Friday, March 29, 2013

How Goes the Wheat on March 27th?

Good News.  Portions of the first GLENN planting are blossoming.

  More precisely, this is called anthesis, a noun of action based on the Greek word for flower (anthos).  What it means is that the buds are opening as flowers, going through the fun of getting self-pollinated, and starting to become the fruit – those wheat berries we’ve been waiting for.    On average, we would expect these seed heads to be fully mature in five weeks, changing from green to golden tan, and becoming crunchy.  It can happen sooner if the weather turns hot. 

 Our GLENN plot does have a wide range of likely maturity, which means we may be harvesting over a couple of week’s time.  Or more.  As various portions of the field reach maturity, we’ll only be able to give a day’s notice before a few willing hands will be needed to cut and bag the grain from that part of the wheat that is fully ripe.

We’ve also have impressive progress in our test bed. 

Northern half of Test Plot

India-Jammu is the tallest, at more than 31”, with many emerging seed heads.   Clear White is about 24” and has the most seed heads fully emerged.   It is a short-stature hard white spring common wheat with an early season heading time and good resistance to shattering and lodging.   Clear White was developed at UC Davis and released in 2005.  

Clear White
Louise, a soft white spring wheat, is also showing promise, with very feathery-looking seed heads.

The spelt has suffered a bit of a set-back, with substantial areas of our Maverick plot flattened.  (It is not certain why.) 

 The portions that remain standing seem to be doing well, but they are likely to be maturing in late May or early June. 

The second planting of Sonora continues to recover from its partial collapse in February.  It still looks as though it will be our second crop to harvest ... after our two plots of Glenn. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

SONORA Standing Back Up

Wheat Growing as of 3/18/13
Some encouraging signs.  A month ago, some of our wheat had collapsed.  With irrigation and mild weather we are seeing some improvement.  Portions are beginning to rise back up.

Sonora 1 on 2/26/13
Sonora 1 on 3/18/13

 Our second planting of Sonora, two weeks after the first, was less matted down and seems to be making an impressive recovery.

Sonora 2 on 2/17/13
Sonora 2 on 3/18/13

 The other good news is that much of our first planting of Glenn now shows emerging heads.

Glenn is expected to be our first harvestable crop, perhaps by the end of April.  Glenn has a reputation for early heading, but a somewhat longer maturation process.  This is part of what gives this variety very high protein levels.

Our test bed is doing well, with plant heights of 21 to 29 inches tall.  Most have five leaves showing.

This portion of the test bed shows varieties mostly released in the last 10 years.  Left-to-right: ML EM118-Z-G, Clear White, India-Jammu, Louise, Kelse, Glee, and Surprise which is the only variety in this photo that was grown on the west coast in the mid 19th century.  India-Jammu is currently the leader of the specialty varieties.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

GLENN Is Leading the Way

March 9th update on Wheat Growing at Maggie's Farm

Some of the fallen wheat seems to be lifting.

Oberkulmer Spelt & Maverick Spelt
Both kinds of Spelt, traditional Oberkulmer and new Maverick, are well established and are beginning to gain some height.

Our test bed is doing well, especially the newer cultivars.

The big news is that our planting of GLENN wheat looks as though it will be the first to harvest.  A sampling of that first planting, now growing for almost 100 days, shows a height of more than two feet, with six leaves fully developed.

Awns showing through flag leaf collar

And that sixth leaf is the important Flag leaf, confirmed by the appearance of seed head awns (or beards) protruding from its collar.

Seed Head Swelling in Stem
This means that the inflorescence has climbed all the way up from the plant’s crown to the top of the pseudo-stem, and is now ready to emerge as a recognizable seed head.  On some of the plants, the young seed head can be seen swelling outward from within the stem, eager to be officially born.

Close Up of Seed Head Swelling
 This is the conclusion of the growth phase called jointing, or stem elongation.  And it is the beginning of the boot phase, after which the head emerges, blossoms, and ripens for the harvest.

Seed Head just Emerging from Stem

Stay tuned.  Four to six weeks until harvest.  Glenn is likely to be the first.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Reclining Wheat

Might it be Sayonara, Sonora?

The first seeds we broadcast on November 29th  were Sonora, a soft white winter wheat, provided by Anson Mills of South Carolina. 


 The emerging plants, along with the plots of Red Fife and Glenn, seemed to prosper, right up through January 22nd.



On that day, most plants were more than a foot in height, had 3 full leaves and showed more than half of the 4th leaf emerging.

Three weeks later, large swaths of the Sonora had collapsed.


The condition seemed to get worse over the next two weeks.

with some portions of the Red Fife also lying down on the job.

Red Fife 2/17/13
We may never be able to positively determine the cause.    Damage from harsh weather was one thought, but didn’t account for the way the Sonora was singled out.  Frolicking or restless deer had a vote or two.

Lodging was considered, but that kind of bowing down usually takes places when seed heads are well developed.

 And of course crop circles would have been a candidate, but there were no discernible patterns.  Low moisture levels, exacerbated by dense and shallow planting has come out as a possibility.  Or perhaps the early February nights were too cold for Sonora?

There is hope that some of the downed wheat will recover.  So far, our plantings of Spelt do not have this problem, and much of the Glenn is standing up.   Several rows of newer cultivars in our test plot seem to be doing well.

Sonora 2nd Planting
Unfortunately, our second planting of Sonora has areas that are leaning over.   On a positive note, though, this plot was planted two weeks after the first Sonora.  The inflorescence or embryonic seed head is just beginning its upward journey, starting at ground level, near the crown.

Sonora 2nd Planting Inflorescence Just Starting

 This jointing phase -- also known as stem elongation -- is when the plants gain most of their height.  Perhaps this phase will increase the likelihood that Sonora #2 will stand up straight, and deliver the goods.
  We’ll just have to wait and see what we can make of it all, as we maneuver this steep learning curve.

As my grandfather would say when visitors went overboard in describing their problems:  "Aye, but worse things happen at sea."

Friday, March 1, 2013

We're Getting Close

Seed Heads in Sight

When this season’s wheat growing in Agoura Hills began, on the next to last day of November, I scavenged a handful of seed, from a bit that was spilled on the ground, and planted it in two pots in the backyard of our Los Angeles home. 

It sprouted bountifully and seemed happy with the warm South Bay conditions.
Growing a bit faster than our wheat in Agoura Hills, it has become a control group to watch and measure.


At the end of February, the first seed heads emerged from the FLAG leaf.  Actual kernels are visible.  Quite thrilling, with many of the plants swelling, indicating that more heads are about to come out. 

Back when I pocketed the spilled seed, I was not sure whether it was Sonora, Red Fife, or Glenn, the three varieties planted on November 29th.  Now that the heads are coming into view we can identify them as Glenn because of the beautiful, long, and abundant awns – or beards – up above the emerging heads.  (Sonora has no awns and Red Fife has only two or three short ones.) 

So our control group, covering a formidable one-ten-thousandth of an acre, is showing its stuff and, depending on how warm it is, could have ripe kernels of delicious wheat in 3 or 4 weeks.

The question is: when will the Glenn Wheat planted in Agoura Hills be ready?  Checking a couple of those plants, the inflorescence – or developing seed head – is well advanced up the pseudo stem, with only about an inch more to go. 

Developing seed head within Glenn Wheat pseudo-stem

In two or three weeks they are likely to begin showing their seed heads, and the kernels could mature in a month.  

Glenn Wheat Plot     2/26/2013
Yay, Glenn.