February 10, 2012

Worried About Our Winter Wheat

Our winter wheat has gradually been turning yellow...

Having had only one small experimental patch of wheat in the past, this is neither my area of expertise nor experience. After numerous hours of internet research (links to resources below) I decided it was likely nitrogen deficiency. This self diagnosis was via photos and descriptions, and isn't something I feel entirely confident about. Considering that this is where we planted the field corn last summer, and that corn is what's considered to be a "heavy feeder" (i.e. requires lots of nitrogen), it seemed the most logical conclusion.

My first treatment was to scatter leftover chemical nitrogen we purchased two years ago, after a soil test as we prepared the big garden for the first time. Chemicals are not my first choice, but it was what I had. How much was my biggest concern, because too much nitrogen isn't good either. In the end I didn't have a whole lot. I noted some greening up here and there about two weeks later, but not enough.

Last weekend I bought a sprayer attachment for my garden hose, and sprayed the wheat with fish emulsion (5-1-1). I'm still waiting to see if it will make a difference, wondering how long it will take, and hoping I'm not too late. In my uncertainty about things, I tend to be cautious in my conclusions and actions. We know this field needs a lot of work (as does everything else around here), so this problem isn't a tremendous surprise. I did plant pole beans with the corn last summer, and scattered as much compost as I had when I planted the wheat, but it obviously wasn't enough. Next summer I will plant my cowpeas in this same spot, and plant the corn in the back, where I tried to grow sunflowers last year. Hopefully that will help.

My philosophy about gardening and homesteading has always been that doing something is better than doing nothing. Not only because I think that every little bit helps, but because I realize that even if it doesn't turn out the way I hope, I'll learn something. Experiential knowledge is the best, I think. In this case getting even some wheat would be better than getting none, but I really don't want to lose any. What happens to the wheat may test how well I really believe what I say.



Rea said...

Yellow in spots in wheat usually means you're right, it isn't getting enough nitrogen. Or you have lots of animals peeing on your field. A good nitrogen fertilizer may start bringing it back.

It's the wrong time of year but if you're cheap like me, get a tub and put in all the nettles you can find, soak these in hot water (or in cold water for several days) and after it just starts to decompose (gets a bit smelly) fertilize the wheat with this. Chopped up nettles makes great ferilizer for wheat fields. Good luck.

Poppy said...


I'm holding my breath for your wheat. It's such an anxious feeling for me when a plant, crop or my whole garden isn't doing well. I feel for you! Good luck with your wheat.


Nina said...

It's a good experiment and you'll learn lots regardless. I've heard good things about fish emulsion. I can't say that I've seen early yellow spots on agricultural wheat fields, although I'm guessing they fertilize regularly. The only time you see it yellow early is due to drought conditions. I'm presuming you've had adequate rain?
I hope it all straightens itself out and you get at least some wheat to harvest.

It's so different seeing winter wheat which is growing in the winter! Winter wheat in our area should still be under snow. Despite the mild winter we've had, we still have had enough very cold weather to keep the wheat dormant.

luckybunny said...

I can't offer any help, but I hope it turns out alright - that's why experiments are good, we figure out what works and what doesn't :)

Theresa said...

One other note is to keep an eye on nitrogen in regards to your livestock, some animals are quite sensitive to it.
I know horses are but am unsure of goats and chickens should this be a feed source for them.
Good luck! :)

Mama Pea said...

I was going to raise the adequate moisture question as Nina did. But I'm sure you've thought of this already.

Dang and drat, the learning curve can be so steep at times. Hoping something turns this wheat crop around for you.

Leigh said...

Rea, well, not that many animals peeing there. We did have deer sleeping there all last summer.

I need to plant nettles. I hear so many good things about them but didn't know about this. It's very good to know so thanks for the information.

RaShell, thanks!

Nina and Mama Pea, actually we've had a very wet winter. In fact the wheat field is constantly muddy. I've even wondered if perhaps it's reacting to too much water.

Last year we had a lot of cold and snow, so my experimental wheat went dormant as you describe Nina. This year it's so mild that it keeps on growing.

Donna, that's very true. I even a few failures pave the road to success.

Theresa, thanks for that tidbit. You've got me thinking because nitrogen = crude protein. The chickens and goats aren't allowed in there, but I have been hand cutting the real tall stuff and feeding it to the goats. It isn't huge quantities, just something fresh and green.

Mama Pea, that is so true. I'm going to hang in there though, and be thankful for whatever we get.

Anonymous said...

Are there any county, state or fed. agencies nearby where you can get the soil tested and/or get some advice? --Sue in MA

Paula said...

I would drink a lot of water, and get your hubby to drink a lot of water, and pee into a bucket or some container with room for diluting with more water, and then water it in. You man think I'm crazy, but I have an old maple syrup container that's the width for making myself a urinal so I can save my pee for hitting my compost. I have to do this because I can't get my husband, who is better equipped for the job, to pee on my compost pile for me.

Anyway, urine is full of nitrogen and it's free. I also understand that it's sterile coming out of you, but I somehow doubt the veracity of that statement.

Ngo Family Farm said...

Oh, I hope your crop makes a comeback. That learning curve thing - at times, both a blessing and a curse!

Cat Eye Cottage said...

My first thought when I read yellow was some type of deficiency. I hope you treated it in time. I've learned even working on my little plot that it really does take time to build up the soil and how things work together. By sharing your experiences, we, your readers, gain.

Leigh said...

Sue, I did have it tested when we first got here (summer 2009). Since then though, I've planted the corn. Our cooperative extension would recommend chemical fertilizers, but for the time being, I'd prefer a more natural route.

Paula, interesting. I think you're correct about it being relatively sterile, though it can contain other body waste, such as pharmaceutical drugs. I know human waste is supposed to take 3 or more years to compost, perhaps that's just be for feces(?) I thought though, that things like dog pee can kill plants. Why I'm not sure. I do know that in medieval days, indigo dyers would collect urine, preferably from young boys. As it aged, it's pH raised, given them the alkaline solution needed for a good blue.

Jaime, we just have to take the lumps as they fall!

Candace, that is so true, and why sometimes I go ahead and do the best I can. I figure if I waited until my soil was super ready, it would take years before we could grow anything! Maybe I need more goats, you know, so I can have more manure for more compost. :)

Anonymous said...

Leigh, I am a fellow weaver who has read your fiber posts on and off for a few years. I just realized that you are a fellow homesteader which then prompted me to read each and every homestead post you have on this blog. Wow, what a wonderful journey you two have had so far. Love your home and all that you have accomplished. My husband and I just moved to our personal dream here in rural Illinois, we have 3 acres and a lot of plans. As soon as spring arrives around here it is "get busy time" outside. Lots of garden plot clearing, fence building, chicken coop building and more projects than I can think of at the moment. I will be looking to your blog for answers to my many questions. Leigh, thank you for sharing your thoughts and adventures with all of us. - Martha

Leigh said...

Martha, I'm delighted with your comment! So nice to meet someone with so many common interests. On top of that, I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. :) Congratulations on your new place. It's time consuming to get established (which is why not much gets done fiberwise. :) But oh so rewarding.

Jody said...

We are with you. Something is better than nothing, for all the reasons you listed. We titled a post just that last year. I don't remember what it was about, but we get what you mean. We're glad you can grow wheat. We don't have enough space ourselves. Thankfully we found an organic grower nearby. They grow spelt and we're using it.