How to Grow & Harvest Wheat on a Small Scale.

No seriously, you can grow wheat in your average sized garden.    Just a 4′ x 4′ plot is enough to give you wheat cred. I know. Because I did it.

Home grown wheat berries are held in the palms of a woman's hand.

 

I’ve grown wheat, I loved growing wheat and now I’m going to show you how to grow wheat because I can’t teach you how to grow your own toilet paper.

Wheat.  You picture it blowing in the wind on acres of rolling land, a white speck of a farmhouse sits off in the distance with the music of John Denver floating on the breeze.  Sure, that’s one way to grow wheat but what do the rest of us do?  What about those of us who don’t have gravel driveways and relatives named Remington or Jeb? What do WE do?

We plant it just like we plant anything else; anywhere we can. 

Growing Wheat

(on a super-small scale like in your front or backyard.)

If the thought of growing your own wheat intimidates you, or you don’t think you have anywhere to put it, think of it as an ornamental grass. 

Wheat grows to be 3-4 feet tall. 

It isn’t overly huge, is beautiful, AND you can harvest it and turn it into flour in the fall or – use it for fall decoration like making your own wheat wreath. 

A paper bag of Red Fife Wheat berries from 1847 Stone Milling sits in an ironstone bowl.

 

To plant it all you need are wheat berries. Wheat berries = wheat seeds. 

I made the mistake of buying a very small packet of wheat seed from a seed supplier for $3.  I got about 15 seeds which is plenty to make enough flour for a birthday cake if the birthday cake is for a rather underweight mouse.

You can buy a whole big bag of wheat berries meant for cooking or grinding into flour and use these for seed. That’s what I eventually did. I got mine from 1847, a local source for flour and wheat berries. I recommend you try to find a local source as well, because that means you’re getting wheat that’s meant to be grown in your area. 

Growing Wheat

Wheat berries fill a clay bowl with some spilled over onto a marble countertop.

 

Wheat falls into 2 categories, spring wheat or winter wheat

Winter wheat is planted in the fall for a summer harvest, Spring wheat is planted in the spring for a fall harvest.  Spring wheat can be planted “as soon as the ground can be worked”, which really doesn’t mean anything to me even after decades of vegetable gardening. So to me, “when the ground can be worked” generally means when I can go out and garden without swearing about how awful it is outside.  So mid to late spring.

 

How Long Does It Take For Wheat To Grow?

Wheat likes to germinate in cooler soil. That means it will be happy germinating in soil that’s 10C (50F).  If you’re late planting, don’t get too worked up. It will germinate if the soil is warmer too.

Under normal spring conditions (10C or so) wheat will sprout in about 7 days. By 2-3 weeks it’ll be big enough to impress the cast of Hee Haw. 

Wheat planted in the spring will be ready to harvest after about 4 months from planting.

If it’s planted in the fall it will be ready to harvest about 8 months after planting (because so much of its time is spent dormant in the winter).

Wheat sprouts after 2 weeks at about 9 inches tall.

Wheat at 2 weeks looks like long grass.

 

Wheat can be planted with  25 and 32 wheat seeds per square foot.

I planted an area that was around 2′ x 15′ which got me almost 2 cups of wheat berries, or almost a pound.

1 pound of wheat berries = 1 pound of unsifted flour

1 pound of flour = 3.5 cups.

 

The graphic below shows what I was HOPING to get, and what can be achieved.

Graphic showing that 30 square feet, with 30 plants per square foot will produce 3 pounds of wheat and therefore 6 cups of flour.

My haul was half of what I was hoping for and predicting. However it is possible to produce 3 lbs of wheat in a 30 square foot area if you can get your wheat to produce tillers.

What are Wheat Tillers?

Wheat grows like a grass with one main stem. At the top of this stem is where the fluffy thing you recognize as wheat will grow.

A fully dried wheat head at the end of summer.

If it’s grown in the right conditions, wheat will “tiller” which means more stems will develop off of the main wheat shoot.  More stems means more wheat.

Each spring planted wheat berry has the potential to grow the main shoot, plus that main shoot can develop 3 tillers. (winter wheat can grow up to 7 tillers)

The more tillers you have, the more wheat growing at the tips of your plant you’ll get. 

So without any tillering wheat will produce one head of wheat. With tillering it can produce 3 times as much.

HOW TO IMPROVE TILLERING?

