How To Grow Wheat Commercially Or On A Small Scale: A Short Guide

Worldwide, wheat is one of our most important food crops. It is also one of the oldest food crops. If you are here to learn more about how to grow wheat commercially or in your homestead, you are in the right place. Read on to learn more about wheat farming in our short guide.

A Short History Of Wheat Farming

history of wheat farming

It is believed that the first plants cultivated were in the Middle East more than ten thousand years ago. The cultivation of wheat made huge changes in the lives of the people of that time.

Wheat made it possible for people to stay in one place cultivating the food they needed rather than moving from place-to-place with the seasons in search of food.

As the many benefits of wheat cultivation caught on, the practice spread to North Africa, Asia and Europe. In each location, farmers used selective breeding by choosing the best kernels of wheat to save as seed. This resulted in many different types of wheat being developed early on.

Today, more than 2 billion bushels of wheat are produced in the United States annually, and almost seventy-five percent of grain products made in the US are made with wheat flour. Even so, this accounts for only about half of the wheat grown in the US. The rest is exported to markets around the world.

How Do You Grow Wheat?

how do you grow wheat

Begin by selecting the right kind of wheat for your climate and your soil. This can be a little bit difficult because there are so many different options when choosing wheat berries. It’s a good idea to talk with your County extension agent to find out what’s growing well for farmers in your area.

Get your soil tested and work together to choose the best wheat for your location and soil. Your County agent may also help you to determine what you need to do to amend your soil for the best growth.

Be sure to look into seed treatments which can be very helpful in protecting your crop against pests, diseases and even weeds. This is especially important if you live in a southern location where these threats are more prevalent. Choosing correctly treated seed can boost your yield.

You’ll want to choose a variety of seed that is resistant against stem and leaf rust, which is a big problem in hot, humid climates. Stem rust is a disease that can wipe out your entire crop very quickly.

Luckily, recent developments have made several high yield varieties of wheat available which are strongly resistant to rust.

When Is Wheat Grown?

There are literally thousands of different kinds of wheat, and it is grown in both the springtime and in the winter. Wheat is a very adaptable crop, and it is grown successfully in 42 of the 50 United States. It does best in areas that receive about 10 inches of rain annually.

If you want to grow winter wheat, you’ll plant it in the autumn and harvest it in the summertime. You’ll need to plant it well before the very cold weather sets in because it needs time to develop it’s root system.

Wheat School – Fall Fertility: The Essentials

Planting Spring Wheat

Spring wheat is known as a tough crop because it stays underground during the cool, early spring days. This prevents it from spring frost damage.

If you want to plant spring wheat, you’ll plant it early in the springtime, the earlier the better. Soil temperatures should be between 36 and 40°F. It’s even possible to “dormant seed” spring wheat by planting it late in the month of November or early in December.

When you do this, the ground is too cold to allow germination. The seed will remain dormant until spring arrives. You’ll harvest spring wheat late in the summer time.

Read also: How To Grow Tomatoes {A Simple Guide}

Crop Rotation Improves Yield

Good wheat growing begins with a well-prepared field. One important aspect of field preparation is crop rotation. This practice helps prevent depletion of the soil. Some good crops to consider for rotation with wheat are sunflours and corn.

Typically, you’ll plant wheat for two years and then plant one of the other crops for one year before resuming wheat production on the same field.

One advantage of rotating wheat with these crops is that sunflours and corn leave some open space that allow you to diligently remove weeds and amend the soil while they are growing. This can be difficult with wheat crop.

When preparing your field for wheat, you should remove weeds aggressively. Also be careful to remove any volunteer wheat. This is wheat that may have seeded itself from a previous crop.

When wheat self seeds, it loses any resistance to disease that its parent plant may have had. This means that your volunteer wheat may be susceptible to pests and diseases such as wheat curl mite and mosaic streak virus. Be sure to kill off any volunteer wheat a minimum of two weeks before you sow your new wheat seed.

After making sure the soil is free of weeds and rocks you must amend it to support the growth of wheat. Soil should be plowed and smoothed, and trenches or furrows should be dug for the addition of organic matter and/or fertilizer and the sowing of seed.

