Growing Grains

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Producing the staff of life... from scratch.
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Corn comes in thousands of varieties.
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Rye and its relatives are the hardiest grains.

One or more species of grain can be produced in significant
quantities on garden-sized plots of land almost anywhere
that one or another variety of wild grass grows naturally.
Evolved to regrow quickly following the combined hoof
and-jaw predations of vast herds of grazing animals that
once roamed the globe, the cereal grasses are widely
adapted, tough, resilient, deep-rooted, fast growing and
easily propagated. The hard, long lived grains they produce
as seed can be grown, h arvested and milled in family sized
quantities with simple machines and elementary hand tools.
If properly cured and stored, they will keep for two or
three years or more. Which means that you and I can provide
our own organically grown, chemical-free flour, meal and
whole grains if we make the effort.

But not many of us do.
And small wonder: homegrown, ground and baked grain offers
little economic advantage so long as generic brand squishy
white bread costs less than a dollar a loaf, and we can buy
stone ground King Arthur flour for about 50 a pound.

Yet it
is deeply satisfying to be self-sufficient enough to serve
family or guests a sturdy peasant bread or skillet baked
corn cakes made from grain that you’ve grown and ground
yourself. The whole grain flavor and nutrition of breads
grown your own organic way, without harsh chemicals and on
your own land, will be better than anything you can get
from the supermarket. Guaranteed.

What’s Involved in Growing Grain

Other than lowland rice and North American wild rice, which
require full or part time flooding, cereal grains are
undemanding. They require full sun for optimum yield, but
will tolerate cool and cloudy climates, poor soils, small
amounts of water and a minimum of protection from pests and
weeds. Indeed, most grains germinate in only two days after
planting and wetting beating most annual weeds. And their
large, nutrition packed seeds fuel rapid root and top
growth. If planted densely enough, many cereal grains will
shade and crowd out most annual competition before tiny
weedlings have a chance to become established.

That’s the
good news. The not so good news is that the yield from
cereal grain plantings is low compared to that of the
average garden row of green beans, tomatoes, lettuce,
broccoli or sweet corn.

But garden produce is
harvested at either the lush, green, growing vegetative
stage (lettuce or spinach) or the fruiting or storage root
swelling stage (tomatoes, carrots). Fresh produce is mostly
plant sugar and water. Grain is the seed of the plant,
dried down to a water content of just 12% at maturity. Its
nutrients are converted from liquid plant sugars to dry
starch in order to over winter and fuel new growth in the
coming spring.

So yield per plant is measured in dry
ounces, not fluid pounds. And the land area needed to grow
a substantial crop is measured in acres, not square feet.
You should get 30 or more bushels of clean grain per acre
threshed to free it from stalks and outer husks and
winnowed to blow away the chaff.

Each bushel of whole grain
wheat weighs 60 pounds and nearly all of it is converted to
food if milled whole. That’s the better part of 2,000
pounds or a short ton of grain per acre.

An acre comprises
43,000 square feet in area the equivalent of 43
approximately 30′ x 30′ hand-tended backyard garden plots.
If you till up a new garden sized plot and plant it to
winter wheat this fall, you will harvest 1/43 of a ton just
shy of a bushel or some 50 pounds of grain next May or

You’ve probably harvested that weight in tomatoes
from a single row. But tomatoes are mainly water and
sugars, providing 60 calories of food energy per cup. Grain
is concentrated energy, containing 400 calories per cup.
The single bushel harvested from a 30′ x 30′ home-sized
garden won’t fully nourish an individual or provide 40% of
family nutrition for more than a couple of weeks. But it
will let you serve super-fresh, all homegrown bread, rolls
or pan bread for holidays, parties and Sunday dinners over
the course of a year.

Ground Preparation, Care and

A farm tractor and implements
are practically essential for tending an acre or more of
small grain, but their purchase, care and fueling can’t be
justified by a smaller plot. Sit-on lawn and garden
tractors are designed to mow large suburban lawns and do
offer accessories such as mini-disc sets and small plows
that are fine for playing farmer in a small garden. But
they lack axle width, tire height, weight and torque/power
to handle even fraction-0f-an-acre-sized fields, and new
ones cost as much as a good used farm tractor. And don’t
plan to use even the biggest rotary tiller to cut more than
a quarter acre of sod; it’ll take several long, slow passes
to get the job done. If you need to plow more than a
quarter acre of new ground, rent a Boomer, Kubota or JD
4000 series with land plow, discs and harrow, or hire a
neighboring farmer.

