My triticale is heading already. This is surprising, given that we have had such a wet spring. The ditches were running with water just a week ago, similar to what we normally get in February. Most of the farmers around here are just getting into their fields. Since I am on a human scale, rather than a tractor scale, I was able to plant some things in the small windows of dryness we got in the last month. My potatoes are up and looking good. My cabbage, broccoli and onions likewise.
Triticale is part of my ongoing grain project. We need to grow our own grain on small plots, especially if we are cutting, threshing and winnowing by hand, as I am. Without mechanized combines, no farmer will be able to grow grain at current prices, which are quite low compared to the labor involved in hand cultivation and harvesting. I became interested in triticale when I was teaching anthropology for a couple of quarters because it is a polyploid (more than two sets of chromosomes), like most of our domestic crops. Triticale is a man-made crop, with four sets of 7 chromosomes from wheat and two sets of 7 from rye. This becomes a chromosome number of 42 (6 x 7), the same as common wheat. Triticale also has a larger grain than wheat and a nice golden color like wheat and unlike rye. I also suspected it would open up the soil like rye, which is known as the "biological tractor."
I got a generic variety of winter triticale from Fedco, which sells it as a cover crop. I sowed it September 29, 2009 and last year, I harvested some for seed and a test bread loaf, and then whacked down the rest of it. It reseeded and came back like gangbusters. When I made my test loaves, I quite liked the taste. The loaves weren’t as flat as straight rye, so there seems to be enough gluten to make a good coarse loaf – the kind I make for our own use.
The reseeding is another part of my grain project. I am harvesting some grain, like my winter wheat, and then watching as it reseeds, due to my primitive cutting with a sickle. So far, this works well. I also left a plot of spelt last year and whacked down one half and let the other half stand. The half that was whacked down reseeded quite nicely, but the half left to stand tall didn't reseed well. It may be that whacking down the stems protects the seed, but I take the stems off the wheat when I cut it, so this might not be determinative. On the other hand, I don't cut my wheat right down to the ground like a mechanical combine, so maybe some of the stem that is left allows the seed to be protected until it sprouts (as long as I whack it down).
For comparison, the winter wheat I sowed October 29, 2010 is doing well, but nowhere near as well as the triticale left to reseed. The winter wheat I left to reseed is about the same height as what I planted, so it is not the technique that is determinative, but the grain itself. In other words, triticale holds out great potential for a grain crop when our weather is cooler in the spring. As the medieval peasants did, it is good to plant spelt as well as wheat as a hedge against hunger. It seems we can also add triticale to the mix.