Category Archives: Agricultural Research

Ancient and Heirloom Wheat Trial Varieties

Red fife wheat

Red Fife Wheat

As discussed in A Wheat Trial of Ancient and Heirloom Wheat Varieties we have begun a trial of a number of different wheat varieties.  Here is a list of varieties we are working with:

Early Stone Age—also known as Einkorn. This is a very rare and ancient wheat that was cultivated in Switzerland, Spain and the eastern Caucasus several hundred years ago. Analysis shows that it is more nutritious than modern wheat.

Emmer Wheat

Emmer Wheat

Emmer—another heirloom from ancient times. Emmer was found in some of the earliest farming areas in Turkey and Greece. It is one of the parents of modern wheat.

Pacific Bluestem—one of the most popular wheats in California and the Northwest over 150 years ago. A flavorful wheat that is reputed to be the wheat used to make the famous San Francisco sourdough bread.

Japhet—is a British heritage variety known as “Red Marvel” in England over 100 years ago. Also known in France where it was used to make the famous French artisan breads.

Mirabella—is from ancient Italy and can grow up to 84 inches tall.

Milagre—a landrace wheat from Portugal grown in pre-industrial times.

Mauri Wheat

Mauri Wheat

Globe—an unusual wheat from pre-industrial colonial India. The kernels are small and round.

Sin El Pheel—another landrace wheat from ancient Iraq with very large kernels.

Mauri—from ancient Afghanistan. This wheat was know as Cone and Rivet in England and was widely grown in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Kamut—also known as Polish wheat. Kamut has very large kernels and probably originated in the Fertile Crescent. Reputed to be more drought tolerant than most wheat.

Kamut Wheat

Kamut Wheat

Red Fife—came to Canada from Scotland in the mid-1800’s and became the foundation wheat for the large Minneapolis flour industry.

Turkey Red—originally from Turkey and was grown extensively in the Ukraine prior to 1850. When the Mennonite people had to flee Russia due to persecution, they brought this wheat with them to the U.S., sometimes sewing the seed in the hems of their children’s garments. Turkey Red became the foundation of most American wheats and is a major reason that Kansas became know as the “bread basket of America.”

Russian Beardless—a variety of wheat that we have grown on our farm for the past 16 years. Obviously, it came from Russia and continues to be planted in much of the wheat growing regions of Texas. We are using this variety as our control variety to compare to all of the other trial wheat varieties.

A Wheat Trial of Ancient and Heirloom Wheat Varieties

Kamut wheat

Kamut, also known as Polish wheat.

Wheat is the world’s most important grain crop, and approximately 70% of all agricultural land is planted to wheat, more than any other crop. For generations people have been sustained by this important food staple. However, recent research has raised questions about the possible detrimental health effects of wheat, most notably gluten intolerance, allergies and celiac disease. Increasingly, it seems a greater percentage of the population is suffering from these maladies, more than has historically been seen before. Since people have been consuming wheat in some form for millennia, researchers have begun to question the recent increase in these health issues. Some research has pointed to modern varieties of wheat that have been genetically selected and adapted for high yield and high gluten (protein) content. For centuries, farmers have been selecting plant varieties for better quality and yield, however continual selection for yield over other traits can lead to the loss of beneficial nutritional qualities. Wheat that has been bred for higher gluten content allows large, industrial baking operations to produce more bread per day per oven because the higher gluten content will cause the bread to rise more quickly. However, some dietitians and nutritionists believe that longer rise times as well as fermentation (sourdough) and pre-sprouting can develop more flavor and enzymatic activity which aids digestion and assimilation. Many older varieties of wheat require this slower artisan process in order to produce quality bread.

Red fife wheat

Red Fife Wheat

In addition, most modern wheat has been bred to grow shorter so that large combines do not have to deal with as much straw during the harvest. However, small-scale horse farmers prefer the taller varieties because they are more easily harvested by horse-drawn grain binders. Also, straw is a valuable commodity on a sustainable farm, serving as mulch, compost material (carbon source) and animal bedding.

Drying heads of wheat

Drying the Heads of Grain

This past year the research farmers at The Ploughshare searched and found several old varieties of wheat and are now growing them here on our research farm in order to determine which varieties perform best in our climate and soils. For the past 16 years we have grown and saved seed from Russian Beardless Wheat, an heirloom variety that has been a consistent performer. We are using this wheat variety as our control variety to measure and compare to the wheat varieties in the trial.

For more information on the varieties used, see: Ancient and Heirloom Wheat Trial Varieties

In addition to the wheat trial, we have several other agricultural projects underway.

Agricultural Projects

Perennial area in our model homestead garden

Gardening and farming are an important part of sustainable living.  When we farm and garden with traditional methods there is always more to learn that will help us raise food and care for our livestock and land more effectively. Therefore, we have a number of agricultural projects in progress right now, including:

  • Soil Amendments — We keep an eye open for soil amendments that work well and that are either inexpensive to purchase or something you can make, yourself. Ideally, we prefer soil amendments that you can produce on the farm.  Two soil amendments we’re currently testing are Biochar and Sea-Agra-90. Biochar is made from charcoal, and you can make it on the homestead. Charcoal is able to absorb nutrients, and the idea behind Biochar is that it will absorb nutrients and release them slowly over time, so it may be useful if you have poor or sandy soils. Sea-Agra-90 is a mined sea salt that contains many trace minerals and is reported to boost yields.  Some people might object to putting salt on their soil, but thus far, we’ve seen no reports of problems due to salinity, and the salt is not used in large quantities. We’re conducting a multiple-year test with these two soil amendments to determine their effects on the yields and health of various crops.
  • Low Gluten Wheat and Barley — Many modern wheats have been optimized for high yield and high gluten content. It seems that more and more people are experiencing health problems related to those high gluten wheats, so we’re conducting field trials of about twenty varieties of low gluten wheat and barley, some of which are rare and ancient varieties. Our purpose for this research is to identify varieties that will grow well here and that work well for making bread and other baked goods. We describe this project in more detail in A Wheat Trial of Ancient and Heirloom Wheat Varieties.
  • Hydrology Research — Dr. Yelderman, a geology professor at Baylor University and his students are working with us with this project. On our 500 acre farm, we have several wells for irrigation and domestic use. We’ve begun using a number of methods to improve our pastures and increase water infiltration into the soils. Our goal is to bring our farm to a higher level of productivity and document the effect that our land management practices are having on our water table, our wells and our ability to grow grasses and other vegetation as feed for our animals.
  • Micro-climate and Diversity — If you’re going to garden organically, it’s important to have diversity, both in regard to plants and in regard to beneficial bugs and other animals.  Frogs, lizards and bluebirds help control garden pests. Ladybugs and lacewings are very effective against aphids.  To attract the beneficial animals, you have to provide an environment that the beneficial animals want to live in — an environment in which they can flourish. That entails having plenty of ground cover and a diversity of plants, among other things. Micro-climate goes hand-in-hand with diversity and is also very important.  You can’t control the weather and the general climate for your area, but with things like windbreaks and mulch, you can make a difference in the “micro” climate of your garden, reducing wind speed so that plants don’t undergo as much stress and keeping soil cool and moist while improving water infiltration. In our model homestead, we’re planting a living windbreak composed of grapevines and fruit trees and considering putting in a small pond and taking other steps to attract more beneficial creatures.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these projects, please let us know.