Before planting a cereal grain, lime
your soil as needed and work it until it’s as finely tilled
and weed-free as possible. You can cultivate row-planted
corn and drilled grains, but unless you use selective
herbicides, it’s impossible to weed small grains planted to
optimum density by broadcasting the seed. Especially
important is to kill off all perennial weeds-particularly
the persistent meadow grass called witch grass or quack
grass that fills sod with a snarl of tough, white
underground jointed stems. If you try to plow it under or
till it in, you’ll just cut the stems into pieces that’ll
all make new plants.

best rule is to put grain into land that has been
cultivated for at least a year. One solution is to plant
your grain in an established garden plot and put your
vegetables into new ground that will be worked constantly
through the growing season.

Or plow new ground in late
summer when plant growth has slowed. Disc or till it
several times to kill sod and weeds and plan to use it as
next season’s vegetable garden.

In early fall, plant to
winter wheat, rye or oats. The grain will sprout and make
strong root growth over fall and winter. Next spring, the
hardy grass will sprout and outgrow what weeds remain. You
can treat it as green manure and plow it in early, then
plant your sweet peas. Or let it mature and, following
early summer grain harvest, till in roots and straw. Then
set in tomato plants and plant the beans and sweet corn.
Plant last year’s garden plot to a warm-weather grain such
as field corn.

Grain land will appreciate all the compost
you can give it. Apply organic concentrate fertilizer if
you can afford it; follow directions for growing lawn

A better solution all around is to rotate your land
among three or four crops, including nitrogen-fixing
legumes and green manures, each of which replenishes
nutrients used by the others. Corn, for example, is an
extra-heavy nitrogen feeder (but it produces three times
the nutrients of a small grain: 90-plus bu/acre as opposed
to 30-plus bu/acre of wheat). I have always grown
garden-sized to quarter-acre plots of field corn within a
three or more year rotation. The corn is followed by a
green manure legume such as alfalfa or field peas, followed
by a small grain or mixed vegetables. If time and space
permit, I continue with buckwheat or other green manure,
followed by a fallow year or two in which nature plants
what the soil needs.

In soybean country, farmers rotate
corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. In the Northeast, a mix of
corn, oats and hay/fallow is popular. In the western wheat
lands, corn, wheat, clover and grass/fallow are rotated. On
irrigated western land, three years of alfalfa are often
followed by potatoes, fertilized sugar beets and oats. In
cotton country, corn and cotton are alternated with a
legume such as alfalfa hay, cowpeas or soybeans.

See your
County Agent (or County Extension Office) for a good
schedule for your area and land, and substitute a fallow
year or a legume for commercial crops such as cotton or
sugar beets. You can substitute mixed garden crops for hay
or grass any year

Planting Grain

Local feed stores will carry varieties of cereal grain seed
that are best suited to your soil and climate. Most will be
high yielding, soil-depleting, but delicate hybrids.
Old-fashioned open-pollinated varieties can be found in
garden seed catalogs and from seed savers.

Small-grain seed does best
if planted an inch and a half deep in well-prepared soil
that is kept evenly moist through the growing season. This
is deeper than we plant most garden seeds.

The cereal
grasses have a single cotyledon that remains below ground.
It sends a hollow sheath above ground and the narrow grass
leaves and stem emerge from this sheath. It benefits from
support of the surrounding soil. Seeds planted under dry
land conditions also benefit from being deep enough to stay
moist, even if the ground surface is bone dry.

The best way
to get seed deep enough is to use a drill that drops them
in a trench or hole. Farm scale drills are expensive and
require a sit-on tractor to pull them. One row drills are
available for large walking tractors (such as our 25
year-old Gravely 7.5). The patterns to make
1920s-eradesign, cast-iron, one row rotating plate seed
planters from the old Planet junior line are still extant;
several garden supply firms have sold these fine old small
farm tools over the years,

though the only place I have
seen them this year is in the Peaceful Valley Farm Supply
Catalog. Listed as Cole Planet Jr.
Seed Drills, they come in tractor pulled and hand pushed
versions for less than $500 (well worth the price if you
have a very big garden).

