You can raise grains in your garden using these helpful tips.
Photo By Fotolia/lightmoon
Find out how easy it is to raise grains in your garden, these homegrown grains make for fresh and delicious baked goods.
Cooking Homegrown Grains
How to Cook Grains
Raise Grains In Your Garden
I remember the first year we grew grains in our garden. A
good gardening buddy dropped by one day early in July just
when our wheat was ripe and ready to harvest. He didn't
know that though. His reason for stopping was to show me
two splendid, juicy tomatoes picked ripe from his garden.
After a few ritual brags — and knowing full
well that my tomatoes were still green-he asked me in a
condescending sort of way what was new in my
garden. I remembered the patch of ripe wheat. "Oh, nothing
much," I answered nonchalantly, "except the pancake patch."
"The pancake patch?" he asked incredulously.
"Yeah. Sure. Until you've tasted pancakes fresh from the
garden, you haven't lived."
"And where might I find these pancakes growing?" he queried
sarcastically, to humor my madness.
"Right up there behind the chicken coop in that little
patch of wheat. All you have to do is thresh out a cupful
or two, grind the grain in the blender, mix up some batter,
and throw the whole thing into the skillet. Not even Aunt
Jemima in all her glory can make pancakes like those."
My friend didn't believe me until I showed him, step by
step. We cut off a couple of armloads of wheat stalks,
flailed the grain from the heads onto a piece of clean
cloth (with a small plastic baseball bat!), winnowed the
chaff from the grain, ground the grain to flour in the
blender, made batter, and fried pancakes. Topped them with
real maple syrup, Sweet ecstasy. My friend forgot all about
The next year, he invited me over for grain sorghum
cookies, proudly informing me that grain sorghum flour made
pastries equal to if not better than whole wheat flour.
Moreover, grain sorghum was easier to thresh. I had not
only made another convert to growing grains in the garden,
but had made one who quickly taught me something.
Raise Grains in Your Garden
The reason Americans find it a bit weird to grow small
plots or rows of grain in gardens is that they are not used
to thinking of grains as food directly derived from the
plant, the way they view fruits and vegetables. The North
American, unlike most of the world (especially Asians and
Africans), thinks grain is something manufactured in a
factory somewhere. Flour is to be purchased, like
automobiles and pianos. Probably the attitude came from the
practice of hauling grains to the gristmill. Without the
convenience of today's small power grinders and blenders,
overworked housewives of earlier times were only too glad
to have hubby haul the grain to the gristmill. And that
gave him an excuse to sit around all day at the mill
talking to his neighbors.
But even with the advent of convenient kitchen aids to make
grain cookery easier, the American resists. He will work
hard at the complex task of making wine —
seldom with success — but will not grind
whole wheat or corn into nutritious meal, a comparatively
easy task. I know, because I was that way myself. Until I
saw with my own eyes how practical a good 10-speed blender
was for flour-making, I hesitated. Now it boggles my mind
to remember that for most of my life I lived right next to
acres and acres of amber waves of grain, where combines
made the threshing simplicity itself, and yet our family
always bought all our meal and flour.
The real tragedy of that ignorance was that the flour we
purchased usually was the kind that had been degerminated
and debranned too. Most of the nutrition had been taken out
of that flour to give the American housewife what she
seemed to want: a pure white powder that would last
indefinitely on the shelf and make pastries of fluffy,
The nutrition picture for whole grains is getting better
all the time, thanks to the progress being made by plant
geneticists. One of the more dramatic developments has been
Opaque-2 or high lysine corn, corn with almost
twice the normal amount of the proteins, lysine, and
tryptophan in it. The other is triticale, a cross between
wheat and rye which outyields wheat, oats, rye, and barley,
and has more protein than ordinary corn. New varieties of
oats, long known as the grain with the highest protein
(excluding legume seeds like soybeans), range as high as 17
percent protein content. But studies of new buckwheat
varieties have prompted the Agricultural Research Service
to announce that this traditional crop, now making a
comeback, has an amino acid composition nutritionally
superior to all cereals, including oats.
Almost all the grains can be sprouted to make delicious
salads in some ways more nutritious than the dried grain.
Beans, clover (especially alfalfa), and wheat make the best
sprouts for humans, But oats and barley — in
addition to wheat — can be sprouted and fed
to chickens and livestock as top farmers used to do. With
that kind of feed supplement, they could grow healthy
animals even in winter without today's expensive
all-vitamins-included commercial feed.
Corn sprouts win no prize for taste, but corn makes up for
that lack with other advantages. Sweet corn and popcorn are
two of our most popular foods, but corn can also be
parched, pickled (corn salad), or made into hominy.
Pioneers in the Corn Belt survived some winters almost
totally on corn. They cracked, ground, grated, boiled,
parched, squeezed, flaked, and baked it into porridges,
cakes, muffins, dodgers, and "pone".
I don't like whiskey much, but the best I ever tasted was
moonshine "made right" from fermented corn mash. That
bourbon easily surpassed in mellowness the most expensive
firewater you can buy. Of course, other grains make other
kinds of whiskey, and malt from malting barley, a leading
crop in the northernmost states, is used for beer and other
malt foods and drinks.
