Category Archives: Veg Patch Loaf Project

The Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 8

The wheat just before harvest in August 2018.

 

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

Well, I am ashamed to tell you that it’s 5th December and I have just spent two hours threshing and winnowing the wheat. It has taken me this long to get around to it. This is partly due to being busy and partly down to procrastination.  I just didn’t know how to go about it. I intended to thresh and winnow on a dry but breezy day in the garden but every time a day like this came along something else was happening and I just didn’t have the time to get out a sheet and stamp all over the wheat and then throw it up up the air so that the breeze could blow away the chaff and the wheat grain would drop into a bucket.

Instead of getting on with the job, the wheat ears have been sitting in a bowl on the dining room table since they were harvested in August.

Today is a cold and rainy day and I knew that if I wanted to get it done this side of Christmas this was my only window of opportunity, so I set myself up in front of the telly. I put newspaper and an old sheet on the floor and spread the wheat ears on the sheet. I folded it over and stamped all over the wheat ears. Then I squeezed them between my hands to get the last few grains free.  April Bearded Wheat has long, sharp beards that pierce through your jumper and get stuck in your arms and hands.

Then I placed handfuls of the chaff and grain in a colander over a sieve  and gave it a shake, then swapped so that I was shaking over the colander. Then I blew away the chaff. It made a mess and I breathed in a lot of dust.

From the 40g of original grain I have harvested 200g.  Not exactly a raging success but then I am  not a very conscientious harvester either, so probably lost a fair amount of grain to the local mouse family.  In between cutting down the straw and chopping off the heads of grain the wheat stood in a (sort of) bushel in the greenhouse. The cats found it made an attractive bed and scratched it about and I have no doubt that some of it was also eaten by one of the chickens before I caught her in the act.  All in all I would make a terrible farmer.

200g is not enough grain to make half a loaf of bread.  I am in two minds as to whether I grind it up and combine it with another flour to make a loaf or keep the seed and plant it again in the spring in a larger patch and see what yield I can get in 2019. I am favouring the latter. If I combine it with another flour I won’t be able to test how the April Bearded really performs as a flour. But if I plant it again, I could potentially lose the whole crop. I think, if we have learned anything from this experiment it is that I will not be winning any Farmer of the Year awards any time soon.

Answers and opinions on the above dilemma are very welcome.

200g of cleaned grain

Although 200g is a meagre amount of grain to have harvested I have really enjoyed the process and it has certainly made me appreciate the effort needed to grow wheat. For me, it has been a game. It didn’t matter if the crop failed or if I managed to yield 200g.  But by doing it I have learned so much more about the grains I use to make my bread.  It has spurred me to read more  about wheat varieties and populations, landraces and heritage wheats and to understand how complicated wheat growing is for the farmer, with soil nutrition and managing the threats of weather, pests and disease and so much more. Growing my small patch of wheat has strengthened my resolve to support the farmers that are making the effort to grow the more unusual grains organically or with care for the biodiversity of their farms and the wider environment and I will never take a bag of grain or flour for granted again. 

 

Veg Patch Loaf Instalment 6 – The ears are filling!

I went to a fantastic event yesterday at a farm local to here. The National Organic Combinable Crops Conference (NOCC) is in its 11th year and I jumped at the chance to spend the day learning more about organic wheat growing and getting an insight into the farmer’s perspective.  The event was hosted by Mark Lea at his family farm, Green Acres, about ten minutes drive from here at Kemberton. They run a diverse farm; arable, beef, sheep (a new venture this year) and taking in green waste from the local council to use as manure.  Mark runs trials for The Organic Research Centre and it was fascinating to walk his fields to look at intercropping and the range of heritage and modern wheats he is trialling.  These crops aren’t just for research though but are a commercial crop in their own right.  The conference was really interesting. I had no idea that planting crops together, (intercropping), is not more likely to create competition between plants but instead the collaboration between these plants actually helps each plant grow stronger and improve yield. Basically, growing crops together helps them to share nutrients.  We looked at soil  (in a large hole) to learn how to read it for health. The most exciting thing for me, (apart from the delicious pastries and lunch from The Small Food Bakery)  was being able to taste all of the different grains that Mark had grown on the farm last year baked in a biscuit by Kimberley Bell of said bakery.  Having so many grains to compare at one time reveals how very different each variety of grain can be. It helped back up what I always say to students, feel how this bag of flour works, adapt as you need to.

I came home and looked at my little patch of wheat with new eyes.  Here is how my patch looks today:

April Bearded Wheat 4th July 2018

The wheat and poppies 4th July 2018

I am not sure that allowing the poppies to grow rather than pulling them up really counts as intercropping, but it sounds like an excellent excuse.

April Bearded Wheat Ears

All seems well with my wheat so far, but the continued lack of rain is starting to tell in the garden. We really could do with some rain soon. The situation for some of the farmers at the conference is beginning to get critical for crop success this year.  I am beginning to think that grain and flour is going to be more expensive from this year’s harvest.

So far I am really pleased with how the wheat is growing.  I now need to research what to look out for in this next phase and plan for how I am going to harvest my lovely little patch of wheat. If I am lucky enough to get to that point, that is. I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch, or my wheat ears before they ripen. Watch this space.

Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 4

It’s been 8 weeks today since I planted my April Bearded wheat seeds in a 3mx2m plot next to VPK HQ. This is what the plot looks like today:

April bearded wheat, 8 weeks

There has been a lot of growth in four weeks. The last four weeks has also brought torrential rain storms and long dry patches.  There has been some lodging of the crop (when it falls over) as a result of the heavy rain, but it has recovered surprisingly well.

