Requires six hours or more
of strong, direct sun per day.
The Wheat plant belongs to the grass family, and has been cultivated since 5,000 B.C. Wheat is not difficult to grow. You can plant a small patch that will furnish part of your families grain needs.
The plant's straw can be fed to steers, used for bedding animals, employed as a mulch, or simply turned under in the field to provide organic matter in the soil.
To plant wheat, till a fine seedbed, then rake, disk or harrow the soil. Broadcast the seed and lightly rake the surface. That's all you have to do until harvest time. On a small plot, you can broadcast the seed by hand, but larger plots can be planted more efficiently if some sort of mechanical device is used.
If you are gardening by moon phases wheat should be planted when the moon is in the 1st or 2nd Quarter (i.e. waxing) and in one of the following Zodiac Signs: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Libra
Planting wheat seed
Hand-cranked seed broadcastersThese can be adjusted to the amount of seed you want to plant, but a great deal of the machines efficiency depends on the speed at which you walk, and how fast you turn the crank. It is best to adjust the settings by following the directions provided with the unit.
Seed drillsA seed drill does a precise job of planting the seeds, in nice, evenly spaced rows at whatever depth you want. Secondhand drills can be bought at farm auctions or from farm equipment dealers. The drill, however, is not really necessary unless you are planting a large quantity of wheat.
Preventing crop infestationWinter wheat must be planted after the Hessian fly ceases its activity in the fall. If planted before the "fly date," there is a high risk of crop infestation. Check with local farmers for the fly date in your area.
Avoiding rapid fall stalk development
Early-planted winter wheat also runs the risk of "stool" or rapid fall stalk development. This condition increases chances that the wheat will be winter-killed. In some places, farmers graze fall stands of wheat to prevent stooling, but in muddy areas grazing by heavy animals such as cows or steers may cause soil compaction.
Avoiding weeds in the wheat crop
If wheat follows a heavily cultivated crop and is planted in the fall when most weeds are already dead, the crop can get a good start in a weed-free soil. In the spring, wheat will begin growing ahead of the weeds.
Soil, pH and nutrient requirements for wheatHealthy Wheat prefers a dry soil, and cannot stand acidity. Soil pH should be 6.4. Although wheat has low nitrogen requirements and lodges when overfed, some nitrogen should be provided through the addition of several tons of manure per acre.
Sufficient potassium can be supplied by manure, green manure, greensand, or organic fertilizers. Fertilizing can be combined with a good five-year rotation for both garden and field. In the garden, a good rotation to use would be wheat, clover, sweet corn, peas, and beans followed by late-fall vegetables, tomatoes and then back to wheat. In the field, various rotations can be established if the basic rule of thumb of wheat followed by a legume followed by field corn is kept in mind.
Problems and diseases of wheat
Avoiding wheat lodgingThe biggest problem wheat growers face is "lodging"the wheat growers term for what happens when high winds or heavy rains knock ripening wheat down and make it devilishly hard to harvest. Recently, varieties with stiffer stalks have been developed, and they have solved the problem to some extent. Making sure your soil has enough potassium will also help.
Common wheat problemsRusts, blights and smuts, once common wheat problems, have been largely overcome by breeding resistant varieties. "Take-all," a disease that can ruin an entire crop, is caused by a soil-borne organism. The disease seems tied to poor soil and rarely strikes crops in fertile ground. Using a good rotation can help solve the problem. If take-all hits your wheat crop, the entire crop, including straw, must be destroyed or the disease may spread.
When to harvest wheatAs it ripens, wheat turns dull yellow, and the kernels become brittle. Winter wheat ripens about June 1 in the South, and much later in the North. Winter wheat is harvested in Canada about August 1. A half-bucketful of grain taken to the nearest mill or grain elevator can be moisture-tested to determine if the crop is ready to harvest. Moisture content should be 12 to 13 percent.
How to harvest wheatThe best way to harvest more than a half-acre of wheat is by combine. The combine not only cuts the wheat, but it also. Threshes it. You might be able to get a neighbor to combine your crop for you if you don't have the equipment.
