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When should I harvest wheat?

Green wheat headHow do you know when your wheat is ripe?  First, let's start with the technical answer.

If you grew winter wheat, in late spring the heads will bulk up and turn beautiful, then the plant will start to turn brown.  At that point, squeeze a seed between your thumb and forefinger to test it once or twice a week.  At first, the wheat seeds will exude a milky substance just like sweet corn does when it's ripe, but then the punctured seeds will stop oozing (although they will still dent under your thumbnail.)

You can start harvesting as soon as the wheat seeds pass the milk stage, although the grains will need to dry up and harden a bit before they're ready to eat.  It's best to go ahead and harvest on the early side since if you wait too long, the heads will "shatter", meaning that the grains will fall onto the ground.

Chickens in ripe wheatNow for the fun way to tell if your wheat is ready to harvest --- that overlooked part of your garden will suddenly become a magnet for animal life.  First, it was just a cardinal who took to perching on the gate of the wheat-filled chicken pasture, but then our second round of chicks decided it was worth leaving the ragweed forest to see what all the fuss was about.  When I found six chickens knocking down the wheat stalks, I knew it was time to pull the grain out of there.

As for how to harvest the wheat --- we're still crossing that bridge.  Stay tuned for a later post.

Our chicken waterer kept our thirsty chicks happy after a long, hard day of stealing my grain.


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I was reading yet another article from a major media outlet about the predicted rising costs of food, and how with climate change we're going to actually be in a lot of trouble just growing the food let alone finding ways to pay for it.

(big intro to related question)...

Is it worth the time / money to grow wheat? You were talking about carbohydrate sources back in the week about the US Food Pie Chart. What are the best plants for a city person to grow to get carbohydrates? Veggie gardens are making a comeback but I wonder about rice, potatoes, wheat, etc -- viable for the city?

Comment by J Tue Jun 21 19:55:36 2011

If you play all of your cards right, Irish potatoes (white potatoes) will give you the most calories per acre (17.8 million vs. 6.4 million for wheat and 12.3 million for field corn.) In my own trials, I've actually gotten even more calories from certain carrot, grain amaranth, and sweet potato beds than from my potatoes since we grow a variety of potato that is delicious but not quite as high yielding.

In general, I'd say that grains are a fun experiment, but that if you're really serious about growing your carbs, stick to the simplest choices that don't need special threshing, winnowing, etc. If you already grow vegetables, potatoes aren't very hard to learn to grow, while grain is a whole different ballpark. But try several of the high carb vegetables your first year to figure out which ones suit your climate and soil --- you might have better luck with sweet potatoes than white potatoes like we did.

Comment by anna Tue Jun 21 20:44:33 2011
An important factor in considering yield is storage ability. Wheat or corn may store easier and longer than potatoes, for example.
Comment by Errol Wed Jun 22 06:06:04 2011
That's an excellent point. I was thinking about that after making my comment. Granted, if you diversify enough, storage time might not be as important --- you can have new potatoes in June along with carrots, and by the time they're starting to go bad, you've got sweet potatoes and winter squash. On the other hand, if you don't have the time to mess with different storage conditions, probably field corn is your best bet for high yielding, easy to grow, long storage life carbohydrate.
Comment by anna Wed Jun 22 08:12:33 2011