Wheat has been cultivated from earliest times. It was a chief crop in
Egypt and Palestine, and still holds its importance in the temperate
portions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and America.
This crop ranks third in value in the United States. It grows in cool,
in temperate, and in warm climates, and in many kinds of soil. It does
best in clay loam, and worst in sandy soils. Clogged and water-soaked
land will not grow wheat with profit to the farmer; for this reason,
where good wheat-production is desired the soil must be well drained
and in good physical condition--that is, the soil must be open, crumbly,
Clay soils that are hard and lifeless can be made valuable for
wheat-production by covering the surface with manure, by good tillage,
and by a thorough system of crop-rotation. Cowpeas and other legumes
make a most valuable crop to precede wheat, for in growing they add
atmospheric nitrogen to the soil, and their roots loosen the root-bed,
thereby admitting a free circulation of air and adding humus to the
soil. Moreover, the legumes leave the soil with its grains fairly close
packed, and this is a help in wheat growing.
One may secure a good seed-bed after cotton and corn as well as after
cowpeas and other legumes. They are summer-cultivated crops, and the
clean culture that has been given them renders the surface soil mellow
and the undersoil firm and compact. They are not so good, however, as
cowpeas, since they add no atmospheric nitrogen to the soil, as all
leguminous crops do.
From one to two inches is the most satisfactory depth for planting
wheat. The largest number of seeds comes up when planted at this depth.
A mellow soil is very helpful to good coming up and provides a most
comfortable home for the roots of the plant. A compact soil below makes
a moist undersoil; and this is desirable, for the soil water is needed
to dissolve plant food and to carry it up through the plant, where it is
used in building tissue.
There are a great many varieties of wheat: some are bearded, others are
smooth; some are winter and others are spring varieties. The
smooth-headed varieties are most agreeable to handle during harvest and
at threshing-time. Some of the bearded varieties, however, do so well in
some soils and climates that it is desirable to continue growing them,
though they are less agreeable to handle. No matter what variety you are
accustomed to raise, it may be improved by careful seed-selection.
The seed-drill is the best implement for planting wheat. It distributes
the grains evenly over the whole field and leaves the mellow soil in a
condition to catch what snow may fall and secure what protection it
The yield of the lower field, forty-five bushels per acre, is due to
In many parts of the country, because not enough live stock is raised,
there is often too little manure to apply to the wheat land. Where this
is the case commercial fertilizers must be used. Since soils differ
greatly, it is impossible to suggest a fertilizer adapted to all soils.
The elements usually lacking in wheat soils are nitrogen, phosphoric
acid, and potash. The land may be lacking in one of these plant foods or
in all; in either case a maximum crop cannot possibly be raised. The
section on manuring the soil will be helpful to the wheat-grower.
It should be remembered always in buying fertilizers for wheat that
whenever wheat follows cowpeas or clover or other legumes there is
seldom need of using nitrogen in the fertilizer; the tubercles on the
pea or clover roots will furnish that. Hence, as a rule, only potash and
phosphoric acid will have to be purchased as plant food.
The farmer is assisted always by a study of his crop and by a knowledge
of how it grows. If he find the straw inferior and short, it means that
the soil is deficient in nitrogen; but on the other hand, if the straw
be luxuriant and the heads small and poorly filled, he may be sure that
his soil contains too little phosphoric acid and potash.
Let the pupils secure several heads of wheat and thresh each
separately by hand. The grains should then be counted and their
plumpness and size observed. The practical importance of this is
obvious, for the larger the heads and the greater the number of
grains, the larger the yield per acre. Let them plant some of the
large and some of the small grains. A single test of this kind will
show the importance of careful seed-selection.