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Growing Grains - what would you do?

 
Alison Thomas
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Location: France
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We have some land that is currently pasture.  I'd like to grow some wheat, oats, barley and buckwheat to improve on our self-sufficiency drive. 

The story so far.....  Last spring we had part of a field ploughed up and I hand planted maize, mangelwurzels (a large fodder beet), beans, sunflowers, and potatoes.  Only the potatoes and sunflowers have come to anything.  The beans were paltry and the maize and beet are non-existent.  Now all I have is not a field of pasture but a field of weeds.  Having read Fukuoka since then and watched Emilia Hazelip I now understand why.  I am now trying to sheet mulch over some of it but making sort of raised beds on contour to try to make the best of the rain we get (very little this year and last).  But....

Is this the best way to grow grains?  I have to make the decision about ploughing up the next bit of land by the end of this month as we need to seed in the wheat at least in October.  Is there a better way to grow grains than a bald field?  What would you do?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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I am very fond of fava beans, and would recommend planting some in deep mulch. I noticed that Emilia Hazelip also used them. If you grow them as dry beans, they produce a lot of starch, and can stand in place of a grain in some respects.

My only experience of growing wheat began with some straw I was given. It occurs to me that if you can buy some wheat straw from a local farmer and spread it around as your top layer of mulch, the incomplete nature threshing will mean that you have also put in enough seed to grow a decent amount of wheat. You might talk to potential sources of straw about when the variety they are selling prefers to be planted.

It also sounds like you can build on some success in the sunflower and potato department. My experience is that sunflowers and beets both require bare soil to begin with, and sunflowers can be mulched back over as they mature. On the tiny scale I operate on, it makes sense to start sunflowers separately, and transplant them when they are as tall as the mulch, but I imagine that would be absurd for a large field.

Elephant garlic and shallots might also be worth trying. Both can push through deep straw or hay, and produce a decent amount of food for the area they occupy.
 
Aljaz Plankl
Posts: 384
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This is what i did. Two versions, both worked well, the first one better than second one. You will see why.

In August last year i cut the meadow down and dried it into hay. Then i made beds out of hay. Hay killed the weeds and till October there was already a bit of humus when i removed it and sowed wheat, rye, spelt and oats. I covered back. No weeding, no more work, just observing and then harvest. Good harvest!

Another method was sowing and mulching  (on same day) with fresh vegetation on a surface where i wanted to grow. Little less germinated and there were a lot more native vegetation later on.

As you can see the reason for this is in timing. You only need a month of preperation before you sow and this can be done just by mulching the surface where you will grow. To make a good medium for germinating.

So, you can cut fresh vegetation now and leave it as mulch. Better to do beds, as mulch is more concentrated and will kill more weeds and make soil more loose for sowing.

So, If you have a field of weeds that is wonderful! You don't need to plough! Beds are good decision. Just keep making beds with sheet mulching. In October, remove mulch and sow. Cover back at least 1 inch.

With what do you mulch now?
How tall is the weed vegetation?

I'm asking this because you could cut the vegetation down and make beds out of it, which will kill the vegetation and make a great start later in October. You remove mulch, sow and cover back.

Grains grow great in that way. Don't worry about not deep enough beds. Grains grow very good in bad soil without to much organic matter.

Please feel free to ask anything!
 
travis laduke
Posts: 163
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I was just reading some Fukuoka


Let me review in greater detail the annual seeding and harvesting schedule in
these fields. In early October, before the harvest, white clover and the seeds of fast-
growing varieties of winter grain are broadcast among the ripening stalks of rice
(White clover is sown about one pound per quarter acre; winter grains 6½  to 13
pounds per quarter acre. For inexperienced farmers or fields with hard or poor soil,
it is safer to sow more seed in the beginning. As the soil gradually improves from the
decomposing straw and green manure, and as the farmer becomes more familiar with
the direct seeding non-cultivation method, the amount of seed can be reduced.). The
clover and barley or rye sprout and grow an inch or two by the time the rice is ready
to be harvested. During the rice harvest, the sprouted seeds are trampled by the feet of
the harvesters, but recover in no time at all. When the threshing is completed, the rice
straw is spread over the field.

If rice is sown in the autumn and left uncovered, the seeds are often eaten by
mice and birds, or they sometimes rot on the ground, and so I enclose the rice seeds in
little clay pellets before sowing.
 
Aljaz Plankl
Posts: 384
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I'm experimenting with something this year.

When it was time for rye, wheat and spelt harvest (end of july) I started broadcasting those seeds into mature diverse meadow. I was broadcasting them for weeks. Not much, just a handful of seeds every couple of days. On 10th of august i packed down the meadow, where i was broadcasting. No cuting, just using hands and feet to pack down vegetation. It is done in no time, much faster than using sytche. Lots of dried grass stalks were part of this surface, they snaped when i was packing down. They are great organic matter already decaying. Plants like dandelion, plantago and other wild plants including grasses are now growing back, so everything is green again. Most of this vegetation will die when winter comes. I'm sure some rye is already germinating and also growing. If not, it will, it has time till october. I just didn't look very closely as it's hard to notice it. But will go now and see if there is any. Meadow will grow next year in it's natural way. And i'm sure some grains will also be a part of the habitat. Just wondering what percentage.
 
Joshua Msika
Posts: 66
Location: Nova Scotia
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I've just been reading J. Russell Smith's "Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture" (first published 1929) and I'm getting all excited. So when I saw your topic title, I thought "Hey! Here's a textbook case for his methods!"

The book is available here: http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010175.tree%20crops.pdf

It is also available under google books but as a limited preview. Once you've looked at 20 pages or so, they hide the rest of the book.

He advocates planting trees to cover our basic dietary needs. Trees are vastly superior for cultivation than grains. You only need to plant them once, you only irrigate them until their root system is well-developed, they hold soil in place with those roots, they produce their own mulch, they provide wildlife habitat, etc.

That's nothing new. What Smith brings to the table is a variety of species that are already good replacement crops, especially for grains. I don't think I could do justice to his ideas so I would encourage you to read his book for specific details.

For myself, I will plant several honey locust trees, a korean nut pine and a few sweet acorns so that my sugar and staples needs will be covered in case it becomes impossible to import them later on. I'll leave the yearly work of growing grains to others and content myself with harvesting 
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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joshthewhistler wrote:
For myself, I will plant several honey locust trees, a korean nut pine and a few sweet acorns so that my sugar and staples needs will be covered in case it becomes impossible to import them later on. I'll leave the yearly work of growing grains to others and content myself with harvesting 


I'd include Mesquite if it will grow in your locale - the pod meal tastes like graham crackers!  I have not found Honey Locust to be as tasty. 
 
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