Thursday 16 April 2020

Messing About With Small Scale Grains - Again

I think if you take how well I did at this last year this should go into the "why do I bother" pile. But like it or not grains are a huge stumbling block to self-sufficiency, or mine at least.

They provide a large proportion of my calories each day. Either through the porridge I eat daily for breakfast (oats) or the bread I eat for lunch (wheat) or the feed I give to my animals to help provide our protein with meat or eggs.

I'd say that if I had the time I could comfortably produce the fruit and veg we need for most of the year.And we do this to a certain extent some years. I say most, there are lean times and we would need to use a lot of preserving methods like freezing and canning to get summer gluts to see us through the hungry months - and here our energy use would be high to do this and as yet we don't produce any of our own energy other than heat.

I'd also say if I turned over enough land and had say an acre or two in grain production I'd probably be okay as well, but growing them on a smaller scale seems to pose some serious problems. Like who wants the grain more - you? Or every furry creature that has ever evolved?

I'll give you a clue, it's not you...
The few heads I managed to grow of a black hull less barley after a mice ate most of my seeds!
Last year I started to try and grow a few grains on a small scale. I was hit with many problems and it made me realise that it is far harder than it looks - and I never thought it looked easy!

Managed to save enough to try again! This variety of barley is called Jet and is high protein. 

My plan was for the first few years to build my seed bank of a few more unusual and interesting types of grain. Being able to process them is a huge consideration so hull less types are preferred. Just turns out they're also preferred by every little grain eating beast in 2 square miles!

So to start with I'm being very careful. Grains are sown individually in modules to be planted out later. Until I get on top of the pests here (I need some cats) then this is the only way to go about it. Otherwise I may as well feed it straight to the mice and squirrels.

This is only to increase the amount of seed I have, after all these older rarer types aren't cheap when purchased in small quantities and it enables me to see how they'll grow.

My collection of hull less oats from last year.. I think I have more than I started with, but only just! 
It does feel a little pointless at times, after all my dad grows hundreds of tons of wheat each year, but then I think this is a great opportunities to learn and try to increase my knowledge.

My hull less barley - straight from the plant is ready to be cooked and eaten or in this case planted again. 
So this year I've sown a few trays of different crops to put in strips of grains here and there.

I have a semi perennial wheat I got sent from a friend on twitter. I'm really interested in this, if it was ever developed to crop properly then I have no doubt it could change the way we farm. There are some brilliant minds working on this so I hope it keeps getting developed. I'll be lucky if I keep it alive!

I have also put in some more black hull less barley called jet, this one last year got stripped and I ended up with just a half dozen plants in a pot in the green house. Enough to start again, especially as every seed company is backed up with orders at the moment.

I also have a normal hull less barley (that looked beautiful and grew over 4ft in height) and some hull less oats again. These would be the ideal crops as processing would be easy. The oats I've actively selected the hull less ones in the grain that was produced as some still processes some protected grains.

I'm under no illusions here. With the amount I've sown I'm not going to be baking bread or cooking up porridge anytime soon, but hopefully I'll increase the amount of seed I have stored and maybe build up enough to plant a good amount in a few years time. Slow and steady wins the race and all that.

In the meantime I'll learn about growing them and learn to hate my pests even more! 

Anyone else trying to grow a few small scale grains this year?


  1. I came across a series of blog posts documenting these folks' attempt at small scale wheat growing in Idaho If I recall correctly it was very difficult for them as well.

    I'm a novice gardener and with my summer work cancelled I figured I'd play around with putting some vegetables in pots. Here in Canada seed and plant suppliers are extremely backed up as well! It's funny that the UK is in the same situation. I guess people are the same everywhere. It will be a few weeks before I get the supplies I need and right now my plan is to sew up some pots from landscaping fabric as I'm a renter, but I'm very excited. Not a bad consolation prize in my books.

    1. That's a great link, I think when I was looking at this last year I found it then as well, but loved looking back over it. I'd love to do a plot like they did one day, but I'm going to build slowly to it I think!
      As for growing in pots and small spaces, some of the best crops I've ever grow have been on the patio! When they're like that you can give them some real care and attention. Love the idea of sewing up your own grow bags though. Do you have a blog? I'd love to see how you get on with it.

    2. No blog, just an Instagram. The garden will definitely feature there this summer though! I'm ThreadCookie there as well.

    3. I'll make sure I give you a follow!

  2. I have researched growing grain but was put off by all the descriptions of the difficulty of small scale growing. I'll be interested to see how all your experiments go! I decided to try and explore on a slight tangent by growing more corn and drying it to see if it could work as cornmeal (typically the dent corn grown for cornmeal in the US and elsewhere doesn't grow here so I'm trying a flint corn and two 'sweet' corns to see how they do and the bonus is I'll get plenty of nice sweetcorn and popcorn whether it works for meal or not. I've also bought some quinoa which I'm excited to try. I grew Huazontle last year with great success as a green vegetable and quinoa looks very similar in terms of requirements and care. And apparently even the huazontle seeds can be harvested dry and ground for tortillas so I might have a go at that this year if they grow as well (and as a bonus they are gorgeous plants).


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