If the title seems a bit apocalyptic, it is with good cause. Yesterday we had a deluge that would have made Noah check the lashings on the Ark’s shutters. I am guessing we had about an inch and a half of rain in less than an hour, and wind gusts that knocked out our power for a couple of hours. After the tempest, I put on my Muck boots and headed out to assess the damage. Most of my crops were fine, but I wanted a closer look at my grain plots. Lodging, which occurs when top heavy grains get knocked over from heavy rain and winds, can devastate a crop and make harvesting the grain next to impossible. This year, I am trialing a number of heirloom barley varieties as well as ancient wheat varieties. I do tie most beds up with stakes and twine around the perimeter to give added support, but extreme winds can break the stems, rendering the grain heads worthless. To my delight, all the trial plots as well as the larger plots of grain (oats, barley, wheat and corn, etc.) were in good shape, given the battering they had endured. My goal, is to find some excellent, food-grade hulless barley varieties as well as ancient wheat varieties that will grow well here in Northern Indiana. Our climate is not optimal for wheat and barley (some is grown locally, but mostly for straw and animal feed) as most of the barley and wheat we consume is raised out west and in Canada. This has a lot to do with temperatures and humidity levels. If the trials are successful, my plan is to grow them out in larger plots next season and begin to offer seed. I wanted to highlight a few of these unique culinary specimens to whet your appetite, that is, if the prospect of locally grown heirloom grains is as exciting an idea for you as it is for me. All of the seed for the following varieties was obtained from the KUSA Seed Society, an organization in Ojai, California dedicated to the preservation of ancient grains. I can not say enough good things about them.
SIN EL PHEEL WHEAT This is a landrace wheat from ancient Iraq. It is a spring
planted variety and is nearing maturity at the end of June. It had moderately stiff stems ( a good trait for growing wheat in windy areas) and produces huge heads of grain. A superb specimen of ancient wheat! It can grow from 30″ to 84″ tall and is reputed to be excellent for bread making as well as pasta.
WINTER DINKEL WHEAT This grain was called “the rice of Europe” and played an
important role in filling the bellies of medieval monks, princes, and peasants alike. It is a fall-planted wheat. This is my second year growing this variety (I started with 30 seeds and now have a 200 sq foot bed). It survived the brutal winter we just came through, and has not been bothered by growing in a part of my field that has not dried out this year, yet. It also went through yesterday’s storm and had no lodging issues. I will have seed available this fall.
EINCORN WHEAT This is also known as “Stone-Age Wheat”. It is supposedly very undemanding and can grow well on poor soils with a low content of organic matter and nitrogen. It can be difficult to hull but is far more nutritious than modern wheats. The protein content can reach 18% under some conditions.
SUMIRE MOCHI BARLEY This is a spring-planted, naked (easy to hull) heirloom
from Japan with purplish grains. It tillers vigorously (tillering is the production of grain bearing side shoots). It has handled the wet spring and storms well so far and is nearing maturity. This variety has a glutinous trait which is very rare in food-barleys. Extremely nutritious, the kernels contain amylopectin starch. This would make for some interesting prospects in the baking department.
“MIRACLE SEED” BARLEYS There is a fascinating story behind the development of
these barley cultivars but in the interest of “reader fatigue” I will simply acknowledge that these strains were developed in India a number of years ago to help alleviate famine and malnutrition in that country’s growing population. They were created using classical “old school” breeding techniques of hand-crossing and selection. The results were reported to be very successful (too successful, if you know what I mean). The project was quickly harpooned by the powers-that-be ( a government in-bed with mega Corporate Agriculture) and all the strains and research destroyed, as well as the reputation of the agricultural genius who created them. 5 cultivars were smuggled out and delivered to the folks at KUSA. The plants are quite small and lodge-proof. They have stronger stems and are far more nutritious that “green revolution” varieties. They can also be grown in dry conditions with limited inputs. Is it hype? I can’t tell yet, but so far the plant have lived up to the descriptions give. I will update with the final tally. If successful, I hope to begin offering seed in 2016.
In addition to the above mentioned, I am also trialing out quinoa, amaranth, hulless oats, and a few other new grain varieties. Given a little spare time, I hope to update with a future post. I am also open to assisting or discussing the possibility of growing these varieties on a larger scale here in our community. I am constrained by the size of my mini-farm, but I strongly believe, that a diverse number of staple crops, whether heirloom soybeans or ancient wheat, could and should become a part of our emerging “local” food shed.