Lightweight, hand-pushed rotating
wheel planters made from plastic and aluminum are available
for well under $100. 1 tried one years ago and found it too
flimsy to work in anything but powder fine, bone-dry,
hobby-garden soil, and unable to handle anything but large
corn, pea or bean sized seed. But they’ve continued selling
for 30 years, so they must work for some gardeners.

Cumberland General Store and Lehman’s sell a hand operated
big-seed drill that functions like a cross between a pogo
stick and a clamshell post hole digger in reverse for
around $50. It sows at a slow walking speed, but works fine
for garden-sized plantings.

The timeless way to plant small
grain is to prepare the land, then sling a fabric sack over
one shoulder and hand broadcast grain in wide swaths. With
practice, on learn to manipulate hand and fingers to spread
seed evenly and to cover all the ground. Seed can be left
on top of the soil in the hope that rain will keep it moist
and the crows won’t eat it all. But better is to rake, disc
or harrow it in. The easiest way I know to finish planting
is to fix a flat board spikeless harrow or drag on a pair
of chains behind the walking tractor and stand on the board
as it is pulled over the soil, rolling seed into trenches
or ridges and smoothing and firming soil over them.

Small Scale Harvest 

On the farm,
small grains are harvested by huge self-propelled combines
that snow and thresh in a single pass. But for millennia
before the machine age, and in low-tech societies still,
grain was and is harvested entirely by hand. The crop is
left standing in the fields until kernels are almost-but
not quite-dry enough to separate from the husk and follow
their natural inclination to self-seed, by popping loose
when jostled by the wind.

To assure that grain is mature
enough to harvest, if not entirely cured to storage
quality, be sure the stalk has ceased nourishing the seed
head and that it’s begun to die back. It will have lost its
fresh green color and will be less supple than when
growing. To test the kernels, bite one: It should be soft
enough to dent but not so soft that you can bite through

Cut while still semigreen; the kernels will stay on
the seed head. Small grains will cure rapidly if cut,
sheaved, shocked and left in the field during dry fall
weather. Shocks must be put under cover if prolonged rain
threatens. Moldy grain is worthless. If infected with ergot
mold, rye becomes toxic.

Corn can be left to dry on the
stalk and in the water-repelling husk, or can be pulled,
husked and dried on vented shelves or in a crib.

amounts of grain can be “topped” the ends of stalks sheared
off and dropped into a harvest sack. It can be threshed in
the sack by rubbing stalks between the palms of horsehide
gloves. Or well dried, mature and loose kernels can be
removed from standing stalks by shaking into a sack or by
using a harvest rake similar to a blueberry rake a wooden
scoop with a coarse-toothed comb fastened at the lip.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds sells a metal rake designed for
harvesting chamomile blooms; it works on seedpods as well.
If the teeth were narrowed, say by addition of a steel
currycomb at the toothed edge of the lip, it would harvest
small grain.

Most commonly, grain is hand harvested stalk
and all-by harvest knives that pass through the stalks
close to and parallel to the ground. Cut stalks are
collected by the large handful, called a sheaf. Sheaves are
bound near the top with supple barren tillers-secondary
stems that grow from most grain plants’ bases (you’ve seen
them on sweet corn) but that fail to make seed. Two or
three sheaves are stacked against one another-tops
intertwined and bottoms lodged in the stubble. Then, other
sheaves are “tepeed” onto them to form a shock large enough
to put both arms around and are bound near the top.

most sophisticated harvest knife is the long-handled,
two-hand scythe, which permitted the 18th-century harvester
to stand (or, more properly, to stoop) while mowing and
stacking an acre an hour. Wooden fingers or frame cradles
were attached on the off side of some grain harvest scythes
to catch the stalks for easy one-handed pickup.

Short-handled harvest knives vary in size and shape. The
machete and other heavy, long knives are used to cut the
large stalks of sugar cane, sorghum and corn. The
traditional harvest tool for small grains is the grain hook
or sickle-a curved knife fastened at a shallow right angle
to a wooden handle.

For small lot grain or cane harvesting,
I remain loyal to the Collins made U.S. M-1 machete I was
issued by the Marine Corps. Using it or a hooked harvest
knife is stoop, duck-waddle, or scoot-along-on your-butt
labor. Pick your torture.

Power Mowing

For plantings measured in acres or significant fractions
thereof, hand mowing is for masochists only, in my sciatic
view. MOTHER’s Gravely has a front-mounted sickle bar mower
attachment hat cuts with a row of sharpened teeth, which
move back and forth over a ground-hugging floating bar of
fixed it. But its 700 pounds, not to mention he operator’s
own clodhoppers, can’t help but crush the grain, losing
more ham a few kernels in the stubble.

