20 April 2013

Wheat Rust, year two.

In 2012 we lost our entire wheat crop to a rust disease. We had planted the wheat in the Home Garden under the palm tree, and over a period of summer weeks, I stood by and watched while our crop's leaves yellowed and then grew lumpy rust spores. I was naively optimistic last year, and hoped the seed head would be untouched. But, before I knew it, all the heads were covered with bright orange rust as well, rendering them useless.

Over the summer I did some research and managed to procure two sources of Sonora wheat to plant. Sonora was recommended to me as a California heirloom variety and one that shows rust resistance. http://sustainablegrains.org/ I was also advised to cut the irrigation to the wheat early in its growing cycle, as Sonora is able to ripen in dry conditions. Rust thrives in moisture, a problem with our foggy climate.

The second graders planted two stands of wheat. One at the grade school where we haven't grown wheat in a couple years, and the other in the Tower Garden at St. Anne's. I wanted it far away from last year's plot, as rust can overwinter on neighboring grasses and then contaminate the wheat plot all over again.

Unfortunately, I noticed this week signs of the yellowing on the leaves of half the plot in the Tower Garden. I looked more closely and could see those orange spores beginning to form. With no heart ache at all, I immediately pulled out the northern side of the wheat crop in the hopes of protecting the other half, which at this time looks rust free. Yes, it's hard to pull out half one's crop that's been in the ground growing nicely for five months. However, I wanted to have some yield of wheat this year, not nothing like last year. So I pulled.

Luckily, I don't see any signs of rust in our grade school plot. I do think we will have to take a break from wheat for the next couple years at St. Anne's to let the rust die off. We'll experiment with other grains like faster growing barley or flax.

For an in-depth history of Sonora wheat, see this http://sustainablegrains.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Sonorahistoryanotherlook2008.pdf