Days to germination: 5 to 10 days
Days to harvest: 150 to 170 days
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Only needed during very dry weather
Soil: Rich soil that is well-drained
Container: Not suitable
Wheat is a classic grain crop, usually grown commercially and used to make flour. But there is no reason why a home gardener can’t grow a small patch of wheat for themselves. Be ready for some work at harvest time though.
Though whole wheat seeds can be used in cooking, the most common use for wheat is flour. If you plan on grinding your wheat into flour, you’ll need to invest in a grain mill.
There is winter wheat and spring wheat, and spring wheat is the better choice for anyone growing in cold regions where winter wheat (sown in the fall) won’t survive. Winter wheat is usually fine up to zone 3, which makes it the more common crop through most of North America.
Wheat is very high in fiber and manganese, and its gluten is what makes such excellent bread.
Starting from Seed
Wheat is planted straight out into the garden, after you’ve dug up the patch and raked it smooth.
For winter wheat, you will want to do your sowing in the early fall about 2 to 3 weeks before you are expecting the first winter frost. The seeds will need to germinate and get some roots growing before the winter cold sets in. This is what give the plants the advantage come spring.
The usual way to sow wheat seed is just to broadcast it over your prepared field. That basically just means you use your hands to toss the seed around as evenly as you can. Obviously, you can’t be all that precise with this but you should try to aim for 1 seed for every square inch of space.
After the seeds are out, you need to go back over the area with a rake and smooth out the soil to cover your seeds. It can be a bit tedious considering the number of seeds but the birds will empty your field if you don’t.
Your plants will be quite crowded, so there won’t be any opportunity for weeding once they start to grow.
Once your wheat is growing, there isn’t all that much for you to do. During prolonged dry weather, you will want to give your plants a thorough watering to keep them growing well.
The closely-growing plants will keep you from doing any weeded, which probably won’t be necessary anyway because of the dense patch of wheat.
Wheat plants will grow just fine in large pots because they are not particularly big plants but the difficulty comes with the number of pots you will need in order to get a usable harvest. While it could conceivably be done, it would be impractical to grow dozens of pots of wheat.
Pests and Diseases
Wheat streak mosaic virus can strike your wheat crops, and will show streaked or mottled infections on the plant leaves. Overall growth of your plants will be stunted too. It can be spread by various mites, so treating your wheat with insecticide can help prevent the fungus infection later on. Once the fungus sets in, there is little you can do.
Thankfully, it’s usually not a problem unless you are growing your patch of wheat near larger commercial fields where the fungus can develop and spread.
There are also other forms of rust and blotch that can be a threat to a wheat crop. A topical treatment with fungicide when first discovered can usually help control it. Look for reddish-brown patches as well as wilting leaves.
As for insects, there are several to watch for. Slugs and snails can decimate a newly planted patch of wheat, so use slug baits or treat the soil with diatomaceous earth to repel them Once the plants are several inches high, slugs are no longer a serious threat.
Sawfly larvae can chew through the wheat stems and kill the plant if they completely circle the stem. The adults look like small wasps and can be controlled with insecticide in late spring.
Harvest and Storage
Depending on your climate, you can get 10 bushels or more from a quarter acre patch of wheat.
Though the results are worth it, there is quite a bit more work involved in harvesting wheat when compared to most other crops. It’s not really difficult, just more involved than going to the garden and picking a tomato from a plant.
You will want to harvest your wheat just before it is completely ripe. Fully ripe wheat kernels will fall off the stalk too easily, leading to a significant loss. So, slice off the seed heads when the kernels can still be dented with your fingernail. That’s the age-old method of measuring ripeness.
Leave the cut seed heads and stalks somewhere well ventilated to finish drying. Indoors is best to keep all moisture off of your wheat. When the kernels are fully dry (can no longer be dented), it’s time to thresh out the wheat.
You have to knock all the wheat seeds out of their hulls, so its time for a little work. For small quantities, you can bundle all your wheat into a sheet, and beat it with a short length of stiff garden hose. Or use the tied bundle to knock the wheat against a rock, or even use your feet to crush the seed heads. It can take some time for this step.
Once the seeds are separate from the rest of the stalks and seed heads, you have to winnow it all to get the debris out (also called the chaff). On a windy day (or with a fan), sift through all the plant material and let the lighter pieces blow away to leave your grain behind.
After all that, you will have your harvest of whole wheat kernels (often called wheat berries). Store them in any air-tight container that will keep the light out. Thoroughly dried wheat berries can actually last for years.
Even if you are going to use your wheat for flour, it’s best to store it in berry form and grind it when you need to use it. But even once its ground, you should be able to store whole wheat flour in the freezer for up to 8 months.