We have been busy this week planting some rare heritage wheat varieties on the farm. The trial is being carried out in partnership with Brockwell Bake, a charity that gets people eating and thinking about better bread.
Heritage wheats are types of wheat that are no longer widely grown in the UK. Since the 1960s, modern wheat varieties have been bred so that they only grow to around two feet of height. This means that fertilisers can be added to increase the amount of grain produced by each ear of wheat, without the risk of the wheat falling over.
However, because of their short height, they don’t shade out weeds when they grow. This means farmers need to apply herbicides. The result is a genetically homogenous crop and a field that is more vulnerable to pests and diseases. This leads farmers to apply even more fungicides and pesticides.
In contrast, heritage wheats are much taller so they shade out weeds. They can also tolerate much poorer soils because they have a bigger root system to seek out nutrients. This reduces the need for both chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers, which is good news for organic farms like Forty Hall and even better news for the environment.
Among others, we were planting ‘Blue Cone Rivet’, which was grown by farmers in southern England during the 17th and 18th centuries, and the wonderfully named ‘Old Hoary’. Rivet wheats (Triticum turgidum) are similar to durum wheats and originate from the northern Mediterranean. They can be useful as part of a bread baking flour mix as well as being used for pasta making.
On Thursday, Andy Forbes trekked from Brockwell to Enfield laden with a manual seed sower and a rucksack full of seed. We planted seven different varieties by hand and are hoping to plant further varieties soon.