Grow it! Grain Production

This chapter from Grow It! discusses grain production and provides broad advice for growing buckwheat, corn, oats, rye, wheat, and sunflowers.


| November/December 1973



grow it - buckwheat plant

Buckwheat grows from one ft. to two ft. high.


ILLUSTRATION: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

At last! For the first time since the HAVE-MORE Plan was published way back in the 1940's, a fellow named Richard W. Langer has come up with a 365-page book that really introduces a beginner to small-scale farming. Wanna raise your own fruit, nuts, berries, vegetables, grain, chickens, pigs, ducks, geese and honeybees? GROW IT! tells you how to get started, we like it, and here's another chapter from the book.


A police state finds it cannot command the grain to grow. - JOHN F. KENNEDY   

The rolling fields of golden wheat that you think of when you hear the word "grain" are basic to any agricultural venture. But they come in small, easy-to-care-for homestead sizes as well as in the huge horizonless acreage of the plains. And you should have a few such fields if your farm is to be in any way self-sufficient. For it is these field crops, cultivated for their seeds, that supply our bread, and much of the food for our livestock. Without the cereals and related field crops, civilization—perhaps even language—might never have developed. It is grain production that persuaded man to settle down and take up the plow.

Today's cereals are products of domestication as much as the cow or the dog. They bear little resemblance to their ancestors. Wild corn, whose seed served only the natural function of reproducing the species, may have yielded no more than a quarter of a bushel of small, hard kernels per acre. Today's cultivated corn has been known to yield over 150 bushels of large plump seeds per acre.

The beauty of it is that for the most part this domestication has been a natural process. Somewhere, sometime, someone found an ear of wild corn that was a little bigger, a little juicier or sweeter than the rest. Instead of eating it right away, he thought maybe if he planted it the new corn would be a little better too. It probably wasn't...not all of it, at least. But a few plants, maybe even a quarter or half of them, were. He saved the best of these for seed again...and so on for generations. In recent times hybridization, still a natural process of selection but guided directly by man, sped up the results. The development of modern cereals, for all its lack of publicity, far outshadows that of the hydrogen bomb. Without these grains the world could not possibly be fed any longer, whereas it could still be destroyed quite effectively without the aid of the H-bomb. Of course, you're not going to save the world with your small field of grain. But choose your seed carefully, as the farmer with a reverence for nature has done since he first tilled the soil, sow, cultivate, harvest it

well...and your bread will be wholesome and good, the feed for your animals nutritious, your farm a small but indisputable proof of better things to come.

Fine, you say, but where do I start? Well, you'll want wheat, and maybe buckwheat and rye, for your bread, oats and corn for your animals, and no doubt a few ears of sweet corn for yourself. The amount of land needed for this is surprisingly small. Just a half-acre of wheat and one acre of corn will take care not only of your bread box, but a small, healthy flock of chickens as well. An additional three or four acres of corn, oats, and a hay mix that grows well in your region will round out your grainery enough to feed some pigs and goats. A two-acre pasture will take care of them through the summer. If you happen to be a brown rice addict, incidentally, consider cultivating a taste for the other grains...a rice paddy in this country is not something for the apprentice farmer to tackle.

Growing Buckwheat

The amount of buckwheat grown in the United States is relatively minor, perhaps 1/2000th that of corn. The rich dark buckwheat flour makes the kind of country-morning flapjacks you dream of, and if you keep bees, the rich dark buckwheat honey you'll get is great on top of those pancakes. The middlings, which is what remains after milling flour, make fine stock feed, and the whole grains are excellent for chickens. On a commercial scale buckwheat is processed for rutin, a relatively new wonder drug that combats hemorrhage, frostbite, gangrene, high blood pressure, and even to some extent radiation damage.

Buckwheat is a fairly new crop thought to have originated under cultivation in China a thousand years ago. It is an erect herbaceous annual usually reaching a height of three feet or so. The alternate leaves are triangular, varying in length from two to four inches. The single taproot, though it has few branching roots, is nevertheless a very effective extractor of soil nutrients, and the buckwheat plant can avail itself of minerals sometimes unobtainable by wheat, oats, and other grains. It also improves soil conditions more than these. Hence the old saying of some farmers that if the land is too poor to grow anything on, it will still carry buckwheat. It's an ideal crop for a field in need of revitalization.  

ADAPTATION

Buckwheat is best grown in the northeastern part of the United States, although its range could probably be extended considerably. If it's not grown in your region, experiment with a small lot, as long as the physical conditions seem appropriate. It does well on most well-drained soil, better in a cool, moist climate, but is susceptible to cold. Since high temperatures and dryness cause the plant to set seeds very poorly, it is usually sown as a fall crop. Liming is not necessary, the plant preferring slightly acid soils.  





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