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Growing grains and dry beans in the backyard

 
Paula Edwards
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I want to grow some of our own grain and dry beans. It seems that most grains are easy to grow but difficult to process.
I have one bed fava beans Aquadulce
One bed oats nepales hull less so far.
What about amaranth? Worthwhile or will it shatter?
Quinoa buckwheat or even teff? Worthwhile a try or are the yields too low? Does it shatter?
In Australia home gardener seed merchants don't sell named varieties and maize corn varieties are very limited too. I for example search Hopi blue corn. It must be somewhere in Australia.
Everything grain and beans are not allowed entry.
What harvests can you expect? It is very difficult because usually harvest figures are given in bushels per acre instead of kg/m².
 
Alder Burns
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From my observations and trials, maize comes out ahead of the other grains both in terms of yield and ease of harvest and handling. Be prepared to give it adequate water and nutrients, though. Lacking these one or other of the "small grains" might prove better. Wet rice is a unique niche, productive if you have it; but rice is the itchiest stuff to work around!
I like favas myself and am just learning about them. The challenge is to dehull the dry beans for ease of cooking and digestibility. I've found they can be cracked into large chunks in a food processor and then agitated, separating most of the hulls which can then be winnowed off. Cowpeas are productive too, and easier to separate pods from plants and then peas from pods than, say, soybeans.
Compared to common grains and legumes, exotic things like quinoa and amaranth seem not worthwhile unless you -either have dietary restrictions that require them or -live in a unique niche (such as the high altitudes and cool climate preferred by quinoa) that is not amenable to other things. Both produce small seeds and quinoa seed is coated with a soapy layer on the plant and requires a washing process to render it fit to eat.
Remember too that in a small homestead situation, root crops may be a more efficient source of staple calories than any kind of seed crop.
 
Jordan Lowery
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I'm growing a large amount of amaranth, enough to yield a couple hundred lbs. I also grow wheat, beans, buckwheat. Dry corn and naked barley. It helps that you grow in a polyculture system do you not mOnocropping. Amaranth can get huge and yield about a lb of grain in one plant if you do it right. Harvesting is easy just a little time consuming, rubbing the heads into baskets or buckets every three days or so increases yield rather than cut dry winnow.

Wheat and barley need to be grown as small bushes rather than in mass IMO. One wheat plantcan have 100 tillers and each stalk producing a head of 50 or so. You do the math when you got 50-100 or more plants. I suggest instead of thinking how Many loaves of bread will this make and laugh, consider the hundreds of flatbreads or tortillas it could make.

Chickpeas make a good groundcover and also yield food
 
Tyler Ludens
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I had good luck with Golden Giant amaranth. Seeds from here: http://www.bountifulgardens.org/prodinfo.asp?number=VAM-2010
 
Paulo Bessa
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I am growing this year several grains, for the first time, and beans (but that is not my first time).

Barley and rye are ok to harvest, and strong plants to grow. With oats, you must choose a hullless variety, otherwise it's too much work. Dehulling is ok when there is not so much to remove, that it comes out easily when you crush it and blow in the wind.

These grains stand very well frosts and dry weather, and even poorer soils (but produce much better in richer soils).
Grow these grains and wheat, so that you can ground the grain into flour and make your own bread!

Corn yields more grain per plant, and is much more easy to harvest, but it's not as nutritious and is a bit more picky while growing, demanding humidity and a fertile soil. But definitively grow a bit: you will love to harvest and roast those corn cobs.

Amaranth grows well but tall (quinoa even taller), and yields not as much grain as wheat, barley and rye. Its quite dry resistant but needs hot weather, and demands that you shake/scrub the heads to let the grain fall. There is always some seed that falls down, but you don't worry with that. Its easy to harvest, no dehulling to be made, but it requires some time to scrub the seed heads. Afterwards just blow in the wind. Advantage: is a very rich food.

