Hope everyone had an awesome Christmas and had a chance to celebrate it with loved ones and close friends. Hubby and I had a quiet holiday this year. After opening our gifts (thank you mom and dad!), we snacked on fresh homemade guacamole, humus, and gluten-free crackers and watched a movie or two in the comfort of our own home. I just love Christmas With The Kranks ~ makes me burst out in laughter every time XD We contemplated heading over to the Bellagio to check out their Christmas flower display, but decided to avoid the holiday shuffle on the Las Vegas strip and stayed home. I also finished this blog post. F-i-n-a-l-l-y. Well, better late than never.
In a previous post, I gave you a bit of history and info on White Sonora heirloom wheat, now it’s time to get growin’.
First off, let me start by saying that I am f-a-r from being the resident “wheat expert”. In fact, this winter season will be my first attempt at growing this beautiful heirloom wheat. What serious gardener doesn’t like a challenge? Am I right? Since I’m forging ahead with my new quest, I thought it would be fun to share my experiences with you.
For those of you who also heard the call to grow heirloom wheat this winter, I’d love for you to provide a quick update on your progress and share photos. I plan to do regular updates on my wheat’s progress, so when I do, I’ll send a shout out (like the Call To Action below) along with instructions on how to submit your wheat details. You provide the info and I’ll do all the work and post it on my blog. The more we share, the more we learn :)
Call To Action
Attention gardeners growing heirloom wheat… let us know how your wheat is growing in your garden. Be sure to mention your first name along with your planting zone and/or city and state, as well as what heirloom wheat you’re growing. A brief description of how you planted and are growing your wheat would be helpful, too. Details such as, the date you planted your wheat, how you planted it, added amendments, etc. Also send along some photos.
You can send your info directly to me via e-mail by clicking on the ‘Contact Me’ graphic under my photo on the right.
Growin’ Heirloom Wheat
Since I am a very curious and experienced gardener as well as a novice wheat grower, I decided that it was in my best interest to seek out answers from others more knowledgeable than myself.
Through my research, I discovered lots of information about wheat in general on-line from several different mid-western universities and the like. Think about it. People have been growing wheat for ages in this country. All the info I found was great information, but nothing really specific to our hot arid climate and certainly very little growing details specifically for heirloom wheat like White Sonora Wheat.
With a bunch of general info swimming around in my head, I decided to go ahead and plant my wheat [on November 9th] based on the generic planting info on the seed packet of wheat I purchased. Six days later, I was thrilled to see the first few sprouts begin to pop-up out of the ground. Then another and then another. Before I knew it, my bed was covered in lush green wheat grass :D So far in the process, I’ve done something right.
At this point, I decided to increase my chance of success by reaching out to a few folks who had either firsthand experience growing White Sonora Wheat or who worked closely with farmers who did. My search brought me to two knowledgeable individuals.
Janna Anderson, owner of Pinnacle Farms in Waddell, Arizona (Phoenix, Arizona area). Janna runs a 40 acre farm that also includes a 6.5 acre fruit orchard and uses naturally grown practices to grow her crops, which she explains on her blog as, “my definition of what consumers believe is truly Organic”. :D
Joy Hought from Native Seed/SEARCH in Tucson, Arizona. Joy has a background in agroecology, agronomy and plant breeding and has worked closely with farmers growing White Sonora Wheat over the last three years.
Both Janna and Joy were extremely accommodating and very generous with their time by answering my questions so that we (you and I) could benefit. A huge thank you goes out to them both!
To make the information I gathered together an easier read, I’ve broken out the details into logical categories. Also, keep in mind that the following information can be easily adopted by folks gardening in Southern Nevada as well as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and in the arid regions of California. For other areas, please check with your local Cooperative Extension office for the best source of information.
Rather than write this out as a lengthy Q & A or interview style, I decided it would be best to summarize the details for you with a few quotes interjected here and there. And of course, a few of my own thoughts along with info on how I planted my wheat.
Best Time Of Year To Plant
White Sonora Wheat is considered a spring heirloom wheat. Because our winters are fairly mild with a climate similar to Arizona, both of my sources agree that late November through mid-December is the optimum planting time for White Sonora Wheat in the Las Vegas, Nevada area.
It was also mentioned that folks living at higher elevations with a similar climate could even plant as late as January.
As I noted earlier, I planted my wheat on November 9th, just a little earlier than their recommendation. So far my wheat is growing fabulously :)
How To Plant and How Much
To plant White Sonora Wheat, you can either broadcast the wheat or plant in rows. From personal experience, broadcasting the wheat is a lot easier process than planting individual seeds unless you use a row planter.
Now as far as how much to plant, this is where my two source’s opinions differed.
