The Wheat Harvest

In the fall of 2020, we decided to plant a patch of wheat. We wanted to plant as many useful crops as possible. We love bread and we knew wheat grows well in this area, so we decided to go for it! 

Preparing the Land

Our land hadn’t been planted upon for 40 years. So the grasses in our field are very well established with long roots and even longer runners. We decided tilling it with a roto-tiller would be the best way to get the ground ready. But before tilling, Harry’s dad mowed the grass all the way down to nothing. He scalped it. That didn’t get rid of all the roots but it did get rid of a lot of the grass. Next we needed to acquire a tiller. 

We borrowed a roto-tiller from Harry’s dad’s cousin. It happened to be an old tiller that didn’t work very well. Harry and his dad went over and over the patch but it wasn’t really doing anything. So Harry took matters into his own hands, literally. He hoed the entire patch by hand. 

He used the sharp corner of the hoe to create furrows (lines) in the soil. He made several furrows in the patch and left a walkway in the middle. We later realized that this walkway was unnecessary.

Planting the Wheat

Wheat seeds are called wheat berries. I bought ours from a local company. I wanted organic wheat, so that’s what I got. I bought a 2 pound bag. 

Alice and I sprinkled the seeds pretty close together down the length of each furrow. Harry came along after us and covered each furrow with more dirt (to bury the wheat berries).

Growing the Wheat

We watered the wheat quite often throughout the fall. We didn’t have water connected at the property yet so we filled milk jugs with water and sprinkled it all over the wheat patch.

Winter came and it snowed 4 or 5 times. It was very cold and we essentially let the wheat patch do its own thing. 

Spring came and the wheat grass appeared. The big wheat fields in the area had cattle grazing on their wheat. We noticed that these farms did not water their fields so we didn’t bother watering our patch any longer. 

The wheat grew more and more every day. Come May, the wheat was starting to get quite a bit taller. The big wheat fields took the cattle off their wheat, likely to sell for beef. The wheat really grew fast after this point.

The stalks created “heads.” The wheat then looked like an actual wheat field, only green. Within a matter of weeks, the wheat turned brown and harvest was nigh.

Harry’s dad and uncle would come over to check the wheat periodically. They popped the berries out of the head and tasted them. When they are still “gummy,” they’re not quite ready. When they’re hard, they’re ready for harvest! 

 Not only was our wheat ready, the big wheat fields were ready too! Every wheat field in the vicinity began their harvest when we did. It felt so special to be a part of something like this. All of us (small farmers and big farmers) had been growing this plant for several months and we finally got to see our hard work come to fruition. It felt really cool to be a part of it. The newspaper talked a lot about the harvest and there was an excitement in the air. I understand why harvest festivals exist-- it's definitely cause for celebration! The big wheat farms began their harvest very early in the morning and continued late into the night. It's hard work! 

Harvesting the Wheat

Preparing the ground was kind of tricky, planting and growing it was easy. Harvesting it was pretty hard too.

Here are the steps we took to harvest:

  1. Cut down the wheat. Big wheat farms use a combine but we only have hand tools to use! Harry used a machete to chop down the stalks, one handful at a time.
  2. After he chopped down a sizeable stack of wheat, I gathered it, and tied it up. Then I stacked a few bunches together like a teepee.
  3. We covered the stacks with landscape fabric and left it outside for 1 week to finish drying.
  4. Next, we took the stalks over to Harry’s dad’s shop across the street. Here, we placed a tarp on top of a giant metal barrel. We attempted to beat (thresh) the wheat stalks into the tarp but it didn’t work very well. Luckily, there was some sort of grate nearby that we rubbed the wheat stalks on to extract the wheat berries.
  5. We then poured what we had collected into a bucket.
  6. We put a fan behind an empty bucket and poured the full bucket of wheat berries into the empty bucket. The fan blowing behind the bucket blew the chaff onto the ground and allowed the good wheat berries to drop into the bucket. Chaff is basically any extra part of the wheat stalk that isn’t the berry. It is lighter weight than the berry and just blows away with the fan. This is called winnowing. 
  7. Then we put the wheat berries into a cloth bag to take home. I transferred them into jars to keep bugs out. 

Lessons Learned

The big wheat fields plant their wheat very closely together, with barely any space at all between each row. Our rows were a few inches apart from each other. This allowed bindweed to grow in our wheat patch. Bindweed is a weed that crawls up and wraps itself around a plant, choking it. We lost some of our harvest due to bindweed but we were able to save most of it. I tried to cut some of it off towards the end but there was just too much of it. So lesson learned, plant the wheat more closely together so that weeds don’t have anywhere to grow! 

The End

Our method of growing wheat is the traditional way to do it. It’s the “old” way. We sowed, reaped, and winnowed our wheat completely by hand! It was really hot and sunny on harvest day and it was a pretty laborious process. In the future, I would do it again but we will try to till the ground better instead of doing it by hand and we will create the furrows more closely together too.