Quinoa I am still waiting for the harvest but I know it requires pre-treatment to remove the saponins, by extensive soaking and washing. Its easy to grow but very tall plants. Overall, quinoa and amaranth yield much less per acre than conventional cereals. But they are the only ones being a complete protein. I am really happy to eat my own cultivated amaranth

I am trying buckwheat, millet for the first time. And I plan for sorghum and teff for next year. I think millet is the easiest to harvest and is quite dry resistant. Its also good food, very light but nutritious. Millet seems easy to grow, but my buckwheat plants are nott growing that well (I think they need a poor and well drained soil). Buckwheat is also a complete protein.

Cowpeas is easy to harvest and to grow. My number one choice for beans.
Most beans are also easy to harvest but the plants are not as resistant as cowpeas.
I also grow chickpeas but they required warmer and dry weather. Its not pleasant to harvest them (as the lentils), because these both yield only one or two seed per pod. They yield about half of cowpeas and beans per acre. The pulses are a easy and basic homestead staple.

I never tried lima beans or other types of perennial beans. Never tried rice.

How much area to grow? I calculated to need at least (for 1 entire year) to grow about 200 m2 of grain, and 200 m2 of pulses. Both areas combined would be about 1/10th of an acre.

I must say potatoes yield much more mass per area, than grains and pulses. But potatoes have less calories than grains.
 
Alison Thomas
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Watch those hull-less oats - once they head up it's an idea to net them as the birds also like the fact that they are hull-less! There's me wondering if it's ready to harvest and whoops yes it was - overnight it's gone!!
 
Tyler Ludens
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The squirrels ate my wheat JUST as it was getting ripe.

 
Paula Edwards
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I totally agree that maize (corn) is the best for the home garden. However the varieties offered here are mainly sweet corn. The few maize varieties are varieties for fodder - there is no corn culture in Australia and entry is prohibited. I will try what's available this year.
Last year I tried Aztec red corn, but the summer was crappy and it didn't ripen. We are at altitude and the weather is somewhat unpredictable. But I used the stalks and grew fava (broad) beans in between and the beans quite liked a bit of support, they grow far better than in another bed without the support.
This year I will try ANASAZI Early Leaming and Sweetcorn black, maybe there is something which is usefull other than for corn on the cob.
We eat a lot of dry beans and you don't crack them. But they absolutely must be soaked, some with changes of water, before you cook them. Most beans are soaked overnight.
Jordan, what do you mean by growing barley etc. in small bushes? What do you do?
 
Alison Thomas
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Paula Edwards wrote:what do you mean by growing barley etc. in small bushes? What do you do?


Remember that wheat is a grass.

Modern wheat (and modern farming) is bred to put seeds in a drill just a few cms/in away from each other and leave them to grow (plus spray it with toxic gick but that's another story). It grows only a few shoots, reaching for the light, and they have to be close together otherwise they all fall over (lodge). The farmer doesn't care because he/she has got masses of plants with a few flower/seed heads and a big machine that likes this sort of planting best.

Heritage wheat is different. It's strong. You can plant each seed at quite large spacings, like 1m/3ft, and it will grow tall and strong and not lodge unless a hurricane blows through. It sends out (tillers) many shoots and each has seeds - tillers even more if it is grazed or chopped off when it's a little plant. Because it has lots of stems it looks like a bush - think of pampas grass. The homesteader likes this sort of planting best - a few plants, lots of flower/seed heads... and lots of lovely long straw to use into the bargain.

Jordan might add some here but that's the basic idea.
 
Jordan Lowery
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You described it perfectly!
 
John Polk
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Since so many rare heritage breeds are only available in very small quantities (often 20-50 seeds per person!), that method works best.
If it was planted as commercial cereal, you would have a single row, 2-4 feet long. With a 3' (1m) spacing, the same quantity of seeds would provide for blocks 12'x16', or 21'x21'. With good tillering, within a year or two, you would have generated enough seed for a good planting. A single 2' row would take forever to grow out enough for a good planting.