You can get smaller
dedicated power sickle bar mowers, as well as
still-operating antique horse-drawn sickle bar mowers that
sport a seat so you can ride on the job. These go well with
still-common, still – functioning horse-drawn hayracks that
collect grain stalks in a huge set of curving spring teeth
and dump the load by being raised up with a handle. Keeping
a matched pair of these 18th-century horse-powered
harvesting machines in operation into the 21st century just
might be enough of a reason o take on a draft animal.

my nominee for the best small plot small-grain harvester
ever is the DR Trimmer-Mower from Country Home Products.
This machine is a wheeled, amply powered string trimmer. It
lacks power to the wheels, so you do have to push it. But
it is nicely balanced and the revolving string head cuts a
wide swath through any small grain. You could power mow
grain with a little handheld string trimmer, I suppose, but
the stalks and seed heads will fall and get chopped and
snarled as you go. The DR lays the stalks to one side in a
neat windrow so they can be raked or picked up and sheathed

Neither string cutters nor sickle bars will cut
standing corn, sorghum or other canes. I pull green ears
and feed fresh stalks to the livestock. Flour corn is left
to dry on the stalk. After the harvest, the stalks are
hand-pulled and shredded or piled in long windrows and
burned. If left standing over winter, they are the very
devil to till in come spring and, unless a good dicing is
scheduled, the tangled mess they make of tiller tines
volunteers the plot to rest fallow for an entire


The kernels of cereal
grasses develop inside several layers of bran and husk,
which nurture them as they sprout from stems or cobs.
Kernels of oats and some other species are accompanied by
ornamental awns (whiskers) and all manner of inedible
matter that is loosely termed chaff. Kernels must be freed
from this stuff in a mechanical process called threshing.
Commercially today, easily dehusked grain such as wheat is
threshed by being bashed with flails as it moves on a
conveyor belt or inside a revolving drum. Other grains such
as barley or conventional oats are so tightly held in their
husk that they must be steamed or ground in a mill to be

More traditional and easiest to manage on a small
place is to lay the grain out and whack it with hand
flails-foot long lengths of wood attached with leather
thongs to a longer handle. Or else, you can hold sheaves by
the ground end and bang seed heads over a “threshing
horse”-a big log, for instance, or a gallon oil drum. The
stalks, once kernel free (and properly termed wheat straw,
oat straw or whatever) are bundled and set aside for
livestock bedding or straw-tick mattresses or even for
building a straw-sheaf house, while the grain is taken to
be winnowed.


Grain is winnowed, or
separated from the loose hulls or chaff, by tossing or
dropping newly threshed grain in a brisk wind (or, for more
control, in front of an electric fan or blower). Large
(three-foot diameter) round, shallow baskets are used for
threshing in many different cultures. In a maneuver that
takes practice, the grain is shuffled out to the far rim of
the basket and flipped up on a breezy day, then caught as
it falls back. The dry matter is separated from the heavier
grain kernels and carried downwind. Chaff contains
nourishing bran and is commonly swept up and used as
livestock feed.


Our advice? Don’t Polishing grain is a sin against nature
if ever there was one. Fortunately, there is no practical
way to polish grain on a small scale.

Grains exist to
sprout into young plants, so they’ve evolved to keep a
tight hold on their stores of concentrated, water soluble
carbohydrates (starch) and their live plant embryos (germ),
by enclosing them in tightly held protective inner husks
(bran). Most of a grain’s vitamins and minerals are
contained in the fibrous bran and in the oils of the living
germ. If freed from the protective husk, as when milled,
the oils can become rancid and the starch can mold or dry
out, while the bran adds a chewy roughness to the grain.
For long storage of the milled product and to give a more
refined appearance and texture to the cooked dish,
commercial producers have long done their best to reduce
grain to bleached-white, empty carbohydrates. Enrichment of
polished rice and white flour was federally mandated
decades ago to improve child nutrition, particularly in
impoverished areas of the country such as Appalachia and
the Mississippi delta. Fair enough, but didn’t anyone think
of leaving the original nutrients in place?

