Growing Wheat at Home: Easy Tips for More Yield

by

wheat-3621578_1280

Wheat can be cultivated not only on a large-scale, but also on a small-scale, at home, and backyard garden.

A good site preparation is equivalent to laying a good foundation for a building. Good site preparation is essential for great harvest. When planting, be sure to choose the right variety for the season. Take a minute to look at the instructions stated on the seed packets, to guide you on how much seed you should use per 1,000 square feet of planting area.

Prepare for harvest once you notice a golden brown coloration. First, check the moisture content of your wheat to see if your wheat is matured enough for harvest by using a moisture tester.

Getting the right moisture content for storage is crucial to reducing damage from molds and insects, and improves quality and marketability. Not measuring the moisture content of wheat can lead to high volume post-harvest wheat losses and damage during storage.

Be sure your storage facility is well-sealed, free from water ingress, insects, birds and rodents. The ideally moisture value for storing wheat is 13%.

Every plant as well as wheat is prone to pests and diseases. It is ideal to choose a wheat variety that is resistant to major diseases.

Let’s look at the basic growing tips that you can use to improve your wheat yield:

Types of Wheat to Grow

Wheat is classified according to their growing seasons. We have winter wheat and spring wheat, with several varieties.

The winter wheat is best planted in fall and harvested from late spring to early summer (May to July), depending on regions. The spring wheat is best planted in early spring and harvested from late summer to early fall.

Both winter and spring wheat are divided according to their gluten content (protein content). We have the soft wheat, hard wheat and durum wheat.

The soft wheat is further divided into “white wheat and red wheat.” Soft wheat has more starch and less gluten content, and is used for pastries, cakes, cookies, desserts, sauces, crackers and flat-breads. The hard wheat is also divided into “white wheat and red wheat.” Hard wheat has higher gluten content, and is used for breads and hard-baked rolls. The durum wheat is also known as semolina. Durum is hard with high gluten content, used for pastas.

plant-barley-wheat-grain-dish-meal-957469-pxhere.com

Shopping for Seeds

A garden centre is often the best place to buy seeds. Seeds from garden centre are very viable with high yielding potential (90 to 100% germination rate). The seeds are usually selected and tested for weeds, diseases and germination rate. 

The care tag attached to the seed gives reasonably information on required light, water, temperature, fertilizer, growth patterns and growing climate. 

However, if you have saved some seeds for the next planting season or you intend buying from ordinary shops, you need to be sure that the seeds are stored in a proper storage facility. Too much heat or cold may kill the seed embryo, and too much moisture may cause them to rot. Beware of insects and rodents. Before planting make sure your seeds are tested for disease and viability. It is interesting to note that seed viability test is easy and can be done by anyone.

How to Test for Seed Viability

Seed viability testing can be done in several ways. One simple and easy method that I recommend is the germination test.

To carry out seed germination testing, place a known quantity of seed (say 10) in a paper towel; moisten the paper towel using a spray bottle. Spray to dampen the paper towel, not wet. Roll the paper towel around the seeds and place in a sealed plastic bag. Store the plastic bag in a cool place.

Check from time to time to be sure the paper towel does not dry-out completely, and if dry, re-spray to achieve a damp state once more. After a week, start checking for germinating seeds by unrolling the paper towel. Allow for more days (say 2), then unroll the paper towel and count the number of sprouted seeds.

Germination seed test can help one deduce the accurate percentage germination rate when planted. For instance, if 4 seeds sprouted out of 10 seeds, then you have 40% germination rate. And if 8 seeds sprouted, you have 80% germination rate, and so on.

This will give you an overview of your seed quality and yielding potential. Ideally, your seed must attain at least 70% germination rate to get a good harvest. 90 to 100% germination rate will result to a great harvest.

Site Preparation

Site Preparation is equivalent to laying a foundation for a building. Good foundations are essential for lasting structures. Good site preparation is essential for great harvest.

Good site preparation for wheat planting starts with choosing a good sunny location. Ensure your site location has about 8 hours of sunlight daily, no shade. Next, examine the soil structure to inform you on what is needed to make it suitable for planting.

Do soil test, and check the pH, to inform you what nutrient is lacking. A pH of 6.2 to 65 is ideal for growing wheat.

Prepare site thoroughly by first clearing before tilling. It’s necessary to remove roots, debris and stones if these exist. After clearing the rubbles, till, and if need be, work-in compost or fertilizer to make-up for the nutrients lacking in the soil.

