Spelt, or Triticum spelta, is an ancient species of wheat cultivated for its sweet, protein-rich grains. The thick, flexible stalks grow to a maximum height of 5 feet and each is tipped with small, densely packed grain husks that ripen in midsummer. The grains are high in protein and low in gluten, making them a suitable alternative staple grain for people with gluten intolerance. Spelt is sometimes cultivated by home gardeners since it is difficult to find in grocery stores, and although it is very easy to grow, spelt requires a large investment of space to produce a decent yield.
Prepare the planting site in autumn approximately six to eight weeks before the first frost. Lay out an area of at least 1/2 acre for a yield of 454kg. of grain. Drive wooden stakes into each corner of the field to mark the boundary.
Spread a 5-inch-thick layer of sand over the field. Run a rotary tiller over the field with the blades set to till at a depth of 10 inches to break up the soil and incorporate the sand or use a riding mower with a harrow attachment for larger areas. Break up the soil until no clumps larger than 1 inch remain. Remove any weeds or large stones kicked up during the tilling process.
Apply 10-5-5 ratio fertiliser to the field using a hose with a fertiliser spray nozzle attachment. Apply the fertiliser according to the manufacturer's directions. Make several more passes with the rotary tiller or riding lawnmower to incorporate the fertiliser deep into the soil. Wait two days after fertilising to sow the spelt seed.
Sow the spelt seed using a wheeled seed sower or broadcast the seed by hand on smaller plots. Fill the seed sower with the spelt grain and walk in a tight grid pattern across the field. Turn the hand wheel of the seed sower one revolution for every two steps. Sow 85 to 100lbs. of seed per acre.
Churn the spelt seeds into the soil using the rotary tiller. Set the blades of the rotary tiller to a depth of 2 inches. Pass quickly over the field with the tiller.
Tamp the soil with a smooth-barrel soil roller to anchor the spelt seeds and to release any air trapped around them. Pass over the field until the surface appears fairly smooth and uniform in appearance.
Water the spelt seeds deeply immediately after sowing using an oscillating sprinkler. Break the field up into 15-by-15-foot sections and place the oscillating sprinkler on each section for 20 minutes. Do not water the seeds again after the initial watering.
Monitor the field for signs of germination in two to four days. Look for a light green flush across the top of the soil. Do not walk out onto the field once the seeds germinate.
Top-dress the newly sprouted spelt grain with 10-5-5 ratio fertiliser to increase the level of nitrogen in the soil. Spray the fertiliser while standing at the edge of the field using a hose with a fertiliser spray nozzle attachment.
Harvest the spelt grain in early to midsummer or whenever the grain stalks have turned tawny-yellow in colour and the grain husks are swollen. Cut the grain stalks using a handheld scythe for smaller plots or use a small-scale windrow for larger plots.
Thresh the spelt once the stalks have dried out for three to five days. Save 10 per cent, or 45.4kg., of the seed for next year's sowing and use the remainder for edible products.
Things you need
- Wooden stake
- Rotary tiller
- 10-5-5 ratio fertiliser
- Garden hose with fertiliser spray nozzle attachment
- Wheeled seed sower
- Smooth-barrel soil roller
- Oscillating sprinkler
- Scythe or windrow