Plant some bread for a summer garden experiment
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
This spring, consider planting some bread. Not loaves to pick from branches, of course, but wheat to harvest, then grind into flour for bread.
A hundred bushels per acre is a good crop of wheat. You can probably match that yield in your garden because you can beef up your soil more easily than a 5,000-acre wheat field. And you can harvest more carefully, so that little grain is lost.
Don't plant an acre of wheat, but only enough for a loaf or two of bread. That hundred bushels per acre translates to about a third of a cup per square foot. Ground up in a coffee grinder, that third of a cup of grain becomes about a half-cup of flour, so 6 square feet of land should produce the three cups of flour needed for a loaf of bread.
Your growing techniques will be primitive by today's wheat-growing standards. Sprinkle a tablespoon of seeds over 6 square feet, water and then blanket the ground with a couple of inches of compost. Wheat germinates within three or four days in cool soil.
Harvest when the heads start drying to a golden brown color. Cut the stalks down, then beat the seeds out in a cloth bag. Winnowing in a breeze will separate the wheat from the chaff.
In case of poor yields, you have two ready excuses. First of all, you are planting wheat in spring. But best wheat yields are obtained where wheat is grown as a winter crop. Winter wheat is sown in late summer, grows until put to sleep by winter cold, then reawakens in early spring to ripen by late spring.
Your second excuse comes with your choice of variety, or rather lack of choice. The easiest place for you to get wheat seed is to buy some wheat berries at the local health food store. But there are many varieties of wheat -- not surprising for a plant that was cultivated in the Nile valley 9,000 years ago -- differing in both adaptation and use. The variety you plant is unlikely the one best suited for your garden. And if it happens to be a winter wheat variety, seed heads won't even form until the plants go through winter.
Growing bread is still worth a try. It's a fun experiment, and wheat improves the soil even if you harvest nothing. So plant and hope for an amber wave of grain in your garden by summer's end.