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.
While Starry Night and Sunflowers might be a few of the most recognizable of van Gogh’s paintings, he also had an extensive collection of paintings that focused on wheat and wheatfields.
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
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“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
I so enjoyed this reverie on wheat, Mark. I find your discussions on micro-seasons fascinating, and this Time for Wheat micro-season was a delight. Interesting and informative. I appreciated the U.S. map. And my favorite part was Van Gogh’s wheat fields and his quotes. I have always liked his wheat field paintings and found it especially enchanting integrated into the wheat micro-season. Lovely post.
Hi Jet, Thanks so much for the comment! I definitely enjoyed the research for this one and Van Gogh’s paintings are wonderful. I found it really interesting to track the evolution of his painting and the fact that he he kept coming back to the wheat fields. Thanks again for the comment.
What is interesting is in the Mesopotamia calendar, they planted barley in April and May – the time of spring storms. May and June were bricklaying time. Then summer comes and the heat.
Micro seasons exist in other areas but few modern people tend to notice.
Yes! There are probably many different variations of these seasons, either written down or known, by the people who are deeply connected to the land. Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well.
Lovely & thought-provoking in your full design. That final quote, from Van Gogh, rings with truth, even if its opposite doesn’t work for us. For wheat is wheat, nature rules, even when we think of it early on as merely grass.
Hi Walt, I really appreciated learning about Van Gogh’s thoughts and his connection to the land. There was so much there that I didn’t know. Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well!
The written story and the beautiful paintings 🖼 photography are gorgeous 👍🏻🌷🙏
I enjoyed reading “the time for wheat , thank you for sharing 🌷🙏♥️🌷
HI Thattamma, Thank you so much for you comment. I am glad that you enjoyed today’s post.
I can easily say that my state of Washington is home of the Soft White Wheat from the looks of this map! There is a strict sect of Orthodox Jews that come to WA every year from Israel to work with a few farms for an allotment of wheat that meets their rigorous religious requirements, including that it be blessed by a Rabbi before the harvest. It was really interesting. Great post, Mark!
Hi Melanie, That is very interesting to hear about the blessed harvest. I have never heard about a blessed crop harvest. Now I have something new to research! Thanks and I hope all is well on the west coast.
It’s quite common. I’m surprised this didn’t come up in your “Microseasons” research: https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2019092700635/rice-harvested-for-emperor's-daijosai-rite.html
You are right! How did I miss this? I’ll make sure I put it on the calendar for next September. Thanks for the link!
Yes as well 🌷🙏👍🏻😊
Interesting reading Mark.🌹📚 Growing up in a society where our land, forest, and rivers are our daily source of survival, I remember so well the seasons and micro seasons that defines certain activities from our lives from where we come from. The saddest occurance now is climate change, human destructive habits to nature balance as well as moving from village to urban living diminshes the knowledge that can be passed from interacting with nature to the next generation. 👌🌹Thanks for sharing this knowledge.
Hi Joanna, You said that so perfectly. There is such a loss of knowledge that goes with the shift to urban living. I am also noticing a growing movement of people looking to reconnect with the natural world in an authentic way. I am hoping this movement continues! Thanks for the comment. I hope all is well!
I hope too, reconnecting is good. Enjoyed your write. Yesterday after reading your article, I listened to a fisher man talking about the moment of stars to navigate the sea and catch certain type of fish in his locality.He pointed up to the night sky to show us the certain stars. He added, June is yam season.The coastal villages had planted their yams around November and December, after 7months is the season of harvest!💕🇵🇬
Hi Joanna, that is a wonderful story about the fisherman! It sounds like he was using his ancestoral knowledge to find the fish instead of relying on technology. I appreciate you sharing this. Thank you,
Seeing the promise through all the seasons is a great way to live. So much happens inside the surfaces of what we see. My local microseason is called “Fawns safely hidden,” we are close to the festive day when we see them out and about.
I like that season name! That must mean the time of the year when the fawns are bedded down in the tall grasses and away from the eyes of the predators.
My next challenge is to create a microseason calendar for my location. I have a rough outline, but it needs some adjusting. Thanks for sharing!
I think it would be fun to create our own calendars. It would take several years of observations.
Yes it would! Sounds like a fun project to me!
Great article – Thought you might be interested in a poem by William Barnes, (1801-1886), entitled ‘Wheat’ he wrote in the Dorset dialect so his work is a little difficult to comprehend unless you are familiar with it, which I am not but I think you can work out the meaning as they are similarities, here is a link to it https://www.poemine.com/William-Barnes/Wheat.html
if you need help with the dialect here’s a link that may help or not https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_Dorset_dialect_words 🙂 Thanks
I so appreciate the resources to other poems related to the season. And, a special thank you for the glossary of Dorset dialect. I see what you mean when you say the original may be a little difficult to comprehend! Thanks so much for sharing.
You are very welcome 🙂
Wow, Mark! You have certainly changed my thinking about wheat and art! Cereal crops are big in parts of Australia too and I guess it is easy to take for granted that loaf of bread off the supermarket shelves. I love the quote from Vincent van Gough about wheat and bread as the staple of life. When I travelled to to the wheatbelt in southern Western Australia, I was struck by how immense the operation was but sadly it seems to be at the expense of other farming activities. Great blog post as always. Lynn
Hi Lynn, Thank you so much for this comment. It is interesting how sometimes we forget all the things that go into the production of our food. Do they have the “Slow Food” movement in Australia? Slow Food encourages people to seek out and eat those things produced in you local community. You get to know the farmers and artisans that make what you eat. It is an interesting idea that asks us to reconnect and really think about our food systems. I am so glad that you enjoyed this post! I hope all is well and you are ready for the winter months.
