Growing Wheat of Your Own

Don't assume growing wheat is an activity best suited to the vast plains of Kansas and Nebraska. Planting a few pounds of seeds in your garden can yield eight times as much edible grain.


| February/March 2010



growing wheat

When you plant your garden, consider going beyond vegetables. Growing wheat is easier than you might think.

PHOTO: ROSALIND CREASY

If you’re deep into gardening and self-sufficiency, sooner or later you’ll want to try growing wheat. Among other benefits, it allows you to get away from the commercial process that grows a perfectly good grain, then scrapes off the bran, peels out the germ, bleaches the flour, and sells all those things back to you separately.

If you try, you will discover wheat is easy to grow almost anywhere in the United States, even as a wide-row crop in your garden. One gardener in Vermont attests to having planted 30 pounds of winter wheat on one-eighth of an acre and harvesting 250 pounds of grain in July. On a somewhat smaller scale, even if you have a front yard that’s 20 feet by 50 feet, you could plant 6 pounds of wheat and harvest nearly 50 pounds of grain.

Before you enthusiastically plan to put in enough wheat to make all your bread for the next year, start with a small trial area the first year. This test run will allow you to learn how the grain behaves, what its cultivation problems are, how long it takes you to handle it, how it’s affected by varying climate conditions, and more.

Different Types of Wheat

After you’ve decided how much wheat to plant, you’ll need to decide which type to plant. It’s easy to get confused about types of wheat. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested from mid-May in the South to late July in the North. Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Both spring and winter wheat are further divided into soft wheat (lacking a high gluten content and used primarily for pastries and crackers), hard wheat (with a high gluten content and used for breads), and durum wheat (used for pasta). The variety you select will depend on where you live. Check with your local cooperative extension agent to learn which varieties are best for your region. (To find sources for small quantities of wheat seeds, try our Seed and Plant Finder, or check with your local farm stores.)

Planting Wheat

Plant winter wheat in fall to allow for six to eight weeks of growth before the soil freezes. This allows time for good root development. If the wheat is planted too early, it may smother itself the following spring and it could be vulnerable to some late-summer insects that won’t be an issue in the cooler fall weather. If winter wheat is planted too late, it will not overwinter well.

Spring wheat should be planted as early as the ground can be worked in spring. Do the initial plowing in the fall, then till and sow in the spring. To ensure an evenly distributed crop, figure out the amount of seed you’ll need, divide it into two piles, and broadcast one part in one direction, such as from east to west. Then broadcast the remainder from north to south. A cyclone crank seeder will do an even job, but broadcasting by hand is fine for a small plot. You also can plant it in rows like other crops.

brendastyronart
8/14/2017 2:46:58 PM

Where to get an electric. Grinder


sameth132
3/21/2014 7:08:37 AM

I live in central Florida near Tampa to be exact and I was wondering if I could even grow wheat here and if so how should I go about doing it.


danielle
11/29/2013 8:11:24 AM

My husband is interested in growing wheat and harvesting by hand and has asked for a scythe for Christmas. Can you recommend an "entry level" scythe for a left-hander? And do you suggest a cradle to accompany it? I just don't know where to start, what to choose, and how much to spend?


easternshoreboy
6/18/2013 9:16:31 PM

I just harvested winter wheat here on the eastern shore of virginia.  I plant about 2" deep - scatter then disc in with a small, garden tractor disc.  I also sometimes scater then rototill.  Earlier years, I planted too shallow - very poor yields.  My return is about 5 to 1.  Plant 3 lbs, get about 15 lbs of harvest.  This compares to about 30 to one for commercial growers (for non-irrigated they plant about 2 bushels per ace and yield about 50 to 60 bushels per acre).   I have used flailing into a large metal trash can with hand-sized bunches - this is real work but good exercise - no need to do it all at one time if you have a dry storage location fo rthe harvested wheat.  Flailing does require you to cut or pull the wheat stalks rather than cutting just the heads off.  Winnowing is the easiest part - just pour slowly from one container to the other in fron of a strong fan - the wheat berries fall down and the chaff blows away.  I use a grain attachment on my stand mixer that works great and produces very fine flour.


dean blissman
9/11/2012 7:50:33 PM

I went to Agway in Greensburg, Pa. and bought hard red wheat. I planted it and followed all the directions in the article. When it came up it was lush and green but as time went on it did not look like the pictures. I dug up a sample and took it back to Agway but they said they did not know what it was (!?!) and suggested I take it to the Penn State Ag extention in the eastern part of town. They had to consult a book, "Weeds of the Eastern United States" and the best match they could come up with was Goose Grass. They recommended that I mow the entire planting using a catcher bag and destroy the cuttings. They said not to compost it as the seeds may not be killed and to rototill the entire area where it had been planted. I am very disappointed with this result and I wonder it anyone else has any thoughts about what went wrong? I will check back on this thread periodically.


the wooly owl
2/5/2012 5:33:33 PM

I live in Bracebridge Ontario and am serious about growing my own!! What types could you recommend for me in my climate zone? Should I do winter wheat or spring?


triple c farm
7/25/2011 2:30:51 PM

Ok, what about fertilizing the wheat? When, how much, what type of fertilizer? Anyone want to tackle these questions, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail. cpcarter07@gmail.com or cph0817@gmail.com. Thanks.


