Farm Focus: Sonora Wheat Harvest 2019
For a recap and to see pictures of our Planting Sonora Wheat last January visit our blog.
Our 2019 Sonora Wheat Harvest
We’ve just harvested our first crop Sonora Wheat! While you mostly know us for our fruit we do like to keep things diverse here at Frog Hollow so wheat has become part of our crop rotation when we are getting ready to plant a new orchard. Since much of the surrounding farmland has been farmed conventionally we have to let it rest before planting trees. Planting wheat on this newly acquired land allows us to start building healthy soil, bring in some revenue and keep the soil from eroding during the winter rain. As a result, our flour isn’t certified organic but we believe it is an important, effective and delicious tool for transitioning soil from conventional row crops to organic orchards!
As you may remember, we planted Sonora back in January just before the rain hit. Since we don’t have hard freezes in Brentwood this winter planting gives the wheat a chance to soak up all the rain and develop a strong root structure before the heat of summer arrives.
Over the spring and summer, the wheat grew into an ocean of green that faded to amber waves of grain. Sonora has heavy seed heads that make it prone to lodging (bending) in the wind which can make it hard to harvest. While we did have some lodging from late storms in May and luckily it wasn’t too bad overall.
To harvest wheat farmers use a specialized piece of equipment called a combine. This huge machine, borrowed from and operated by our neighbors at Cecchini Farms, uses a big roller to push the shafts down towards a blade and carries it up an internal conveyor belt to the threshing drum where the grain is separated from stock. The seeds are then sieved into a tank and the rest of the material is carried through the back of the machine to be spread back onto the field. Once the tank is full the grain is put into a truck to be transported to the cleaner. Sonora Wheat has a very small berry and we had to make special adjustments to our equipment while planting to make sure it dispersed the correct amount of seeds as the tractor moved. The same goes for the combine. Antonio, who operated this beast of a machine carefully had to adjust the machinery and his speed to make sure we weren’t losing grain on the ground. He hopped down from the cab and blew away the discarded wheat shafts from the ground behind the combine to check that only a few berries were being left behind.
We are very lucky this year to have harvested 24 tons of wheat, much more than we were expecting. It will go to be cleaned at Dixon Seed Co. in Glenn, CA and we should have it back in the next few weeks in 50 lb sacks. Next, we will send some more wheat berries to the California Wheat Commission's lab for full testing so we know more about the gluten quality and other important baking characteristics. This data will help our kitchen crew and other bakers buying our flour know qualities like protein and nutrient content along with things like how stretchy the gluten structure is. We will be sure to tell you more when we have that info back! We are also looking forward to working with David Kaisel of Capay Mills who will once again be milling our Sonora into wonderfully fresh flour. We are all eager to get flour back to the farm so we can start to sell it to our customers and to commence recipe development in the kitchen (not to mention the requisite taste testing)! Stay tuned.