Lodged wheat

Patch of lodged wheat

There are no signs of wheat heads emerging yet but I hope in the next week or so they will emerge so that they have time to ripen over the summer. This morning’s forecast on the telly was for warm weather for the next few weeks so fingers crossed this helps.  We are watering the wheat when it needs it but being careful not to overwater. I have, of course, not kept on top of the weeds and there is a lot of chickweed growing through the wheat and I can’t bear to pull up a self-seeded poppy so they are growing in amongst the patch too.

There is a little bit of yellowing on some of the leaves. I am not sure whether this is due to a lack of nitrogen or because I didn’t plant the seeds deep enough in the first place. I am hoping it is nothing more sinister than that. If anyone has any suggestions as to what this yellowing might be due to I would be very grateful.

wheat yellowing leaves

Some yellowing of the leaves

All in all, so far so good. There hasn’t been any major disasters yet. The dog is staying away; the rain hasn’t caused too much lasting damage.  We have a long way to go to get a crop yet so please keep your fingers and your toes crossed for me.

I’ll let you know when the wheat heads emerge. I am looking forward to seeing their hairy frothiness, (at least that is what I am expecting from a wheat called April Bearded).

Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 3

So it’s Day 27 of the wheat project. It is shooting up and is tillering. I wondered if it would tiller as a spring wheat and it seems it will. Tillering is when more than one shoot comes from the base of the plant (I have googled it!) and is all to do with the plant having sufficient space and light to produce more shoots.  If it is grown in a tight space and is shaded by other plants it will put its efforts into growing up rather than out.  I am giving it a light water each day as it has been a while since it rained here in Shropshire.  But really nothing more than that.  I let the chickens out today whilst I cleaned them out and they were showing far too much interest in it for my liking. They were put away again as soon as cleaning had finished.

Day 27 April Bearded Wheat

Instalment one and two give background to the project. I hope to make a loaf from the garden in the autumn. Fingers and toes are firmly crossed. Any advice from wheat experts gratefully received.

The Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 2

The wheat has come up! I was nervous for a while that it wasn’t going to do anything. I was like a mother hen checking for her babies. Each time I passed the garden, which is a fair amount of times a day, I would inspect for signs of growth. Nothing. Then on Wednesday of last week I could see the first tiny shoots. Then on Thursday it looked like this:

First signs of wheat

First signs of wheat 3rd May 2018

How exciting! Then on Sunday:

Wheat growing

Shooting up Sunday 6th May 2018

(I can see from this photo that there is a rogue borage seedling in there. I will be tackling that later. If I don’t get it quick I start to feel bad about uprooting it as the bees love it so much. I must be ruthless! )

Once the wheat starts you can almost hear and watch it growing. Here it is this morning:

The wheat patch Wednesday 9th May 2018

I am a complete amateur so I have no idea how healthy this patch looks with an experienced eye. I wonder if by broadcasting the seed I have grown them too closely together?  Will the wheat tiller* if it is spring grown? Or is tillering a feature of winter wheat only?  Is it too close for tillering?

I am just very happy to see it come up and grow, especially as whilst the Collie Disruption Mechanism (the poles and string) are working and stopping the dog from digging it isn’t stopping the cats from enjoying the occasional roll on the cool soil or indeed having a scratch about.

*tillering in wheat is when it grows more side shoots (I have seen it mentioned by wheat experts on twitter and I have googled it. Thanks must go to Mark Lea @GreenAcres_Farm and Edward Dickin  @naked_barley from whom I am learning vicariously via the magic of Twitter).

The Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 1

I have had the Veg Patch Loaf Project in my mind for the last year or so. The idea is that I will plant wheat in our veg patch next to our bread kitchen. This wheat will grow, (unfettered by bad weather, pest, disease or squirrel) and at the end of this year I will bake a loaf from home-grown wheat.

Well, I have finally managed to plant my wheat seeds today.  I had hoped to plant some winter wheat seeds in the autumn last year, but with life being busy I didn’t get round to it somehow. I thought that perhaps I had missed the boat. Then, I was reading the latest copy of True Loaf magazine from The Real Bread Campaign and an article reminded me of The Brockwell Bake Association and their project to encourage allotmenteers, schools and community projects to grow heritage wheat. I visited their website and was very pleased to find that I could still order some spring wheat seeds from them. I know that I am far behind most farmers and growers but this is my first time attempting to grow wheat so even though I am really hoping I will get a small crop my expectations for success are fairly low. I am just going to give it a go and see what happens.

Brockwell Bake Association sent me 40g of April Bearded seed.

Here is the planted plot and how it looks today:

The wheat patch at Veg Patch Kitchen

The wheat patch at Veg Patch Kitchen

The plot is roughly 3m x 2m with a path through the middle so I can get in and weed.  I broadcast the seeds randomly, raked them in and then used a large piece of cardboard (a Shipton Mill delivery box as it happens) laid on the soil to tread the seed in. The canes and string are there as a collie disruption mechanism, in other words to stop our collie, Rascal, from digging up my seeds. For some reason his favourite game is to dig large holes in this particular patch.

I am an erratic gardener. I try my best every year to be better than the last. We always have a degree of success and a fair few meals from our garden every summer and autumn, but my gardening leaves a fair amount to be desired. Inevitably the weeds get the better of me.  I hate pulling up self-seeded borage, nasturtiums and poppies because the bees and other pollinators love them so much.  As a result our veg tends to be a little drowned out by these. Only the very strong wins through.  I am going to try my hardest to be a diligent weeder of the wheat patch and I am hoping that the squirrels and pigeons give me a break when it comes to harvest time (if the crop survives that long).  I will report the progress of the Veg Patch Loaf throughout the season. I very much hope I will be able to post a loaf that uses at least a bit of the wheat later in the year.  Watch this space.