Wheat is one of our staple foods, coming in third in worldwide production after corn and rice, and includes a broad range of diversity and variation. The vast majority of wheat currently grown is classified as Common Wheat or Bread Wheat and is in the T. aestivum species. A grass cultivated for its nutritious seeds, it was one of humanity’s first domesticated crops, arising in Western Asia as early as 10,000 years ago. Wheat made it to the Americas in the 1500s in the bags of European settlers. The grain is high in gluten, a helpful protein for bread-making, which can be problematic for some consumers with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
White Sonora wheat is one of the oldest North American wheat varieties still grown today, which can reportedly be tolerated by some people with gluten allergies or Celiac’s disease. Currently experiencing a comeback with small scale growers, White Sonora was the most common wheat variety grown in the Western US before and during the Civil War, but seeds can be difficult to find today. First recorded in Mexico and California in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it’s a beardless, semi-hard, early-spring variety with round grains that can be grown as winter wheat in regions without heavy freezes. The flour is praised for its nutty flavor and the ability to make an easily workable dough that’s great for tortillas. With its deep root structure, it’s well adapted to poor soils and arid climates, surviving even with no irrigation, and is resistant to rust and Fusarium blight diseases. Another advantage to organic growers is its height—taller than many frequently grown varieties—which helps to shade out weeds.
Seed: Grain seeds are usually broadcast and raked into the soil rather than individually planted in neat rows. If you’ve got 100 square feet, you’ll use about 1/3 lb of seed.
Seed Depth: 1/2–1 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 2″
Space Between Rows: 2–6″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50°F
Days for Germination: 2–10
Sow Indoors: Year-round for sprouts. Generally, transplanting wheat will result in reduced yields so starting indoors is not recommended for grain harvests.
Sow Outdoors: In USDA Zones 3 to 7, sow beginning in early spring. In Zone 8 and warmer, sow between fall and early winter.
Grows well in a hot and arid climate but will be productive over a wide range of climate types. Plant in the fall if you live in a region with mild winters and few deep winter freezes. Drought tolerant, it prefers some light rain early in its life cycle but will do well even without irrigation when maturing in the dry heat of the desert. Time planting so you can harvest before the start of the summer rainy season in desert climates. In other regions, plant as a spring wheat.
Natural: Full sun.
Artificial: Grows well under fluorescent or LED lamps.
Soil: Prefers well-drained sandy, loamy, or clay soils. A pH of 6.0–7.0 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in hydroponic systems.
Water: Requires low levels of water. Give plants a good soak once or twice a month during dry spells, but in most regions, rainfall should be sufficient to sustain this crop.
Nutrients: Requires moderate to high levels of nutrients. Nitrogen fertilizer can be applied prior or during planting but is not necessary unless growing as a cash crop. If applying nitrogen, use during the spring when the stem elongation phase of growth is occurring.
Disease(s): This variety is resistant to rust and Fusarium blight, but still watch for:
Deficiency(s): A nitrogen or potassium deficiency will result in pale colored plants, with yellowing of lower, older leaves. A phosphorus deficiency will cause plants to be darker, with a purple tint possible, and older leaves will turn brown.
Rotation: A 1-year rotation away from wheat is recommended. Alternate with species such as barley to decrease pathogens. You can also plant wheat following a legume crop to ensure adequate soil nitrogen. Avoid planting crops in fields that have been heavily infested with weeds.
Companions: Grows well with annual legumes, rye, and other small grains.
Harvest: Harvest between mid to late summer for a winter grown crop or in early fall for a spring grown crop when grains are firm and crunchy and stalks have turned a yellowish-brown. If planting on a smaller scale, wheat may be harvested by hand-cutting the heads off stems. If harvesting larger amounts, you can use an old fashioned scythe (or for very large operations, a combine) to harvest. Depending on the size of your crop, bundle the wheat into sheaves, which will range from 12–14″ in circumference, and tie off with twine. To thresh the grains, place in a pillowcase or larger sack and beat until the chaff separates from the grain. Chaff can be removed by pouring the harvest in front of a fan several times to blow off the lighter plant matter. This variety has a thinner hull than many more modern types, making the post-harvest processing easier.
Storage: Store grain sheaves upright in a dry, well-ventilated location. Keep dried loose grains in a cool, dry location in an airtight container. Keeping moisture and oxygen out is essential. Although whole grains with a moisture content below 12% can store for as long as 30 years, it’s recommended that you use the grain within 5 years. If you’ve got extra ground flour after baking, keep it in an airtight container in the freezer for longest storage life.
History: This wheat was brought to the Sonoran desert of Mexico in the late 1600s or early 1700s by a Jesuit missionary named Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino.
Preserve: To best preserve your harvest, make sure your whole grains have a low moisture content (below 12%) before storing by drying well.
Prepare: Can be ground into flour by milling whole or cracked wheat. Use a blender or food processor if you don’t have your own flour mill. Ground flour will keep for less time than whole grains, so only grind just before use for best results. Use as flour in your favorite baking recipes and breads. You can also use whole wheat grains as a cereal, side dish, or rice alternative. Seeds can be sprouted by putting 3–5 tbsp. of grain in a jar, adding water, and soaking for 4–8 hours. Drain and cover with mesh or cheesecloth. For 2 to 3 days, rinse and drain 1 or 2 times daily with cold water. The grains will be ready to eat or stored in the fridge once they have developed a small tail. This variety is praised for its sweet and light flavor when used as whole wheat, which can be attributed to the fact that it’s a white wheat rather than a hard, red type. It has a great reputation for use in making flour tortillas.
Nutritional: Contains significant amounts of protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and iron.
Medicinal: In traditional medicine, this grain has been cited in herbal remedies to address everything from fever to tumors. While not all of these cures have been verified, for those without a gluten intolerance, wheat is a hearty and wholesome addition to your diet.
Warnings: Those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance should not consume wheat products.
Go the traditional route and make some Whole Wheat Tortillas with your White Sonora wheat.