Farm Focus: Planting Sonora Wheat
Last month, when we last wrote about preparation for our next wheat planting, our plan was the plant 20 acres of a wheat variety called Patwin. As many things go, especially when it comes to farming, that plan changed. After more research and discussing options with friends of the farm like David Kaisel of Capay Mills (who mills our wheat) we decided to plant Sonora, a heirloom variety of soft winter white wheat historically grown in the West.
As wheat goes this type of wheat is well suited for the delectable pastries we make in our farm kitchen. Sonora was developed in, you guessed it, the Sonora Desert of Mexico but it has roots (literally and figuratively) here in California. According to Slow Food USA Sonora has been grown in Mexico since at least the 1700s but probably longer. It was the main variety of wheat grown west of the Mississippi around the time of the civil war, especially here in California. Tortillas, traditionally made from corn throughout Mexico, were first made with wheat as Spanish colonizers developed new varieties of crops originally brought from the old world to suit their needs and the climate of North America. Sonora, which has very extensible (aka stretchy) gluten, makes beautiful tortillas so it is thought that it is probably one of the first wheat varieties to be used to make flour tortillas. Burritos, a staple of southwestern cuisine, represent the combination of two worlds colliding!
The only downside to Sonora is that, like many heirlooms, has lower yields than modern varieties. What it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Sonora should be a good match for our climate and soil. Since we don’t get hard freezes in the winter we are able to get a head start planting December/January. Last week was a mad rush to get all of the required people, seeds and equipment to our new plot before the weekend rains hit. Sonora wheat has a very small wheat berry so adjustments had to be made to the equipment so that seeds were evenly as the tractor casts them out in tiny rows created by the tractor. Since our soil is still a little bit moist from the last rains we had another tractor going through the field again with a harrower to break up clods and smooth the surface. This should help ensure good germination. We, of course, will keep you updated on any developments as our Sonora germinates and matures this coming summer!