Tillers in spring sown wheat form 2-3 weeks after germination. Any conditions that the wheat is pissed at during this time will stop tillering. To keep your wheat happy:

  • Prior to planting make sure you amend your soil with fertilizer or compost.
  • Make sure your soil is friable (not compacted like cement).
  • Don’t plant your seeds too deep.
  • Don’t stress the plants by letting them dry out.
  • Plant at least 25 seeds per square foot.
  • Tillering can also be reduced if the weather is too warm.

I thought I did these things last year but … maybe not.  I’ll pay more attention this year especially during the critical first two weeks after germination. 

But I DID grow enough wheat in my 2′ x 15′ plot to make bread, pizza dough and buns all winter by grinding it into flour in my Vitamix. I’m not sure if I’m ready to  graduate to one of these beautiful wood flour mills.

O.K., now that I’ve got you all worked up over the thought of basically growing your own buns, how do you plant wheat and harvest it?  

How to Plant and Harvest Wheat.

(even if you only have a pathetically tiny space)

A wheat berry, about the size of a grain of rice, held in the palm of a woman's hand.

  1. It all starts with the wheat berry. In spring plant between 25 – 30 seeds per square foot into well amended (fertilized) moist, loose soil.  Water the soil before planting if you have to to guarantee germination. Plant wheat seeds at a depth of 1″.

Small scale home grown wheat that has turned dry and golden with heads that are nodding down, ready for harvet.

2. Watch for germination in the first week. Once it has sprouted KEEP THE WHEAT STRESS FREE by keeping the area weeded and watered  (which is hard to do because weedy grasses look very much like growing wheat.)

Dried wheat grown in a small area ready to harvest.

3. After a couple of months the wheat will grow and tiller and produce wheat heads. Once this happens the plants will slowly start to dry out.

4. To test whether your wheat is ready to harvest pull a few grains out of the wheat head and pop them in your mouth. Ready to harvest wheat berries should be hard, not chewy. If they’re chewy, they aren’t ready to harvest yet.  The majority of the plant will be dried, the tops completely golden with no green and the heads will be bending down slightly, not standing straight up.

Wheat sheaf from home grown wheat ready to thresh.

5. Cut your wheat when it’s ready and further dry it by hanging it upside down somewhere with air circulation where it’s protected from rain. This ensures all the wheat is completely dry if you had to harvest when some heads still had a tinge of green.   I hang my wheat on my front porch under the vintage looking onion drying rack I made. Let it further dry until no trace of green remains on the heads.

Home grown wheat made into sheaves, left drying in a protected area under a drying rack.

If you’re further drying your wheat outside, protect it from critters that might take advantage.  Keeping a paper yard bag around it will catch any berries that fall and keep pests away from it.

Cut wheat drying further outside with a paper yard bag underneath to protect it from animals and catch any falling grains.

6. Thresh the wheat.  Threshing wheat is bashing it around to release the grain from the chaff and seed head. 

Wrestling a bunch of wheat into a linen bag for threshing.

How to Thresh Wheat

I put my wheat stalks in a linen bag and then bash the bag against my house to thresh it. Other people put the wheat in a rubber bin and stomp on the heads. 

A small sheaf of wheat laid on a round wood platter with a linen bag filled with newly threshed wheat berries.

Wheat that’s been threshed in a linen bag.

7. After threshing you need to winnow the wheat. Winnowing is removing the chaff, the lightweight skin that protects the wheat berry.  

A small cheap fan on a porch directed at wheat with chaff to help with winnowing.

Winnowing can be done in a few ways but they all use moving air. You can stand outside with your grain on a sheet between two people and bounce the wheat up in the air on a windy day. The wind carries away the chaff as it rises into the air, while the heavier grain falls back down onto the sheet.

You will feel very much like a prairie woman in the 1800s if you do it this way.

I winnowed by spilling my wheat and chaff onto a linen sheet and then moved a small fan over it by hand which blew away the chaff.

A spray of wheat laying on top of a large round wood platter along with an antique wood spoon filled with wheat berries.

After a mere 4 months and a hellofalotta work, I now had my own wheat to be turned into flour. Like I said, about 2 cups worth of wheat berries.


 

After harvesting and cleaning the wheat you can store it in a moisture proof container.  If you’re afraid of bugs in your grain, you can heat your wheat berries on a baking sheet in the oven at 130-140F for 30 minutes to an hour.  You could also use a dehydrator (I use an Excalibur dehydrator) at that temperature to do the same thing.

 

 

How to Grow Wheat on a Small Scale.

How to Grow Wheat on a Small Scale.

Prep Time: 121 days 16 hours
Active Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 121 days 18 hours
Difficulty: Experienced
Estimated Cost: $3

How to grow, harvest, thresh and winnow wheat on a small scale.

