When you grow wheat, you begin to see what an important crop it is in our country. Google-research a problem with, say, kale, and you'll get a bunch of websites written by folks just like you and me. Google-research a problem with wheat, and BAM: You've got the big guns weighing in, from the USDA to the Land Grant Universities. According to the USDA, wheat ranks third among US field crops in planted acreage, production, and gross receipts. (You can guess the top two crops, I imagine.) However, wheat planting and production are actually down this year, due to lower returns and changes in government programs, as well as increased competition from global wheat markets.
Again according to the USDA, wheat, along with corn, soybeans, cotton, and potatoes, accounts for about 80% of all pesticide use in our country.
This makes you wanna find your local, organic wheat farm, doesn't it? It sure does for me. It also sure as hell solidifies my resolve to continue baking our own bread with said wheat.
Meanwhile I'm enjoying our own wheat-growing experiment. There are some definite downsides. The main one is space, which is certainly a limiting factor. The ratio of biomass-to-product is quite high; the huge stalks take up quite a bit of room for such little return. You have to plant a LOT of wheat to get any kind of poundage at the end of the process. It's also a long-growing crop; I planted these seeds in October, and the plant probably won't be ready for harvesting until late May, at the earliest. This is an issue when I want to get summer crops in the ground at the beginning of May at the latest. Some crops, such as potatoes, should go in in February. In order to do that, I'm going to have to cut some of the wheat early.
There are lots of positives to growing wheat, though, not the least of which is how beautiful it is. It couldn't be any more GREEN.
Other benefits: The aforementioned biomass is actually a boon, as it can be used in several ways; as fodder for the chickens, or as a mulch for my summer plants. Finding organic straw is difficult, and I've basically made my own. It has acted as a wonderful cover crop over the winter, mixed with crimson clover as an understory plant. Live roots in the ground year-round really promote soil life and health. I mean, just LOOK at all the sunlight that's been captured in these beautiful leaves.
Here's another downside, though, at least in my garden. My wheat is starting to lodge.
Lodging is when the wheat falls over. It's happening in every one of my beds. The outside rim of each bed is fine, beautifully upright, and then the inner portions have keeled over. There are many reasons this could have happened, but I don't see that any are applicable here. The plants could be suffering from excess nitrogen (never a problem in my beds, trust me when I tell you that all my soil nutrient tests come back deficient in nitrogen, which is why I planted clover too - but the nitrogen nodules in the roots of the clover won't be available to nearby plants until after I cut down the clover and let the roots rot in the soil). They could be suffering from a deficiency of potassium (though my soil tests say this nutrient level is ok). They could have fallen from high winds, which I suppose is possible, but honestly, are our winds higher than those in the Great Plains? I don't think so. It hasn't been particularly wet this winter. Interseeding clover is supposed to help with this issue, and I did that.
The only thing I can figure is, it's the variety of wheat. I planted all heirloom varieties, wheat that could be considered ancient and isn't used any longer on big commercial farms; Emmer, Sonora, and Red Fife. And from my reading, it does sound as though the lodging problem has been bred out of the newer strains, along with a lot of the nutrition. Honestly, I don't WANT to grow modern wheat. I want to grow the good, heirloom stuff.
I am cheered by reading that the lodging may not hurt the seed crop, if it happens before the seed develops. But I do think stems of wheat lying down and collecting water is going to invite rot; and in fact, some of the stems have some discoloration. So, this crop may end up being fodder and straw sooner than I expected, and I'll just have to keep buying my wheat berries from the local farmer.
Have any of you ever grown wheat? How have you dealt with lodging?