The Wheat Experiment – Season 2 (part 1) – Wheat Garden Expansion

The second year of the wheat experiment is in full swing.  After the success of last season, I wanted to increase the size of the garden for this season.  Last year’s experimental wheat garden was 1’4″ x 6’8″ or roughly  8.9 sq. ft.  This year the garden is 5′ x 16′ or 80 sq. ft.  The garden from last season is still part of the new garden.  But the new garden has been extended 4 feet north into the backyard and 10 feet west towards the house.  To make this happen, I pulled down a portion of the old cinder block fence dividing the driveway from the backyard.

The following images document the changes.  The pictures were taken between December 1, 2012 and December 23, 2012.  Additional work occurring around the same time that is not necessarily highlighted in the photos: removal of a row of red tips behind the cinder block fence, installation of a gated entry to the driveway, replacement of the old backyard fence, and updating of  the sprinkler system.

The wheat seeds for season 2 were planted in January 2013.  They should have been planted in November 2012!  However, in the images one can see wheat growing in the area of the garden from last year.  I assume this particular wheat is from seeds that reseeded themselves from last year’s crop.

The view from the backyard.

Eyeballing the garden size. This trial is only 12'8" in length.







This is the full length (16 feet) garden. A portion of the cinder block wall is removed.

The wall is coming down!

Pushing the garden into the backyard.






Almost there!




Good bye, cinder blocks!



Down to the last row of cinder blocks ...








The full size (16' x 5') garden.


Filling the garden with organic soil.

The Season 2 Wheat Garden!!! Complete with organic soil and 12" pop-up sprinkler heads.

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The Wheat Experiment – Part 6

For this final installation of The Wheat Experiment (season 1), I’m going to cover threshing – the extraction of the seed/hull from the wheat stalk – and winnowing – the separation of the chaff from the seeds.  While the wheat garden itself was a complete success, the methods used to thresh and winnow were at best awkward (read: pain in the rear) and at worst time consuming and labor intensive (read: new curse words were invented and used).  Nonethless, I persevered and have wheat seeds to show for my efforts!

A single fruit of labor

For threshing, I turned to real-life wheat farmers with the pseudonyms Tarzan and Jane for guidance.  The method of choice: beating the crud out of the wheat stalks.  The idea here is to hold the bottom of the stalks and strike the head of the wheat against a wall thus releasing the wheat berries.  Sounds simple enough.  In practice I took a handful of stalks and covered the heads of the stalks with a plastic garbage bag such that the seeds when released were captured.  Then I struck the bag/heads of wheat against the driveway.  What actually happened: many seeds released, many heads broke away from the stems, and a variety of holes formed in the trash bag.  The trash bag holes were created from both the wheat beards poking through the bag and the striking of the bag against the textured surface of the driveway. The heads of wheat once broken from the stalks did not release seeds.  And quite a bit of wheat grass broke away from the stalks as well.  In the end, I had a mess on my hands.

The efforts of threshing

At this point in time, with broken wheat heads containing unreleased seeds, I turned to a pair of thick gardening gloves.  Taking a head of wheat, I rolled the head back and forth between my hands (think “It’s cold, and I’m going to rub my hands together to stay warm”) until the seeds released.  This method worked fine but was still time consuming and often the heads would break.  How long did all of this take?  Well, it appears it was one month before I attempted the winnowing.  Yes, I’ll say it again:  One month!  Finding a better method will be a priority this year.  I eventually ended up with a half full freeezer bag of seeds and chaff.

Bag of seeds and chaff

Winnowing was somewhat easier.  One method involves tossing the seeds, chaff and all, through a flame.  The chaff burns away AND any (evil) weevil eggs are destroyed.  I didn’t feel like I had a good setup for using fire.  So I opted for the fan method.  Using a fan to create an airflow parallel with the ground, the seeds and chaff were dropped through the airstream.  While the chaff blew away, the seeds fell straight to the ground.  In practice I used a small bowl containing the seeds/chaff and poured them through the airstream and into a larger bowl.  At first I had issues with the seeds bouncing out of the larger bowl, but I resolved this by placing a soft pad (specifically a hot pad from the kitchen) at the bottom of the bowl.  In the end, mostly seeds were left.  However, there were still broken stems from the heads of wheat that the airflow did not blow away along with some seeds that were still encased in the chaff.

