Jakewins on data, food and technology.

Planting wheat

Pasta plants

Any meal fit for human consumption must contain pasta - and home grown meals are no exception. But how do you grow pasta in the back yard?

The most expensive purchase an American family will make is a house and associated yard, and most of our lives will be spent working to pay for it. Intriguingly, the majority of the cost is for the location of the land, not the construction of the house sitting on it. And the majority of the land is not used for the house; it is used to carefully and diligently grow and groom turf grass.

Which is all to say - most of our private wealth is indirectly spent on turf grass. And that makes a surprising amount of sense.

You see, the Greatest Generation had turf grass and a chicken in every pot, and the gridlock generation of Baby Boomers that followed deeply idolize them. Baby Boomers incorrectly inferred that the turf grass was the cause of their parents supposed greatness, and promptly usurped turf grass maintenance as a cornerstone of their mating rituals.

An American male perched on a Big Dog Blackjack zero-turn riding mower is participating in a sexual cargo cult that could school a horny Bowerbird on sexual display any day of the week.

Get in line, ladies Get in line, ladies.

Where was I?

Right. Point is: we grow an outrageous amounts of grass in this country. And despite this, there is whoefully little to find online about how to grow grass to eat.

Types of wheat

Wheat is actually a family of several species of grass. There are lots of these, but the two that matter for my purposes are Common Wheat and Durum Wheat. So which one should I plant??

A common way to talk about wheat is as hard or soft - soft wheats are high in starch, low in gluten, and vice versa.

  • Hard wheat with lots of gluten is used for things that need the gluten protein for structure and/or chewiness - like bread and pasta.
  • Soft wheat, with lots of starch is used for things that need a crisper structure, like pastries.

If you’ve ever tried to bake bread and it sucked, it’s most likely because you bought “all purpose flour”, bleached sawdust. To make awesome bread, buy a hard red wheat flour with lots of gluten, and let organic chemistry do the work for you.

Durum wheat has the highest gluten protein content, meaning it is the “hardest”, of any commercial wheat, which is why it is used for pasta. Those gluten protein strands are what gives the pasta its incredible chewy texture, and what holds the pasta together. So, I needed to get my hands on some durum wheat seeds.

Acquiring seeds

But where do you buy durum wheat seeds?

I looked at several local farm supply stores and garden outlets before turning online. And even online, finding a place to order small packets of durum wheat seeds was really hard.

Until I realized - health food hippies eat wheat seeds, they call them “wheat berries”! With that realization in mind, I found an online store that sold durum wheat ‘berries’, and ordered about a pound.

Preparing and planting

At this point, most things I could find online dealt with industrial wheat planting. So, I went to the library and picked up a copy of Gene Logsdons Small scale grain raising. I was thrilled to find it was endorsed by Carol Deppe who wrote my favorite gardening book, Growing your own vegetable varieties, and after me and Carrie both had read the section on planting wheat, we gave it a go.

Wheat seeds can be spread directly over the soil, but we have a bird feeder nearby, and didn’t want to risk the birds eating our pasta. However, Gene suggested planting wheat 1/2-2 inches below the soil could help protect against birds.

With Genes help, we sowed the seeds in 1-inch deep furrows, about 3 inches apart, and the seeds hapharzardly spaced about 1/8 to 1/2 inch within the furrow. We planted them this closely since we weren’t sure how many would sprout, and I’d rather have too many seedlings and have to thin them than have too few.

Sown wheat

In total, we planted 24 square feet of wheat, which according to a shady blog source should be barely enough for a few servings of pasta. I’d have planted more, but I need the rest of the raised bed for my tomatoes.

Sprouting

After about ten days, the first seedlings emerged. They were hit by a frost a few days later, but today, two weeks after they went into the ground, they are looking mighty healthy!

Pasta plants

Now I just have to keep horny baby boomers from mowing it down and I’ll be harvesting tagliatelle before long!