Hi Mark, Yes I am aware of the “Slow Food” movement. We try to do that here. Across Australia, in the city, and in country towns you will find regular Farmers’ Markets. But some of the artisan products do cost a lot more. When I worked in the community sector in the city, community gardens were also a big thing and a way to connect with our multi-cultural population. Sourcing fresh produce for our emergency relief clients was also a real need but limited by access and funds.
It will probably be the same in your part of the world as here, the sudden increase in petrol and energy prices is pushing the price of fresh produce up high. At the moment we are experiencing an extremely wet period and likely to get bogged in the paddocks. Apologies for such a long winded response, sometimes one’s mind just goes places! Lynn
Hi Lynn, that sounds very similar to here. We have shifted getting our seasonal produce from farmers markets to purchasing a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This has been great for us, and the farmer I think, because we cut down on all that travel. I just stop at the farm once a week on my way home from work and pick up a bag of vegetables and any “extras” we might order.
No worries about the long answer! I am interested in anything food system related..
I can safely assume you are into a circular economy then? I feel guilty that I have 25 acres but haven’t managed to produce much in way of food. Our neighbours use one of our paddocks to agisst a small number of Black Angus cattle. We have planted over 200 native trees to provide wind breaks and to screen out the neighbours who pulled all their trees down. Growing stuff here is challenging because of kangaroos, deer, cockatoos, wombats and rabbits. I have a herb garden and we did manage to grow some pumpkins. The former owners of this property planted a few olive trees many years ago and I did manage to brine them. Much cheaper than buying them all the time. Managing food waste and reducing it is a serious issue. None of us are perfect but we can all do our little bit. Have a great week Mark. Cheers, Lynn
We definitely try to embrace the notion of reducing waste, recycling, reusing, and trying to support the regeneration of natural spaces.
We have 4 acres over here and struggle with growing food. As much as I want to be a successful farmer, it isn’t working for me. I did a quick cost analysis at the end of last year and it quickly made sense to go pay the neighbors for their vegetables! I just don’t have the green thumb. Have a great week!
Thank you for this beautiful post, Mark. It brought tears (in a good way). Van Gogh, wheat, and crows. Such a stunning combination.
Hi Tracy, Thank you very much for the kind words. It is much appreciated!
We raised wheat on our farm in southeast Utah, while most of our neighbors raised pinto beans (nearby Dove Creek, Colorado fancies itself as the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” and even had a huge sign on the edge of town proclaiming it). We raised Spring Wheat. We farmed our field, as well as some land leased from a neighbor, and it was all wheat. I took part in all stages of growing it except the harvesting since we didn’t have a combine (we hired a neighbor to cut our wheat). So, ground prep, planting, spraying. It’s hard work. We had to purchase hail insurance each year. During our monsoon season (what a misnomer–we totaled ten inches of precipitation yearly) of July/August, we’d get hailstorms sometimes, and one hail storm can utterly destroy an entire wheat crop in minutes. Fortunately, we never lost a crop that way, but it’s scary to be at the mercy of fickle weather patterns you can’t control. This essay brings back lots of memories of tractor work as well as watching wind waves in the wheat during breezy evenings. As a kid, I chewed “wheat gum,” which amounted to chewing up a bunch of raw wheat kernels fresh from the field until it made a sort of gum-like wad. Of course, we had granaries to store some wheat we didn’t sell, and this surplus was used to feed chickens. I think most folks have no clue just how hard it is to raise a crop from planting to harvesting. It’s back-breaking labor, long hours, and fingers crossed. Anyway, enough farm tales! 😀 Nice work on this essay, Mark. 🙂
Hi Mike, thank you so much for adding your experience to this story. I appreciate you sharing the reality of what it takes to farm for a living. It definitely is hard work.
I haven’t heard of “wheat gum” before. That sound interesting. Did it have any taste or was it like gum that lost its flavor? Thanks again for the support and comment!
Hey, Mark. The wheat gum was weird but not unpleasant. It tasted different, obviously like wheat, but it had a bit of a sweetness to it as well. It didn’t taste like flour or anything of that sort. My mom said she and her sister used to chew wheat gum as kids–they grew up on that same farm. The key was to pick a fresh head of wheat where the kernels weren’t rock-hard. We’d remove the chaff by rubbing the head of wheat between our palms, then blow away the chaff and chew the kernels carefully. My mom also said she chewed pine sap gum as a kid. I tried this and it was horrible! You can actually Google “chewing wheat” and “chewing pine sap” for more info. I suppose farm kids in the ’40s and ’50s had to go to great extremes to entertain themselves, so my mom had lots of stories of strange things she and my aunt did when they were farm kids. 😀
Hi Mike, I have heard of pine sap gum. But again, I have never tried it. I may have to Google these things and find out more. Thanks for the great description of how to prepare the wheat gum.
Fascinating! I always learn so much from your posts, Mark! 🙂
Thank You! I am so glad that you enjoyed this one. And thanks for the continued support!
You’re most welcome, Mark!