Grain Storage 

If the weather lets
you keep shocked or standing small grain in the field till
it is a uniform light tan, with no green stems even in the
middle of the shock and stalks of standing corn sound
hollow when you tap them, it will almost surely be storage
dry at 10% to 15% moisture content. Flour corn kernels
should be hard, with a characteristic dent in the middle of
the upper surface. Small grain should be firm, but a little
plump in the middle. Tooth test it: Grains should dent a
little, but not much. If they squash and are easy to bite
in half, they need more drying. Move shocks into the barn
if you can; stack upright on the floor or hang them head
sup from the overhead. Or thresh and lay small grain out in
a thin layer on a tarp or on screen shelves someplace where
the air moves freely. Pull corn ears, shuck (but leave
husks attached in a rosette) and lay out or bag. The husks
will aid in air circulation.

It is easiest to shell (remove
kernels) from corn ears as grain is needed. If done all at
once, you’ll have bags of grain to store, and you’ll find
that a large pile of shelled cobs and husks is hard to
dispose of before it gets rained on and begins to rot,
unless you have a powerful shredder grinder and plenty of
ornamentals in need of mulch, or a spreader to put them on
the land. Shelled a few at a time as needed, dry cobs find
their way into the wood stove as kindling.

Husking knives
and hand-shellers used by the nonelectric Amish are always
a possibility. Be sure to use gloves when removing
sharp-edged dry husks. You can shell dry corn by rubbing
two cobs together briskly; one will remove kernels from the
other. Have plenty of hand lotion at the ready.

granaries use huge fans to move air over drying corn and
small grains. If air in your drying shed is humid, or if
you see mold growing, you may want to apply dry heat via an
electric heater with a fan, a kerosene salamander or heat

During dry fall and winter weather, grain is best
stored in a weather-proof, outside, slat-sided crib that
keeps blowing rain out, but permits a constant floe of air. Leave corn on the cob with husk pulled down,
but attached for bulk storage. Cob corn or any loose grain
can be kept in coarse-meshed sacks. Ideal are the 50-pound,
woven poly-ribbon sacks that stock feed comes in. Or use
poly-strip sandbags from an Army Navy surplus outlet or
mail-order catalog. To minimize mold damage, fill bags
halfway and lay out on shelves or a dry floor in single
layers. Turn daily. Set up on end if moisture shows under
any. Flip to rest on alternate ends daily. If any mold
shows, lay out a large tarp and pour grain out in a single
layer during dry, sunny weather. Remove and discard any
kernels that are clumped with white mold roots or that show
dark spores. Except for rye (which can be infected with
toxic ergot), the remaining grain can be washed well and
consumed, oven-dried or parched in hot oil and put into
cold storage.

For next year’s seed, select the fattest,
thickest seed heads or kernels. Dry them especially well.
Store in a cool place where they will experience at least
several months of freezing weather, as many seeds need cold
during winter dormancy. An open-mesh bag hung where the
mice can’t get it is best if you doubt the seed’s dryness.
Don’t store inside where it is warm or you are asking for


An individual whole grain
of rice or corn is called a kernel, while wheat, oats and
other small grains are called berries. Whole kernels or
berries can be boiled and eaten as stick in our teeth (as
well as to your ribs) groats. Crushed by hand or in the
rollers of a cracking or rolling mill, they become
faster-cooking cracked grain gruel. Oatmeal, or rolled
oats, falls into this category.

In a grist mill, they are
forced from a hopper by an auger to be ground between
ridges cut into the face of a set of milled steel,
cast-iron or gritty stone burrs. Distance between grinding
burrs is easily adjustable. Wide-spaced burrs produce a
coarse meal such as cornmeal or dehulled (like hominy)
wheat farina. With burrs closely spaced, any grain from
wheat to rice to corn can be finely ground into flour.
Metal burrs will grind anything, though not as finely as
stone burrs, which can clog if milling an oily seed such as

A modern high-capacity semicommercial stone mill
such as CGS’s Meadows 30″ burr Mealmaster (which retails
for $6,900) will fine-grind an acre’s output of corn or
wheat-a good 30 bu-in an hour.

Smaller “community-sized”
mills such as Meadows 1-hp stone mill is sold, with
electric motor and shields, by Lehman’s for about $1,200.
It can fine-grind a pound of grain in 30 seconds.

Home-scale electric mills in the under$500 range such as
Retsel’s X-hp MilRite can stone-grind a cup of grain cake
flour fine in less than two minutes.