Materials

  • Wheat Berries
  • Garden

Instructions

  1. Water your soil prior to planting if it isn't moist already. Plant 25 – 30 seeds per square foot at a depth of 1" for spring wheat.
  2. Watch for germination in the first week. Once it has sprouted KEEP THE WHEAT STRESS FREE by keeping the area weeded and watered.
  3. After a couple of months the wheat will grow and tiller and produce wheat heads. Once this happens the plants will slowly start to dry out.
  4. To test whether your wheat is ready to harvest pull a few grains out of the wheat head and pop them in your mouth. Ready to harvest wheat berries should be hard, not chewy.
  5. Harvest when your wheat is dry and hard but if there are traces of green still after you harvest it, dry it further dry until no trace of green remains on the heads.
  6. Thresh the dry wheat by placing bundles in a cotton bag or pillow case and bashing it around to release the grain from the chaff.
  7. Winnow the wheat (removing the chaff from the grain) by blowing a small fan on it to blow the chaff away while the heavier grain stays where it is.
  8. Store in a moisture proof container.

Notes

The better your soil is the better your harvest will be. Make sure it's amended with compost or fertilizer, is nice and loose and remains watered (but not overwatered).

Doing this increases your chances of good "tillering" a process that happens within the wheat berry causing more than one stem to grow from the wheat, and therefore more wheat heads.

 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

How to Grow & Harvest Wheat on a Small Scale.

64 Comments

  1. bev says:

    here i am, experiencing dirt-withdrawal in the middle of february, googling “can you grow wheat in massachusetts” because i have lost my mind, and this post pops up in the results, and i read the title and i’m like, “hey, this looks exactly like what i need to read!” and then i get to: “Any conditions that the wheat is pissed at during this time will stop tillering.” and i’m like, OMG, i’ve found my soul-twin!

  2. Morgan says:

    This will be my very first “comment” on any blog I’ve ever read, but I absolutely had to say not only has this been super informative but I laughed almost the entire time. You’ve got yourself a dedicated subscriber and I feel so much more confident in trying my hand out at this whole wheat business.

  3. Diana says:

    Love the post! I planted what I thought was a lot of oats last year and ended up with half a cup. I am also trying wheat this winter. Our garden was pitiful this year to hot to germinate anything! (we are in western New York) The farmers in our family were Felicien, Auguste, Constantine, Izadore…you get the picture. My husband’s grandpa farmed – he was Tennyson.

  4. Julie says:

    This is such a comprehensive guide. Thank you!
    I think I’ll grow just enough wheat to make that beautiful wreath you posted recently!

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about maux de tete enfant.

    Regards

  6. Gary Boutin says:

    Hi Karen,
    good post and I sure enjoyed it. Keep up the good work you always make me laugh. I shared this with my mother who lived on a farm in Montreal, Canada. She had a 130 acre farm raising cows, my grandfather, her father always stated it was a worthy crop. I guess now they are all up in heaven having fun on the tractor. Thanks this brought me back some really good memories.

  7. Emily Gee says:

    I have a silly question! If you don’t want to grow it for the berries and just to make pretty table decorations (I think on a previous post you were holding a really pretty bundle tied up with twine), would I dry it and then take it inside? Would that work, or would I end up sharing my house with thousands of unwanted pest guests?

    Also – I met you at Seedy Saturday in February and you gave me some beans whose name I can’t remember (Orca I think?) I started them and they sprouted; thank you! My mum and I acll them “Karen Beans” and I’m stoked for them to come up!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Emily! I remember both of you. And from hereonin they will be referred to as Karen Beans, lol. But yes, they’re Orcas. Or sometimes called Yin Yang. You can absolutely grow wheat just for decoration. I didn’t notice any sort of bugs on mine. Just give them a good shake before bringing them inside. If you’re really worried about them, you can freeze the wheat stalks in the freezer for a week. ~ karen!

  8. Marie says:

    You send some great things and this is one of my favorites. Thank you so much for giving me this information I loved learning about growing wheat. Now I need to get moving on my new favorite thing to do. I am so glad I subscribe to your page.

  9. Brenda says:

    i grew 3 stalks once. i don’t know what i was thinking – but it was fun. this is a fun post … i might plant some in my roof pots … and maybe i’ll make a dinner bun

  10. Aylwen says:

    How did your wheat experiment go? I’m about to try a small patch of winter wheat and spelt.

