Preparing the soil to grow grains is just the same as for other garden crops. Just make sure the seed is well-covered and the soil has no big clods. Most grains do not want vast amounts of fertility, because the plants would get too tall and leafy. That can cause the plants to lodge which means to fall over, ruining the grain.
Farmers often use winter wheat, rye, or triticale to "mop up" the nitrogen that is still in the soil at the end of the growing season, so that it isn't lost to winter rains. The nutrients that would otherwise run off are safe in the leaves of the plants, to be released in the compost pile after the grain is cut and threshed.
For spring and summer-planted grains, growing a legume cover crop over the winter (ex. vetch) should get the soil ready. Extra-tall or leafy crops are the exception? Corn, amaranth, and quinoa will want more nutrients, like a nice topdressing of compost, before planting.
A Short Lesson in Grain Vocabulary
Growing grain is easy, but understanding the descriptions can be hard if you are unfamiliar with the terms farmers use. Here are some definitions:
Awn - the stiff "whiskers" that stick up out of the seed heads of many grains like wheat and rye.
Chaff - The hulls, stems, and crumbled leaves that have to be separated from the grain before you can eat it.
Gluten - A protein that occurs naturally in Wheat, Barley, Rye, and Triticale. It is sticky and elastic, which makes bread able to rise. A few people are allergic to it.
Hulls - Outer part that holds each grain seed. Not edible and has to come off before using.
Lodging - When the plants fall over on the ground.
Threshing - Getting the grains off of the plant by beating, stomping, using a machine, or otherwise knocking them off.
Tillers - The stiff stems that the seed heads grow on. Some grains have one per plant, and others have several.
Winnow - Using wind to clean grain. Usually the grain is poured slowly (or tossed). The grains, being heavier, drop straight, while the light chaff blows away. You can use a fan or wind to accomplish this.
Grains are among the easiest crops to grow and can be a new adventure for the home gardener. Many need little processing after harvest, and they bring beauty to the garden.
All gardeners should grow some grains and seed crops. They are easy to grow and maintain, as well as decorative and beautiful. Most varieties of modern grains, especially oats and barley, have been developed for machine processing. Our varieties are specifically chosen for the backyard gardener and small farms that don't have specialized milling equipment. Learn to grow the grains for your bread in your own backyard.
Bountiful Gardens carries sized packets of grains suitable for small-scale, protein crop raising. Try your hand at designing and growing a complete small-scale diet in your backyard, using our book One Circle
KUSA Seed Research Foundation
KUSA is a non-profit membership organization working to provide seed and information to the farming/gardening public, concerning traditional, unusual and rare crops that should not be lost to future generations.
For further information about the organization, go to: KUSA
"Planting grains now also represents an opportunity to begin familiarizing yourself with a crop destined to move toward center stage in our collective endeavors to handhold the emergence of a robust, healthy, regenerative culture. These crops may not be feeding our tribe today. But they will soon. How do we become familiar with the little uniqueness of growing them? How do we harvest grains and process them as food? How do we do it speedily? These questions can only be answered by doing." - The Seed Ambassadors Project