For those of you who do not use chemicals, pesticides or herbicides in your gardens, one recommended strategy is to plant your wheat fairly densely to help keep weeds from growing and competing for nutrients and water. This translates to about 150 lbs/acre which is roughly about 69 wheat seeds per square foot. You could certainly plant your wheat further apart and deal with any weeds by hand.
On the flip-side, I was advised that White Sonora Wheat and many other older varieties do not like to be planted densely. The recommended seed rate ~ about 75-100 lbs/acre which is roughly about 35-49 wheat seeds per square foot.
Hmmmm. What to do? Do what I did ~ try both methods to see which works best in your garden. I planted both by broadcasting seed and direct sowing seed in rows using both recommended seed rates. Here’s how I did it…
For row planting, I direct sowed 15 rows on the outer portion of my 10×10 raised bed by spacing my rows 4-inches apart and sowing my seeds 1-inch apart 1/2-inch deep. Since I am not one of the fortunate folks who own a row planter, I did this all by hand ~ have to say, with a raised bed that’s about 16-inches high, it’s still hard on the back sowing this many seeds by hand.
I started out the planting process using a template Hubby made for me, a dibble if you will, to correctly poke holes in the appropriate spot down the row. This took f-o-r-e-v-e-r. It was such a sweet gesture and one I thoroughly appreciated, but ~ oh, my back. I ended up using a twig to scrape out a 1/2-inch deep furrow then dropped the seeds into place as I walked down the row, covered the seeds with loose soil, and watered everything in with some sea kelp tea to give them a great start.
When I had had enough of that process, I turned my attention to broadcasting the remainder of the seed. I must say… this was sheer delight after being hunched over for awhile. With seed in hand, I carefully broadcasted the seed onto the soil surface, lightly raked it into the soil, and tossed on a thin helping of forest waste compost just to cover any exposed seeds. The finishing touch… a nice soak of sea kelp tea.
Word of caution: shortly after broadcasting my wheat seed, the birds decided it was feast time, so I had to protect my newly planted wheat seed with bird netting until the majority of the seeds germinated and the wheat plants were about 4 to 5-inches tall.
My approximate planting rate breakdown is as follows:
Rows 4-inches apart / seeds 1-inch apart: 36 wheat seeds per square foot
Broadcasted: 60-70 seeds per square feet
Total seed planted (approximate): 9 ounces for an 80 square foot area
I’ll be monitoring the progress of my wheat throughout the growing cycle and will be sure to provide updates. For now, use your best judgment.
A quick update related to this topic… what I’ve seen so far in my garden is that the wheat I broadcasted stands about an inch or so taller than the wheat I planted in rows. Not sure if this is due to competition for light or the fact that the seeds were planted closer to the surface. Or both.
Soil Amendments and Fertilizers
Though sufficient supplies of nitrogen are important during the germination and tillering stages of your Wheat’s growth, it’s best to use caution when applying fertilizer to heirloom wheat. White Sonora Wheat and other heirloom wheat do not respond well to a lot of water or nitrogen. Excessive amounts of either will encourage your wheat to grow tall and fall over ~ a.k.a. lodge.
My word of advice ~ to ensure you have adequate amounts of nitrogen for your wheat, just be sure to amend your garden soil with a quality compost (i.e., forest/garden waste or well composted OMRI certified animal manure compost) before planting.
If your wheat is looking a little pale in its early stages of growth and you feel the need to fertilize, use a quality OMRI certified and soil microbe safe nitrogen source and apply it earlier versus later in the growth cycle. The best time to fertilize is during the tillering stage (about 3 to 4 weeks after germination).
Depending on the quality of the soil, growing conditions and fertilization practices, White Sonora Wheat can grow to about 3-1/2 feet to 5 feet tall. Standing at 5 feet 9-1/2 inches tall (yeah, I’m a tall gal) and my raised bed at 16-inch high, I may be staring face-to-face with or possibly looking up at my wheat seed heads when harvest comes along.
When it comes to watering your wheat, both sources agreed that conservative watering practices works best. Too much water can negatively affect your wheat yields and as mentioned before, can lead to excessive growth which could cause your wheat to fall over.
Based on the information provided to me and from my experience thus far, here’s my recommendation for backyard wheat growers in arid climates with mild winters:
- Keep the soil moist until the wheat seed germinate
- Water as usual until the wheat plants are 3 to 4-inches tall (and about 2-3 leaves)
- At this point, reduce watering to 1 – 2x per week through the winter months, depending on how warm or windy it is. Just give it a good soak. Be sure to water no more than 1-inch per week. Water even less if it rains.
- When the weather begins to warm up in mid to late spring and our spring winds kick up, just keep a close eye on the soil to make sure it doesn’t completely dry out. Continue to give the wheat a nice deep soak or two each week, depending on the weather.
