In Praise of Grains

Grain growing is one of the frontiers of home gardening; people start with vegetables and move to fruits; strawberries, cane fruits and home orchards. Perennial vegetables like asparagus and artichokes or culinary herbs often follow. We tend to shy away from growing grains.  Grain growing takes so much space; grains are so cheap to buy.  But, now more and more gardeners are taking up the challenge to grow their own grains.

I got my wake-up call from an article in the Washington Post on March 13, 2011 by the founder of the World Watch Institute, and Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown:

The United States has been the world’s breadbasket for more than half a century. Our country has never known food shortages or spiraling food prices. But, like it or not, we will probably have to share our harvest with the Chinese, no matter how much that raises our prices.

A small patch of grain can be broadcast by hand.  When I do this, I feel connected with ancient people; there is something almost biblical about this practice.  Broadcasting is a meditative dance; the continual moving forward while sweeping the arm to and fro while evenly scattering the seed.  If you prefer a more accurate form of seed dispersal, one low-tech option is to use a grass seed broadcaster.  Think of sowing a lawn, but one that will grow tall and go to seed.  If you have a big sunny backyard, a 30 ft. by 30 ft. patch of winter wheat sown in the fall will produce 50 lbs. of dry wheat berries the following early summer.

The other end of the spectrum is transplanting seedlings of grain.  Before you throw up your hands in disbelief, consider this. It is possible to produce the same 50 pounds on a mere 300 sq.ft. area. That is enough wheat to make a one-pound loaf of bread every week of the year. If your space is limited, try this Grow Biointensive technique.  Mind you, it is part of an entire process described in How to Grow More Vegetables: THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE, ON LESS LAND THAN YOU CAN IMAGINE. John Jeavons and the Ecology Action staff have quantified the yields of grain grown by transplanting seedlings.  So, I’ll leave you with these seeds of inspiration and in the fall instead of planting cover crops for the winter; consider sowing some amber waves of grain.

Keep an eye out for more about grains–easy choices for the novice; harvesting with an Austrian Scythe; how flailing can be graceful, and more surprises.

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