Whole Grains for Your Livestock
But the use of whole grains directly in your own diet is
only half the reason for growing them. The other half, just
as important I think, is to assure yourself and your family
an economical, steady supply of milk, meat, and eggs, and
possibly cheese, wool, or other animal products you need or
desire as part of your goal of homegrown security. If you
have to go to the store to buy the grains you need for your
livestock, your own home. raised milk, meat, and eggs will
cost you nearly as much as if you bought them from a farmer
or the store. Furthermore, if you have to buy your grains
in the marketplace, you may have to settle for less
nutritional quality than what you could grow on rich
organic soil and dry by natural methods. Protein and trace
element content vary significantly with the variety of
grain and where and how it is grown. Your eggs, milk,
and meat can't be any better than the grains that produce
The Advantages of Grain By-Products
There's another advantage to growing grains, a dimension
you don't usually find in fruits and vegetables. Grain
plants often give you other important products besides the
grain. Wheat and oats and barley give you straw . . . th e
dried stalks left after the grain is threshed. Straw makes
excellent bedding for animals and mulch for the garden. It
can be woven into baskets, too.. Corn leaves dried or
silaged are good roughage feed for cows. Cornhusks can be
plaited into strong rope, fashioned into dolls and
decorations, or used to fill a mattress in a pinch. Cane
sorghum makes good syrup . . . buckwheat and clovers provide
the bees with abundant honey. And — not to
be outdone — oats provide the hulls that the
Rolls-Royce people used to use to polish the cylinder
sleeves of their expensive cars. Maybe they still do.
Cultural Pros and Cons of Grains
Finally, the special advantage of grains for the organic
gardener and farmer is that you can grow them more easily
with organic methods than you can fruits and vegetables.
All grains except corn will withstand low fertilization
better than vegetables. Field beans, especially soybeans,
will add nitrogen to the soil. Corn is easier to cultivate
mechanically than fruits and vegetables, and fungal disease
is less of a threat in grains than in fruit. Grains have their share of insect
enemies, but control is not nearly so critical as it can be
in fruits and vegetables. The one disadvantage of growing
grains may be their space requirements. A very small garden
is no place for grains. But some grains can be grown in
large or even in moderate-sized gardens. Soybeans and
buckwheat can be planted as late as July 10 except in the
far north, so they can be doublecropped behind peas, early
beans, lettuce, or strawberries. A late sweet corn patch
may work out well as a second crop too. Barley and wheat
can be planted in the fall after other crops are finished,
and harvested the next summer in time to double-crop that
soil to late vegetables.
How Much Grain Should You Grow?
Even a peck of grain will make a lot of meals, believe me.
Excess ears of sweet corn needn't go to waste. Dry the
corn, shell it, and make cornmeal in the blender. Or parch
the corn over the fireplace on a winter evening.
Once you become familiar with whole grain cookery, you may
want to pursue it. Even if you don't grow your own grains,
you'll not find a better way to make your food dollar pay.
And you'll soon find how much grain you need or want to use
for a year. It won't be as much as you think, unless you
bake all your own bread and pastries.
We don't bake a lot of bread, but my wife makes a variety
of cookies, cakes, pancakes, shortcakes, pie crusts, and
cooked dishes with our whole grains. If the grain is ground
fine enough, it makes good bread without the addition of
any white flour.
From experience I can say that the following amounts of
grain will be all a typical family will want to use yearly
for cooking and sprouting:
Wheat, four pecks (one bushel); corn, two pecks; popcorn,
two pecks; soy beans, four pecks; grain sorghum, two pecks;
buckwheat, one peck; oats, one peck; triticale or rye or
barley, one peck; navy or other soup beans, two pecks;
alfalfa for sprouting, one or two quarts; lentils, field
peas, cane sorghum (for flour), be your own judge. We don't
grow and eat that much yet, but could if we wished, without
increasing our production labor noticeably.
You can gauge your own family's consumption by estimating
how much flour, cornmeal, and other grain products you use
now. A cup of wheat will make a little more than a cup of
whole wheat flour, and that holds roughly true for all
Figuring Grain Growing Space Requirements
In other words, you don't need much space to raise at least
some grains. A normal yield of wheat grown organically
would be about 40 bushels to the acre. So you'd need only
1/40 acre to produce a bushel. That would be a plot of
ground 10 feet wide by about 109 feet long. A really good
wheat grower with a little luck could get a bushel from a
plot half that size. Wheat yields have been recorded as
high as 80 bushels per acre and even higher.
But using the same kind of average calculations as above,
here's the amount of space you'd need to grow a bushel of
the following grains:
Don't hold me too tightly to these figures. They're
estimates to give you an idea of how big the playing field
is. Weather, fertility, variety, and know how could alter
the figures. All I'm trying to show, really, is that nine
bushels of assorted grains might be raised on 1/6 acre and
provide you with the major portion of your diet.
The amount of grain necessary to support a few livestock is
not large either. You need about 12 bushels of corn to
fatten a feeder pig to butchering weight. A ewe and her
lamb need approximately a bushel of grain a year, if
pasture and hay are abundant. A hen needs about a bushel a
year, a milk cow — along with hay and
pasture — perhaps five or six bushels, and a
beef steer, a little more than that. In other words, an
acre could easily fill the grain requirements for one pig,
one milk cow, one beef steer, and 30 chickens. A top grower
might provide the grain for more than twice that number of
animals on an acre.
What is necessary to raise grains successfully in
the large garden or on the small farm is an understanding
of planting harvesting, and processing methods that are no
longer common in commercial farming. In many instances, the
right way in commercial grain farming won't be the right
way for small homestead growers. In some instances, the
right way for you requires a use of the latest
technologies. In other cases it requires a reaching back
for knowledge now almost lost. It takes both the old and
the new to make grain growing and grain eating the cottage
industry it once was. It will also take the best of both
old and new technologies to make the smallscale cultivation
of grain the key to food security it must become if
personal independence is to be maintained and personal
From Small Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon,
copyright© , 1917 by Rodale Press Inc., Emmaus, PA
and reprinted by permission. Available hard ($8.95) and
paperback ($4.95) any good bookstore or from MOTHER's