Wheat requires about 6 inches depth of good topsoil to thrive. Ideally, your soil should be medium loam, feels free, loose and friable.

If soil becomes hard or compacted when dry, this is a sign of poor site preparation or planting medium.

To loosen and improve compacted soil, aerate your soil with garden fork or rototiller with an aerator attached, then add sharp-sand and lots of rotted manure or compost. This will open it up, break the soil clods into tiny sizes, and enrich the soil.

The final stage of preparation is leveling or grading for effective run-off.

Ideally, a one week after site preparation before planting is advised, to allow the prepared mix to settle. 

Once the prepared site is settled and ready, proceed planting immediately to discourage weeds from overtaking the wheat.

Planting

When planting, be sure to choose the right wheat variety for the time of the year. Choose winter or spring wheat.

Winter wheat is best planted in fall and harvested from May to July.

Spring wheat is best planted in early spring and harvested from late summer to early fall.

Plant early enough so the roots have enough time to settle and establish before temperatures start to drop.

Sow wheat seeds evenly over the surface of the soil. You can sow with your hand or with a seed spreader. It is best to use a spreader, because it gives you better spreading space and coverage.

If sowing with your hand, space them over the entire surface, but don’t sow too thickly. Seed spacing should be about 1 square inch per seed to avoid crowding. Crowding will cause your wheat to be susceptible to diseases. So take the time to space them out.

Take a minute to look at the instructions stated on the seed packets, to guide you on how much seed you should use per 1,000 square feet of planting area.

After spreading the seed, use a garden rake to rake over the soil evenly to cover the seeds. Then spread a thin layer of soil over to prevent the seeds from wilting in the sun or birds from feasting on them. Ideally, seeds should be covered to a depth of three times their size.

After sowing, give the planting area a good soak just enough to keep the site moist until the seeds have germinated. Winter wheat does not need much watering after seedlings have emerged. You might not need to water if your geographical location gets lots of rain.

As a general rule, when your soil or compost feels loose and seems to dry out completely. Water in the early morning, or evening after the sun has gone down.

Harvest

Prepare for harvest once you notice a golden brown coloration. First, check the moisture content of your wheat to see if your wheat is matured enough for harvest by using a moisture tester.

plant-field-barley-wheat-grain-flower-1155043-pxhere.com

A moisture tester is used to determine if your wheat is matured enough for harvest by measuring the percentage of moisture (water). The ideal wheat moisture at harvest is from 18% to 20%, and 13% for storage.

Early harvest of wheat grains before proper maturity, can lead to poor quality seeds, because their moisture content is high. High moisture content after harvest, make the wheat susceptible to diseases. Late harvest exposes grains to pest and insects, birds, and rodents as well.

Measuring the moisture content reduces damage from storage molds and insects, and increases quality and marketability. Not measuring the moisture content of wheat can lead to high volume post-harvest wheat losses and damage.

If you don’t have a moisture tester, no cause for alarm, just follow these simple steps to get your percentage moisture level:

  • Measure a known weight of seed –wet weight
  • Place the seed in an oven, dehydrator, or microwave to dry out
  • Bring out the seed and take your measurement –dry weight

From time to time, remove from oven and check the weight. If the weight keeps changing, you need to continue drying. A constant weight is an indication that your seed is completely dry.

  • Divide the dry weight by the wet weight to get your moisture content
  • Multiply the moisture content by 100 to get the percentage moisture level

Harvest wheat once you’ve certified from the test that your wheat is matured enough, using a “scythe, sickle or combine.” Scythe and sickle are hand tools, used for reaping grains, while a combine is a multi-functional harvester, used for reaping, threshing and winnowing grains.

plant-barley-wheat-grain-dish-food-765973-pxhere.com

Storage

Prepare your storage facility, and tidy your storage surroundings. Be sure your storage facility is well-sealed, free from water ingress, insects, birds and rodents. The ideally moisture value for storing wheat is 13%. Moisture value plays a crucial role in wheat storage. A moisture value of 13% reduces damage from storage molds and insects, and increases quality and marketability.

Not measuring the moisture value of wheat before storage can lead to low shelf life, high volume of post-harvest losses and damage.

Protect your stored grains from heat, light and moisture. Always check your stored grains from time to time, and watch out for insects and rodents.

If you’ve had pest issues like insects the previous year, be sure to tidy your surroundings, and fumigate.

