While I was perusing through my garden earlier this week, I was drawn to a delicate rustling sound similar to that of dried leaves blowing about in a gentle breeze. This calming sound was emanating from the direction of my wheat bed. As I approached the bed, a little wind kicked up initiating a glorious concert of wheat seed heads gently rubbing against each other. Ah… the music of wheat. A chorus in perfect unison and quite mesmerizing I might add.
As I stood there, I closed my eyes for a moment to soak in every beautiful note and recalled a scene from a movie. You know the scene… the one with a person running euphorically through a wheat field, usually in slow motion, with open hands brushing away the wheat stalks as they gleefully pass by. Well, folks, I’m sure someone somewhere has experienced this glorious moment, but for me, twirling about and leaping into the air like a gazelle would have been a sight to see but definitely a challenge in the 3-foot space between my raised beds and pile of rocks. Anyways, my neighbors must already think I’m a tad bit bonkers for the amount of time I spend in my garden. Touching everything at least twice, taking photos, staring at leaves, etc. No need to fuel the gossip further.
Well, with all this gardener bliss goin’ on, I thought a wheat update was in order. Especially since wheat harvest time in my garden has started (big claps!). Yes… the day has finally arrived.
Before I start in with the wonderful details of my wheat update, be sure to check out my two previous posts on White Sonora Wheat… Heirloom White Sonora Wheat provides an in-depth look at the history and current preservation efforts for this beautiful heirloom wheat ~and~ my How To Grow White Sonora Wheat post for information on how I planted my wheat along with other great tips and growing information.
To date, my wheat continues to grow beautifully in its 10’x10′ bed, of which 8’x10′ is dedicated to its growing space. In my previous post, you can see my White Sonora Wheat planting got off to a great start. It emerged green, healthy and super happy. This was one of those “gardener grin” moments for me. I was standing there admiring my tiny little wheat seedlings, then it happened. This silly grin came across my face and I just could not stop smiling. I was feeling so pleased with myself and tickled over the fact that my gardening skills just took a giant leap forward… “I’m actually growing wheat”. I was so overcome with joy that I actually almost giggled :D
Well, my jubilant moment only lasted a few short days. See, soon after my wheat began to emerge, the birds decided it was an all you can eat buffet and wanted to nibble up all my hard work. Those little winged wheat tyrants were bold in their thieving efforts. Initially, Pinny did a fine job of scaring them away, but they quickly learned that the black and white barker (a.k.a. Pinny) was unable reach them in the middle of the 10’x10′ raised bed. So they hastily returned to their wheat peckin’ even with me standing just two feet away. Bold.
Well I was just as determined, and refused to let those chirpin’ wheat eaters undo my planting. Without hesitation, I quickly setup a short EMT frame using scrap pieces from our bird netting frame and secured a couple of large sections of bird netting onto it. It worked like a charm.
Lessons Learned #1 ~ protect broadcasted seed from birds immediately after planting and keep in place until wheat is about 6-inches tall.
Under the protection of the bird netting, my White Sonora Wheat continued to grow beautifully throughout the winter. By the end of January, my wheat had grown to about 12-inches or so and I decided it was safe to remove the netting. Then, the rain came and hung out for several days. By the time the storm passed, my thick lush mini wheat field was a tousled mess. It looked like a large critter trampled through and bedded down in it. Either that or aliens decided to visit and make teeny tiny crop circles in my wheat :/
Lessons Learned #2 ~ rethink the whole broadcast”slash” row planting strategy ~ clearly, a lighter hand is needed when broadcasting wheat seeds.
When the rain/lodging issue occurred, my wheat was well into the tillering growth stage. For those of you interested in learning more about the actual growth stages for wheat, check out this link. The two most popular systems used are the Zadoks and Zekes systems, with the later being the most utilized. Being a newbie wheat grower this year, I chose to reference the Zadoks system. It outlines quite a bit more of the details than the high-level Zekes system.
My White Sonora Wheat stayed a tousled mess for several weeks, but by early March, as the temperature began to warm and dry up everything, I noticed that my wheat was beginning to “perk up” in sections.
This was also the time I began to notice several flag leaves emerging along with a small handful of wheat seed heads. I had read that White Sonora Wheat was a “whiskerless” (a.k.a. awns) wheat. Despite this fact, the emerging seed heads clearly had whiskers! Hmmmmm.
Obviously the wheat seed heads with awns were an impostor wheat that somehow got mixed into my batch of White Sonora Wheat seed. Thankfully, my White Sonora Wheat flag leaves and seed heads began to appear about two weeks later. Phew!
Here’s a couple of detailed photos I took to help all of the other newbie home wheat growers out there. These pics show the flag leaf and the all important sheath. The sheath is where the wheat seed head forms. As the seed head grows, the sheath will swell and finally split open to reveal the seed head inside (see photo of impostor wheat above).
As my wheat grew taller, I set up some bamboo stakes and supports on the south end of the bed where I had a 2-foot section of veggie plants growing. The wheat had flopped over and was starting to cover my veggie plants. Definitely not a good thing for my veggies.
Well, no sooner did my wheat begin to prop itself back up, the warmer days of early Spring brought with it a hoard of aphids right to my wheat bed. The rest of my garden remained untouched. The good news is, along with the aphids came an army of lady bugs, green lace wings and assassin bugs. The aphids quickly lost out to the vast beneficial assault. Folks, this is a by-product of healthy no-pesticide/no-chemical approach to gardening.
Over the next several weeks, hubby and I began to lovingly refer to our wheat bed as the lady bug nursery. The lady bugs were everywhere and in every stage of life. It was such an awesome sight to see. After the aphids were under control, the majority of the lady bugs moved onto the orchard leaving behind a few to keep the wheat clean :)
Shortly after the great wheat aphid battle was won, my beloved White Sonora Wheat was emerging everywhere throughout the bed (of course, awnless). And within a few weeks, teeny tiny anthers began to appear on the center of the wheat seed heads indicating that my wheat was entering into the flowering stage.
No sooner did the aphid issue get under control and my wheat start flowering, the spring winds came. And come they did. My garden was hammered with 50 mph winds and knocked my wheat over. Sheesh. A few weeks earlier we had removed the EMT frame and setup a support system around the outside of the raised bed by installing rebar in the corners and tying nylon cord to each corner. The wheat closest to this support did fine, but the wheat in the center of the bed was hit hard.As my wheat seed heads continued to emerge and flower, some of the wheat began to stand up, again. Though a large amount in the center of the bed (i.e., the broadcasted area), stayed bent over ~ but it also continued to grow and flower so I left it alone.
Well, I’m happy to say that through all the trials my White Sonora Wheat pulled through like a champ. All the wheat continued to grow and flourished despite being knocked down (literally) multiple times.
The reward for all my patience? Lots of wheat drying up getting ready for harvest. Mind you, only a handful of wheat has been harvested over the last couple of days, the majority of my wheat still has a few days to go. And of course, we just got rain today and I’m uncertain as to what impact, if any, this will have on my beloved White Sonora Wheat. But, as usual, I’m hopeful that all will work out and my harvest will be abundant.
When I’m finished harvesting my wheat, I’ll be sure to do a final post where I’ll go into more details about the ripening and harvesting process along with my current thoughts on an updated planting approach for next year. Yup, I’m thinking about growing wheat again next year ~ this time in our native soil. Only time will tell :)