My Wheat Fields

Dateline: 29 July 2014

My wheat field in July

I planted two fields of heritage wheat this year. The fields are less than an acre in size. A lot less. They actually measure about 2' wide by 4' long. That's as much as one packet of seed will plant.

I bought the heritage seed from Sustainable Seed Company. They have an impressive selection of old wheat varieties, and other grains too (I also planted a field of sorghum). 

This is my first year growing wheat. I wanted to observe how the plants grow. It turns out they grow easily.


When I was around 17 years old (1972), I harvested a section of wheat field that a local farmer was growing on my parent's land. 

I used a rusty old scythe that I had bought at a yard sale for a few dollars. I sharpened the blade to the best of my ability and mowed down a fairly large patch of the grain.

I tied the grain into bundles to dry, then hauled them to my parent's barn. The barn had tall rolling doors on the back with a sturdy drive floor just inside. I laid a tarp out on the floor, put the wheat in the middle and used a homemade flail to beat the seeds out of the stalks. It was a lot of work but I had a lot of energy and enthusiasm back then.

I ended up with a couple pails of seeds and chaff. I winnowed the chaff by pouring the wheat from pail to pail repeatedly. There wasn't much wind the day I winnowed so I hooked up a fan.

I ended up with some clean, beautiful wheat berries, and it was a good feeling. 

My mother was a bread baker and we had a Marathon Uni-Mill electric grain grinder. I milled the wheat into flour and my mother used it to make some really good bread. 

By the way, we inherited that Marathon Uni-Mill, and  Marlene has used it over the years to grind a lot of wheat for her homemade breads.

One of these years I'd like to grow a larger plot of heirloom wheat, harvest it by hand, and process it….. just like I did in the "old days" when I was a kid.


Sunnybrook Farm said...

I grew wheat for the first time this year, actually I planted it last summer and it over wintered in two large areas in the garden. I have been feeding the whole heads to mainly the chickens who thrash it out themselves. I don't know what variety but it was the only one they sold in 50 lb bags. I use a hand sickle to shear off the heads and put in a bucket leaving the straw to be cut with a scythe later. It is a good crop to hold the soil and provide chicken feed. I took the land out of vegetable production because I couldn't get people to pay even wholesale prices for vegetables so the chickens benefit as does the soil.

Marsh Creek Farmstead said...

Just save what youve grown this year for seed and plant more next year! Its probably enough to plant quite a large area now.

Matt B said...

I planted rye last year and harvested it yesterday. I only planted about what you did. I think my area was 4' by 5'. I tied the rye into a bundle and stuck it into an old pillow case for a couple of weeks. Then yesterday I took a short piece of 1x2 and threshed it, then winnowed it like you did. I ended up with 1 3/4 cup of rye. My play was to replant some and use some in a rye/wheat bread. But, after I got it into a clear container I could see some mouse droppings mixed in with the grain. Apparently I waited too long to thresh it and a mouse had gotten to it. So I plan to plant all of this this fall and try again next year.

Frank and Fern said...

It's good you know how to do this. I can't help but wonder if you will have to depend upon this knowledge and skill in the future as a necessity. Frank and I have talked about it and have some of the needed tools, but have yet to grow a crop. Thank you for sharing the link and your experiences.


SharonR said...

I first learned from Nicole Faires (wrote, "The Deliberate Life") how little of a field of grain it takes to have enough flour for a family for a year. A single acre should produce enough, give or take. I'm glad to read about the scythe cutting two of you have used. I just got in a scythe that I ordered just for cutting tall grass. Much easier and quieter than lawnmower, in that it gets in small places, doesn't need an oil check, gasoline, or have motor problems. I've also wanted to plant grain for flour in the past, but decided not to. Reading your story here, I just may try that after all.

Jonathan Sanders said...

I tried this with hull-less oats last year, planting a small package from the same company. I like oats and consider them a superior food (we never fed soybeans or wheat to livestock) but found the threshing part a little too troublesome to be worth my while. Good methods for small-scale threshing might make a great whizbang book...

Everett said...

Just went and read your "confessions of a wheat hoarder". Ahem, me to! Got about 65, 5 gal buckets in my storage area, not in my house! Also have a Diament Grinder I bought from Lehman's. It has metal burrs and I have a spare set of three degrees of finess. All mine are nitrogen or CO2 purged with O2 absorbers and silica gel packs.

