We have entered the micro-season of “The Time for Wheat”. This is the third micro-season of the mini-season of Grain Full. The other micro-seasons within Grain Full are:
- The Silkworm Awakes and Eats the Mulberry (May 21 – May 25)
- The Safflower Blossoms (May 26 – May 30)
- The Time for Wheat (May 31 – Jun 4)
These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others. No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you.
As a way to honor this season, we are going to investigate wheat as a cereal crop and take a look at some of Vincent van Gogh’s wheat-inspired paintings.
What is Wheat?
Wheat is a grass that is a part of the Triticum genus of the Poaceae family of plants. Wheat is commonly referred to as a cereal crop. Cereal crops are predominately grasses that are cultivated for their grains or seeds. Early archeological records show that wheat was cultivated for human use as early as 900 BCE.(1)
Wheat flour, which is made from grinding the seeds of the wheat plant, is the most commonly produced product of the wheat plant. Triticum aestivum, also known as common wheat or bread wheat, is one of the most widely grown wheat crops and it makes up about 95% of global wheat production.(2)
Types of Wheat
While there are many different variations of wheat, the plant is usually separated into two broad categories based on the growing season: Spring Wheat and Winter Wheat.(3)
Spring Wheat is planted in early spring and harvested in the late summer
Winter Wheat is planted in winter and harvested in early summer.
In the United States, there are also six major classes of wheat that encompass over 200 different varieties of wheat crop.(4) The classes are divided according to growth habits (winter wheat or spring wheat), grain color, and texture. The six classes are:
Hard Red Winter Wheat:
Hard Red Winter Wheat is typically grown in the Great Plains region of the United States. This region includes the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. Hard red winter wheat is harvested in the early spring. This wheat is used to produce flour that is good for yeast bread and rolls.
Hard Red Spring Wheat:
Hard Red Spring Wheat is typically grown in the northern states of Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota. This wheat is used to produce flour that is often used in designer bread, bagels, and croissants. Hard red spring wheat is sometimes called the “aristocrat of wheat”(5)
Soft Red Winter Wheat:
Soft Red Winter Wheat is grown in locations east of the Mississippi River. This wheat produces flour that has a low protein content and is used for flatbreads, cookies, crackers, pretzels, and pastries.
Soft White Wheat:
Soft White Wheat is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest. The flour made from this wheat is perfect for cakes, pastries, and flatbreads.
Hard White Wheat:
Hard White Wheat is a newer classification of wheat and it grows in many of the same locations as hard red winter wheat.(4,5) Hard white wheat is sweeter than red wheat and is used in hard rolls, noodles, and tortillas.
Durum wheat is primarily grown in Montana and North Dakota. This wheat has a high protein content and its wheat flour is the best for making pasta.
Wheat Production in the United States
Below is a map provided by the National Association of Wheat Growers that shows the distribution of wheat production in the United States by class.
For more information about wheat, its different classes, and its impact on the US economy, head over to the US Wheat Associates’ website where they have all sorts of data about wheat production.
Vincent van Gogh and Wheat fields
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) was a Dutch post-impressionist painter. During his relatively short, but prolific painting career, van Gogh produced “nearly 900 paintings and more than 1,100 works on paper.”(6) Van Gogh painted portraits, self-portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. His paintings become known for their bold colors and expressive brushwork.
Van Gogh started painting wheat early on in his career. In 1885, van Gogh painted Sheaves of Wheat in a Field while he was in the Netherlands. By 1888, van Gogh had moved to southern France where he continued incorporating wheat into his painting. Farmhouse in a Wheat Field and Sunset: Wheat Fields Near Arles are examples of his painting during this time.
In 1889, van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself into the asylum of St. Paul near Saint-Rémy in Provence.(8) He made a series of wheat paintings from the confines of a room that he used as a painting studio. Green Wheat Field and Enclosed Wheat Field with Rising Sun are examples of paintings from this period.
Later that year, van Gogh was able to leave his room at the asylum and began painting the landscapes. One painting that came out of these walks is Wheat Field with Cypresses. There are actually three versions of this painting in existence. One was painted in June and the others in September. Van Gohn considered the June version of Wheat Field with Cypresses one of his “best” summer paintings.(8)
In May of 1890 van Gogh left Saint-Rémy and moved to “a room at the inn Auberge Ravoux in Auvers.”(8) While staying in Auvers, van Gogh created about 70 more paintings. One of these paintings is Wheatfield with Crows.
Wheatfield with Crows was painted in July of 1890. The Van Gohn Museum in Amsterdam describes this painting by stating, “Van Gogh did want his wheatfields under stormy skies to express ‘sadness, extreme loneliness’, but at the same time he wanted to show what he considered ‘healthy and fortifying about the countryside’”.(9)
On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He died two days later on July 29, 1890, from an untreated infection. Wheatfield with Crows was one of his last paintings.
Van Gogh had a very unique connection to wheat fields. 1889 he wrote, “What can a person do when he thinks of all the things he cannot understand, but look at the fields of wheat… We, who live by bread, are we not ourselves very much like wheat… to be reaped when we are ripe.”(8)
Van Gogh saw the wheat fields as “metaphors for humanity’s cycles of life, as both celebration of growth and realization of the susceptibility of nature’s powerful forces.”(8) As a result, the wheat fields became a recurring source of inspiration and spiritual contemplation. One of my favorite quotes from van Gogh about wheat is:
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning.”
In reading this quote I find a sense of hope. The realization that what could be seen as “just grass” right now becomes the source of life-giving nutrients later on. Taking this idea a little further, I can also say that this quote is a call to action. A call to recognize that all things have great potential in them and we, as humans, should seek to acknowledge that, nurture that, and find the beauty in even the smallest things.
- “Wheat”; Wikipedia
- “Common Wheat”; Wikipedia
- Terri Queck-Matzie; “Framing 101; Growing Wheat”: Successful Farming
- Randy L. Englund; “Wheat Classes, History, and Breeding Timelines”: South Dakota State University
- “Six Classes of Wheat”; EatWheat.org
- “Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)”; The METMuseum.org
- “Vincent van Gogh”; Wikipedia
- “Wheat Fields”; Wikipedia
- Wheatfield with Crows; Van Gohn Museum in Amsterdam
“If I am worth anything later, I am worth something now. For wheat is wheat, even if people think it is a grass in the beginning.”Vincent van Gogh