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Growing small grains

Try growing your own small grains for food and other uses
Photo courtesy University of Maine

It can be very rewarding to grow your own small grains – from food for the table, to straw bedding for livestock.

Julie Dawson is a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin. She says there are a lot of small grains to choose from, such as rye, oats, barley, wheat, emmer, einkorn, and spelt. Some are easier to manage than others.

"Wheat is generally fairly easy to use. It threshes free, so that you can thresh the grain and come out with a clean kernel," says Dawson. "Some of the others have a hull on them, which means that there’s a layer that adheres to the kernel and you actually have to break that off in order to be able to use it. So those are harder to do on a small scale because of that extra processing step."

Dawson recommends having least a few acres for growing grain. Also consider the yield you expect, because it can vary a lot depending on the species. So for example, if you’re planting a winter wheat that is high-yielding, you’ll need less area to get the same amount than if you’re planting a spring wheat. It’s higher in protein, but lower-yielding.

You may want to start with a small plot the first year as a trial run. Once you go above a quarter-acre, you will need machinery to make the process a lot easier.

"Sometimes you can use equipment that also works for cover crops or soybeans, but you need a planter to put the seed in the ground," says Dawson. "That’s after you’ve worked up the ground which I’m assuming most farmers would have some primary tillage equipment. You also then need a combine harvester, or you can harvest it in bundles and thresh it later, but that’s a lot of work if you’re doing it at above a quarter acre."

Find more information on growing small grains

Incorporating grains into a whole farm plan

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