Mostly seeds ....

At this point in time, I decided to remove non-seed material and to remove any seeds still in the chaff all by hand.  As much as I disliked this approach, I really wanted to be able to weigh the seeds without any extraneous material, and the ‘by hand’ approach was straightforward.

A seed fully encased in the chaff

I’m not sure how long this final phase took – I would do a little bit at a time over the course of two weeks.  Eventually I ended with seeds and only seeds!  Despite my wheat ‘field’ being located in a large major city and on top of a concrete driveway, I’m officially (in my own mind) a wheat farmer.

Just the facts, ma’am:

In total the amount of seeds reaped was a bit less than 1 cup.  And 1 cup of seeds will make about 1-cup of flour.  Since I use 2 cups of flour for one small to medium size loaf of bread, the harvest this season is arguably a failure.  The plan at this point is to use 100% of the seeds for re-planting next season (which I’ve already done!).  The finally tally for this year: 112g.

The Season 1 harvest: 112 grams of wheat seeds.

All-in-all the numbers are not kind for urban dwellers.  If a 1×6 (6 sq. ft.) plot yields 1 cup of flour, then a single loaf of bread requires 12 square feet.  And let’s say we want a loaf of bread every week of the year, then we need 12 square feet x 50 weeks (I’m using 50 instead of 52 because the math is easier) worth of space to grow wheat.  This translates to 600 square feet!  Where am I going to find that kind of space?  I’m pretty sure the neighbors will not appreciate my 24″ tall ‘lawn.’  As far as yield goes, I started with 41 grams and ended with 112 grams.  This represents a 273% increase.  If I got that kind of return on my investments over 6 months (December 5, 2011 to May 6, 2012.), I likely would quit my day job and open Doughvine – The Bakery.

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The Wheat Experiment – Part 5

Variegated Waves of Grain

This post, along with the next few, is long overdue.  Not to give away the ending, but suffice it to say, the Wheat Experiment was a huge success!!!  I’ve already replanted and desperately need to catch-up to season 2 of the Wheat Experiment.  That said, let’s plow forward …

On May 6, 2012, I harvested the wheat bed!  On that day, most of the wheat was golden.  A few stalks here and there were green, but I was getting anxious.  To ‘mow’ the wheat, I just used a pair of sharp craft scissors.  I have a few proper garden implements that would have done the job, but the scissors struck me as the tool with the most control.  However, use of the scissors proved to be too time consuming (I figured as much going into this).  As a result, I back-tracked and called for reinforcements.  I had the local help hold as many stalks as possible between her two clasped hands.  I then used a large pair of hedge trimmers to cut the wheat stalks about 1″ or 2″ from the soil.  This two-person technique worked quite well on such a small scale wheat field.

Harvest Day!

After the wheat bed massacre, the wheat was collected into a bundle – a bundle of wheat.  ‘Bundle’ does not really sound like a particularly technical term, but it is a perfect description.  According to my inside source, Tarzan – the wheat farmer, the proper technique for creating a bundle is as follows:

Bundle of Wheat

Gather the wheat into bundles large enough that it takes both hands (thumb and index finger) to reach around the straws.  In order to tie the bundle take three straws of wheat with the heads on, hold the heads in one hand and then with the other hand twist the three straws into a strand, then tie the bundle with the strand.  The binder knot is four wraps around the strand.

A bundle is sometimes called a sheaf.  And 13 bundles of wheat is known as a shock.

The huge, colossal size of my wheat bed yielded exactly 1 bundle of wheat.

I let the wheat continue drying inside my house.  I have a large south-facing window to which I placed very close the bundle of wheat.

And once the wheat finishes drying … (The Wheat Experiment – Part 6)

Wheat Bed Ready for Harvesting

For those keeping score at home: The wheat was planted on December 5, 2011 and harvested on May 6, 2012.



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