This year we've grown wheat on the allotment. Its part of the Garden Organic member's experimental trials programme, but its not something we've done before. In fact we've only ever grown one grain before - quiona - which grew OK but was a pain to harvest, thresh and winnow, especially as it looked pretty similar to some of the related weeds growing on the plot. Quiona is something that we only use very, very occasionally, so after the hassle it didn't seem worth bothering with again. Wheat on the other hand is a major part of our day to day diet, so growing a bit ourselves sounded jolly interesting.
Our trial plot is pretty tiny - about 1m wide by 2m long. According to the GO instructions this should get us enough wheat for two loaves of bread. What GO are interested in is how well the wheat grew and how we process and use it - they want to know if domestic scale grain growing is something that more gardeners might be interested in.
Our patch grew OK despite the manky summer we've had this year. It needed the odd weeding but didn't need much else - certainly no watering with the amount of rain we've had! We ended up with a nice sheaf of golden wheat sitting in the corner of my workshop to dry out a couple of weeks ago.
Now I've been slightly incapacitated recently (a long and rather unpleasant story I won't go into here) so it came to pass that yesterday I was on enforced light duties (or "rest" as my other half and the doctors had insisted). It was nice a sunny so I managed to persuade She Who Must Be Obeyed that I wouldn't explode or fall apart if allowed to sit in the sun down in the door way of my workshop and slowly thresh the wheat by hand.
What I ended up doing was removing the ears by hand a stalk or two at a time: not at all the process I'd originally intended (I was planning on putting them on a sheet and then jumping up and down to release the grains and chaff, but I doubt m'lady would have considered that "rest" and neither would my body probably). Massively time consuming, and indeed I've got a third still to do, but it was rather pleasant sitting in the warm late summer sun dealing with our harvest, listening to the wireless (a workshop has to come with a hand-me-down wireless!) and time to think.
Fiddling with the ears I began to realize the amount of effort that goes into the flour and breads that we all take for granted in the modern world. Its something I "knew" already, but this was making it real. Even though I bake my own bread, I buy in the flour, yeast, salt and sugar and usually leave the actual process to the bread machine sitting on the corner of my kitchen counter. Yet here I was getting close and personal with part of the process of getting that flour from something we scattered on the ground some months before. Obviously farm scale wheat growers and millers don't have folk hand shacking the ears, but just think of the energy use that is going into the process instead: the fuel for the combine harvesters, the transport to the mill, the power operating the milling machines and then the storage and transport to the end user. All hidden away from most people by a brown loaf in a plastic bag on a supermarket shelf.
Now whilst I'm only going to get a loaf or two out of our little two square metre patch of wheat, I'm beginning to feel that there's a greater value in growing such a small amount. It provides an education and a reconnection, another part of the food web laid bare. It might not be the crop to grow on your plot if you're after maximum production, but it could well be a great use of a little space in school and community gardens where folk could once again experience the full "pot to plate" experience of growing, processing and cooking. Its a talking point and the start of discussions and ideas.
We should be thankful for our daily bread, and doing this experiment has reawakened that for me. And if the experiment does nothing else, that's a good result for me.