Why the heck would I bother with growing wheat?
There are so many more exciting edibles to be grown. But grain, Jennie?–Really?
I don’t know, it sounded fun at the time . . .
Ok, that’s not the whole story. I’m taking a shot at growing some of my own food the Biointensive way. According to John Jeavons’s incredible (and lengthily titled) biointensive gardening book How to Grow More Vegetables: And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine, for all those potatoes I just planted, I need to plant some carbon crops to balance my garden. The model for the sustainable growing ratio is 60% Carbon & Calorie Crops, 30% High-Calorie Root Crops, and 10% Greens. This balancing of different types of crops ensures that not only I get fed, but the soil gets fed, too. So, if I dedicate one bed to salad greens, I should have three beds of root crops, (this is where the potatoes come in), and six beds of carbon crops, such as wheat. Thus, the wheat.
ABOUT DYLAN WHEAT
from Bountiful Gardens website
SECTION: Grains and Fibers, Wheat, Modern, Triticum aestivum
100-110 days. We are so honored to be able to offer this wheat, the product of farmers working together doing on-the-farm breeding for disease reisistance rather than depending on chemicals.. The mother plants were selected from the survivors of a scab outbreak by breeder Matt Bolding. Dylan has a large seed size and will achieve heights up to 3 feet. It does well in wet environments.
One packet will plant 150 sq ft when using 5″ spacing in the bed.
I started my wheat grains in flats at the last new moon (if you just snickered, it’s science, not hocus pocus) and am now transplanting using five-inch offset spacing, as suggested. Rather than planting the wheat in rows, they are in more of a triangular or hexagonal pattern. I just have to say: transplanting is a heck of a lot harder than broadcast seeding. I went the broadcast route with my hulless oats.
For my little plot of wheat I invested $2.50, plus shipping to receive my single packet of seeds. I filled up 3 large seed-starting flats and I still have wheat leftover in the packet. If you’re curious, you can check out the very special type of wheat I’m growing from Bountiful Gardens, located in Willits, California, just a hop, skip, and long windy road from me.
CALORIES AND GARDEN REAL ESTATE
DISCLAIMER: I’m going to get all mathy on you
According to the “Master Charts” in Jeavons’s book, as a beginner, I should get about four pounds of wheat per 100 square feet, and 12 pounds of biomass for the compost pile. Hard Red Spring Wheat provides 1,483 calories per pound. In comparison, the Irish Potatoes in my other bed are an average of 349 calories per pound. Had I gone the biointensive route with the potatoes, I would’ve spaced them on 9-inch centers and expected 100 pounds of potatoes at harvest time per 100 square feet. See why I spaced my potatoes further in this post.
If you’ve figured out the math of a wheat bed versus a potato bed, you should have arrived at this answer: grains don’t measure up (calorically speaking).
WHEAT (1483 calories x 4 pounds) = 5,932 calories
POTATOES (349 calories x 100 pounds) = 34,900 calories
While I like to measure in calories per square foot of garden real estate, it’s not all about feeding me–I’m also growing to feed the soil. As the soil increases in quality and as my experience grows, my yields will (hopefully) increase. Jeavons’s book states that gardeners have achieved medium yields of ten pounds of wheat; however, harvests of up to 26 pounds per 100 square feet in an expert gardener’s bed is possible with good conditions.
Wheat excels in producing carbonaceous material (you can’t make straw out of old potato plants). All of the wheat stalks will go into the compost pile and eventually back into the garden beds, preparing the plot for the next planting and building the soil for seasons to come. Producing my own compost and gradually building the garden’s soil is part of my long-term goal of growing some of our own food. I don’t want to head down to the garden center every year to buy liquid fertilizers and cubic yards of compost. This is not only taxing on my wallet, but also on the environment. According to Jeavons, 40 garden beds properly balanced with 60/30/10 carbon/root/vegetable ratio can feed a person for a year, build the soil exponentially, and provide crops for a modest income; some gardeners report harvesting a complete balanced diet on as few as 25 beds.
“As FEW as 25 beds”? Jennie, you’re crazy! That’s a whole lotta garden.
Well, yes, that is a whole lotta garden. . . and digging, and work, but the model is for the amount of space required to feed one person for a whole year. With venison in the freezer and salmon just opening up, I’m not too concerned about reaching that mark. We live a hunting and harvesting lifestyle, so I’m starting with ten garden beds. This is still a pretty big gardening endeavor, but not overwhelming (yet).
We’ll just have to see how all these wheat starts do in my terrible soil. Stay tuned for updates on my grain growing project.
Have you tried growing grains yet? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a line in the space below.