With fall here and winter just around the corner, Hubby and I have finally turned our attention to appropriate seasonal tasks. Working to a traditional fall concert of rustling leaves accompanied by finger numbing temps, we’ve been busy tidying up the garden, taking down summer trellis’, pulling out withered plants affected by our first killing frost and finally kicking our cool weather crops into gear. Besides growing customary fall treats like beets, pak choi, carrots, lettuces and such, we decided to make things interesting for ourselves this season. With our 10×10 raised bed poised for action of accepting a new challenge, it was time to check off another edible plant on our wish list. Folks, we’re growin’ wheat! Yeah, great, right?
Now a lot of you may be thrilled by this news, on the edge of your seat even and anxious to hear more, while the rest of you may be sitting there with a puzzled look on your face. The same look we got when we initially announced our intentions of growing wheat to folks we know. It wasn’t like they thought we were completely out of our minds, perhaps they did, but I could tell that our news had peaked their interest to say the least. What concerned me was the look they gave us shortly after sharing this juicy bit of info with them. You’d swear that I had just suddenly quacked like a duck. Quack! Wheat. For now, I’ll just chock it up to the unusual nature of our news.
So, why give up precious space in the garden to grow wheat? And, why White Sonora wheat?
Let me start by saying that the wheat we’re growing is far from the super-hybridized conventional wheat available to gardeners and commercial growers today. It’s way more special than that and appeals to our preservationist-side as well. What’s not to like about heirlooms?
The ancient heirloom wheat we decided to grow is called White Sonora. This heirloom wheat is part of a unique group of heritage grains that is finally enjoying a long—overdue comeback largely to the efforts of an equally unique group of individuals in Arizona. A group that is united and passionate in their efforts to bring back this wheat to its former days of glory.
Our interest in growing ancient heirloom wheat started with an informative article hubby read about another ancient heirloom wheat, Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum). The article went into detail about its history and about the low gluten levels of ancient heirloom wheat and how it was well tolerated by individuals with wheat sensitivities and gluten allergies. This news was enough to wet our whistle and get our research efforts underway.
The whole ‘wheat/gluten thing’ was of particular interest to me since I was diagnosed a few years back with a sensitivity to wheat. My interest is also fueled by the fact that I have lived without even a tiny bite of any sort of heavenly crusty amber-colored bread for a little over three years now. Something I so long to eat. This along with the fact that I still cannot force myself to eat even the best made wheat-free/gluten-free bread. I find them quite lacking in both flavor and texture.
To stay true to my dedication to growing heirlooms and saving seed, we knew that whatever wheat we chose to plant in our garden had to be from a sustainable seed source. Ancient heirloom wheat fit the bill perfectly. But which one?
After months of research, I settled on one particular variety of ancient heirloom wheat… White Sonora (Triticum aestivum). Its unique adaptability, drought tolerance, preference for low fertility alkaline soils, disease resistance and delicate easy to remove seed husks seemed well suited for my arid desert garden and appealed to my practical side. I’ll definitely be confirming the ease of husk removal when I harvest early next summer.
As I researched this grain further, I became quite enamored by White Sonora’s deep-rooted history in America’s southwest and by its sought after baking qualities.
The Scoop On White Sonora Wheat
Rather than write about the historical details of this golden beauty, I’ve provided you with a handful of short videos and informational links that I highly recommend for those interested in White Sonora Wheat. The videos and info behind the links eloquently explain the wheat’s history and preservation efforts currently under way. I did my best to put them in some sort of logical order for you as well as provide a brief description.
Let me just say that I am super excited to be testing this ancient heirloom wheat in my garden.
This link provides an interesting look at what remains of the old flour mills in the Sonoran region of the U.S. and Mexico, as well as a bit of info on the reintroduction of heritage grain varieties to this area. It’s a short read and has some really beautiful photos.
Video: Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens (1:36 mins) ~ A nice quick introduction to White Sonora Wheat.
Video: BKW Farms in Manara, Arizona (5:49 mins) ~ briefly talks about the history of the farm and its partnership with Native Seeds/SEARCH to reintroduce White Sonora wheat to the region.
Video: Avalon Organic Gardens & Ecovillage in Santa Cruz Valley – Southern Arizona (4:24 mins) ~ A well-made informative short video on the harvest and promotion of White Sonora Wheat.
Video: Barrio Breads / Hayden Mills (4:52 mins)
(this video was posted on Vimeo and the video itself may not appear in this post like the videos above ~ you’ll need to click the link to watch it)
Warning ~ do not watch this video if you are extremely hungry and love bread. Eat first to prevent major droolige! A nicely made video on the use and promotion of this heritage grain.
Why Grow Wheat?
Like I mentioned earlier, my interest in heritage grains, specifically heirloom wheat, is directly related to my passion for growing heirloom edibles and my desire to find a viable solution that would accommodate both my love of fresh-baked bread and my sensitivity to wheat. And with hubby and I eating a more raw diet these days, I want to experiment with making raw sprouted wheat bread. Yum.
Another reason why I’ve chosen to grow wheat in my high brix/nutrient dense garden is for the plain and simple fact that commercially grown wheat today leaves much to be desired health-wise. Conventional wheat growers typically use a lot of chemicals on their fields of wheat to keep down weeds, to fend off pest pressures and diseases (like rust and fungus), and to obtain consistent harvest and increase yields. Did you know that the recommended practice for wheat growers to obtain a consistent harvest and higher yields is to drench their wheat fields with glycophosphate (a.k.a. Roundup)? Read about it here.
And if that wasn’t reason enough for health conscious gardeners to grow their own wheat, now unapproved GMO wheat has been discovered growing in places like Oregon and Montana in just the past few months. Compliments of you-know-who.
