A few years ago, I became fascinated by the idea of growing grain. I explored small-space grain production, saw first hand how a community garden had integrated a grain-growing project into an attractive edible landscape, and pored over Small-Scale Grain Raising, Gene Logsdon’s classic text on small-space grains. But all my research didn’t change the fact that I couldn’t start even a teeny plot of wheat on my balcony. In fact, none of my many garden spaces was all that practical for growing grain. But the idea of a pocket-sized prairie has stuck with me, maybe because, with my feet firmly rooted on the West Coast (and, let’s face it, the city), I’ve never seen a wheat field up close. In my (fantasy-prone) brain, the iconic wheat field is romantic, wistful, sublime. (Prairie folk, please don’t disillusion me.)
So when I heard about Lawns to Loaves, an experiment in small-space urban grain growing, I jumped at the chance to participate. Lawns to Loaves is the brainchild of Chris Hergesheimer, aka the Flour Peddler. Vancouverites might know him as the guy who mills flour on a stationary bicycle (really!) and sells his whole wheat flours at farmer’s markets around the Lower Mainland and on the Sunshine Coast.
Anyway, Chris had this vision of people growing small plots of wheat in front lawns, backyards, and in containers all around the city. He joined forces with the Environmental Youth Alliance to host a grain-growing workshop (there he is, above, showing a group of us how to plant wheat), sign up would-be wheat growers, and distribute the wheat seeds. Once the wheat is ready, we’ll get together to harvest and thresh. Chris will mill the grains, and we’ll make pizza with the resulting flour. How cool is that?
Of course, I still needed a place to plant my wheat. It just so happens that there’s a City-owned field adjacent to our community garden. Recently, West House, a demonstration sustainable laneway house was built there, but there was still a lot of field left for dandelion cultivation. So we decided to use it. It’s not really guerrilla gardening, since, when asked if we could use it, the City said, “what the heck” (or something along those lines), but we’re all aware that this is borrowed land. And we’re grateful for it.
We decided to till under a 2,000 sqft area next to the laneway house. In early May, we rented a heavy-duty rototiller, pulled on our gumboots and work gloves, and started plowing.
Man, that was hard work.
Since the field was so full of weeds, we decided to layer cardboard over the tilled earth to help suppress regrowth. Then we shovelled dozens of wheelbarrow loads of soil on top of the cardboard.
We broadcast the seeds by scattering them over the prepared soil, then raked them in. Here’s a short video of Chris explaining how to sow wheat.
I don’t think wheat fields normally have rows, but because we will be hand watering and probably doing a lot of weeding, we decided to leave narrow foot paths between 4ft-wide beds.
A couple of weeks later, the wheat is already a couple of inches tall. As you can see, it’s a bit patchy, largely due to the ducks and crows that have been enjoying the spread. It should be ready for harvest around the beginning of September, and, if all goes according to plan, we’ll be enjoying pizza baked with our own flour this fall!
Interested in growing grains? Here’s a thorough-yet-simple PDF tutorial.
What a cool project! And great documentation. Can’t wait to see how it progresses.
this all is so inspiring! thanks for sharing! Would love to see more as it grows!
Dirty Girl Gardening says
what a fabulous post! i love it…. carbohydrates are the new perennial!
This is incredible. Innovative spin to “edible landscape”. I am positive you’ll be having pizza soon from your lawn-grown wheat.
Cool project. I really like the bike grain mill. Is it possible to find out how to re engineer a bike to mill grains?
so cool! i have some quinoa seeds to plant, can’t wait to see how that turns out!!
Cindy Of PEI says
This is amazing, love what he is doing. And what you are doing. Really he grinds the wheat with a bike, Perhaps I need to hook a bike up to something for more exercise. I grow wheat, as an ornament never thought of making something out of it, I’ll have to follow along to see how the wheat is doing, and to find out how to mill it.
We’re going to attempt a small plot of hulless oats this year.
Nature Drunk says
Wow! I am continually impressed with the creative minds out there. What great food for thought. Thanks for the post!
Oliver Closeoff says
Boy, a lot of cost, labour, time and effort for a pizza crust. Probably around a few hundred thousand calories burned to gleen back a couple of hundred calories.
Flower Delivery Guy says
Funny, I just seen a story about this on one of the news programs and at the time thought ” what a great idea”.
Sure a single plot probably won’t produce much in the way of caloric intake, but it is the thought and devotion behind this that impresses me. Just irks me it is taking place on the coast instead of here in Edmonton right in the middle of the prairie grain belt….lol
Andrea Bellamy says
Thank you all for the great feedback and support! I will definitely look into how to DIY yourself a “bike mill.” As for the cost-to-pizza ratio of this project… I don’t think that’s really the point. It’s about bringing people together, creating community, inspiring people to try something new, and showing them that grain can be grown in small urban plots. Even on the Coast ;)
Toby Barazzuol says
This is a great post…your project is really inspiring and timely for us! We just cleared our green roof and so I was wondering if we might try replanting it with wheat. We have about 300sq.ft. and the soil is about 3″ deep, so it’s not a large space. Do you think it might work or is it too late in the season?
are the seeds GMO? I hear they are.
What about fertilizer? Are people using roundup?
How much water is required? Can the system sustain it?
Andrea Bellamy says
No, the seeds are not GMO. I can’t comment on what the other wheat growers in this project are using, but I’m not using any fertilizer (other than compost), pesticides, or herbicides — and certainly not RoundUp. I have yet to water. Once the wheat is harvested, we’ll till the remaining stalks under to provide organic matter and nutrients for next year. So yes, I think this is a sustainable project. Thanks for your interest!
Andrea Bellamy says
Good to hear from you – the photos of your roof garden look fabulous! It’s too late to plant wheat for a fall harvest, but there are several varieties that can be planted in fall for harvest next year. Check out saltspringseeds.com — they have an amazing variety of non-GMO, heirloom and organic grains for sale and can help point you toward a good overwintering variety. Good luck and keep me posted on the results!
Lee L says
Wow..you needed $5K from city council to ‘discover’ the back yard garden?
Andrea Bellamy says
Hi Lee L – Nope. Discovered the backyard garden all on my own! (Well, technically, I don’t have a backyard, but whatever.) The Lawns to Loaves project was already underway before City Council approved our grant application. And I’m happy they did – it will help get the word out to others interested in growing grains in an urban environment.