Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sowing wheat

Finally, at long last, we had a chance to sow our wheat field.  But not without a lot of work!

First things first.  Our tractor has been down all summer, so some wonderful friends of ours (hi Mike and Judy!) loaned us their tractor.  These are the kinds of people who would literally give you the shirt off their backs, and we're honored to be among their friends.

Mike drove his tractor to our house (a distance of - what - four miles?) from his house.

Don had disked the pasture several times over the summer to kill weeds, but there was still some growth.

So this time he decided to dig deeper and use the cultivator rather than the disker.

This loosened the soil much deeper than the disker had.

You can see the difference.

Next he disked once again.

Ready to plant?  Not quite.

But first we had to get the seed wheat.  We got one hundred pounds of treated hard red winter wheat (type: Paladin), resistant to the Hessian fly, and non-hybrid.  Cost: $18.

This wheat is treated with a fungicide to maximize the potential for germination.  For this reason, it is not suitable for human or animal consumption.  The fungicide dyes the wheat red so it can't be mistaken for regular untreated wheat (which, of course, is brown).

Before sowing, though, Don wanted to run over the field one more time with another neighbor's chain-drag-thingy, which smooths everything out.  I tell ya, with all the stuff we're borrowing from everybody, this wheat field is truly a neighborhood endeavor.

The chain-drag-thingy was pretty heavy, so we sort of draped it over the tractor bucket in order to bring it over to our wheat field.

But boy what a difference it made in how smooth the field was!

Finally, at long last, we were ready to plant!  I found an old photograph of a farmer sowing seed by hand.  This was the technique we needed to emulate.

I divvied the wheat into buckets...

...then we spaced ourselves across the pasture and prepared to sow.

It was a little trickier than it looked, trying to fling the seed evenly across the ground.

By the end of the first pass, we were disappointed by how thin and uneven the seeds were.  We could definitely appreciate the benefits of a seed drill in terms of reducing waste and increasing efficiency.  But we lined up and did it again...

...and again, and again, and again.  We kept filling our buckets and walking abreast with each other across the pasture until the sacks of seed wheat were empty.  (With the last little bit, we told the girls to run along and fling it however they liked...)

And you know what?  When we were done, it didn't look half bad!  (Look closely and you can see the red wheat on the dirt.  This was after the first pass.)

Sure, the wheat won't grow as pretty and uniform and weed-free as the professional farmers, but what the heck - if all goes well, we'll have enough wheat to feed our family for a year as well as share some with the kind friends who loaned us their implements and equipment.  North Idaho is wheat country, so there's no reason ours shouldn't grow at least moderately well.

Don took one last pass over the field with the chain-drag-thingy.  This buries the seed very shallow, and keeps the birds from eating it.

And that's it.  In theory, with the possible exception of adding some fertilizer in the spring, we don't have to do a thing to this field until next August.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall.  It starts to grow, then goes dormant over the winter, buried in a blanket of snow.  In the spring, it comes up lush and impossibly green.  It starts to head in July, and by August it should be ready to harvest.  We'll see what happens!


  1. I'm a little confused. The seed is "treated with a fungicide to maximize the potential for germination. For this reason, it is not suitable for human or animal consumption." But,"if all goes well, we'll have enough wheat to feed our family for a year..." Could you please clarify?

  2. Oops!...Sorry, Jessica, I should have explained better. What I meant was, the SEED WHEAT is not for consumption, because it's been treated with the fungicide. The fungicide is merely to protect the seed during its early germination phase, because wheat is vulnerable to fungal attacks at this tender stage.

    However once it grows and produces heads, and once those heads are harvested (nearly a year after planting), the wheat is perfectly suitable for consumption.

    - Patrice

  3. Do you have a friend with a combine? How do you plan to harvest?

  4. LOL - from here on out, all wheat production will be done the old-fashioned way: back-breaking toil. The field is only about an acre, so although we know people with combines, we won't be calling upon their services. (Besides, combines are so huge they'd barely fit.)

    So, come next August, we'll be sharpening the scythe and using that to harvest the wheat. Obviously it won't all get harvested in one day, but instead over about a week or so. Then we'll have to flail the wheat heads to loosen the seeds. Then we'll have to separate the wheat from the chaff (using the services of a windy day). Yup, the old-fashioned way.

    - Patrice

  5. Woo hoo! Go wheat :)! Prayers for an abundant harvest. Jennifer

  6. Just an FYI, the chain-drag-thingy is called a harrow. My grandpa used to make them and he would hire my cousin and I to weld the drawbars.

  7. are'nt we lucky that there is more than one way to do just about anything and most times the old-fashioned way is far more satisfactory. makes a person more appreciative of that warm loaf of bread they worked so hard for...

  8. Awesome Patrice! Loved the photos and the details. Can't wait to see the results next summer. Would love to help the in the harvesting process! Miss ya, already!


  9. Patrice,
    Living in Kansas wheat.corn, soybean country I was familiar with the basics. But a narrative on the nuts and bolts changed my perceptions, I am just imagining our ancestors and a bunch of horse drawn implements. What you portrayed as a one day job would have been a few. No wonder farm communities were tight knit and willing to help a friend but strangers would have a hard time until they had proved their worth by pitching in.


  10. i did the same process last fall and harvested about 8 bushels of wheat from a smaller plot. For what it's worth, I hand broadcasted red clover seed in the wheat while the ground was still freezing nights last spring. (It's called frost seeding.) The clover sprouted in the wheat and took off pretty well after I cut the wheat in early July. I could cut the clover for hay now and plow the stubble down for green manure, but I plan to leave it all next summer and plow it down a year from now. I will get a full year's hay, then plow down and plant corn there the year after. My intent is to have a 4 year rotation of Corn - Beans - Wheat/Clover - Clover on 1 1/2 acres total. Should go a long way toward feeding the family and the animals.

    And yes, I know I could buy the grain for a price that leaves me working for about $1 per hour. I am convinced that that situation will change catastrophically soon enough.

  11. Patrice, like Ottar,my first thoughts on harvesting this field also went to draft animals. Are there farms nearby that work them? We have a few here, and they also train folks to drive and care for teams. Precious skills and knowledge, indeed.

    Tickmeister...(love that handle)...I like your approach and agree it's well worth the time invested for the same reason you stated. I hope you'll keep us posted on the outcome.

    A. McSp

  12. May you have a bountiful harvest, Patrice!