    • I planted a bitty packet of heirloom Sonoran Wheat cuz it is from around here, they are up already! I ordered two more bitty packets.
      I made 8 raised beds, then started a salad wall indoors, I love it, greens all year, even with snow outside.
      This year adding more raised beds. Now I am planting sturdy calories outside… Will likely get 100-200 pounds of potatoes and 50 pounds of onions. And a cup or three of wheat ;). I once had a barley seedling in my flower bed, and over a couple years I had a good batch of barley. Maybe I will get an increase of heritage Sonora Wheat too.

  11. Marna says:

    I grow some wheat grass for my cat and dogs, they love it! :)

  12. Laura Bee says:

    Remington Steele was not a farmer but I’ll bet he could have been.
    Only Remington I know lol.
    You’re like the little red hen. Nothing is going to taste better than the bread you make from your wheat.

  13. Julia says:

    I have never grown wheat, and I don’t even know any Remington’s, but this year I’m going to grow lufa gourds. You know, the ones everybody thinks are sea sponges. Then I’m going to make soap and put a slice of sponge in each soap mold so there’s a sponge in the soap when it’s all done. These will grow on the trellis that will surround my outdoor kitchen where the soap making and canning will be done. I have a lot of work to do this spring!

    • Karen says:

      Good luck with the luffa. They’re fun! I had a friend of mine turn my last harvest into soap and it’s the greatest scrubbing soap for the shower EVER. ~ karen!

    • Darla says:

      I grew loofah last year. Ended up with three good gourds. I sliced them into portions and my grandgirls are using them. This year I have a LOT more plants growing. Maybe I will have enough to do something with them. It was fun.

  14. Dana Studer says:

    Funny that you said whenever the ground can be worked which doesn’t mean anything to you after yrs of gardening. I still google the frost-free date every year and I’ve gardened for 20 years. Good luck with your wheat. Maybe you can stick a piece of it in your mouth all hillbilly style and see why they do that. Raw wheat stalks must be tasty?

  15. Mary W says:

    I’m trying to grow ginger – for tea and cookies. If it works I will be so happy. I want to grow Australian ginger since the longer roots don’t have much fiber but can’t find it anywhere. Like a dummy, I grew Stevia last year. It was REAL sweet – unbearable sweet. But I didn’t know anything about how to use it. Now I know that I should tie up the leaves and dry them then crush but can’t find stevia plants this year. Glad cane sugar is relatively cheap. I’m also trying to grow the ginger in Earth Bags. I thought this gift from a cousin was nice – another way to tote my garden stuff. Finally I looked on line and discovered another way to grow things now that I’m in a city. So cool. I got to order more of them and try potatoes. We always grew good potatoes on our land. Had no idea that fresh potatoes tasted so good. Good luck with the wheat. Wheat berry salad is so very good.

  16. Diane says:

    My miniature schnauzer is named Remington. Does that count? The other one is Sammy Colt.

  17. Roz says:

    You should make friends with people at the closest grain elevator, way cheaper way to get wheat.

    All growing heritage wheat in small patches in your garden is a thing now. Saving heirloom varieties and such.

  18. Sam says:

    My first venture into growing anything edible was this year. Since lots of gardeners on youtube advised viewers to grow what we enjoy eating, I planted my favorite field pea (also known as a cow pea). Specifically — Sadandy peas. We eat lots of field peas in the southern U.S. I only planted a handful of seeds to see if I could actually grow them. What I’ve grown is four sturdy plants that are now food for tiny black bugs — aphids I’m guessing. I sprayed them with Neem Oil as suggested, but they are still munching away on my pea plants. I guess I will give up trying to grow edibles and go back to enjoying flowers which I have better luck with.

    • Daniel Brown says:

      you just have to plant other plants that will repel bugs

      Basil, Genovese – all around my favorite to repel almost everything
      Nasturtium, Jewel Mix – to repel aphids, potato bugs and squash bugs, but also to attract a lot of bugs away from your other vegetables

      just a couple of examples best of luck

  19. Cussot says:

    Lots of wheat farmers in my family – they had names like Sam, Bud, Bob, Pat and Phil. Short names keep the dust out of your mouth, I guess. It’s going to be fun to read about your harvest!

    • Debra P says:

      I have always wanted to try growing wheat and this has inspired me. But you said your little 2’by 15′ wheat planting provided you with about 3.5 cups of flour. Then said it was enough for you to make bread, pizza and rolls all winter. How is this possible? Most of my bread recipes call for 3.5 to 4 cups of flour for just one batch which makes two of the small loaves or one large loaf. I can’t imagine how you were able to stretch that much flour into all those goodies all winter. Please share your secret!

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