Storage Facility

A large quantity of food grains is being damaged after harvest due to poor storage systems. FAO estimates of worldwide annual losses in stored produce have been given as 10% of all stored grain. In sub-Saharan Africa, 25 to 40% of grain damage occurs during storage.

A proper and adequate storage system in wheat plays a vital role. The storage system ranges from traditional to modern.

The traditional system is made with paddy straw, wheat straw, mud, bricks and bamboo. The common ones are the Kacheri and Hagevu. The modern system is an improved version of the traditional systems, made with galvanized iron metals, rubber, bricks, and concretes. PAU bin, Pusa bin, and Hapur tekka, are used for small-scale storage. While the CAP and Silos are built for large-scale storage.

Pest and Diseases

Plant diseases are caused by pathogens which can either be a virus, bacteria or fungi. Fungal attacks on plants often come from the soil and most times are difficult to treat. Every plant as well as wheat is prone to pests and diseases. It is ideal to choose a wheat variety that is resistant to major diseases.

Below are major pests and diseases of wheat, their effects and treatments:

Leaf rust

Leaf Rust is generally found on leaves. To tell if leaf rust is causing some damage to your wheats, you will first look for wheats that are not “looking happy.” Observe for yellow or white spots forming on the upper surfaces of leaves and leaf sheaths.

Effects: reduces the number of seeds per spike, and seed quality

Treatments: To control leaf rust, trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight, then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot, but prevent the spores from germinating.

Powdery mildew

Powdery Mildew is a fungal disease in plant that thrives in a temperature of about 59 to 68°F, and 75 to 100% relative humidity. Observe for white to yellowish gray powdery growth on the upper surfaces of leaves and leaf sheaths, and sometimes on spikes.

Effects: causes major yield losses if not detected on time.

Treatments: To control powdery mildew, trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight, then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread.

Fusarium

Fusarium nivale is a fungal disease in plant that thrives in a cool, moist weather. The fungus invades the plant tissue by blocking the conductive tissues (Xylem and Phloem), so it becomes difficult for water and minerals to reach the leaves. Observe for light grey or bleached lesions at the centre of the leaves

Effects: causes complete defoliation, poor grains and low seed weights. Fusarium will render your plant less productive.

Treatments -sterilize your tools and trim off affected areas. Keep the soil under your plant clean, and then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides.

Septoria leaf spot

Septoria Leaf Spot is generally found on leaves. To tell if leaf spot is causing some damage to your wheat, observe for brown to yellow scattered halo spots on leave surfaces. It spreads from lower leaves to upper leaves. If not detected early, septoria leaf spot can kill leaves, spikes, and even the entire plant.

Effects: causes seed to shrivel, poor grains and low seed weights.

Treatment – Trim affected areas to improve air circulation and sunlight, and then apply neem oil or sulfur sprays or copper-based fungicides weekly at first sign of disease to prevent its spread. These organic fungicides will not kill leaf spot, but prevent the spores from germinating. It is always recommended to keep the soil under the plant clean to prevent the disease pathogen from spreading.

Thrips

Thrips are translucent white or yellowish to dark brown, black, or brightly colored in some species. They are minute, elongated and slender. They feed by piercing the leaf tissue and sucking out the cell content.  

Effects: causes low yield, and poor grains and low seed weights.

Treatment: To control thrips, trim affected areas, spray mildly using pesticides or neem oil.

Aphids

Aphids are sucking insects that feed on leaves and new growths. To tell if aphid is causing some damage to your wheat, observe for sticky deposits on leaves, white stripes and leaf rolling.

Effects: causes low yield, and poor grains and low weights.

Treatment: wash plants with jet water (you can create pressure with garden hose) or spray with soap solution. Mix 20mls of alcohol and 50mls water into a spray bottle. Then, add about 3 drops of liquid soap.

Snails and slugs

Snails are chewing organisms that leave irregular holes in leaves, and roots. They bite off young seedlings from the ground, and graze on older leaves leaving traces of their slime, which show their presence.

Effects: causes great damage to wheat, kill seedlings and low yield

Treatment –Apply snail pellets at the base of your plants. Application should be done when they are most active, around evening time.

Root knot nematode

Root Knot Nematode are microscopic, they attack the roots. To tell if root knot nematodes is causing some damage to your wheat, you will first look for wheat that are not “looking happy.” Observe for stunted growth, yellowing and wilting during the day under bright sunlight.

Effects: produces fewer and smaller grains, kill seedlings and reduces the nutritional value

Treatment: Nematicide can be used to control root-knot nematodes but it is not suitable for home garden use.