Tag Archives: grow your own loaf

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. 


The Veg Patch Loaf Project Instalment 7

Well, the wheat ears are ripening. We have had the driest summer since the 1960’s (or so they tell us on the telly) and the parched grass is certainly evidence of that. We watered the wheat sparingly at the beginning of its growth and it hasn’t had a water for a few weeks now. We have been lucky to have had a few rainstorms during a few nights in the last couple of weeks which has just about kept the garden ticking over.

Wheat ears ripening

I am wondering if we will ever get to harvest the wheat though. This dry weather has meant there is very little food for the deer that roam locally and the other night they found our borlotti beans and stripped them off to as far as they could reach.  As soon as I discovered this I reinstated the collie disruption mechanism , now renamed the deer disruption mechanism. I seriously doubt that it will really stop a hungry, marauding deer, but it makes me feel a little more reassured that I might yet harvest enough for a loaf. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Wheat in garden

The wheat on 24th July 2018

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.