More on wheat

The winter wheat is harvested, and the spring wheat is nearly so. The differences between them are so great I am just fascinated – it’s like that time some years ago when I realized that tomatoes were not boring red round bland mushy things but had flavors and colors and complexity. The differences between these two wheats are as big as between Brandywine and Green Grape! Well, maybe not, but that’s the idea.

Since on closer look both wheats have awns, I’ve been calling the shorter many tillered one “East” and the taller, greener one “West”. The East was ready first,
and threshed out (with great difficulty, a lot of straw to the amount of grain) to about 4 or so pounds, but the hulls are staying on the grains, so it’s likely to go to the animals. The West wheat was/is MUCH easier to thresh; I expect yields will be similar, but we took a big clump for decorative purposes.

Side note: I think the spring wheat is much prettier for display than the West wheat. The spring wheat has a nice light tan color and is nice and fat, while West wheat has darker or blueish tones. The grain head pattern is similar for the spring wheat and the West wheat, with sticking-out awns instead of ones that lay flat; but besides color, the Spring has shorter stalks, and the heads are a fatter. Haven’t counted the tillers.

Threshing hasn’t become easier; the rubber trug on the porch, and pounding with a 2×4, sift out the straw, wind-winnow the grain, handpick the bits of stem. With the East wheat I did a lot of hand twisting and folding, but the West wheat’s awns are too stiff for that, it hurts.

Back to awns; when I grew these wheats out the first time 2-3 years ago, I do remember one of them not having awns. So what happened? I can’t believe they cross-pollinated, since each type has been very consistent within the patch. Perhaps a mislabeled jar? I must grow test plots of the originals too!

I’ve got another grain, presumably one I planted, growing in the circle beds, but I don’t know what it is – maybe barley? It looks like something I planted, but I don’t remember anything. It has truely naked seeds, not like the wheat that has an easily broken off covering. It could also be kamut, or even rye…

And the oats were harvested and threshed by rubbing in my hands, some work but no stabbing awns… came out pretty clean. It’s a long way from dry, though.

On other notes, garlic is all harvested, cabbages are harvested, a new one for us, what fun! and the first tomatoes have ripened (polar baby, of course). Beet seed is ready for harvest, and there could be enough basil for pesto. I’m still fighting the squash bugs and cucumber beetles, but the green beans are already ahead of us. The chickens in the orchard are getting larger by the day, and the freezers are still full so we won’t have anyplace to put them. Two more chicks hatched out, and unlike the first three these are very friendly and come running when they see us, which adds greatly to their cuteness factor. The dog had foxtail in her paw, one surgery at the vet, two weeks of swollen paw, another surgery by Lisa to remove the last foxtail, and she’s finally better and can get the skunk-smell-removal shampoo that’s been waiting for her.


I usually grow a little plot of wheat. You can get 10# of wheat berries from a 5×20 plot, it’s not enough to live on, but that is a few loaves of bread, and it’s quite fulfilling. I also try different kinds of wheat (winter wheat, spring wheat, kamut, stone age, etc.) and different ways of growing it (plug trays, broadcast).

The kinds I grow are fairly easy to tresh and winnow, although it’s hard to get all the bits of stem out of the grain. I suppose it adds fiber… We use an electric grain mill to make flour and from that bake bread. It’s perfectly nice bread, perhaps a bit dark and heavy, even using 100% home grown wheat. But we like dark interesting breads.

tallwheatTall, non-awned wheat

I believe it is SS 791 from Bountiful Gardens. This from saved seed that I grew out from 2005-2006 (I think). It germinated slower than the other.

shortwheatAnd this is the shorter, awned wheat. This, I believe, Hard Red Winter from Bountiful Gardens. (I could have these backwards).
You can see a little of the tall wheat to the left.

The last time I grew these varieties, I don’t remember a difference in the plots, but the non-awned was a little easier to thresh, the grains were a little larger, but the yield was a little less than the awned.

This year, the difference is dramatic. Both were planted in the same bed, same number of plants (transplanted from 244-plug trays), at the same time with the same spacing, and treated the same (i.e. ignored). The awned wheat is been yellow and unhappy, while the non-awned grows tall and green. I counted tillers (stalks with seed heads) on a particularly healthy looking plant of each; the non-awned one had about 20 tillers, while the awned one had almost 80! If I’d heavily fertilized the awned wheat, it could have really gone to town with production.

I think this is the heart of the “green revolution”, both the good and the bad. Yes, the right variety when treated optimally will give you a much better yield. But equally, if you can’t give it all the fertilizer it craves and demands, perhaps the old traditional varieties have a use. It’s too soon to see how they will yield.

And I would never have though two types of winter wheat would be so different. I wonder if they taste different?