Seed can be sown by machine or by hand. In dry areas, less seed should be used because individual wheat plants are thirsty plants.

In areas where water is scarce, over-planting will surely fail. You should also keep your location in mind when deciding how thickly to plant your wheat. Typically, warmer southern locations can be more thickly planted than cooler northern locations.

Three Key Steps To Planting Winter Wheat Right

Planting Winter Wheat

Winter wheat is usually grown in the southern states (Texas to Nebraska). In these warmer climates, it can be planted as early as late September.

Additionally, in the southern states wheat may even be planted as a pasture grass. When this is the case, it’s planted even earlier and can be sown quite thickly. Typically, a rate of 60 to 75 pounds of seed per acre is used.

Crop rotation is also valuable when planting winter wheat. Good crops for rotation with winter wheat include corn, sorghum and soybeans.

For successful winter wheat planting, the soil temperatures at time of sowing must be lower than 80°F. You need good moisture levels to encourage enthusiastic germination and plant emergence.

Growing Wheat In Canada

it’s very important to plant winter wheat at just the right depth. It needs to be covered enough to attain and retain moisture, but it must not be buried so deeply that the seedlings must struggle to emerge from the soil.

Winter wheat does well when planted using the no till seeding method which drills seed directly into the left over, untilled residue of your rotation crop. The residue acts as mulch to prevent soil erosion, protect the soil and retain moisture.

The seed drilling method leaves a path which allows the seedling to emerge easily through the residue.

Water Requirements: Spring Vs. Winter Wheat

During the dry months of summer, you’ll need to irrigate your wheat field deeply twice or even three times. If you’re growing wheat in the winter, water requirements will be less. Winter wheat should be watered deeply immediately after the seeds are sown.

In the springtime, you’ll need to check the moisture of the soil again and provide more water if the soil seems dry or if the emerging wheat stems appear to be parched.

3 Steps To Maintain Your Wheat Field

steps to maintain your wheat field

1. Monitor The Need For Water

You must keep a close eye on growing wheat, and watch out for weed growth, pests and a need for water and nourishment. Generally speaking, throughout the growing season your spring wheat may need to be irrigated on a monthly basis. This is dependent upon how much rain you get.

2. Take Proactive Steps Against Pests

In addition to keeping bugs away, you’ll want to keep birds away. Birds love to eat wheat seed, but you can scare them away by posting a series of streamers, flags or noisemakers throughout your wheat field. When the wind blows, the movement of these objects will help keep birds off.

3. Fertilize The Right Amount

In addition to fertilizing when you sow your wheat seed, you may also need to fertilize a couple of times during the growing season. With winter wheat, you’ll want to provide to applications of nitrogen.

Apply half in the springtime and the second half as a top dressing later on in the growing season. With spring wheat, this may not be necessary. You may be able to get by with just fertilizing when you sow your seed.

How Do You Harvest Wheat?

how do you harvest wheat

Generally speaking, wheat is harvested throughout the spring and into the early summer months. To determine whether or not it’s time to harvest your wheat, you’ll need to look at it and make sure that it’s mature enough.

To do this, pinch a wheat head between your thumb and forefinger and rub it gently. Once you’ve released one of the grains, chew on it to find out if it cracks open and softens as you chew. If it does, you know your wheat is ready to be harvested.

Of course, the weather must be conducive for harvesting. You’ll want a series of dry, clear days when you can work in the fields easily. Harvesting during damp weather is a recipe for moldy crop.

Before you start harvesting, be sure you know what you plan to do with the harvest. Prepare an area for storage that will protect your crop from weather and pillaging by livestock and vermin.

Begin with an empty storage area. If you have leftovers from your previous year’s crop, clear them out. Keeping old wheat with new wheat is liable to ruin the new wheat.

If you’re using a combine to harvest your wheat, be sure you understand exactly how to use it. Read the instructions and adjust your settings to harvest your crop efficiently. Be sure that the sickle is good and sharp to make clean cuts.

In addition to understanding how your equipment works and making sure that all of your settings are correct for the task at hand, remember to perform a safety inspection before you set out and follow all best practices as you work.

