Wheat

For long-time fanatics of bread, like myself, there is much to be said about the glorious, golden grass that yields our favorite staple: flour.  Pastries, pasta, pancakes, waffles, pizza crusts, even gravy are all testaments to the glory of flour, so wheat has a place deep in the hearts of millions of people the world around.

Also, with wheat prices rising due to droughts in Australia and China, and more and more fields being turned over to meat production, it’s being called into question weather the price of lovely starchy staples will soon be soaring.  Not to mention, it’s a great way of knowing what’s going into your bread.

So it’s a delight for someone like me to learn that growing your own wheat, harvesting, and grinding it are not complicated and out of reach.  Growing is pretty straight forward and harvesting as easy as string, a pillow case, and some wind.  Grinding is affordable in hand-crank form, available online for roughly $60 (Back to Basics brand).

So what stops us?  Well, the desire to, of course, but if you didn’t want to you probably wouldn’t be reading this seriously, so I’ll assume you’re as crazy as I am.

A year’s worth of flour to regularly bake bread is 100 sq yards (300 sq feet) per person, for a whole family that can get pretty suffocating and space can be incredibly short.  However, for the kicks of saying you ‘made this bread yourself from your own flour’ every once in awhile it’s worth a sizable patch of garden space.  Also, I was surprised to discover how little an inconvenience that would actually be in my own backyard.  Go on, take a trip back there and give it a measure.  Bonus for those in the south: due to your warmer climate, southerners can often reap the benefits of harvesting two crops in a season and will therefore only need half the space to get the same amount of wheat.

200 seeds per square yard will do you right, using seeds from the ‘Triticum aestivum’ family if you mean to use the wheat for edibles.  Varieties include ‘Claire’ and ‘Maris Huntsman.’

To grow, clear and rake the earth where you intend to cultivate your wheat, planting in the early spring (March-April.)  Under-planting with clover will leave no space for weeds to grow, will be an excellent source if you keep bees, will help retain moisture, and are preferred to be eaten by rabbits even over carrots.  Harvest comes in the fall (August-September), and for those southerners I mentioned, another crop can be harvested in the April following.

Keep the wheat watered but not wet.  The benefit of growing such a small crop, as opposed to mass production, is that the risk of disease and pests are much lower.  It’s also easier to catch the trouble sooner and be dealt with in a healthy, organic way rather than chemicals.

You’ll know the wheat is ready to harvest after it has turned golden and the grains are hard when you try to bite into them, if soft it still needs a few more days.  While a scythe is the traditional way to harvest, one source points out that it’s easier for a backyard outfit to tie the wheat into bundles: first below the heads and second half a foot above the ground.  An electric hedge cutter can then be employed to cut the bundles free, leaving two to three inches of stubble.  To get your grains, pull a pillowcase (or other cloth bag) over the bundled heads of wheat.  Holding firmly to the stalks (if using a pillow case, make sure that it is closed tight around the bundle) and beat the living hell out of it against a very hard surface, such as a brick wall or boulder.

To get the grains one must ‘winnow’.  There are one- and two-person methods.  With two of you you can get more of the grain winnowed at once, using a sheet held between you and gently tossing the grains and chaff on a breezy day, or with a fan set on low, to blow away the lightweight chaff, leaving the heavy grains behind on the sheet.  With one person you can use a large, flat basket, described elsewhere as ‘like one used for winnowing rice’, I gather that it’s flat and broad.  Toss it up and catch it in the basket, effectively doing the two-person job in smaller batches.

Storage is a snap, since the grains will essentially last forever.  Okay, not forever, but for years, certainly.  Use an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place set away from strong-smelling foods (as it can absorb them.)  If you want to use some of the grains to grow wheat next year, make sure to set it aside now so you don’t accidentally grind it in pursuit of some scrumptious bread or another.

When it comes time for flour, go ahead and use a mill, as mentioned, or even a coffee grinder.  I must warn, though, depending on the type of coffee grinder, it would create an unreliable texture.  Also, if you want your coffee (or wheat) to taste good, I would not use the same grinder for both.  If using a nice-quality coffee grinder for wheat, please dedicate it solely to the grinding of flour.

Happy baking!

 

I have yet to grow wheat myself, when I do I'll add my own bits of wisdom to the above.

I have yet to grow wheat myself, when I do I'll add my own wisdom to the above.

 

 

Sources:

Gallimaufree

BBC News

Image courtesy of Buyteart

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1 Comment

  1. August 25, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    I have to tell you, I check in every week to see if you’ve posted. What I’m really looking forward to, is to see The Status read: Successful, I’ve done it and I know it works. 😉 That will be quite the feeling of satisfaction for you, I”m sure.

    Love love.


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