September is Whole Grains Month and Time to Plant Winter Wheat
Image Credit: Adam Ellis, Buzz Feed
Lessons for grades K-12, with video footage from award-winning documentary, The Great American Wheat Harvest
Plant a School Yard Plot of Wheat
Oklahoma farmers start planting winter wheat this month. As a class plant a plot of wheat to harvest at the end of the school year.
Wheat planted in the fall can also serve as a cover crop for your classroom garden. After harvesting the wheat in spring, leave the stubble, making sure you don't leave seeds. The stubble will decompose and provide nourishment for the soil while keeping weeds out.
For information about getting wheat seeds, check with your local grain elevator or feed store or contact your local OSU Extension office. Wheat seeds are also available at health food stores or in the health food section of your grocery store, marketed as wheat berries.
Until I moved to western South Dakota, I did not know about the rain, that it could come too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, too early, too late. That there could be too little at the right time, too much at the wrong time, and vice versa.
I did not know that a light rain coming at the end of a hot afternoon, with the temperature at 100 degrees or more, can literally burn wheat, streaming it on the stalk so it's not worth harvesting.
I had not seen a long, slow rain come at harvest, making grain lying in the swath begin to sprout again, ruining it as a cash crop....
I had not seen the whimsy of wind, rain, and hail; a path in a wheatfield as if a drunken giant had stumbled through, leaving footprints here and there. I had not seen hail fall from a clear blue sky. I had not tasted horizontal rain, flung by powerful winds.
I had not realized that a long, soaking rain in spring or fall, a straight-down-falling rain, a gentle, splashing rain is more than a blessing. It's a miracle.
An old farmer once asked my husband and me how long we'd been in the country. 'Five years,' we answered. 'Well, then,' he said, 'you've seen rain.'
- Kathleen Norris, from Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
Norris is writing about South Dakota, but she could be writing about Oklahoma wheat fields. Challenge students to find South Dakota on a map of the US and discuss why the weather there might be similar to ours. (Both states are located in the Great Plains. Extreme weather is typical of the Great Plains.) How is it different? (South Dakota is typically colder in the winter.) Wheat is also a major crop in South Dakota, as it is in Oklahoma.
Joseph Danne was a self-taught plant geneticist who developed a variety of wheat well-suited to Oklahoma and the Southern Plains. The son of German immigrant parents, Danne moved to Kingfisher County in 1893. He received eight years of formal education before purchasing a farm in Beckham County at age 23. He studied the inheritance laws of Gregor Mendel and conducted genetic research, combining different strains of wheat to create new genetic hybrids.
The result was Triumph Wheat, a 13-year research project conducted between Sweetwater and Sayre in Beckham County. In 1924 and 1925 he combined two locally-grown selections from Turkey wheat with a lesser-known white wheat type from Australia. This produced a rare hybrid uniquely adapted to Oklahoma's growing conditions. It had shorter and stronger straw to withstand prairie winds and it matured early enough to escape Oklahoma's hot summers. It also had milling and baking characteristics that were favored by the milling and baking industries. Triumph was released in 1940. It was the first widely-grown wheat born in and bred for the southern Great Plains.
Background photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.