Growing winter wheat in your garden

I’ve had people ask me if it is possible to grow wheat in their garden. The answer is yes, actually you can grow wheat in small, garden-sized areas using the gardening tools you already have.

In Michigan we grow something called 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; 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, ¬†those minerals are made available for next year’s crops.

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

The optimum time to plant winter wheat is after ¬†“the Hessian Fly free date”. Depending on what part of the state you are talking about,that date occurs in mid to late September. Farmers try to plant within ten days after the their Hessian Fly date, after that the yields begin to drop off. So, we’re at the tail end of winter wheat planting season.

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 around two million wheat seeds per acre.
Farmers plant around 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.

Wheat seed is available from online seed sellers or from local farm stores. If you are on good terms with a farmer, you might try asking for a small amount to try out. Seed from bulk food bins may or may not grow because they are heat treated to kill insects. That treatment can also kill the tiny plant embryo inside the seed.

Your amber waves of grain won’t be ready for harvest until the middle of next summer.