Making wheat not fit to eat
June 8, 2011 1:10 PM   Subscribe

How would I dry/sterilize/preserve/lacquer wheat berries for an art installation?

I'd like to use wheat grains in an art exhibit, but don't want the display to turn into a bug habitat. The grains must remain recognizable as wheat.
posted by scruss to Media & Arts (3 answers total)
Best answer: Can this go in some sort of sealed container e.g. an airtight display case?

If it can, I'd do the following:
  • Kill any bugs / moulds / fungi etc by freezing your wheat for 10 days. Yes, there are insects and things that can survive short periods of freezing.
  • Dry the grain in an oven @ 130° for 19hrs (this is part of the standard method for determining wheat moisture content, & removes as much moisture as possible). To minimise burning & discolouration, use one of the new-fangled silicone oven trays (or a standard oven tray with foil pulled tightly over the top so it's not sitting on the bottom of the tray, & sit your wheat on the foil), spread your wheat out in a layer 1 or 2 grains thick, and use either a fan-forced oven or only the bottom element of a conventional oven.
  • Fill the container with CO2 or nitrogen. N is probably better, but the commercial storages that use modified atmospheres almost always use CO2.
If it can't, I'd still do the freezing & drying steps, but then look at coating the grain with an epoxy or polyurethane resin. A tumbler would probably be best for this, to ensure a thin even coat without clumping. Hint: don't make your sealant too runny, because the grain will absorb the moisture & swell (although it'll still look pretty much like wheat). If you're only doing a small amount (say, ½kg or so) then you may be able to do this by taking a large tin, putting your grain in, tilting it 45° or so, and turning the tin to tumble the grain while gently spraying an aerosol can of polyurethane sealant on it.

How long does it have to last for?
posted by Pinback at 5:04 PM on June 8, 2011

Response by poster: It's not going to be in a container.
Is that 130° C or F?
posted by scruss at 6:35 PM on June 8, 2011

Sorry, 130°C - I meant to type that & forgot!
posted by Pinback at 8:12 PM on June 8, 2011

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