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 this because I grow wheat in my community garden. Sad you didn't plant any? Don't worry. You have 2 times to plant wheat every year. Once in the early spring, and once in late summer/fall.
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.
I am currently on the last steps of my wheat harvest this year which is the "threshing" step. I cut my fall planted wheat last week (end of July) and it's currently sitting in a burlap bag on my front porch waiting to be threshed.
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.
I've been doing it for a few years now and it's consistently a lot of work, but also consistently successful.
Table of Contents
(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.
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.
How to Grow It
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 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 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.
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.
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)
- 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".
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.)
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.
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.
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.
6. Thresh the wheat. Threshing wheat is bashing it around to release the grain from the chaff and seed head.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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