In the garden, you can harvest by hand with a scythe and if you can find a scythe with a grain cradle, so much the better. If you must thresh by hand, cut the wheat when it is still slightly green. The stalks should be yellow with green shot through them. Cut a two-foot swath, swinging the scythe with a natural, easy rhythm, and letting the blade swing against the stalks at a 45 degree angle. Take your time! You'll learn how to do it, especially if you have a large crop of wheat for harvesting and preservation.
Threshing wheatMature Wheat must be bunched for threshing. Use baler twine, and tie the wheat in bundles about eight inches in diameter. Shock these in the --field or take them to the barn to dry. The grain will ripen in about two weeks, and can then be threshed.
To thresh your wheat, lay a large, clean clothan old sheet works wellon a hard surface. Lay a bundle of wheat on the cloth and beat it with a plastic baseball bat, a length of broom handle, a broken tool handle, or another appropriate device. The grain will shatter quite easily. What's left in the stalk can be fed to the chickens.
The grain must be cleaned further to get out bits of chaff and hulls. This can be done by pouring it from one bucket to another (allow a three- to four-foot drop) in front of a fan or in a stiff breeze. A seed cleaner, bought new or secondhand, can be used, but wheat can be ground into flour for table use without being perfectly cleaned of chaff. The extra chaff improves the fiber content of the flour.
Arresting insect activitySome insect larvae and eggs are often already present in the grain, so wheat storage is a problem. Weevils can be killed by heating the grain to 140°F. (60°C.) for half an hour. Insect activity can also be arrested by grain storage below 40°F. (4.44°C.), so if you don't have much wheat, it can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.
Bin storageFor bin storage, begin by cleaning the bin well. Rat holes should be covered with tin nailed securely with roofing nails. Dust the bin with diatomaceous earth and treat the wheat by thoroughly mixing in diatomaceous earth at the rate of one cup to 25 pounds of wheat. Mix thoroughly. Small amounts of wheat can be stored in steel drums covered with tin or wood covers.
Bunch storageWheat that is to be used as chicken feed can be stored in the bunch, although it is more vulnerable to rodent and weevil attacks. One solution is to feed your entire crop from harvest time until the corn is ready, thereby eliminating all wheat storage problems.
Grinding wheatFresh Wheat is a versatile grain in the kitchen. You can grind grain into flour in the blender or use a mill. Grind the grain once a week, or when you need it. Wheat berries can be sprouted, coarsely ground or eaten raw as a hot or cold cereal. Any good natural foods cookbook will have many good recipes for using wheat.
Corn is more fattening than wheat, so you'll have to feed more wheat to animals to get a comparable weight gain, but animals prefer whole wheat to whole oats in their grain ration. Wheat may also be ground finely and used as a starter feed for chicks.
Raw wheat can be ground in the blender for use as a breakfast cereal, toasted for a snack or milled to a finer flour for use in baked goods.
Types and varietiesThere are five commercially important wheats grown in the United States today.
Hard red winter wheat and hard red spring wheatThese are grown mostly west of the Mississippi and are used commercially for bread baking.
Soft red winter wheatSoft red winter wheat is less tolerant of extremely low temperatures and requires more moisture than does hard red winter wheat. Both soft and hard red winter wheat are sown in the fall, make some growth and then lie dormant until spring. Soft red is grown in more humid regions of the country, from the Mississippi east, and in some places in the Pacific Northwest. It is used commercially primarily for making pastries.
Durum wheatDurum wheat is grown mostly in North Dakota and surrounding states. It is more drought resistant than any other type, and its primary commercial use is for spaghetti and macaroni products.
White wheat, grown in the Pacific Northwest and sometimes in the Northeast, is used commercially for bread. You should plant the kind of wheat most suited to your area. Ask neighboring farmers what they plant, or check with your county agent. You'll find that soft wheat makes good bread when used at home.
Hybrid Wheat seed
Many varieties of wheat are available to choose from, but since cereal grains are harder to hybridize than corn you'll have a choice of only a few hybrids, and they will be expensive.