The Wheat Grown in Gambatesa
In August 2002, Angelo Abiuso gathered a few stalks of wheat left over from the harvest. This was near the bridge over the Torrente Tappino, the Ponte Fezzano.
The wheat grown in Gambatesa is "winter wheat", wheat that is sown in the fall [October in Gambatesa], lies dormant through the winter, sends up shoots in the spring, and is harvested in late July (before the feast of the Madonna delle Traglie).
Gambatesa's Past and Present Wheat
The photograph on this page may be barley rather than wheat. However, it is difficult to judge that from appearance alone. Because the wheat grown in Gambatesa today is different from the wheat grown in Gambatesa in the past. In the past farmers had to learn which type of wheat grew best in their own fields, and they saved grain from year to year to replant on their own land.
But now the Italian government does not allow this. Now only those who have been legally recognized as "peasants" (contadini) have a card that allows them to buy wheat seed from the state store, and the wheat that is sold to them is hybrid wheat. And some varieties of this wheat look like barley.
Common and Durum Wheat
There are two types of wheat grown in Gambatesa: common wheat (grano tenero) and durum wheat (grano duro). And the wheat in this photograph may be a variety of durum wheat, the semolina (coarse endosperm) of which is used to make macaroni -- and which is added to common wheat to make Gambatesa's daily bread.
In Canada durum wheat is sown in the spring (No wheat plant could survive the bitterly cold winters) and harvested in late summer. But because the winters are not so harsh in Gambatesa, durum wheat can be sown in October and harvested in July. It is the climate rather than the type of wheat that determines when the wheat can be sown.
The four cereals grown in Gambatesa
- grano duro ("durum wheat", called rane cappellone in Gambatesa's dialect)
- grano tenero ("common wheat")
- orzo ("barley")
- avena ("oats", to feed the horses)
These were also the grains that were grown on the Masseria Valente.
Characteristics of the Wheat Plant
A single wheat plant consists of about two dozen 2 ½ feet (75 cm) tall stems (or, stalks), each of which ends in a single flower head which bears more than fifty "wheat berries" (seeds or grains of wheat).
Each ear ("flower head" or "spike") of wheat Angelo found is about 2 ¼ inches (6 cm) in length. If the length of its awns (the slender bristles) is added, then the length is about 5 ½ inches (14 cm).
At the bottom center of the photograph above can be seen half of a seed cover (hollow-side up with its awn still attached) and a grain of wheat.
A Lot of Land is needed to Grow Wheat
Growing wheat takes up a great deal of space: to grow enough to make a loaf of bread takes, on an average, eight square yards [72 square feet (about 8 ½ feet by 8 ½ feet) or 6 ½ square meters] of ground.
... in countries where winters are short and mild ... the [wheat] seed can be sown during the previous [to the next summer's harvest] autumn, so that it has a chance to establish itself early. The seed starts to germinate (that is, to throw out roots) soon after sowing, and then lies dormant until the coming of the spring, when it pushes up its green blades into the sunlight. Because wheat of this type lies in the ground all through the winter it is called winter wheat.
Source: Bread by John Rimington, London: Educational Supply Association, 1960 (Information book: How things are obtained), page 17, pages 14-16.
Varieties of wheat that are well adapted for winter sowing are often weak in the proteins that make the elastic dough that is best for raised bread.
In Gambatesa for fertilizer they used cow manure (u cacate de vacc' in dialect, if you must know, and this is not nice language).
The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/gbwheat.html
Last revised: 22 June 2005 : 2005-06-22 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.