Monday, December 3, 2012

Wheat Grass Success and a Plague of Flies

After mixed results with my first attempt to grow wheat grass for my poultry, I decided to follow the experts' recommendations to the letter. The result has been amazing. If you have enough space for several trays at once, you can easily grow enough wheat grass to form the core of your poultry's diet. But I'm getting ahead of myself just a bit. Here's how I did it.

  • Something with good drainage to plant the wheat grass in. I bought a set of nursery flats like these to use, plus some additional flats without drain holes to nest them in (keeping the water from spilling all over my counter). You'll need two sets of the flats with holes because you'll use one as a cover when your grass is getting started. 
  • Potting soil or vermiculite. I keep vermiculite on hand, so that's what I used. 
  • Liquid kelp or other organic liquid fertilizer. This is optional, but useful, especially if you are going to get multiple cuttings of your wheat grass.
  • Sprouting seeds. I experimented using both hard white wheat from my food storage as well as a mix Sprout People sells called "Kat Grass"
  • A spray bottle 

Step One: Soak the wheat

Soaking the wheat

Measure out enough wheat to densely cover the bottom of your sprouting tray. Then place the wheat in a jar of cool water, stir, and allow to soak for 8-12 hours.

Step Two: Pre-sprout

See the tiny roots? This wheat is ready to plant. 

Drain and thoroughly rinse the soaked wheat. Then, put the wheat back in the jar you soaked it in or in a sprouter. I used my handy, dandy Victorio 4-Tray Kitchen Seed Sprouter. Keep the wheat in a cool location out of direct light. Rinse and drain the wheat every 8-12 hours until you see tiny roots on your wheat. It only took 12 hours before I was ready to proceed to the next step.

Step Three: Plant

Wheat seed planted

I poured in enough vermiculite to create an 1" layer in the bottom of the nursery flat. Then I added water, stirred, and added more water until the vermiculite was uniformly damp. I also added a little organic liquid kelp fertilizer to this initial watering. Next, I spread the sprouted wheat evenly across the top and spritzed the seeds with water from the spray bottle.

Important detail: After you spray the seeds, take the extra nursery flat and place it upside down to form a tent over the top of the tray. You want the wheat to grow tall quickly and the darkness is the way to do it. The drain holes in the bottom of the the nursery flat also provide ventilation to avoid mold problems.

Step Four: Water twice daily and watch in amazement

It won't take long before the seeds shoot up. And, unlike my previous attempt, there was absolutely no boozy smell associated with it. All I did was spray the tray evenly with water twice a day.

Day  One

Day Two

Day Three

I kept the tray inverted over the wheat grass until day four when the grass was about two inches tall. Now it is time to give the wheat grass a sunny place to grow. I also began watering from the bottom, pouring enough water into the bottom holding tray to last a full 24 hours.

Day Four

Day Five: Greening and growing!

Day Seven: First harvest

After seven days' worth of growth, I cut the wheat grass back to about 1". I could have just given the entire tray to my birds and let them have at it, but I wanted to see if I could coax additional growth out of the same planting. I was indeed able to get two more cuttings before I threw the remaining mass of roots and vermiculite (and fruit flies, but more about that in a bit) out into our garden.

And what was the verdict on wheat grass from the feathered community?  

Chickens love wheat grass

So do ducks
They adored it. Both the ducks and chickens chomped it down with gusto.

There's just one problem I encountered during this little experiment: a massive infestation of fruit flies! I'm talking giant, biblical plague-proportion of fruit flies. Every time I would open the lid to spritz the grass, a cloud of flies launched into my face. By the end of the first week, I had generations of flies living in the wheat grass. Even covering my kitchen counters with multiple tried and true apple cider vinegar traps only put a slight dent in the population. It's been a week since I removed the wheat grass trays (as well as all fruit and other food sources) from my kitchen and I'm just now noticing a sharp decline in the numbers of fruit flies.

I've promised my incredibly patient (albeit slightly frustrated) Hubby Dear that I'll wait a bit before I try sprouting wheat again, but you can bet that I'll do it. Growing wheat grass is only slightly more complicated than alfalfa sprouts, but you get so much bang for your buck. I'm really looking forward to having a continual supply of fresh greens for my birds.... if I can keep those darn fruit flies away, that is.