Most people are familiar with common grains like wheat, oats, and barley, but did you know that there are many other grain varieties available? Furthermore, did you know that many of them are easy to grow in your own garden? Read on to discover 10 spectacular varieties you can grow next season.
I got a recall notice from the grocery store recently: all my flour might possibly be tainted with E.Coli. I don’t know about you, but I use a lot of flour. We like to buy grains in bulk and store them in big glass jars on the shelf.
The day I heard about the flour recall, however, I knew something had to change.
I knew I needed more control over the quality of my food. So I threw out my possibly tainted flour and started researching homegrown grain varieties.
The Benefits of Growing Your Own Grain Varieties
Growing your own grain feels like a huge commitment, doesn’t it? After all, when I think of growing grain, I picture huge, rolling fields of wheat. But you don’t need hundreds of acres to grow your own grain. Like all other crops, you can plant as much or a little as you want to.
You can grow a garden-sized bed of wheat, or an acre of amaranth—it’s all up to you. Every little bit of grain you grow at home will make you more self-reliant and in control of your food. Furthermore, growing your own grain varieties will help you control the quality of your food. Even if you’re only able to supply a small amount of your own food, you’ll reduce your grocery bills exponentially.
Growing your own grains means that you’ll be buying less at the store. When you need to buy less of a product, you can afford to choose better quality, locally grown options. Soon, all your food will be either homegrown, or from local, trusted sources!
Grains are usually divided into warm weather and cool weather varieties. Warm weather grains are planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, while cool weather grains are planted in the fall and harvested in late spring.
Cold weather grains are more common, but both varieties will help you build a sustainable pantry. In fact, many grain growers like to plant both a winter and summer crop to maximize their yields.
Cold Weather Grain Varieties
Plant your cold weather varieties in the fall and harvest them in late spring. These grain varieties grow quickly in the spring after striating all winter long.
One of the easiest and most beautiful grain varieties in the world, flax is grown everywhere from Russia to Egypt. The seeds provide essential fatty acids and other vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients. They can be ground for flour or sprinkled in smoothies. Flax can be planted in the fall and over-wintered, or in early spring for an early summer harvest.
There are so many benefits to growing buckwheat. Not only does it produce a delicious grain (buckwheat pancakes anyone?), it also improves the soil and deters pests as it grows. Buckwheat prefers to grow in weather under 70 degrees, and is full grown and seeding within 13 weeks from germination. So it’s easy to start in early spring and harvest before summer.
Sow rye in the early or mid-fall so it can germinate in the cold soil and be ready to harvest in the spring. There’s a reason rye bread is popular in Russia, and it’s because this hardy grain can really handle the cold. It thrives through long winters and late springs. If your garden has been limited by a cold climate, rye is definitely the grain for you. It’s hardy, easy to grow, and deliciously versatile. It’s also a healthy alternative for those who have wheat sensitivities.
4. Winter Wheat
Like rye, winter wheat starts growing in the cool autumn, then spends the winter waiting under the snow to continue growing in the spring. Winter wheat has more gluten than summer wheat, so it’s perfect for making bread flour. That extra gluten is what interacts with the yeast to give you light, open breads. It grows for a long time though: almost 11 months of growing. So be patient with your wheat. It’s worth the wait!
5. Einkorn Wheat
Einkorn is the ancient ancestor of today’s wheat, is nutrient-dense, and gentler on wheat-sensitive bodies. Plant in the fall with rye and flax for a beautiful, grassy field of flavor. It grows faster than winter wheat, and you’ll be harvesting in July. This is one of the best grain varieties to use in place of modern wheat to make bread, pastries, pancakes, and other wheat-based meals. Best of all, einkorn has a high protein count and low gluten levels.
In college, I baked with spelt and kamut flour almost exclusively. While kamut is hard to grow in the US, spelt grows easily. Similar to winter wheat and einkorn, it germinates in the fall, overwinters easily, and then grows quickly when the snows melt in the spring. It’s ready to harvest in June, and this delicious, nutty, grain is easy to cook with and amazing with sautéed greens and garlic.
Warm Weather Varieties
These are the grains you’ll plant in the spring for summer growing. Most of them are ready to harvest by late summer or early autumn.
If you’ve tried millet years ago and weren’t impressed, it’s time to revisit this grain. Mild, nutty millet is rich in nutrients and ready for anything. It’s one of the oldest grain crops in the world, and it’s still grown by families and homesteaders around the world.
Millet grows quickly, so if you live in more temperate zones, you can often plant successive crops of it. If your first grain-growing attempt failed, sow some millet for a quick, second-chance crop. As an added bonus, you can also use it to feed many different domestic animal companions, as well as livestock!
This mild, filling seed-grain is a staple in South American cooking. Plant it in the late spring for a delicious, nutritious grain that will add complexity and flavor to stews, breads, and rice dishes. Give your amaranth a long growing season, as it thrives in zones 7 and above. Northern gardens have been successful with it as well—you just need to plan ahead and start seeds indoors to make sure they have plenty of time to grow.
If you live in the right environment, quinoa is a fantastic crop to add to your grain garden. It’s a slow growing, South American seed-grain, and North American gardeners often struggle with it. But if your summers are bright and sunny, but not too hot, quinoa may be for you. Colorado and other mountainous regions are ideal locations to give quinoa a try.
This quick-growing summer grain needs warm soil and long days to grow well. Plant it in May or June and let it settle into rich, warm, fertile soil. Sorghum can withstand droughts, flooding, and neglect easily. It will need a lot of nutrients, however, as it’s a heavy feeder. But, with a lot of nutrients and heat, you’ll have healthy, flavorful sorghum plants before the chill of fall sets in!
Harvesting Homegrown Grain Varieties
One of the most intimidating aspects of growing your own grain is harvesting. Because we’re so used to huge, commercial grain operations, we often assume that grain harvesting is a complicated affair. But it’s not!
You don’t need big machines or expensive contraptions to harvest and mill your grain. You just need a way to cut down the plant (scissors, a scythe, or even pruning shears can work), and a way to crush the seeds.
Many home grain-growers like to use a scythe to cut down their plants. It saves time and once you get into the rhythm, it’s a beautiful way to spend an hour. Others with smaller plots just snip down the grain plants with scissors. Do what makes you comfortable.
To thresh your home-grown grain, all you really need is a stick, or something to beat the stalks and release the seeds. I like to shake them in a paper bag, that way everything stays contained and easy to gather up. Then, just allow a fan to blow away the chaff.
Chaff can be a great addition to animal feed. You can blow away the chaff outside for your chickens to collect. Alternatively, you can blow it into a bag and save it to add to feed later.
Milling your Grain
For a long time, the idea of milling my own grain seemed exhausting. Just another step added into an already busy day. But grain milling is really not exhausting at all, and the difference in flavor between freshly milled flour and store-bought flour is extreme. It’s hard to go back to the baking aisle after you’ve eaten a loaf of homegrown, home-milled bread!
Tabletop grain mills are easy to find and relatively affordable. If you can find one though, a quality blender or an (unused) coffee grinder work well too!
Back to Basics
Don’t be intimidated by the thought of growing your own grains. After all, they’re often easier to grow than vegetables. In addition, they’re beautiful plants that can provide your family with quality food—even in a small growing space.
You don’t need a huge garden to make an impact with your homegrown grain. Even a relatively small backyard garden can provide enough grain for you to bake 90-100 entirely home-grown loaves! That’s a lot of good, wholesome grain!