Wheat is the grain crop most often used to make flour. While normally grown commercially, most any home gardener can have a small wheat patch of his or her own. In fact, wheat is not hard to care for and while harvesting and grinding it into flour can be a chore, it’s not all that difficult. For a fun addition to your garden, here’s how to grow wheat.
Depending on where you’re growing, you’ll choose between winter wheat and spring wheat. Spring wheat is best for colder growing zones, while winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the winter in more moderate climates. For growing zones 3 and colder, try spring wheat and winter wheat for all warmer zones. You will also choose between hard wheat (great for bread), soft wheat (great for pastries) and durum wheat (great for pasta).
WHEN TO GROW
In the fall, plant wheat 3-6 weeks before the first expected frost for a late spring to mid summer harvest. Wheat needs time for good root development to overwinter well, but should not be planted too early or it will smother itself in the spring.
In the spring, plant wheat as soon as the ground can be worked and plan to harvest it in the fall. Spring wheat can take more than 150 days to harvest.
WHERE TO GROW
Wheat grows best in areas with a cool, moist planting season followed by a long, dry ripening period. Choose a patch in your garden that gets lots of direct sunlight, at least 6 hours per day, though more is even better. The soil should be well worked and drain easily. A 20ft by 50ft patch of garden can yield about 50 pounds of wheat (to 6 pounds of seed).
While wheat will grow fine in a container it is not practical. In order to produce a significant yield you would need dozens of containers.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING WHEAT
Wheat grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Soil pH should be around 6.4. For spring wheat, it’s best to prepare the soil and garden bed the previous fall.
Hand broadcast seeds over your prepared growing patch. You don’t need to be precise, but aim to get one seed every square inch or so. Once all seeds are spread, lightly rake over the soil to cover them all (otherwise, the birds will clean them out). Cover winter wheat seeds to a depth of about 2 inches and spring wheat to about 1.5 inches. Roll the bed to ensure great soil, seed contact. Water and let nature take care of the rest. Seeds should germinate in 4-5 days.
WATERING & CARE
Wheat does not need much water or care for the majority of the growing season. Give it a good soaking a couple of times per month during very dry weather, but otherwise the rain should be sufficient.
Weeding should not be necessary as wheat grows thick and tall.
Give your wheat patch a good feeding a couple times during the growing season for great results. A compost tea or all-purpose, organic fertilizer should work well.
Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, particularly with new wheat crops. Try a beer trap. If you have free-range chickens, they are great for getting rid of slugs. Most pests should only be a problem when the wheat is very young.
Birds can also eat the wheat kernels before they are ready for harvest. Noise traps, like flapping plastic bags help keep them at bay, but you may need netting if problems persist.
Harvest wheat before it completely ripens. Ripe wheat kernels fall of the stalk easily, leading to major loss. Test ripeness once the heads turn yellow to brown and begin to tip toward the earth. You should still be able to dent the kernels with your fingernail when they are ready. Cut off the seed heads and leave to dry in a well ventilated place, indoors if possible.
Once completely dry, knock all of the seeds out of their hulls. This is called threshing and there are many different methods. Try bundling the hulls up in a sheet and beating it until they are all loose. You can also step on the wheat to help crush them loose.
Hand sift and use a fan to blow away all of the extra debris, leaving behind only the grain. This is called winnowing. What’s left are called whole wheat kernels or sometimes, “wheat berries.”
Store kernels in a dark, airtight container. Grind them into flour when needed. Flour can be stored for several months as well.
You should be able to harvest up to 10 bushels of wheat per quarter acre crop.