Growing your own wheat on a small homestead is a hands-on way to work toward your own self-sufficiency and to ensure that what you are eating is organic and local.
Growing Your Own Wheat
Raising your own crops is the surest way to know where your food comes from, to take an active part in sustaining your family and to reduce your ecological footprint. If you have been gardening for some time, you may be considering taking on the challenge of growing wheat on your small homestead.
Wheat is an excellent high-volume crop, even when grown on a small scale. You can get as much as 50 pounds of grain from an area as small as 100 square feet. Wheat requires little maintenance during the growing season, which is great for someone who is worried about taking on too much at once. Growing wheat yourself is an ideal way to increase the amount of locally grown food that your family eats.
Choosing Your Wheat
Wheat can first be divided into spring and winter wheat, and then into hard, soft and durum. Hard wheat is high in gluten, a protein which makes it better for breads. Soft wheat is lower in gluten, and is best for cakes and pastries. Durum is used mostly in pasta.
There are many varieties available within those types. Contact your local extension service to find out which will grow best in your local climate.
Sowing the Seeds
The first step in growing wheat is to prepare the area where you would like to plant. The area should be free of weeds and rocks. You will want to pick an area that is in full sunlight and amend the soil with a natural fertilizer such as manure.
Winter wheat should be planted in the fall six to eight weeks before you expect the first freeze. Spring wheat should be planted as soon as the soil can be worked.
In a small plot, you can plant by hand, broadcasting seeds with a turn of your wrist. For larger areas, you can use mechanical seed broadcasters. Mechanical broadcasters also allow for more even distribution. Make sure that you plant lightly if you live in an area that is dry, so that the wheat gets enough water while it grows.
After you have spread the seed, you will want to cover it with approximately two to two and a half inches of soil. This can be accomplished using a rake or rototiller.
Tending Your Crop
When growing spring wheat, the wheat should only need watering a few times during the hottest part of the growing season. Winter wheat just needs to be watered during planting.
If the wheat looks parched or dry, you will want to give it additional water, but, wheat likes dry climates best.
To keep pests away, place plastic streamers throughout the field. The noise disturbs the animals that might otherwise snack on your crop.
As the stalks and heads of your wheat turn yellow, begin checking them to see if they are ready to harvest. When the kernels are hard, and break when crushed, they are ready to be harvested.
If your plot is small enough, you can harvest the wheat just by snipping it with garden shears. In a larger plot, however, you will want to use a scythe or even a tractor.
After you harvest, you will need to bind the grain into sheaves and allow it to cure. Curing ensures that the last of the moisture is gone from the grains so it will not rot during storage.
Threshing and Winnowing
Before you can use your wheat, you will have to remove the straw and chaff.
The first step is threshing. This can be accomplished through flailing, where you strike the stalks with a heavy wooden block on a chain to knock the straw away from the heads. You can also thresh more efficiently using a threshing can.
Winnowing can be accomplished using a fan to blow away the chaff while you pass the grain from one container to another.
Storing and Using Your Harvest
Make sure that you store your wheat in a dry place where it is protected from temperature extremes. Metal, glass, or heavy plastic containers can help keep pests out of your wheat.
Your wheat can be used in a variety of ways:
- Cook whole wheat berries to use in recipes. Wheat berries are excellent in chili.
- Crack to use in dishes like tabouli.
- Grind into flour to make bread.
Those are just a few ideas to get you started. Once you begin, growing wheat on a small homestead is a great way to add variety and local nourishment to your famliy's diet.
Mother Earth News: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/Growing-Wheat-Types-Of-Wheat.aspx
Heirloom Organics Guide to Growing Wheat: http://www.heirloom-organics.com/guide/va/guidetogrowingwheat.html
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/henrikthorn/