Grains: A Growing Guide

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

Grains: wheat, barley, rye, and moreOats
Oats (Avena sativa) are highest of all cereal grains in protein and lowest in carbohydrates. Oats make tasty table fare, but most cultivars have a tough hull that’s hard to remove. ‘Freedom’ oats are virtually hull free. 
Oats need lots of moisture, and favor a cool climate and fertile, well-drained soil. In the South, plant oats in fall for harvest the following summer. But in general, it’s best to plant oats in very early spring. Plant about 2 to 3 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet.
As home gardeners, we think of corn (Zea mays) as sweet corn, but fresh ground cornmeal is wonderfully fragrant and tasty, too. Choose a dent or flint type for cornmeal, and a flour type for a finer meal, rather than a sweet-corn cultivar. Indian corn and field corn are familiar dry-corn types. 
Grow dry corn as you would sweet corn. Remember to separate dry- and sweet-corn cultivars, so they won’t cross-pollinate. Dry corn is normally left on the plant until after frost, but can be picked after the husks begin to dry. Bring husked ears under cover to finish drying.
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a delicious, nutty-tasting cereal grain, especially good in casseroles, soups, and pilaf. The grain has an outer hull that should be removed. Pearl barley has been milled to remove the tough husks. Barley flour is low in gluten and is mixed with other flours for making bread. 
Plant 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. Spring-sown barley matures in about 70 days, while fall-planted barley ripens about 60 days after growth resumes in spring.
Although we commonly think of rice (Oriza sativa) as a tropical crop, there are early-maturing cultivars that will grow in most parts of North America. Rice is often grown in flooded fields, but it will also thrive under the same conditions as corn. Wild rice (Zizania aquatica) is native to North America and grows in ponds and slow-moving water. 
Soak seed for 24 hours and plant in flats of moist, mucky soil about a month before your last frost. Prepare raised beds with plenty of organic matter and cover with a thick organic mulch. Transplant on 9-inch centers, pushing the mulch aside. Water rice once or twice a week so that it gets about 1 to 1½ inches from rain and irrigation combined. When rice flowers, make sure it gets plenty of water; cut back once the grain starts to harden. Rice is hard to hull.
Millet is a catchall name for at least five different genera and assorted species of cereal grains native to Asia and Africa, where the hulled grain is a staple food in many countries. We are most familiar with it as the shiny, little, round, yellow or orange brown seeds in birdseed mixes. It is higher in essential amino acids than other cereal grains and has a subtle, nutlike flavor when baked or cooked. To bring out its full taste, roast the grain in a pan with a little oil before using. 
Millet will tolerate poor soils. The plants mature very quickly—some in just 30 days. You can sow millet almost any time from spring 278through late summer. Plant about 1 pound of seed per 1,000 square feet. 
Amaranth and quinoa are both grown extensively in other parts of the world for their seed and edible leaves. Both types of seed contain about 16 percent protein and are high in fiber and in amino acids often absent in cereal grains.
Grain amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) is a relative of the familiar ornamental amaranth. Amaranth seed is white to yellow, round, and very small. It makes a tasty porridge and can be toasted to make a crunchy topping. The flour must be mixed with other flour for baking. 
Grain amaranth matures in about 120 days. Start the plants indoors, or direct-seed in rows and thin to 1 to 3 inches apart. Seed is ready to harvest when it starts to dry. Cut the whole seed heads and hang them in clusters or in a cloth sack to dry. Thresh by beating the bag; sift chaff from seed with a fine screen.