Growing winter wheat in your garden

I’ve had people ask me if it is possible to grow their own wheat.

Actually, you can grow wheat in small, garden-sized areas using the gardening tools you already have. In Michigan we grow mostly soft winter wheat. So, what does that mean?

Wheat is classified into six general types, or classes. Hard red spring wheat is the type we see most often in the grocery store; it is ground into flour used to make bread. Hard red winter wheat is made into all-purpose flour; soft red winter wheat is used for cake and pastry flour; soft white wheat is used pretty much like soft red winter wheat; hard white wheat is also used for some types of breads and is closely related to hard red wheat; and durum wheat is used for making pasta.

Even if you don’t want to grow wheat to make into flour, it is still useful to grow in the garden. It makes an excellent over-winter cover crop that helps to scavenge minerals from the soil. Then, when you till in the plants, ┬áthose minerals are made available for next year’s crops.

Winter wheat grows thick roots that, along with the tops, add valuable organic material to the garden soil. It also will keep annual weeds from growing until you are ready to till an area.

Right now is the optimum time to plant winter wheat in our area. Mid to late-September is called “the Hessian fly free date.”

Hessian Fly is a serious pest in wheat that can drastically reduce wheat yields, although it is not as serious a problem now as it was in years past.

Farmers plant about 1.5 to two million wheat seeds per acre.

Farmers plant about 1.5 to two million wheat seeds per acre.

Wheat is fairly simple to grow in a garden. First, till an area as you would for planting vegetables or flowers. Then spread wheat seed evenly over the area by hand or with a seed spreader. For a 10 x 10 foot area use about a quarter pound of seed or a little more to allow for losses from birds or uneven planting.

Lightly roto-till the area so that the seeds are covered by an inch of soil. Finally, press down the seeded area with a lawn roller to make sure the wheat seed has good contact with the soil.

It won’t be long before the seed germinates and you’ll have a nice green stand of growing wheat.

You can find wheat seed for sale on-line or at a farm supply store. Sometimes a local farmer will sell you some. Wheat from a bulk-food bin is often heat-treated to kill insects, and may not be suitable for planting. Excessive heat from the treatment can damage the tiny living embryo inside the seed.

Your amber waves of grain will be ready for harvest the middle of next summer.

Bob Dluzen
As a result of being a gardener for more than 40 years, 30 of those as a professional, Bob's gardening has become an integral part of his life. "It's the ever-changing seasons and the wide variety of plants and gardens that keeps me intrigued," he says. Bob lives and gardens in rural Monroe County.