p l
3/1/2011 11:37:21 PM

I bought a 50 lb bag of wheat at the feed store that is meant to feed to animals and just threw it out in the yard where the chicken coop had been last after the chickens ate down all the grass. It grew up tall, green, luscious right away and my chickens and ducks ate it all when they went free range later. The goat also loved it. I plan to get another bag and spread the seed out where the pigs were last this year, a bigger area probably about the size of a good country garden. Or maybe it will be peas, I haven't decided yet. We are seriously low on green stuff in the house and the animals need forage, too. It is cold, so peas may be what I have to do first. I plan to pen in the potbelly pigs (I have 3) all the way down the fenceline on our acre property and then plant something there when they have ate everything down and move on, either for forage for them through winter, and/or food for us. I figured lentils, squash, corn, peas, beans are a good start- high in protien for them, and gives a crop for the humans as well, or has a lot of green stuff they can eat. Only, I am looking for a cheap, free, easy way to keep my goat and my chickens out of it. My goat plain jumps over hog panels and has NO respect for gardens WHATSOEVER. If it looks good, she eats it. This includes my hair if I sit still long enough! lol The chickens are a little better behaved. I have managed to put some of that plastic thick garden netting up and it kinda sorta keeps the chickens out.


cindy conner
3/2/2010 11:10:46 AM

I grow grain in my garden. The way I thresh wheat and rye is to lay a sheet on the ground below where I'll be working. I put a piece of plywood on the sheet, leaning it against the picnic table (or a saw horse). I hold the straw with the grain heads pointing down and beat the grain heads with a plastic baseball bat. It is much easier doing it that way than whacking it inside a garbage can. The grain falls onto the sheet. I gather the sheet up and empty the grain into a bucket or canning pot (any large container). I winnow away the chaff by setting up a fan (a box fan will do fine) and pouring the grain from one container down in front of the fan to another container on the ground. It is amazing how well that works. All this is shown in my video Cover Crops and Compost Crops IN Your Garden, which shows how to manage those crops in your garden using only hand tools. It is available from www.HomeplaceEarth.com.


lucinda_7
2/16/2010 12:41:30 AM

Hi Jeanna! When I plant my wheat, I plant it in rows. When it first comes up, it looks like a grassy weed that I have growing around. If it is in the row, I can tell it is the wheat and not the weedy imitator. I use a regular blender to grind it up. It really is not as good as a mill which I am thinking of buying. When I make bread, I mix my flour with whole wheat flour and it works well. If I only use my wheat, it is a little more textured that regular whole wheat flour - read gritty! I have a lot of trees so my garden on a north facing slope is shaded from the late afternoon sun. The wheat seems to grow just fine in 8 or so hours of sun. It might be OK as a tall landscaping plant because it is green, and when it is mature it is a lovely golden color. Deer have moved into my neighborhood in the last year and a half. They have not bothered the wheat or the oats - but I do use a motion sensor with a ultra high frequency that they are not supposed to like plus I regular spray several of those repellent sprays. The hull less oats are Avena nuda species. Oats normally have a really tight hull - and this particular species does not. The oat seed is easy to get - I do it the same as wheat. Give wheat a try. It just grows itself. It is fun and gives one a chance to have a little bit of garden bragging rights! So have fun!


ginamo
2/15/2010 9:05:46 AM

Lucinda- I was interested to see your post. Actually I have a pretty small garden, like 40' x 30', but I'm trying to add more small gardens around our yard so I can get a bigger variety of things growing. We have a big yard but lots of shade. Still, I would love to find a spot to try it. Of course I have more questions. Did you spread your wheat seed or plant in rows? Any trouble with deer or other critters? Uou say you planted oats? Tell me about that. What is involved in getting the oats ready to eat. And you said you make your flour in a blender? Just an ordinary blender? And, do you use a combination of this "whole wheat" and all purpose flour or just bake bread from only the flour you are making in your blender? Sorry for the questions. I am just really interested in all this. I would love to get a wheat grinder but am not sure where to even find local wheat although I live slap dab in the middle of Missouri where I know wheat is grown. But, I'm not sure how to get wheat from a farmer who is selling to grain elevators and doesn't usually sell locally for "family use". Thanks for all of the info on this! VERY INTERESTING SUBJECT! Jeanna


lucinda_7
2/13/2010 10:24:45 PM

I have grown wheat for the last two years on my 1/4 acre or so garden. Last year I added hull less oats. It is very gratifying to be able to serve up a loaf of bread and say, "I grew the wheat!" I get about 5 loaves of whole wheat bread from one bed of about 75 to 100 sq. ft. I cut my grains with scissors, let it dry, put it in a pillow case and then beat it to death with a baseball bat and wait for a nice delta breeze in the evening. I was a skeptic about winnowing, but it really works - when you pour the grain in a breeze, the chaff blows away and the grain falls in your basket/bucket/bowl. Several repetitions are needed. And I do make my flour in a blender, also my oat meal/flour and cornmeal. This is cool stuff to grow. I get my hard red Spring wheat seeds from Bountiful Gardens - a great place to get open pollinated seeds. This is a great use for one's sustainability - and you can eat only so much zucchini!


kevin_1
2/12/2010 9:47:13 AM

We buy a lot of bulk wheat and go through a couple hundred lbs a year. I am going to try a test planting of spring wheat this year to see how it does. One of the benefits would be that the left over straw could also be used for animal bedding. The one problem I've heard about is that "hard wheat" sown in the warmer climates, like where we are in Virginia, turns out to be "soft wheat" when harvested. I would like to hear some more about this, as soft wheat is just about useless for making bread except as a small percentage of the recipe.


ginamo
1/27/2010 11:44:35 AM

Has anyone actually done this on a small scale? I guess I can handle all of it but the actual part where I'm suppose to dump it from one container to the next in front of a fan to blow the sinnow away? I'm just not seeing how that works. Where do you do this? And the wheat lands back in your can or does it fly all over with the sinnow? I would like to hear another person's opinion of how this all works for a home gardener. Sounds like a fun project but I'm not sure how practical it is. Thanks.






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