18 August 2009

Growing small grains and seeds

We are growing some test plots of small grains and seeds in the garden this year. Mostly, these plots have taught me about the growing conditions of each crop, as well as the pests and diseases specific to each. We started with small seed packets last year, planting roughly a 3' X 3' bed of each grain or seed. The seeds saved from the first plot planted out about 500 row feet this year. Again we would be saving the seed, and would get some moderate harvests, along with enough seed to plant out a full sized crop to supply our needs for a year. That was the plan, of course, before we cemented our plans to move to the West coast next spring. It will be strange, and in some ways wonderful, to not be growing a garden next year, a sabbatical of sorts.

Back to the grains, this year we planted 200' of popcorn (I've found that it makes a nice cornmeal as well as a popping corn); 100' of sunflower (we will be lucky to harvest any seed this year, still no flowers); 300' of amaranth (good mixed with cereals, and we are going to try it as a sprouting grain for winter); 500 row feet of millet (a good rice substitute); 500' of quinoa (an excellent protein and good flavored rice substitute); poppy seed here and there (the cutworms really got to them, so I kept re-planting wherever we had the space); 500' of hulless oats; 250' dry peas; 350' baking beans.

The cutworms preferred the amaranth, quinoa and poppies over the cereals like oats, millet or popcorn, so they may deserve some protection if cutworms are a problem. The next time we grow these grains I would plant them in different soils, in a separate rotation. The cereal type grains (oats, millet, wheat) can be planted in newer ground, with few amendments, such as after turning in a cover crop. Dry peas and baking beans can be treated this way as well, although they do benefit from working a light layer of compost into the soil. The vegetable type grains (amaranth, quinoa, poppy) require fertile loose soil, with a high compost and humus content, and would benefit from the higher water retention in this class of soil as well. Popcorn and sunflower are heavy feeders and require rich composted soil as well.
Golden Amaranth. The grains seeds are the size of sesame seeds with a high protein content of 16%. I am also testing each of these grains as possible feed grains for livestock, so the high protein grains are attractive. Amaranth greens can be eaten as a cooked vegetable when young, so plant thick, and thin the plants out to about 2' spacing (livestock will love the thinnings as well). This variety can reach 6-8' high. The seeds are good cooked in porridge, added to granola, added to breads or baked goods, and can be popped as a snack, or sprouted.
Proso Millet. 12-14% protein content. Good potential for chicken feed, the seed heads are easy to harvest, and can be fed out whole, no milling or threshing required. We also enjoy cooked millet as a rice substitute, often using it in casseroles, or as a base under vegetables or curries. Highly drought tolerant, and ripens quickly in short seasons.

Red Quinoa. At least 16% protein, and a whole protein at that, with all of the amino acids our body requires. It can be tricky to grow, seems to be more susceptible to drought, rust and aphids, and does not have the hardy characteristics of it's cousin Lamb's Quarters, which seems to thrive just about anywhere. It is also a longer season grain, and light frost will burn and kill seedheads.
Vicar Hulless Oats. Easy to grow and thresh for use in the kitchen. Similar growing requirements to regular feed type oats. We chose a heirloom variety, but it is not showing high resistance to rust, so in the future we would choose a more resistant modern variety. Only a few plants are as blighted as these ones, most of the crop will mature despite the rusted leaves, but it is not good practice to allow rust to develop in our garden as it will jeopardize our wheat crop. If we were staying for another season, we would most likely have pulled up all of the rusted plants and removed them from the garden.

"Popcorn" popcorn. Easy to grow, these plants only reach about 3' high, and produce 2-3 6" cobs. The cobs dry quickly in the ears, needing only a few weeks of extra drying time after harvest in northern climates.

But they do need protection from the European Corn Borer. I would like to try putting mesh bags over each ear, in the early stages of development, to prevent the maggot from damaging the kernels. Left as they are, with the biological controls of natural predators, they take about 10% of my crop.
St. Hubert Dry Peas. Well worth growing your own split peas if you have the room. They dry quickly in the pod, and thresh out with ease. These grain peas cook down to a delicately flavored puree, as you would expect from split peas. They can also be ground into a high protein flour. Cracked, they would make an excellent livestock feed at 22-24% protein.
The Pea Moth is the main pest of our pea crops, but they seem to prefer the higher sugar content of the shelling peas, and generally leave the dry peas alone. The dry peas are also more resistant to mildews, because they seem to mature and dry out before the long-fruiting shelling types.

