Grains in the Garden
Grains are so easy to grow that if you give them full sun and well-drained soil, they need no more attention from you. They typically don't need extra water or fertilizer—in fact, too much of either can lead to weak, floppy stems—and pests are rarely a problem.
Tall-growing grains such as amaranth and broomcorn are excellent for adding height to the back of a border or for mixing with sunflowers and other tall annuals to create a colorful summer and fall screen around a pool or patio. Variegated corn combines beautifully with tall white and pink cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), while the deep purple leaves and seed spikes of 'Purple Majesty' millet create an exciting contrast to bright red, orange, or yellow blooms.
If you're growing grains just for a few arrangements, a single row or small corner in your vegetable garden may be all the growing space you need. Once you find out how versatile these plants are, though, you'll probably want to grow a lot more! Setting up a separate area for a "craft garden" will let you harvest to your heart's content without taking space away from your vegetable harvest.
Harvesting: Snip the stems as needed for fresh use or harvest the whole patch at one time for drying. When you cut, leave as much stem as possible. You can always trim them down later, but you can't make short stems longer!
Drying: Gather the grains into small bunches, wrapping the end of each bunch with a rubber band. Hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry, dark place with good air circulation.
To get fresh ideas for using your garden-grown materials in craft projects or to share a few of your own tips, check out the Crafts area in the Gardener to Gardener community.
Nancy J. Ondra is a coauthor of The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer (Storey, 2005).
Sources Johnny's Selected Seeds, Winslow, ME
Native Seeds/SEARCH, Tucson, AZ
Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, OR
Pinetree Garden Seeds, New Gloucester, ME
Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, IA
Territorial Seed Co., Cottage Grove, OR
Underwood Gardens, Woodstock, IL