Winter Wheat in the Pacific Northwest: Varieties and Vital Tips

Winter wheat, a crop traditionally sown in the fall and harvested in the summer, has become a staple for many Pacific Northwest farmers. The cool, moist conditions of western Washington can offer an ideal environment for this grain. But how do you choose the right variety and ensure a bountiful harvest?

1. Why Winter Wheat?

  • Erosion Control: Winter wheat’s robust root system helps reduce soil erosion during the rainy season.
  • Weed Suppression: As an early ground cover, winter wheat competes with and suppresses winter weeds.
  • Moisture Utilization: This crop takes advantage of the Pacific Northwest’s winter and spring moisture, reducing the need for additional irrigation.

2. Winter Wheat Varieties for the Pacific Northwest

  • ‘Stephens’: A soft white common wheat, Stephens is known for its high yield and good straw strength. It’s a preferred choice for many due to its resistance to stripe rust.
  • ‘Eltan’: Another soft white variety, Eltan is notable for its tolerance to cold temperatures and its strong resistance against stripe rust and snow mold.
  • ‘Madsen’: Widely grown, Madsen is a soft white variety that has shown consistent yields and strong disease resistance, particularly against stripe rust.
  • ‘Xerpha’: A more recent addition, Xerpha is a soft white wheat with high yield potential and solid resistance against stripe rust.

While soft white winter wheat is predominantly grown in the Pacific Northwest, hard red winter wheat varieties can also be found, albeit in smaller quantities.

3. Tips for Growing Winter Wheat Successfully

  • Soil Preparation: Ensure well-draining soil. Incorporate organic matter or compost to enhance soil fertility. Before sowing, consider a soil test to determine nutrient needs.
  • Sowing: Ideally, sow winter wheat about 4-6 weeks before the first hard freeze. This allows the plant to establish strong roots without producing too much top growth.
  • Depth: Aim for a seeding depth of 1-1.5 inches. Proper depth ensures better root establishment and protection from winter cold.
  • Spacing: Drilled seeding typically requires 20-30 seeds per square foot. Precise spacing aids in optimal growth and reduces competition between plants.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Monitor for common pests like aphids and diseases like stripe rust or snow mold. Timely identification and treatment are crucial. Rotate crops to reduce disease buildup.
  • Watering: While the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest might provide adequate moisture, ensure consistent soil moisture, especially during dry spells. However, avoid waterlogging, as wheat is sensitive to overly wet conditions.
  • Harvesting: Harvest when grains are hard and moisture content is around 12-15%. Too much moisture can lead to spoilage, while too little can shatter the grain.

In summary, winter wheat offers Pacific Northwest farmers a sustainable and profitable option for winter cropping. With the right variety selection, proper cultivation practices, and diligent monitoring, this grain can become a cornerstone of your farm’s annual cycle. Embrace the wheat wave!

Winter Crops for the Pacific Northwest: Thriving in the Chill

This is part one of a series of articles we will do focusing on farming during the fall and and winter.

The Pacific Northwest, especially western Washington, is known for its temperate climate and occasional winter snowfalls. While many crops prefer the sunnier, warmer months, several hardy varieties can be successfully cultivated throughout the winter here. Growing these crops not only extends your farm’s productive season but also makes use of soil and space that would otherwise remain dormant.

1. Why Winter Crops?

  • Soil Health: Winter crops can help in preventing soil erosion and suppressing weed growth.
  • Nitrogen Fixation: Some crops, like legumes, fix nitrogen in the soil, prepping it for spring plantings.
  • Revenue Stream: These crops can offer an extended income source and diversify a farm’s offerings.

2. Top Crops to Grow During Winter

  • Brassicas: This family includes kale, Brussels sprouts, and collard greens. These leafy greens can handle the cold, and some even get sweeter after a frost.
  • Winter Lettuce: Varieties like ‘Winter Gem’ are cold-resistant and can provide a continuous supply of fresh greens.
  • Spinach: Certain types of spinach, like ‘Winter Bloomsdale,’ are suited to colder temperatures and shorter days.
  • Root Vegetables: Carrots, beets, and parsnips can be sown in late summer and harvested throughout the winter. They sweeten up after the first frost.
  • Peas: Planting peas in fall can lead to an early spring harvest. Snow peas are a favorite, thriving in the cooler season.
  • Garlic: Plant in the fall for a summer harvest. The long growing season helps develop those deep, robust flavors.

3. Tips for Growing Winter Crops in Western Washington

  • Prepare the Soil: Since the ground can become more compact in the winter, ensure good drainage by adding compost or sand. This helps prevent root crops from rotting.
  • Choose the Right Varieties: Always opt for winter-hardy or cold-tolerant varieties specific to our region.
  • Protect Your Crops: Consider using row covers or cold frames for added protection against severe frosts and to extend the growing season.
  • Mind the Shorter Days: Remember, winter crops grow more slowly. Not only because of the cold but also due to reduced daylight hours. Be patient and monitor their growth.
  • Watering: While the Pacific Northwest can be wet, ensure that your crops are receiving adequate water, especially during dry spells. Overhead watering can be reduced, focusing more on root-level irrigation to avoid freezing on foliage.

4. Differences from Spring and Summer Growing

  • Pest Control: One advantage of winter farming is fewer pests. However, keep an eye out for slugs and snails, which thrive in our damp climate.
  • Growth Speed: Winter crops grow slower than their spring and summer counterparts. Adjust your expectations and harvest timelines accordingly.
  • Frost Vigilance: While many winter crops tolerate frost, it’s essential to be prepared for sudden severe temperature drops. Having protective measures in place can be the difference between a successful crop and a lost one.

In conclusion, winter farming in western Washington can be both rewarding and productive. With careful planning, soil preparation, and the right crop choices, your farm can flourish year-round. Happy farming!