Desirable Qualities of Growing White Sonora Wheat
I’m thrilled by the fact that through my research I discovered a few southwest sources who have grown White Sonora Wheat and consider this wheat to be perfect for the home garden. Especially for those growing in hot and arid climates like Las Vegas, Nevada.
Some of the qualities mentioned are…
- Easy to grow
- Highly drought tolerant
- Can grow a lot in a relatively small space
- Resistant to Fusarium fungus
- Resistant to Rust
- Yields rival modern wheat yields
- Grows to a reasonable height of about 5 feet tall (which also helps to shade out weeds)
- A thinner paper-like husk that is easy to remove
- Makes an excellent flour for baking sweet breads, pastries, cakes, tortillas and even pizza dough
- After-harvest debris makes an excellent “brown” ingredient for compost piles
- Dried stalks can be used as mulch (in summer, I would use this underneath the moist shade of plants versus in open areas ~ this material may be considered highly combustible if the conditions are just right)
Bottom-line is this… there are several great reasons for growing wheat in a home garden setting. Who knows, if this wheat holds up to its reputation, I just might have to make it a regular food partner in my garden!
Seed Count and Potential Yield
To start my wheat quest, I purchased seed from two sources. I bought a 1 ounce package of White Sonora Wheat from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds last year and a 1 pound package from Native Seeds/SEARCH about a month ago. The growing information on both seed packets left much to be desired. Also, the packets only displayed the weight with no indication as to how many seeds there were. So, because I’m the type of gardener who needs to know things and the fact that I’ve never grown wheat before, the natural course of action… do more research.
On-line, I found Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens as a source that provided some detail on the potential yields of White Sonora Wheat for home gardeners. As for the seed count, I was on my own.
Regarding specific growing information, I’ve done a lot a research and have contacted two excellent resources for additional “in-field” information. I’m still wrapping things up and will be sharing this information with you later next week.
Let’s take a quick look at potential yields for White Sonora Wheat according to Terriorseeds/Underwood Gardens website.
On average, their customers easily yield about a gallon jar volume of White Sonora wheat berries from a 3 ounce planting. With the right growing conditions, they can achieve a 40:1 return on planting.
When I first read this, I was unsure on how to react. Is that good, bad, high, low? Don’t know. Because I have no experience growing White Sonora wheat, or any wheat really, I had a hard time getting my head around the whole ‘3 ounce to 1 gallon volume thing‘. So I did what I do best… I got OCD on my White Sonora wheat seed and did my own count and visual representations.
Which brings me to seed count. Here’s the results of my seed count.
How many seeds are there in a 1 ounce seed packet?
There are approximately 866 White Sonora wheat seed
in a 1 ounce seed packet
Now for a visual look at the ‘3 ounce to 1 gallon volume thing‘.
First, I weighed out 3 ounces of White Sonora wheat on my handy-dandy digital scale then transferred the wheat seed to a measuring cup to see how it measured out by volume. 3 ounces of wheat is a tad short of ½ a cup as you can see in the photo below.
Note that I did not have a gallon jar available, so I used two ½ gallon jars instead. As for filling the jars, I decided to use brown rice in place of White Sonora wheat since I only had a small amount of wheat seed left. The volume of brown rice per weight was almost identical to the wheat seed. A good substitute for filling the jars.
I weighed out the brown rice and filled the jars to the highest measurement line.
102 ounces (6 pounds 6 ounces) = 1 gallon jar full of White Sonora wheat
Naturally, at this point, I was curious about how many loaves of bread 1 gallon of wheat seed could produce.
Through my research, I found a multitude of varying calculations and recommendations. Based on the numbers I found, I decided to play it safe and take the middle-road approach. Also, keep in mind, that I’m not a baker. For that matter, I’m not a mathematician, either. Up to this point in my life, I have yet to grind wheat to make flour and the numbers I’m about to present to you should be considered a general guide not a hard and fast rule.
For those of you who do grind your own wheat to make flour and bake your own bread, please feel free to chime in by leaving a comment below.
So here it goes…
8 ounces of wheat berries = 8 ounces of flour
3-1/2 cups (or 14 ounces) flour = 1 loaf bread
source: King Arthur Flour
1 gallon of Wheat berries = about 7 loaves of bread
Not bad for 3 ounces of planted wheat! The true test will be when I actually harvest my wheat in early summer. For those of you also growing White Sonora Wheat in the Las Vegas area or similar hot and arid climates, you’ll have to share your harvest yield numbers with us.
Wrapping It Up
As I mentioned before, I plan to do a separate post dedicated to specific growing information for White Sonora Wheat and as long as the info I’m waiting for comes in as expected, the post should be out by the end of next week.
For now, I’ll give you a quick peak into how I planted my wheat seed.
I planted 80 square feet of White Sonora wheat in my 10×10 raised bed. I planted out the front portion of the raised bed (20 square feet) with fall veggies. Based on my research and recommendations I had received, I had a couple of options for panting my seed. Planting in rows 4-inches apart with the seeds planted 1-inch apart -or- broadcasting the seed and lightly raking it into the soil. As an experiment, I decided to try both methods.
The row planting was especially fun and made me walk around funny for a few day as my back recovered. The broadcasting was much easier, but because the seeds were closer to the surface, the birds were having a feast-fest! After planting, I watered everything in well with a solution of Kelp tea just for good measure.
So, there you have it. Wheat. It’s what I’m growing this fall and winter. How about you?
For those of you who are interested in giving your hand a try at growing heirloom wheat, be sure to check out my post on… yes, you guessed it How To Grow White Sonora Wheat where I help to demystify the ins and outs of how to plant, water and care for your wheat.
God Bless and have a wonderful Thanksgiving 🙂