 
Paula Edwards
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Sounds interesiting - however, as so many interesting seeds wheat is prohibited entry in Australia and there are no heritage varieties around at least to my knowledge.
 
Ken Peavey
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I've got sorghum, aka milo, ready to harvest. There is about a quarter pound of berries on the 2 plants the bull did not eat. It takes the summer heat well, and will perform in dry soil. Sorghum produces seed as well as baggesse. This is fodder for the cows. Then there is sweet sorgum. The stalks are pressed to release the sap. This is boiled down to produce syrup fit for the finest pancakes (sorghum flour makes great pancakes), and you still get the seed and fodder-you get it all.

For the cool winter, I'll be trying quinoa-it could not take the heat. Pigweed grows wild all over the place, so I expect amaranth would do well. I've also encountered v wild variety of oat, but have not investigated it further For quinoa and amaranth I've seen estimates ranging from 10 to 20 plants per pound of grain, with about 2' of spacing between plants. Doing the math, a 4'x50' bed would offer 2.5-5 pounds. Converting to the metric system, thats something like a megagram per cubic gigaliter. Either way, it's not too shabby. Quinoa and amaranth do not require the hard work of threshing. Separating the seed from the chaff is done primarily by sifting and winnowing.

I've looked around online for specialty grain prices. Artisan grains command a premium price: $5-$10/pound. For comparison, a 50 pound sack of feed corn runs about $11 (22¢/#). Enhancing the value by turning these grains into flour easily doubles the price. There's a lucrative market out there to be sure.

For readers who have no tried quinoa: Quinoa has a coating of saponin. It's a soapy residue that produces a flavor undesirable to foraging birds/bugs/critters. Give it a good rinse before cooking until there are no bubbles. Cover with water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a steady simmer for 15-20 minutes. Kill the heat for a couple of minutes to allow water to absorb, then drain in a fine mesh screen. Use as you would rice, has an excellent flavor, a little bit nutty.

Beans
The yield will vary greatly depending on the type of bean you plant. For garbanzo beans, the yield is low, maybe 5 beans from a plant if the soil and conditions are poor. Something like a cowpea will offer 20-30 times as much as you put into the ground. Many beans will drop their pollen before the blossoms open. This means cross-pollination is not so much of a concern. If keeping your seed lines clean is a concern, by all means, plant different cultivars several hundred feet apart. Beans are the seeds. Those dry beans in the stores will sprout, although there is a chance they may have been treated to prevent germination, or have been sprayed with fungicide/herbicide/monsantocide. Nonetheless, as a source of seed, you can grow a crop in order to produce new, clean seed. Eat the 2nd crop. You won't get heritage cultivars this way, but you can get a few types of bean going if you are unable to locate a seed supplier.
 
James Colbert
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I have read that quinoa can be prepared by putting it into a pillow case tying the end and letting it run through the washing machine (if you have a washing machine that is), this will remove the bitter soapy substance. It seems that with grains modern varieties produce a greater yield whereas old varieties produce greater nutrition. sepp holzer talks about this in his book. He has two types of ancient wheat which yield poorly but taste amazing and are high in nutrition. The same seems to hold true for quinoa and amaranth and since these are complete proteins I personally can live with the lower yield for improved quality.
 
Jordan Lowery
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I grow garbanzo in what most would call poor soil and get far more than five. It's more like 40-60, if your on top of picking them and your not dry cropping them I've had yields of a hundred or more per plant. I have never bothered to count. The trick is to plant them very early spring or late winter. Seedlings can handle temps down to around 25f from my experience, in guessing more in a polyculture. I dot them all through my polycultures. They like the slopes between my terraces.

Then again it might be soil and site specific.
 
John Polk
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While speaking of eating healthier on the older varieties of wheat (and other cereals), I would like to point out that many gluten-intolerant people find that they can eat some of the heritage wheats without any problems.

The Turkish, hard red winter wheat is one that I have found often mentioned in this matter.

