The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Backyard wheat conclusions

Drying wheatThe majority of our wheat maxed out around knee-high and the heads were far smaller than they should have been.  I suspect that the main problem was planting too thickly because the wheat along the edge of the path where most of the plants got trampled and died was over twice as tall as average and had seed heads three times as long.  But I also should have left the chickens in that pasture longer after they ate up last summer's buckwheat so that they could fertilize the field a little more.  Live and learn.

Since so many of the stalks were puny, I knew shocks wouldn't have enough structural integrity to dry the wheat.  Instead, I tied clumps with baling twine (leftover from straw bales) and hung them up with the garlic under our "porch."  I might try to thresh a bit of the wheat when it's thoroughly dried, but at the moment I'm thinking that it will make a good treat for the chickens as is.  If I threw a handful of wheat on the stalk into the coop, the chickens could pick through to get the grain, then scratch the straw around to refresh their deep bedding.

Our chickens relish the fresh water from their chicken waterer on hot summer days.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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How much square footage did you devote to wheat, and how much did you get? I'm interested in growing some grains for my chickens as well, so I wonder if I have enough space.
Comment by Jessie@Jessie:Improved Wed Jun 22 09:24:55 2011
I was listening to NPR this morning and farmers from somewhere were complaining that due to decreased rain, and higher temps this year the wheat ripened too fast and was thus shorter and had smaller heads than normal. Do your sprinkler systems reach to the wheat?
Comment by rebecca Wed Jun 22 11:27:14 2011

Jessie --- Mark estimates our wheat area is about 600 square feet. We got about 16 big handfuls of wheat stalks, like the ones shown in the picture. I'm not sure how much wheat that will be, but it's also at the very low end of what you should expect since I gave it absolutely no care and made the mistakes I mentioned in the post.

You might be interested in reading some of my previous posts about grains including:

Grain varieties suitable to the backyard

How much space do I need to grow my own grains?

Growing grains for homemade livestock feed

Another thing to keep in mind is that chickens need variety in their grains. I've read that you shouldn't feed your chickens more than 15% of a combo of oats and barley, more than 30% wheat, or more than 25% peas. Too much of the same kind of grain can give your chickens diarrhea, and tannins in the peas make it hard for chickens to digest protein. That said, I haven't read anywhere about too much corn being bad for chickens (although it might be, and is pretty low protein.)

Which is probably more information than you want or need. I think that in your shoes, if I had a ten by ten (or even five by five) foot plot to devote to chicken feed, I'd plant sunflower seeds and/or field corn.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 22 12:55:50 2011
Rebecca --- Thanks so much for sharing that! I never even considered that the problem could be something that wasn't my fault since I'm such a beginner grain grower. :-) It's very true that we didn't water the wheat at all, and we have had crazy hot spells scattered throughout the spring and early summer. And it's also true that the healthy looking plants were not only along the pathway where they had more space, but also where the roof of the coop likely dripped water on them and the coop gave them a bit of shade. So maybe the weather was part or all of the problem!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 22 12:58:42 2011
I have been growing sunflowers for a couple years now for my laying hens, they love the special treat and it really cuts down on the store bought feed. I got the idea from you thanks. Im wondering if wheat berries bought in bulk would sprout. Ill try it.
Comment by Jennifer Hockenberry Wed Jun 22 14:54:52 2011
The trouble I'd see with planting wheat berries is that you don't know if they're spring wheat or winter wheat, so you won't know when to plant them. Your local feed store is a good location for finding grains that folks grow in your area (and a bit of local knowledge to boot.) Good luck!
Comment by anna Wed Jun 22 16:56:04 2011

This is from a friend of mine in Louisa VA. You may need to expand your space for growing wheat, but it might be worth it.

We now are grinding our own wheat, and making bread using a new method. Believe it or not, this method completely eliminates the second rise and the kneading that goes along with it. Instead, the ingredients are mixed and the dough kneaded in a mixer for about 10 minutes. Then the dough is placed directly into baking pans and left to rise. Baking begins when the dough has risen.

I've made my lightest-ever whole wheat bread using this method. In the past, my whole wheat bread has been dense and heavy. now it's the same consistency as homemade white bread, or even lighter. I once over-kneaded in the mixer and ended up with whole wheat AIR BREAD! It really was that light.

Being the experienced baker you are, you probably know all the techniques there are, but if not, I highly recommend the book "No More Bricks" by Lori Viets. It's a quick read, but packed with useful information for future reference.

Not only does she describe the technique, she explains why freshly-ground flour is more nutritious than packaged flour.


Comment by Sheila Wed Jun 22 23:39:58 2011
Thanks for sharing that! We haven't been making much bread lately since I've cut back our grains so much, and I figure that if Mark only gets bread a couple of times a week, he should get what he wants. So, we've been a white bread household for the last six months (!). I figure two or three servings of white bread per week is better for us than a dozen servings of whole wheat bread and other grains.
Comment by anna Thu Jun 23 11:56:24 2011
Here is my two cents... Today's wheat is a far cry from the wheat we remember seeing growing in the fields, the sight of wheat standing chest high is a thing of the past... Farmers to day want a wheat that is fast growing, low to the ground and produces a good head. With that said, what type of wheat are you planting, you may have stumbled on some of the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)wheat that grows short, check with the county extention agaent to help get the wheat you want, or you can find it on-line then go to your local feed store and order some. You will have to do some math here guys sorry, the Framer I talk to on a regular basis tells me he plants 100 pounds to the acre (Wheat), he either drills the seed into the ground or just uses his broadcast seeder and uses a cultipacker, (so the seed be in contact with the soil). All short wheat is not GMO. As far as growing, fertilizer, 13-13-13 is great, the right PH, rain is really needed when head has formed and throughout growing season, and much Prayer... Good luck... PS: Be sure you plant at the right time. Hope this helps... Does your feed store sell feed wheat? That is what I feed my chickens, and I also plant it... Have a Great Navy Day, oneoldchief,
Comment by oneoldchief Sat Jun 25 10:54:30 2011
Thanks for sharing all that, oneoldchief. We got our wheat seed at the feed store, but I don't honestly know if they mostly sell it for animal feed (as I suspect) or as seed for planting. I hoped it was winter wheat and planted it then, but it could have been spring wheat. Since some of the plants got high and had good heads, I figure the shorter wheat was not happy rather than it just being a short variety.
Comment by anna Sun Jun 26 21:12:39 2011

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