine, see videos below. Many years ago this was done by thrashing the corn with hand held flails, hence the name.
This machine has a drum to remove the corn from the husks. If just this is done to the sheaves it produces material ready to be produced into Longstraw.
Combing and Trussing
If a comber is also attached to the top of the machine and the the sheaves are fed in, (see video) the result is Combed Wheat Reed.
The addition of a trusser would allow the exiting material to be trussed into Combed Wheat Bundles or Longstraw Bundles.
Final Preparation for Thatching
The aim is to produce a stack of threshed Combed Wheat Reed (or Longstraw) ready for the thatcher to collect and prepare for thatching.
To prepare this as Longstraw for thatching the bundles are put in a heap and drawn into yealms. Four or five yealms to a nitch – depending on where you are!.
To prepare this as Combed Wheat Reed the bundles have to be clipped (the ends are trimmed with shears, to take off any remaining leaf flag which also may need to be manually removed) and then butted down (on a butt board so all the straws are aligned square at the bottom and strings holding the bundle are pushed down).
Producing Thatching Straw requires knowledge, old traditional skills and often vintage machinery. Not as simple as people may think.