Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wheat- the staff of Life

Sometimes, I think I have gone mad. The desire to find out how things are done, or made, or grown, or processed... well, it is more like obsession than desire, but still I think it is valuable at least to me.
This year, the desire was Wheat. I had this package of FARRO- which is a whole wheat berry that you boil like rice to make salads and side dishes. The Anti- gluten free- side dish.
Let's get back to the bag of Farro. It said on the bag that you could taste the difference in wheat grown in different parts of the world, just like coffee or wine. This was grown in Italy. Part of me found this to be a challenge. I would grow some of this wheat and do a taste test to compare the two. They had sucked me in with their marketing drivel.
So, I had this idle raised bed that would be perfect for a crop of winter wheat. Was this winter wheat? Who knows. Farro- is a side dish, not a type of wheat. The type of wheat grown in Italy could be winter wheat. Or summer wheat, or red wheat or white wheat or soft or hard wheat. Or spelt! Who knows what they put in that bag.
I used about 2 ounces of the wheat in the bag to sow the soil and applied some regular fertilizer. Just to  be sure there was a chance this would sprout, I had test sprouted some and it was indeed fertile. Then I watered and watched. Sure enough, I planted in October and in about a week, I had some little grassy sprouts. Now I had to research what it was supposed to look like and how it was supposed to grow. Wheat- water once a week in dry climates to about 12 inches a season. In So.Cal during a normal year, we get about 6 inches a year. So irrigation was indeed the answer.  I watered weekly soaking the bed. Wheat grows for awhile then the snow covers it and it goes dormant. Snow. We don't get no stinkin' snow. It is spring all winter. I hope this is spring wheat.
It grew slowly all winter, but really picked up around February. By April it was very tall and in mid April it started to make seed heads- Ears. Now I had to find out how long this part takes and what to do next.
The seed heads need to go through several stages of growth- first they push out of the middle of the stalk. Each plant will produce several stalks, making a cluster of stalks from the same root base. In my plot, the stalks all started at different times. Over a month period, there was a little bit of bloom every day. This would mean that harvest would be  staggered and there would be a little every day over several weeks. Joy. I don't own a combine harvester for my wheat. It is all hand picked so a little at a time is a good thing.
The next step is for the kernels to grow to milk stage, then dough stage, then dry stage, then harvester? Wait, I just said I didn't have a harvester, so when do I harvest? Well, I decided to  pick at the late dough stage and dry the ears in the dehydrator to completion. This staggered harvest, hand picked and dried went on from mid May to mid June.
We had a killer heat spell, complete with raging wild fires in early May and much of the wheat decided to end right then. Some of it recovered a bit and kept going. By mid June, I was done and harvested the rest of whatever was left.
After picking the ears and drying them, then what? I don't have any tools for extracting the seeds/kernels.
I will continue the story in the next blog. Let us just say that- wheat is not the staff of life.