A Guide To Planting Banatka Wheat
By Benjamin Hoffman
I ran across banatka winter wheat, a Hungarian landrace variety, in the FEDCO catalog, and it sounded like an interesting variety to play with. So I bought an ounce for $20 and planted it in the side yard with the idea that if it had good taste, the first year’s harvest could be used for seed. Most heritage wheats develop large root systems (given enough space) and are twice as tall as modern varieties. The growth and yield were impressive, but bread samples baked by three of my baker friends were extraordinary.
HOW TO PLANT
The Banatka guru, Eli Rogosa, recommends planting seeds at 8-inch by 8-inch spacing to get good yields. First, I tried my Earthway seeder with a modified carrot seed plate; it worked well for naked oats and spring wheat, but skipped too much with Banatka. So I planted about 500 individual seeds on 8-by-8-inch spacing in mid-September. By June the plants were more than 5-feet tall (too tall for my BOAZ mini-combine) with 10 to 25 tillers each. A potential problem with 8-by-8 spacing is weeds, so shortly after planting Banatka, I broadcast Dutch white clover which produced a lush understory with virtually no weeds.
Two of us hand-harvested the Banatka plot in 30 minutes on July 23 using Ethiopian hand sickles, cutting about mid-height and stacking stems in a small cart to dry. After drying for several weeks, we threshed with BOAZ in stationary mode. I planned to let the Dutch white clover understory overwinter as a cover crop and inter-plant corn the next spring, but I enlarged the planting area and seeded Banatka again. In fal 2014, I planted two plots to test the feasibility of using the Earthway, one using my modified seed plate, planting three to four seeds per lineal foot, the other a beet-seed plate with half of the cups taped (about 11 seeds per lineal foot).
The universities of Maine and Vermont have conducted trials of winter wheat for several years, including conventional drilling and harvesting of Banatka. The University of Maine researchers sowed 30 seeds per square foot and harvested 2,660 pounds per acre; I planted 2.25 seeds per square foot and produced 1,556 pounds per acre. With Banatka seed at $0.04/kernel, the food plot producer is wise to use the 8-by- 8-inch spacing. Had we properly calibrated the chaff separator on the thresher, our Banatka yield would have been even higher. As it was, I got 140 ounces from the one-ounce planting.
The 2013 plot was seeded with Dutch white clover, but because of Banatka’s height, I tried red clover in one 2014 plot. Red clover is much taller and good for hand harvesting, but may be tall enough to be picked up by the combine. We plan to try shims and a longer V-belt in order to raise the in-feed reel to harvest Banatka with the BOAZ mini-combine. First, we will hand harvest the best plants for seed, and then combine the rest for grain.
I also had a trial plot of another winter variety, Warthog, planted in the conventional manner (about 30 seeds/square foot). Its tillering was impressive (as was the taste), so based on Banatka’s performance with plenty of growing space, I seeded the 2014 Warthog at three to four seeds per square foot. July 2015 should answer my questions.
If you bake, you might want to try some of the heritage grains to add some pizzazz to your meals. And you might play with spacing of some newer bread varieties. Also, consider Dutch white clover for weed control and nitrogen production.