Harvest Arts for Small-Scale Growers

In this article you will learn the basics of how and when to harvest small-wheat crops based on what the crops are for.

| June 2018

  • wheat
    Decide which tool will work best for you at harvest time based on your preferences and needs.
    Photo by Pixabay/Candiix
  • ancient-wheat
    “Harvest Arts for Small-Scale Growers” by Eli Rogosa, takes a closer look at the culture, biodiversity, resilience, and cuisine of ancient wheat.
    Courtesy of Chelsea Green

  • wheat
  • ancient-wheat

Restoring Heritage Grains: The Culture, Biodiversity, Resilience, and Cuisine of Ancient   (Chelsea Green, 2016) by Eli Rogosa, explores ancient wheat and how it is used today. Find out why it is important to restore this ancient wheat and the advantages it can provide. Learn of the different types of grains found around the world that make up this collection of grains. Find this excerpt in Chapter 3, “Landrace Grains Husbandry.”

When shall we harvest wheat? Deciding when to harvest and how to handle the grain after harvest are critical. Harvest time depends on whether your end use is for flour or for seed saving. The big picture is more important than knowing average harvest dates for a specific area. While we can draw charts with footnotes to determine when the crop should be harvested, it is more effective to understand how to determine when the crop is mature and base your decision of when to harvest on combined factors that include end use, harvest weather, equipment availability, drying capacity, and available storage facilities.

Harvesting for Flour

For flour, cut the grain about two weeks before it is fully ripe. At this stage, the grain will weigh most, giving the largest proportion of flour and the least bran. If the crop is left uncut, a thicker bran will form and a portion of the starch of the grain will change into woodlike fiber. The quality of flour is decreased and the weight of bran increased.

When the straw immediately under the head of grain turns from a greenish to an orange hue 4 or 5 inches in length, it is time to cut the grain for flour. The kernels have passed out of the milky state but can be easily crushed between the thumbnails. At this time, some of the leaves on the lower portion of the stem may be dry and brown, but still, the upper stem remains vigorous for a few days. Do not delay the harvest. Harvesting wheat while it is still slightly green and drying in the barn or stooking outdoors to dry-cure the grains produces the highest-quality wheat flour.

After wheat begins to dry in the field, rain will decrease its quality and test weight, causing fusarium and sprouting damage. Quality decreases daily if wheat stays in the field after maturity. The wheat will have the highest test weight and best grain quality if it is immediately harvested after it is mature and dry. If wheat stands in the field after maturity and is rewetted by rain or heavy dew, the grain shrivels, test weight is reduced, sprouting can occur, and field loss is increased.

Harvesting for Seed

If you are harvesting for seed to replant, allow the plant to reach full maturity before cutting. At full maturity the grain has received the full life force from the stalk and will have a higher germination rate as long as there is not sprouting or moisture damage. Harvest time depends on the weather. A damp, cool spring will give a late harvest, whereas a warm, dry spring will ripen the wheat up to a month sooner.


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