Grains: A Growing Guide

A simple guide to planting, growing, and storing your own grains

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Growing grains is easier than you thinkRaising grains such as wheat, spelt, oats, rice, buckwheat, barley, millet, and rye in your backyard doesn’t require any special machinery, and you may be surprised at how little space it takes to grow a substantial supply of homegrown grains.

A typical family uses about a bushel of wheat (60 pounds) a year, plus about ¼ to ½ bushel of other grains. Given reasonably good conditions, you should be able to grow a bushel of wheat in a 20- by 50-foot plot (1,000 square feet).
 
Planting and Growing
Grains are easy to plant: Simply work the soil into a good seedbed and broadcast the seed by hand or with a crank-type seeder. Rake the soil lightly to work the seed into the top 2 inches of ground. Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of loose straw mulch after seeding to help conserve moisture and control weeds.
 
You can purchase small amounts of common grain seed at most farm stores. Some general garden seed catalogs carry a few types, too.
 
Wheat
Wheat (Triticum spp.) is the most widely consumed grain in North America. It makes excellent bread and pasta, and has tasty whole or cracked kernels. Wheat sprouts also are very tasty. 
 
Wheat prefers a nearly neutral soil (about 6.4 pH), and does best with a cool, moist growing season followed by warm, dry weather for ripening.
 
Winter wheat is planted in fall, stays green until early winter, then goes dormant until spring. The onset of warm weather causes rapid new growth, and seed heads develop within 2 months. Winter wheat ripens about the first week of June in the South, later in the North.
 
Spring wheat is planted at the beginning of the growing season and ripens in mid- to late summer. It tolerates drier conditions than winter wheat, but doesn’t yield as well.
 
Hard red winter and hard red spring wheat are used for bread baking. Soft red winter and white wheat are used primarily for pastry flour. Durum wheat is used for making pastas. Regardless of their commercial use, all the wheats make good bread. There are many cultivars; choose those commonly grown in your area.
 
Plant spring wheat at about the same time as the average last killing frost. Plant winter wheat at about the time of the average first fall frost. If Hessian fly, a common wheat pest, is a problem in your area, be sure to plant after the “fly date.” Check with your local extension office for this date. Use about 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.
 
Spelt
Spelt (Triticum spelta), also called spelt wheat, is an ancient grain grown for its nutty-tasting, highly nutritious seeds that are easily digested. Spelt is used to make pasta, breads, and flour, and the seeds also are sold for sprouting. Many individuals who are allergic to wheat can tolerate spelt, and spelt contains a different form of gluten than wheat does. If you have a wheat or gluten allergy, check with your doctor before trying spelt products. 
 
Spelt grows successfully in poorer soils than wheat, including heavy clay, and tolerates dryer conditions as well. Grow it as you would winter wheat, planting in fall and harvesting in spring.
 
Rye
Rye (Secale cereale) adds a rich flavor to bread or rolls. Cracked rye can also be used in other baked goods or served as a cooked grain. Rye sprouts are sweet and crunchy. 
 
Rye grows better than wheat in cold, wet climates. It also grows in poor soils that won’t support wheat, but yields about 30 percent less.
 
Plant rye in the same manner and at the same rate as winter wheat any time from late summer to late fall. Rye ripens 7 to 10 days before winter wheat.
 
 
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