Grains: A Growing Guide

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

Growing grains is<br />
 easier than you thinkQuinoa
Pronounced “ki-NO-uh”, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) seed is the staple grain of the Andean highlands. It is a close relative of the potherb known as good King Henry (C. bonus-henricus). Quinoa seed is tiny and, when cooked, has a delicate flavor and a fluffy texture. It can be used like rice—just be sure to rinse the raw seed first or it will be bitter. Quinoa flour gives a moist texture to baked goods when mixed with other flours. 
Quinoa is adapted to high mountainous areas, and most cultivars will not make seed in areas where temperatures reach 95°F. Plant seed ½ to 1 inch deep in cool soil; the crop is easy to grow. Its culture and appearance is similar to amaranth.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) isn’t a cereal grain. It belongs to the family Polygonaceae, as do rhubarb and garden sorrel. It is commonly grown as a green manure crop and as a bee forage plant. The amino acid composition of the seed surpasses that of all other cereal grains, and the flour’s earthy flavor makes it a welcome addition to treats such as flapjacks and breads. The seed matures in just 70 to 80 days; it makes a good second crop in a two-crop rotation. 
You can plant buckwheat almost any time from spring to late summer, in almost any type of soil. Generally, late-June or July plantings yield the most seed. Sow about 2½ pounds per 1,000 square feet. Buckwheat seeds ripen at varying rates, so watch the crop carefully and harvest when most of the seed is ripe.
Harvesting and Using
Harvest cereal grains about 7 to 10 days before they’re fully mature and dry. The grain heads should still be greenish or just turning yellow, the stalks mottled with green. Pinch a kernel with your thumb and index finger. It should be soft enough to be dented by your thumbnail, but not so soft that it squashes. 
Cut the stalks just above ground, and gather and tie them into bunches. (The traditional tool for cutting grains is a scythe.) Stack or hang the bunches in the field or under cover to dry. The grain will cure in 10 to 14 days. When you bite a kernel between your teeth, it should be hard and crunchy.
Threshing: To thresh, put a bundle or two on a sheet spread over a hard surface, such as a patio or floor. Beat the seed heads with a length of rubber hose or an old mop handle to knock the seeds from the stalks. 
Winnowing: Next, clean the grain of chaff and hulls. Pour the grain slowly from one bucket to another in front of a fan. The breeze should be strong enough to blow the chaff away, but not to take the kernels with it. Repeat until clean. 
Storing: Keep small quantities of cereal grains in a refrigerator or freezer. You can also store thoroughly dry grain in a cool, dark place in sealed jars to protect it from insects. 
Hulling: Hulling grain with tough hulls is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for home gardeners. You can hull small quantities by roasting the grain in an oven at 180°F for 60 to 90 minutes, and then running the kernels lightly though a blender and picking out the cracked hulls. For larger quantities, use a grain grinder. 
Milling: Grains can be cracked or ground into flour in a good household blender. Grind ¼ cup at a time, taking care not to let the motor labor too much. If you make a lot of flour, you may want to buy a hand-cranked or electric flour mill. Grind only as much as you will use in a few weeks, and store prepared grains in the refrigerator or freezer; they go rancid rapidly.