Prioritize your harvest by working with your highest quality wheat first. If you have fields with weed problems, save them for last. Get your best wheat in and under shelter early in your harvest. Take your best wheat to the grain elevator first, as soon as you have harvested it.

Should You Save Wheat Seeds?

If you decide that you want to save and clean your own wheat seed instead of buying commercial seed, you’ll have to be very careful to clean it, sort it and store it correctly. You’ll want to take a sample to your County extension agent for germination testing to be certain the seed is viable.

To save your own wheat seed, collect the seed heads from the best plants as they dry. Store them carefully in closed and labeled paper bags to allow them to dry out naturally.

When you’re ready to plant your saved weed seed, shake the bag to separate the seeds from the chaff.

Pour the contents of the bag into another container from a height of a couple of feet on a breezy day. If you do it just right, the chaff will blow away and the seed will fall into your container ready to use for planting.

Growing Wheat For The First Time

How Do You Make Flour From Raw Wheat?

Flour made from raw wheat is far superior to flour that you buy in the store because store-bought flour has been bleached and processed, and the wheat germ has been removed.

When you make your own flour from your own wheat, you can control the milling process from start to finish and enjoy all of the goodness of your homegrown grain.

Milling your own wheat also makes it possible for you to control the fineness or the coarseness of your flour. This means that you can custom make your flour to suit your needs no matter what baking or cooking project you have in mind.

No matter what you make with your home milled flour, you can count on it having a richer, fuller and more satisfying taste than anything you make with store-bought flour.

Processing Wheat Into Flour

What Are The Parts Of Wheat?

There are three parts to every grain of wheat:

1. Bran

Commercially processed wheat has the bran removed because this creates finer flour; however, it also removes the dietary fiber which is so good for gut health.

2. Wheat Germ

Wheat germ contains a very high concentration of vitamins E, thiamine, niacin and folate. This, too is removed from commercially prepared flour.

3. Endosperm

The carbohydrates (starch) in wheat are contained in the endosperm. Commercially prepared flour is made almost entirely from endosperm.

What Kind of Tools Do You Need to Grind Wheat?

In the early days of wheat growing, the grains were hand milled by grinding them between two flat stones.

Today, many different methods of milling are available, including hand grinders that work on the same principle but employ cranks, gears and the concept of the wheel to work.

How To Grind Your Own Flour By Hand From Wheat

Cranking a hand grinder can be something of a workout, but luckily it’s not the only way to mill wheat. You can also use a number of different electrical kitchen appliances, such as a blender, a coffee grinder or a food processor, if you don’t have a grinder.

Of course, there are also large, commercial powered grinders that you can use if you need to grind a great deal of wheat.

Be sure to use dry wheat when grinding because it’s easier to grind and the resulting product is better. Keep your wheat berries in an airtight container until you are ready to grind them.

Before grinding, pour the berries into a fine mesh strainer or a sifter and shake them up to remove dust and debris. You’ll want to sift the flour again after you’ve ground it. This last step will remove any chaff or hulls that might have mistakenly gotten into the grinder.

How Does Freshly Ground Wheat Taste?

The flavor of the flour you make will depend a great deal upon what kind of wheat you use. There are many different types of wheat, and their nutritional and flavor makeup varies a great deal.

For example:

  1. Red wheat has higher gluten content, so it makes a very elastic dough that is perfect for making pizza crusts and bread.
  2. White wheat is very mild flavored and soft textured, so it is the perfect choice if you plan to make cookies, biscuits or cake.

Preparation also influences the flavor of the flour you make. For example, if you toast your raw wheat kernels before you grind them, you’ll impart a nutty flavor.

The age of your wheat also makes a difference to its flavor. Freshly harvested wheat is quite sweet, but if it’s been stored for quite a while the sweetness diminishes.

Is It Hard To Grow Wheat?

Wheat growing is a complex process that varies greatly from one location to another. In this article, we have provided a very general overview of the process.

To learn more about growing wheat in your area, see you county extension agent and avail yourself of the many resources and PDF documents available online to provide you with specific information to suit your plans and your location. Read also this interesting article on differences between wheat and buckwheat.

References:

  1. Grain Chain – Wheat to Flour
  2. Wheat Fun Fact Sheet
Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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