Jacob's Cattle Baking Beans. A decent bush type baking bean. It's not the highest yielding type, but the beans are very good, smooth and flavorful.

Mauve-Flowered Poppy. I snuck a row of poppy seeds in with my flower and herb beds, where a cutworm fence protected them. The flowers are mostly done now, as the cosmos take over blooming. Poppy seed is easy to grow and easy to harvest and thresh, each plant produces 4-6 poppy flowers/seedheads. They dry out well within our short season, but must be watched for mildew in early autumn heavy rains. The stalks tend to fall over and could benefit from trellising or fencing.

Some grains and seeds we did not get around to trying include sesame seed, flax seed, chickpeas, soybeans and lentils. These can also be easily grown in the garden, and harvested for the pantry without the need of specialized machinery or milling.


randi said...

Yet another timely post..I'm just beginning to grow small amounts of grain for seed..Never thought of trying to sprout the amaranth, going to give it a try. I haven't the garden space for large rows you grow but I love trying all sorts of things and despite my rocky hillsides seem to continue to expand garden area every year and tuck all sorts of things in and around.
It must seem strange for you not planning for gardens next year but it sounds as if it'll be a well deserved sabbatical. I do look forward to the blog entries for this exciting adventure!

El said...

Hi Freija

I love growing amaranth but hate threshing it so please give us a demo on your best method.

For what it's worth, I tend to get corn borers when I only grow a little bit of corn. You know, like only (3) 10' rows or so. I have usually been able to deter them by putting a drop of edible oil (corn, olive) on the tops of the silks before they dry out; it seems to deter them. It doesn't help if you have a lot of corn, like I do this year, but...it's a relatively easy fix.

I will admit it did kind of break my heart that you couldn't make things work out where you are. I do understand, though; I started blogging at a particularly low point, when I really was in need of like-minded community, and yes, I found it on line. Here's hoping your move westward will gratify your search for "real" community, but please be assured your virtual one will still be here for you!

Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

randi, whatever the scale, it's great to grow grains in the garden. Another advantage for the small plot gardener, grains are a good rotation crop. Cereals or buckwheat give vegetable plots a rest and can help break disease and pest cycles. Perhaps you could try grains in some of your blighted soils next year, to break the cycle.
Good luck with your rocky hillsides you brave Northeastern gardener! The makings of a garden to make the Nearings proud.

El, I didn't much like the process of threshing the amaranth by hand last year. It was very dusty, and the heads are a bit prickly. So we will be experiementing with a few techniques this year, trying it in the meat grinder/thresher attatched to an excercise bike. We've found we can keep the dust down by putting a shield over the thresher, and winnow it outside. We'll be sure to post about our threshing experiments.

Never heard of using oil to deter the corn boer, sounds like a simple solution. We never grow much corn ourselves, so it would be manageable, thanks for the tip.

You know, the great part about this blog and the online community is that I get to take it with me when we move! It's not that I haven't found commradeship and encouragement and inspiration from a virtual community, I certainly have. It's just that other level of community that's missing, actually working with people, on projects and ideas, like your school garden for example. That's the piece that's missing. So thank you for your pledge of commradeship, and I certainly do take comfort in the fact that I get to bring all of you along with me on this next journey!

Anonymous said...

Is oat rust the same as wheat rust?


Freija and Beringian Fritillary said...

EJ, thanks for the question, I should clarify. Rust is a common cereal fungus, but each cereal crop generally has a distinct and specific rust disease. We assumed our oat disease was rust, until I did some research to answer your question. Wheat rust and oat rust can be hosted on other species, but they do not infect one another, so if this were an oat rust, our wheat would not be endangered by the spores from the oat crop. Rye and barley could be infected by either oat or wheat rusts.

But under further inspection, what we have is actually another fungal disease on our oats, called Septoria or Speckled Leaf Blotch, and this one does infect all major cereal crops from oats to wheat to barley and rye. The conditions were ripe for fungal diseases this year, and by planting a variety of oats less resistant to fungus, we risk our other cereals. Good lesson for the future, and a lesson in the importance of preventing the spread of diseases in the garden.