Great news from the farm, this week we harvested our wheat! Growing wheat is unlike growing vegetables (which require daily maintenance and care) in that there is very little care throughout the life of the crop, but the timing and accuracy of the few steps involved are critically important.
Here’s how it works…
Last October we planted two varieties of winter wheat, a soft white (used for pastry flour) called Harris, and a hard red (used for bread four) called Warthog (both varieties can be used in whole wheat berry form). We sow the wheat using a grain drill that plants it into rows six inches apart, at a rate of 150 pounds of seed per acre (we then aim to have harvestable yields of 1,500 to 2,000 pounds per acre). The wheat germinates in the fall and looks like any old lawn all winter and into the early spring. At that point we fertilize (wheat is a heavy feeder of soil nutrients, especially nitrogen). In the springtime we also undersow red clover, which grows in the shadow of the wheat closer to the soil surface and provides ground cover to prevent weeds from competing with the wheat and has other benefits, such as providing a great source of organic matter to feed the soil and depositing even more nitrogen back into the soil. After this we wait and watch as the field brightens to a shocking green and shoots up from ankle to knee to thigh height over just a few weeks in May. Although our shared visions of a wheat field are dancing amber waves, it is actually green until the last few weeks of its life cycle, when it turns the beautiful and iconic honey amber hew. Harvest typically takes place in the third week of July when the grains are hard and dry. The extreme heat of Sunday and Monday of this week created the absolute perfect dry conditions for harvest before Tuesday’s intense rain. We use a 1965 International Harvester 80 Combine, which cuts the wheat stalk, sends the grain heads through a threshing cylinder that knocks the grain free from the head. The individual kernels fall to the bottom of the machine where they are ferried through a series of augers and into the bin, while the straw, chaff, and other debris is sifted and blown out the rear of the machine. Our old combine harvests at a very humble rate of about an acre per hour, which in today’s standards of thousand-acre wheat fields in the Midwest is laughable, but on our scale, it works. Keeping this old machine running is very important, because although we only use it one or two days each year, getting it done when the timing is right is very important. Happily, we had no equipment problems during this year’s harvest and the wheat is in the barn. Our harvest wasn’t as large as we were hoping because we took a chance and planted a few acres outside of our deer fence, which was gladly consumed by our four-legged friends. The wheat we did harvest now has to be cleaned (winnowing out chaff, weed seeds, and any other field debris that came in with the grain) and dried down to about 13% moisture, where it will have its longest storage life.
The wheat will be available for sale in our market, in your CSA boxes, and used in our kitchen and bakery as both wheat berries and whole wheat flour within the next week. If you have any questions about this process (or the process of anything else we grow!) let us know, we love to talk about our fields!
This week’s box:
Green Curly or White Russian Kale
Open in U-Pick (all areas open for picking are marked with a blue and white stake)
Herbs (chives, mint, oregano, lavender)
This week’s cheese share: Feta Cheese from Lively Run Dairy
This week’s bread share: Carissa’s Sourdough
This week’s fruit share: Choice of Apricots, Tango Donut Peaches, Blueberries