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.
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.
The wheat on 24th July 2018
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.
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 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 3rd May 2018
How exciting! Then on Sunday:
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).
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 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.