Also have an ALL American can sealer for sealing #10 cans and have Dozens & Dozens of cans of processed flour, 3-4 kinds, oatmeal, corn meal, grits and Johnny Cake meal. Which is just white corn meal ground really fine. So yeah I've been doing this for years. Some family think I'm nuts but are beginning to see what is really going on in the world of economics, but you have to point them out as they have had no real contact with anyone who knows about such stuff. Coming from me has usually been dismissed as the rantings of a paranoid old man!

Herrick Kimball said...

Chickens sure do love wheat. We filled a few 55 gallon drums with wheat from a local farmer in late 1999 and fed it to the chickens for years afterwards. I believe eggs are about one of the best foods there is.

Marsh Creek Farmstead—
That's the plan. One of the two varieties I grew did better than the other. I'll keep the seeds that grew well and want to try a couple other varieties next year. For now, I'm looking to grow seed more than I am wheat.

I'm going to remember your experience with the mouse droppings. Good to know.

I'm wondering that too. Try a couple "packet fields" next year and I think you'll be encouraged. It's kind of like putting your toe in the water before jumping in.

I never heard of "The Deliberate Life." I'm going to check the book out. I love scything, and wrote about a scything accident I had a few years back… Hay-Making Adventures Be careful out there.

Oats! I like oats. You've inspired me to grow a "field" of oats next year. And thanks for the book idea. I'll add it to the list of "books I need to write someday."

I forgot about Confessions of a Wheat Hoarder. I have a Diamant grinder too. Bought it 15 years ago. It was half the current price back then. I've used it mostly to crack corn for feeding my chickens. but will be using it for people food too when the grid goes down. I wish you were my neighbor.

Jim Curley said...

What are you growing the sorghum for? We grew sorghum for syrup last year, but the seeds were great feed for the chickens too.

Herrick Kimball said...

I grew it for the seeds. Here is a quote from the Sustainable Seeds web site …

Worldwide, sorghum is a food grain for humans. In the United States, sorghum is used primarily as a feed grain for livestock. Feed value of grain sorghum is similar to corn. The grain has more protein and fat than corn, but is lower in vitamin A. When compared with corn on a per pound basis, grain sorghum feeding value ranges from 90% to nearly equal to corn.

Herrick Kimball said...


I should have said "I am growing it for the seeds" not "I grew it for the seeds." The plants look good but have more growing to do before they make seed.

RonC said...

I grew a small wheat plot two years ago and had a Whizbang cart full of wheat and straw to thresh. The easiest way I found to thresh my wheat was to lay a 4' by 4' square of 1/2 inch mesh screen down on the middle of a 10' by 12' canvas with the convex side up to form a tiny hoop house over the canvas. I then threw down a bundle of wheat on the screen and shuffled my boots on the wheat heads. It threshes out with little exertion. The nice thing is that the screen keeps wanting to spring back up so the screen stays on top of the wheat and chaff and you can get a lot of wheat threshed before you need to clean it up and start afresh. You still have the winnowing problem, but try to find something like a Clipper 2 Fanning Mill and you'll be in business. You can still crank one of those by hand if you need to, but a little 1/4 Hp motor works nicely if you have a lot to do.

Herrick Kimball said...

Those old fanning mills are amazing. I've come close to buying one a few times but have held off because I have no place to store it. I will have to build another shed…..

Sheila said...

I had a 50lb. bag of Hard Winter Wheat that had been stored in my Wood Garage for over 10 years! Yes, 10 years, and it had been through temps. of over 110 degrees in summer, and -20 degrees in the winter. It had sat on the low shelf of a Bakers Rack all that time.
Well, I decided to see if the impossible could happen. I planted a very small portion of it, in a space about 1 foot square. The next day it snowed on it!!! However, a while later IT DID COME UP, AND IT DID GROW!!!
I was so shocked! after all that, my little itty bitty 1 square foot space of wheat grew up just as majestic as could be. Never underestimate a grain of wheat. I know I never will again.

I ended up putting that wheat in 5 gallon buckets and it's still in that garage, and I hope to plant it again next year, only a much larger space, but will also plant some new wheat in half of the area too.

Mrs. H said...

I want to try growing grains sometime...just waiting for the outdoor yardage to do so!
Thanks for the seed source.