Learning how to grow wheat is something every aspiring homesteader should do.
And it’s easy enough to do!
One big step towards self-sufficiency is producing your own grain, so it’s at the top of my to do list this spring, and now that the weather is finally warming up, I can start spring seeding.
In particular, I’m focusing on wheat, both for bread and for fodder. Wheat is commonly grown in my area (in fact, my house is surrounded by wheat fields), so wheat seed is easily accessible.
Uses for wheat
One use for wheat on the homestead, obviously, is that it can be ground and baked into bread. Wheat seed also makes an excellent fodder, and grows easily in a container. Add a tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water before soaking your fodder seeds to reduce mold.
I’m also testing out wheat grass as pasture for horses this year. This wheat won’t be grown for harvest, but to supplement my horses’ diet (the main reason for this is for the added protein and because last year I was talked into disking a pasture and now nothing grows but weeds. Since wheat grows so well here, I thought I’d give it a shot).
Super important: if you’re using wheat seed for fodder, be sure to get organic seed. Seed wheat is tested and sprayed with chemicals. You don’t want your livestock eating it.
Different types of wheat
This is an important topic.
There’s different types of wheat, but the two main ones you need to know about when learning how to grow wheat are spring wheat and winter wheat.
Winter wheat is planted in late fall, before the first frost date. It starts growing in fall, stays green all winter (which makes it great to plant on your lawn – no dreary brown winter grass), and then really takes off in the spring. It’s usually harvested in June. Winter wheat requires a freezing period before it will produce seeds, so don’t try planting it in spring – you won’t get seeds. One example is hard red winter wheat (what I plant).
For bread, sow hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat. For pasta, you’ll want to plant durum wheat.
You can buy organic, non-GMO wheat seed from various sellers, or you can buy wheat seed locally. If you buy non-organic seed, realize the seed will be sprayed with chemicals.
Be sure to buy seed that’s been tested for germination. Both organic sellers and non-organic sellers alike test their seed for germination. It will save you a lot of hassle and time. No one wants to plant a garden that doesn’t grow. Just ask your vendor if the seed has been tested for germination quality.
Breaking ground and adding compost
Growing your own grains is fairly easy. When we planted wheat last fall, I had to do little more than broadcast them and cover. My husband has over 20 years of experience sowing and harvesting wheat on a large scale, so I’ve relied on him whenever I’ve had a question about how to grow wheat.
The best thing about growing your own grain is it doesn’t require much space. A 20′ x 50′ space is enough to produce a year’s worth of wheat for my family. I was able to break ground and add compost in little more than an hour.
The photos you see of endless wheat fields are photos of commercial operations. For the self-sufficient homesteader who wants to learn how to grow wheat for self-sufficiency, large acreage isn’t necessary.
I tilled the dirt a little so it’s not too hard to establish roots, then added rotted manure to the top. To the bed I created, I added about 4″ of rotted manure. You can add compost, I chose rotted manure because I have an abundance thanks to my horses.
Wheat likes a fairly neutral pH, about 6.4, and I already had our soil tested, so I know my soil’s pH is perfect for wheat.
Protecting your wheat from critters
I learned fairly quick, when I started learning how to grow wheat, that it’s necessary to cover your wheat seed to protect it from hungry critters. I’ve had more than one bed devastated by chickens and hungry squirrels, so this year I’m mulching with old hay. As the wheat grows, it will grow through the hay.
If you drill in your wheat seed, this step is not as important, but I would mulch anyway to keep down weeds.
Another option is to build a temporary hoop house over your seed. This is particularly a good idea if you live in an area that might have a frost after the frost date.
Watering and growing
In my opinion, wheat pretty much takes care of itself, but in the hot, dry summer, supplementing rainfall with water is a good idea, and since the area isn’t too big, it’s easy enough to do.
The compost or rotten manure you incorporated into your bed is enough fertilizer. You don’t want to add any more and alter your pH.
Allow your wheat to grow until it dries out, and the heads start to droop, and it’s time to harvest.
If you’re a savvy marketer, one way to bring in extra income for your homestead is to grow more wheat than you need, and sell your extra crop. Since it takes a fairly small area to produce a year’s worth of wheat, this is realistic for any homesteader.
You will have to harvest and thresh it yourself, but especially if you grow organic, non-GMO wheat, you will have a ready market.
In my next post, I’ll cover how to harvest and thresh wheat!
To read more in depth about how to grow wheat, check out The University of Missouri Crop Resource Guide.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.