Learning How to Grow My Daily Bread
By Cam Mather
In “The All You Can Eat Gardening Handbook” I talk a lot about both the successes and the failures I have experienced while trying to grow food. I’ve experienced lots of both and the failures are really, really important. In fact I think my gardening failures have provided me with the best learning experiences. For a few years I was “garlic challenged” and my crop of garlic never amounted to much. Then I clued in that I need to plant it in the fall and “bam!”, I’ve never looked back. In fact this year our 4,000 heads of garlic are one of the best crops we’ve ever had.
For years my raspberries have languished and never amounted to much. This year everything just clicked and I swear Michelle filled up half of our 10 cu. Ft. freezer with frozen raspberries. I was “over the moon” about them. Every time Michelle brought in another quart or two to freeze it was a little personal lift to make my day.
For a few years now I have been very grain “challenged”. We base a lot of our diet on bread and so learning to grow wheat has been a priority. I’ve had success with oats but wheat has been elusive. I would plant it in the spring and it just never seemed to ripen in time. I noticed though that if I left it over the winter it would start up early the next season and end up forming a proper head. So last fall I cleared two big areas of the garden and seeded “winter wheat”. Wheat is a grass and this means it was in the ground and could germinate in the cool wet soil it likes. Snow covered it during the winter, and then once the snow was gone it greened up and took off.
It’s been just a joy to watch. It grew quickly and vigorously and formed amazing heads. Over the summer the wheat has been maturing and turning a wonderful deep golden brown. Pictures of grain fields are iconic as are images of grain heads on everything from beer labels to bread bags. But until you actually have a patch of your own lush brown wheat you can’t imagine how wonderful it is. Since mine was grown organically the wheat “field” has lots of weeds in it. For a while the wheat was the highest thing growing in the patch, but now some of the weeds have won out. But that’s okay because it was time to start harvesting so the weeds will be gone soon anyway.
We had friends over recently and they admired my patch of golden wheat and asked, “How are you going to harvest it?” I replied, “I don’t know.” Then they wondered how I would process it? “I haven’t a clue.” I’ve always been sort of a “cross that bridge when I get to it” type of vegetable gardener. I guess I’m superstitious and I figured that if I went to elaborate lengths and purchased fancy scythes and equipment to harvest the wheat, the likelihood I’ll need them would decrease proportionately to the amount I invested. So I held off. I didn’t want to jinx things.
I began harvesting the wheat recently. I started with an antique hand scythe that I think my mom gave to me years ago. I obviously didn’t sharpen it very well because it was useless. So I tried using some hand clippers that worked great but still required a lot of manual labour, picking up and putting the cut wheat in to the wheelbarrow.
I’m now experimenting with different low-tech ways to take this wheat and get it to a stage we can use it to make bread. The seed head has many wheat florets which have a protective cover around the wheat seed. So we have to first get the florets off the stem and head, then remove the cover in order to get to the wheat berries. I’ve been reading a lot about all of this as I explore my options for processing it. It’s quite fascinating learning about the history of wheat and how it’s processed. It’s one of those defining crops that allowed humans to start living in cities because farmers could produce more food protein than they needed which meant they could sell some to city dwellers. It also allowed armies to invade other countries so it has a huge part in human history.
I’ve got a big bunch of it to harvest and process. How cool is that! I’m doing something that humans started doing thousands of years ago when they realized that they didn’t have to hunt and gather and could actually settle down in one spot and grow their food. I feel like the History Channel should be here documenting the whole process!
Stay tuned for a future post where I’ll share my experiences processing my wheat!
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