It is perhaps ironic, having been a Saskatchewan farmer for many years, that I grew my largest field of wheat in 2019. It was a 1/4 acre plot of Rivet wheat (Triticum turgidum) at St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster.
In 1983 I grew and sold my first garden seeds, always without using agricultural chemicals, in what has become Prairie Garden Seeds. I grew my first plot of wheat in the garden in 1993. It was a lovely decorative wheat called Polish, with large heads and beards, which I grew partly because a customer wanted wheat for wheat weaving. Other decorative wheats followed and then older wheats grown on the prairies, the seeds being gifts from friends, customers and other collectors. Rivet joined the collection in 1998. Now Prairie Garden Seeds grows a significant collection of cereal grains, a living history of agriculture with special focus on developments in Canada.
Early in the spring of 2019 I was asked by a Saskatchewan organic farmer if I would multiply one of my wheats so that he could plant a field of it the following year. This seemed like the only opportunity I would ever have to grow such a ‘large’ crop. My work would be to produce a standing ripe crop. The organic farmer would arrange for the harvesting, so I readily agreed.
Br. Basil, a monk from the Abbey, cultivated and harrowed one of the Abbey garden plots in the last week of April and I seeded it in on April 26, using the push garden seeder which has been in our family since the 1930’s. I seeded 39 rows at 15” spacing in a plot 52 x 20 meters, using a bit over 2 lbs. of seed.
The spring of 2019 was very dry here but we got the Rivet in the ground early enough that it germinated well and the rows were clearly visible by May 20. By contrast, the soil surface was very dry so there was almost no germination of annual weeds. I had intended to use our push cultivator once or twice to control the weeds, but all I did was walk through the plot once with a hoe to eliminate the few weeds. By the time it rained near the end of June the crop was tall enough to shade the ground and there was almost no weed growth. The only other weeding I did was once around the edge of the plot.
The plants were heading out well in early July and by the end of the month they were almost 6′ tall with wide, dark blue-green leaves and large branched bearded heads. A lot of the lower leaves were yellow-brown, perhaps from fungus disease. The best stooled out plants had 12—16 heads. Rain and wind caused some lodging as the heads were quite heavy.
Ripening was slow because of the amount of summer and fall rains but the crop was ready to harvest by September 23 even though there were still many green heads. We contracted the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute (PAMI) to use their plot combine, which has a 5′ cut, harvesting two or three rows at each pass. The tall plants made the combine work hard, needing to pause regularly to digest all that straw. PAMI told us it was the largest plot they had combined, but the harvest took just one hour and yielded a bit under 500lbs of seed.
The Rivet seed is large and blond; it is quite closely related to durum so tests will be done to compare it with durum for making pasta, semolina and couscous. I hope the tests will be successful so as to increase the diversity of crops grown on the prairies.