I believe that many of our 'modern illnesses' can be traced to the mass produced modern hybrids.

 
Cohan Fulford
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Quinoa needs rinsing, but not so much as to be any big deal- easily accomplished at the sink with a strainer just prior to cooking.. certainly must be much less trouble than grains that need hulls removed and a lot of winnowing etc! (haven't done any of those yet!)..
Saltspring Seeds gives advice for processing some of these things at home on their website..
Teff sounds easy to handle..
 
Angelika Maier
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I have grown amaranth on less than 1 m2, golden giant or something similar. It was tall at least 3 meters. And it yields fantastic!
I found there is no problem growing it but I found it very difficult to process. I tried rubbing the grains through a sieve and lost a lot of it.
To dry I put a sheet on the living room floor, but our living room is really too small for that.
Other ideas how to process the grain? I will definitively buy some old bedsheets and pillow covers for my grain experiments.
 
Ethan Thompson
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We're in the process of growing out an heirloom strain of dry pole bean that originated from northeastern VT. This is the second year of building up seed stock and more yield data should be ready in a month or two but results look promising early on. Started harvesting dry beans in August on plants that were still dense with green beans and blossoms.

From a processing and storage perspective dry beans have been a big win for us in simplicity. Wait til they dry to a papery shell on the plant, harvest, hull and store in a jar or bag where rodents can't get to them. To be seen if we're still singing the same happy tune on night 10 of baked beans this winter...

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plants in July
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first harvest in August
 
Sue Rine
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I've never had much success with the more common grains, wheat, barley etc, mainly because of birds. And then there's the processing!
I grow amaranth as described by a number of previous posters. I mostly use it popped in muesli.
I also grow Quinoa. It grows just fine but as we live in an area that can have damp Autumns I have to be vigilant in noticing when it is ready to harvest. If it gets rain on it once it is mature, it will sprout on the plant and the whole crop is ruined. I've found it difficult to remove the bitter soapiness, but I'm not giving up!
Buckwheat grows well. I grind that in my flour grinder. I always thought that the black outer shell would need to be removed but I tried one day and the outer shell turns to large flakes which are easily sifted out leaving lovely buckwheat flour...pancakes, mmm.
I LOVE beans and grow a couple of dozen varieties. We eat them green but also let plenty dry out for use in soups and stews over winter. Some varieties have good sized beans for drying but even the small ones still work fine. I'm not so keen on runner beans eaten green except early in the season. They too easily go stringy. The last couple of years I've mainly been drying them and they are so good in winter stews. The vegetarian equivalent of meaty, I'd say.
 
Erika Bailey
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I grew rice in 5 gallon buckets on my porch this year as an experiment.  I didn't want to commit to turning my yard into a paddy until I knew I could make it work.  It was fun!  I grew Duborskian, a type of short grain brown rice.   In Maine is seemed bizarre, but there is a farm locally that has been growing a number of varieties in test plots (with ducks and fish, I think) in a fairly spiffy paddy system.  Apparently the climate and soil is similar to northern islands of Japan.  Buckwheat grows insanely well here, and it is easier to process, but the rice seemed cool. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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I'm growing black-eye peas or cowpeas and tepary beans in my infant food forest.  They've been irrigated once a week through the summer.  Next year I'll try these in a no-irrigation experiment.

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tepary.jpg
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Dylan Mulder
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On the topic of growing grain 'bush style', here are two great videos I saw a while back that illustrate how corn is grown in bushes. The first video shows the corn bushes, and the second video shows the planting technique. This strikes me as a practical technique for the home grower who doesn't own large scale planting equipment - the young man in the videos is planting his with a digging stick. Might be of interest to ya'll.



I really like his technique. It's a lot more practical than some of the things I've done in the past; like trying to seed evenly spaced grain by hand. I plan to try growing amaranth as a bush next year, just to see if it can be done with a broadleaf grain.





 
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