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    How to Grow Your Own Wheat

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    How to Grow Your Own Wheat

    If you are on the road to self-sufficiency with growing some or most of your own food, you may want to consider devoting some of your garden space to wheat.

    Not only will you produce the main ingredient for breads, cakes, and pastas, but you will avoid the commercially produced scraped, peeled, and bleached varieties commonly sold in the supermarket.

    Growing your own wheat is easier than it may sound. Even if you have a small space, you can see big results. For example, if you plant six pounds of wheat in a garden that is 20 feet by 50 feet, you should be able to harvest about 50 pounds of grain.

    This article offers a beginner's overview of the wheat-growing process. We've included resources to help guide you along the way.

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    Different Wheat Types

    First, the only way to grow wheat is by seed. But, if you search your local farm store or seed catalogs, you'll find that there are several different varieties and types. An essential first step is to find out what kind of wheat grows best in your area. Check with your local university extension service for their recommendations.

    Winter wheat is planted in the fall about six weeks before the first frost and harvested from mid-May in southern states to late July in northern states. The roots will overwinter and start growing again in spring.  

    Spring wheat is planted in the early spring and is ready to harvest in the fall. It can tolerate drier and hotter weather than winter wheat, but it tends to have a smaller yield.

    Hard wheat varieties have a high gluten content and are good for baking bread. Soft wheat varieties have a lower gluten content and are used for pastries, biscuits, and crackers. Other wheat varieties include durum, which is often used for pasta, and einkorn wheat, which has a distinctive nutty taste.

    Holding Wheat Berries in Wheat Field

    Planting Wheat

    Wheat grows best in loamy, well-drained soil that has full sun exposure. The best soil pH level is 6 to 7, with a target of 6.4. Most wheat growers plant their seeds in the ground, but you can have small-scale success in large containers or raised beds.

    Till the soil to a depth of six inches in a sunny area of your garden. If necessary, work in compost as you till the soil. Your next step is to broadcast the seeds either by hand or with a crank seeder. Then rake the ground to work the seeds into the top two inches.

    To help control weeds and conserve moisture, spread several inches of loose straw mulch over the planted area.

    Germination usually takes about five days. As they grow, your seedlings will begin to develop stems and leaves. You may notice several stems—called tillers—coming from one seedling. Each tiller can grow into a separate wheat plant.  

    You'll next see joints or nodes that indicate the location of the stems. Soon, leaves will lengthen and begin to curl. The head will emerge from the sheath of the last leaf and will start the pollination process. Finally, the grains will start to develop and then ripen for harvest.

    Harvesting Grain

    A color change accompanies the ripening process. You'll notice the stalks change from green to yellow or light brown. The heads also will begin to tip downward due to the weight of the grain.

    You can test for ripeness by picking out a few grains from one of the heads and tasting them. If the grains are soft with a dough-like consistency, they are not ready. Try again in a couple of days. When the grains are firm and crunchy, it is time to harvest.

    If you have a small plot, you can collect the heads by snipping them off the stems. You also could use a sickle to cut small amounts of grain.

    If you have a large garden, you can use a scythe to cut the heads and a cradle to deposit them in neat stacks with all the heads pointed in the same direction.

    Binding. The next step is to bind the grain into sheaves of about 12 to 14 inches in circumference. You can wrap the sheaves with twine or even by twisting some of the wheat stems around them.

    Curing. Stack the sheaves upright in a dry, well-ventilated location for about two weeks. Although farmers left their sheaves out in their fields to dry for centuries, it's best to bring them under cover to protect them from moisture, insects, and animals.

    You can let them dry on the floor of a dry barn or garage or hang them from the ceiling of an outbuilding or even a covered porch. The grain is cured when it is hard to the touch, and you can dent it with your fingernail or bite into it.

    Threshing and winnowing. Threshing is the process of separating the straw and the chaff. Winnowing is the process of separating quality grains from the chaff. There are several methods for doing these steps on a small scale.

    Here are a few videos to watch to help you figure out which method works for you:

    Sifting Wheat Grains with Sieve

    Storing Wheat

    As with many foods, heat, light, moisture, and pests are the enemies of your stored wheat.

    Your best bet is to store wheat in food-grade Mylar bags placed inside #10 cans or five-gallon buckets with lids. Glass jars are another option.

    Store these containers off the floor in a cool, dry location away from windows or other light or heat sources. Food-grade moisture-absorbing packages can be helpful if you live in a humid environment.

    Freezing or heat-treating the grain before storage can help eliminate any insect eggs or larvae that may be hiding in the grain.

    This video describes long-term grain storage in buckets. This article goes through all the steps of growing wheat, including storage tips.

    Home-Grown Wheat Tips

    Here are some tips we've gathered for growing your own wheat.

    1. Timing is Everything

    If you plant your winter wheat too late, the roots may not develop enough to survive harsh winter weather. In the same way, spring wheat planted too late in the season may be impacted by summer heat.

    2. Wheat Likes Sunny, Dry Conditions

    Seek out a high and dry location for your wheat garden and amend the soil so that it drains well. Check for a spot that gets maximum sun exposure.

    3. Go Easy On Nitrogen

    Avoid using nitrogen-heavy fertilizers on your wheat crop. Another idea is to plant companion rows of nitrogen-loving plants such as spinach and lettuce.

    4. Look Out for Aphids

    If the leaves are curling or have yellow or white streaks, you may have an aphid problem. You can hose them off, or you can try some of the natural solutions in this article.

    5. Go Easy On The Water

    Wheat thrives in dry conditions. Your young plants need consistent watering, but mature wheat plants require less.  

    How much wheat do you need for a loaf of bread? An area of about 10 square feet will produce roughly a pound of grain. A pound of wheat can make a pound of flour. You can make a small loaf of bread can with four cups of flour. So, a garden plot that is the size of your dining room table can have a yield large enough for a loaf of bread.

    If you can devote 1,000 square feet of your property to wheat, you should be able to harvest enough to grow a bushel of wheat. A bushel equals 60 pounds of grain, and that amount is enough to bake 90 loaves of bread.

    Are you ready to grow your own wheat? Here are a few more resources we recommend you check out before getting started.

    When it comes to home gardening, vegetables and fruits tend to get all the attention. Perhaps you have thought that growing wheat wasn't doable or worth it on a small scale. It definitely is. Or that you needed a lot of special equipment. You don't.

    Wheat is actually much easier to grow than many fruits and veggies, yet we tend to buy our flour at the grocery store. There is a bit of specialized knowledge needed to grow grains, but that is true for many of the crops you already are growing. And wheat works well alongside or interplanted with many other plants. As a side note, it also takes on the appealing look of ornamental grass in your garden.

    Maybe it's time to adjust your garden plans to include wheat. I can almost smell that home-grown, home-baked bread now. Can't you?

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