- Shortly before harvest, you will need to completely turn off the water to your wheat to let it dry out. Joy from Native Seed/SEARCH described it this way, “Typically, once the wheat reaches what’s called the soft dough stage is when you want to back off on water and let it mature and dry; this is about 3-4 weeks after the seed head has emerged. The kernels will be losing their green color, and the milky liquid inside will have turned firm and gummy, and the leaves and stem will start to turn brown. However, this will depend on what type of soil you have and how much moisture it retains. If it is very well-drained, you can keep watering for a week or two longer.”Joy also shared a link to this great guide that provides detailed info about the life cycle of wheat. And for those of you still unsure what tillering means, the guide helps to explain this. The guide also has a few helpful photos, too. One in particular shows wheat kernels at various stages of maturity. This ties in very nicely with Joy’s description above and provides a nice visual reference.
A quick update related to this topic… Over the past few weeks, we’ve had a few rain storms roll through our part of town. Just before the first storm hit, I turned off the water to my wheat bed and just turned it back on earlier this week. Since that time I’ve only had to lightly hand water my wheat two times because my soil was looking a bit dry ~ my wheat still looks beautiful and green.
I also tugged at and pulled out a couple of wheat seedlings from my broadcasted area to see how well their roots have taken hold. Those little guys were very firmly rooted into the soil. Big smiles :D
Here’s another area of conflicting information. On one end, I was told that spring wheat is not terribly cold hardy and that growth can be damaged by frost. On the other hand, Janna from Pinnacle Farms mentioned that her White Sonora Wheat crop was completely unprotected and sailed through unharmed one of the worst damaging freezes in years in her area.
I think it all comes down to how healthy your crop is when a frost or freeze hits plus your general climate, micro-climate, etc. Just use your best judgment when it comes to protecting your wheat crop from possible winter damage.
Tonight, the temps are supposed to drop to about 29°F then to 26°F tomorrow. We’ll see how my wheat does unprotected.
As a good number of you know, desert spring winds can be fairly harsh on garden plants and edibles and can literally beat them to oblivion. With an anticipated mature height of 3-1/2 feet to 5 feet tall, there’s a good chance that the wheat could be damaged or blown over in extremely windy conditions (25+ mph). For this reason, a support of some sort or a wind block is probably a great idea. Plan now and be prepared. Another way to help mitigate this issue is to do your best in avoiding excessive growth… so remember, easy does it with the nitrogen.
In working closely with White Sonora Wheat on her farm, Janna at Pinnacle Farms advised that if the wheat does fall over, it can still be hand harvested successfully. As for our garden situation… only time will tell.
Pest and Disease Concerns
When it comes to pests, their presence this time of year is fairly insignificant. In hot and arid climates, the onset of warmer weather in spring is when we need to be on alert for pesky nibbling visitors. Pest pressures should be minimal if your soil and wheat plants are healthy, but an ounce of preparedness is worth its weight in gold.
Pest problems? UC Davis IPM Online is an awesome resource for those of you, like myself, who steer clear from using chemicals and pesticides in your garden.
For those of you who have been following my blog fairly regularly, may remember that last spring I had an issue with a dreadful unwanted visitor to my garden… the bragada bug. Needless to say I am very anxious to see if they will present themselves in my garden again this year and how my wheat will be affected by their ‘munching-in-mass’ ways since wheat is on their list of favs.
After a short amount of time researching the ins and outs of White Sonora Wheat, it was very apparent that the online consensus was that White Sonora is fairly resistant to rust and fusarium. I learned that this may not actually be the case.
Like other wheat, White Sonora Wheat is susceptible to both rust and fusarium given the right environment and conditions. As a dry land wheat, this wheat thrives in our hot arid climate and alkaline soils. Unlike areas with higher humidity, like the coastal areas of California, our area seldom sees these types of problems. Keep in mind though, that it’s a whole other ball game if a desert rain storm decides to stick around for an extended period of time. This is especially true if this prolonged rain occurs during either the pollination or harvest stage of our beloved wheat. Then, it’s advised that we should keep a close eye on our wheat to make sure any rust or fusarium issues are addressed asap.
Well, that about wraps it up for this post. I have a bit more research to do on how to harvest, thresh, save seed for next year’s crop, and how to bake with White Sonora Wheat. As soon as I have the details, I’ll be sure to share them with you in a timely manner.
For you eager beavers who require even more detailed info about wheat in general, Janna at Pinnacle Farms shared this excellent resource from UC Davis along with these words of encouragement, “Try not to over think it ~ it’s like anything else you grow. Watch the plant and you will be successful.”
Now that you’re armed with quality information, go forth and grow heirloom wheat with confidence my friends!
In case I don’t chat you up in the next few days, have a fantastic New Year’s holiday and do yourself and your family a favor, plan to grow something edible in 2015.