April 22, 2020

Winter Wheat Update

Wyomingheart asked how our wheat is doing.

So far, so good. I say that because last year we lost our winter wheat to lodging. That's when the plants fall down, for often mysterious reasons. In our case, heavy rains flattened it, but it can't be cut lying on the ground, so the crop is pretty much a waste. We salvaged what we could by harvesting it for hay, but it meant no homegrown wheat last year.

We don't plant a lot. This patch is roughly 30' x 62', with enough room to expand it about 5 more feet both ways. Depending on how this harvest goes, it should be enough for our needs until next year.

Wheat flowers.

It just finished flowering, and the plants range from 2 to 3 feet in height. In some places, the stand is thick, in others it's pretty patchy.

In the above photo, what you see on the ground is wood chip mulch. I wouldn't ordinarily mulch wheat, so this is where I should tell you about another of our soil building experiments. (See the end of this post for links to the others.)

The whole area used to be our garden, but we (I) found it too large to manage mostly by myself, so we divided it into a canning and kitchen garden at the top and a grain growing patch at the bottom.

Detail from the 2020 Master Plan

This new arrangement invited another soil-building experiment, but this one was different from the others. And unconventional. But like the others, I started by digging a soil sample for the record.

Then my experiment.

First, Dan mowed it short with the mulching mower. Then I started laying down waste boards and planks from Dan's sawmilling. Many of the cuts are too thin or irregular to use for other projects, so they are basically waste wood. I laid them down on the ground and covered them with subsoil from my hugelkulture swale bed digging project. That was topped with wood chip mulch.

I seeded it for green manure, even though I didn't think much could grow through the wood chips. That was autumn of 2018 and last summer I got scanty growth.

Photo taken May 2019, when I allowed the goats in to graze it. 

Last fall, I broadcast wheat and clover seed and Dan scythed what growth there was there. That was  left as mulch and green manure. Almost none of the clover came up, but I'm pleased with the wheat we've got. It will likely be ready to harvest for grain in June.

I also want to show you the heritage wheat I planted last fall.

It's a landrace wheat from northern Jordan and Southern Syria called Hourani. It was advertised as being of excellent quality and lodge resistant!

Hourani wheat seed head.

Unfortunately, germination was extremely poor, probably close to only 10%. Even so, I'll collect and treasure what I get! The goal is to eventually switch to this type instead of commercial wheat seed.

So that's my wheat report. Here are the soil-building links I promised.

Soil Building Experiment #1
Soil Building Experiment #2: Pastures
Soil Building Experiment #3: Hay Growing
I recently posted some results, here → Pasture Soil Building Update

Winter Wheat Update © April 2020 by Leigh


Mama Pea said...

The wheat that germinated and has grown certainly looks lush and healthy! The old experimentation trial and error . . . we just have to start somewhere and be willing to be flexible enough to change as we go along. And you definitely have the ability (and good sense!) to do that. ;o)

wyomingheart said...

Wow, Leigh! That is some excellent growth. How much wheat do you think will yield out of the roughly 1,860 sq ft? Because you don’t till, how did you plant the wheat? That soil building is really tough work, but hopefully you only need to do that every couple of years. I didn’t know that the goats could eat green wheat, that was something new to me. Thanks for the great update, and mention;)!

Cockeyed Jo said...

Those heads are beautiful! Our wheat (barley & oats)grew to about 2' and never produced heads. We settled and bought orchard grass and planted it in the bare ground where the other grains refused to grow. It's all good for straw and hay, but none for us to eat. You know how I feel about unplanted soil. We mat try wheat again next year.

Leigh said...

Mama Pea, it's a challenge, but it's always interesting. I can't say all of our experiments have worked out, and I don't know what the long-term will be for this one, but so far so good!

Wyomingheart, I have to say that the wheat looks healthier than past crops. We usually have symptoms of nitrogen deficiency, which this patch doesn't show, even though we added no additional nitrogen! That's soil microorganisms at work!

I broadcast the seed and then covered it with a sprinkling of soil from my garden bed digging. That was in hopes of "hiding" it from the birds. I guess it worked because most of the seed produced.

I have no idea how much that will actually produce! This is our first time to grow it here, so it will be the base point at which we make adjustments. The goal is consistent production throughout the crop. Our larger patches in the past gave us enough for a year's-worth, but we also lost a lot of berries due to the way we harvested and processed (another learning curve!). Based on that, I think if we can get better soil health and production, we'll have enough for the two of us.

Jo, I've always found orchard grass to do well. I'm surprised your grain didn't head, though. Puzzling. Any guesses as to why?

Boud said...

I learned several things in this post, one being that wheat flowers. Never knew that. Interesting journey you're on, and bringing us with you.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

The wheat looks great Leigh! I have never had quite the same luck with Wheat as I did in Old Home; the rain here is too much and the sets are prone to rot prior to harvest.

Your heirloom wheat looks very similar to Kamut Wheat (from Poland, I believe). Very large grains.

Ed said...

When I was young, my grandfather and father used to "raise" wheat on some land as part of a crop rotation to build it up. It seemed like we could "raise" a nice crop of wheat only once every three or four years. The years in-between ended up in some sort of wheat failure. On the one year we raised a great crop, we sold it for pennies at the local grain elevator since we had no storage for it and they were being swamped with wheat from others who finally raised a great crop. In the years after my grandfather died, my dad finally gave up on wheat. Now we only plant it as a cover crop that gets disked into the field eventually.

Leigh said...

Boud, wheat flowers are one of nature's tiny treasures. :)

TB, when I started researching heirloom wheat, I was surprised that there are so many varieties! I'm very disappointed so little came up, but I'll save all the seed and see if I can't get a better showing next year. I'd love to be able to switch to it completely, but maybe I don't have it's preferred growing conditions. We'll see!

Ed, sounds like the problem was regional. Curious. It does make a good cover crop, though. And good hay.

Nancy In Boise said...

Me too, I never knew that we'd actually had flowers how cool! That's really great that you're playing around with what you can grow it's good to be resilient. great to see a lot of people starting to get more into building up their soil instead of just growing and growing and and then the soil gets lost in the shuffle. I love the whole permaculture thing you're doing with the lumber! I just bought a cool permaculture book that I read parts of I'm looking forward to trying more in our yarden

Leigh said...

Nancy, this is actually the first year I've seen the wheat flower. I just happened to be checking on it and was able to get those shots. :) I hope you review your book on your blog!

Ed said...

Yes it was definitely a regional problem. If you go west of here about a 200 miles, wheat is a big cash crop.