There is a variety of
imported and U.S.made old timers such as the original
Quaker City, as well as innovative new mills, including
Lehman’s exclusive Our Best Grain Mill, that fall into the
$150 to $250-plus range. All are capable and many offer a
choice of hand or electric power, stone or steel burrs, and
come in a variety of materials and capacity ranges.

long-handled, heavy at 15 pounds, under $100, cast iron
hand mills on the Quaker City pattern, such as the
Universal Mill or Corona, are imported from Medalin,
Columbia. Their relatively crude, sand-cast-iron burrs take
two to three minutes to grind a pound of grain to cornmeal
consistency, and half-again longer or more if you put it
through twice to produce bread flour.

herb/nut-grinder-type mills. such as the handy little
Back-To-Basics mill with its easily cleaned stainless steel
burrs, will grind a pound of grain into flour in a single
easy pass, but need eight or ten minutes to get it done.

a class by itself is the uniquely powerful Vitamin
food-processor/juicer/blender/universal mill. Rigged for
dry grind, it will make pancake flour from two cups of
whole grain in 90 seconds. Rigged for wet, it will mix and
pour the batter, then clean itself afterward.

Do your
homework and be sure to check the Internet, too-sic your
search engine on “grain mills.” One warning: many of the
gristmill makers are small firms that strive for quality
rather than quantity production. With the Y2K scare selling
self-sufficiency apparatus like never before, manufacturers
of several of the very best models are months behind at
this time (summer of ’99) and not foolish enough to add
capacity to meet a panic-fueled demand that will evaporate
in a few months.

So check availability if you need fast
delivery. Or wait till the Y2K panic (it has long been our
contention that Y2K is more marketing tool than root of
global catastrophe) passes and buy a used mill.

Don’t grind
any more whole grain than you’ll use in a week or it may
sour, mold or become weevil-infested. To prevent these
problems any other way, you’d need a whole arsenal of toxic

Time Requirement

a powerful rotary tiller to prepare the land and a powered
string trimmer to cut small grain-and in between doing all
the planting and cultivating by hand or with the wheel hoe
I put in close to four hours per bushel of corn or wheat:
at least one hour each to plant, harvest, thresh and
winnow. Assembling the equipment and putting it away more
than doubles the time required. I need a half or even a
full day to accomplish each task (and I could do several
times the land and crop in that time. Moral: grow more
rather than less grain once you get into it.)

If all of
this seems like a lot of time and effort to turn out a few
loaves of bread or bowls of porridge-which modern farm and
food technology can produce in minutes and for pennies a
pound you are correct. Taut it takes effort to be able to
feed (air family no matter what might happen out in the
world. And there is no more basic place to begin than
growing good bread from scratch.


Amaranth is not a grass, but a four-to six-foot-tall,
broad-leafed plant that produces edible (when cooked)
greens, plus highly ornamental plumes, which develop
legions of tiny round seeds more nutritious than any cereal
grass. Good for people who are allergic to wheat or corn.

Sow the seed in flats in early spring. Thin the
slow-growing seedlings to the most robust individuals in a
variety of colors and heights (stems contain traces of the
red, orange and yellow that occur vividly in the plumes).
When soil is thoroughly warm, weed well and set out
seedlings one to two feet apart, in rows spaced two to
three feet (the closer set, the better plants will resist
“lodging,” or falling over in wind or rain, a serious
problem that can wipe out your grain).

Cultivate closely till plants are growing rapidly. Water
only if soil is dry for several inches down. Harvest in
late summer, any time after a tap on plumes loosens seeds.
It’s best to wait till after frost so seeds are bone-dry.
Hand-harvest by cutting seed heads into a sack or bucket.
Dry on a tarp if needed.

Shake or flail seed heads to remove seed. Sift through two
screens: one of coarse hardware cloth (1″-mesh or so) and
the second a coarse kitchen strainer or X”-mesh window
screening. During screening or later, rub seed between your
palms to scarify the thin outer coating. This will winnow
away with a light wind.

Whole or crushed seed can be boiled for porridge using a
1:2 grain-to-water ratio. It will pop, too, in a hot pan
with no oil; add one spoonful at a time, stirring
constantly. Takes only a few seconds unless too old and

Grind to flour on fine setting. Substitute for wheat flour
up to 50% in panbread recipes. Experiment in combination
with cornstarch, tapioca and arrowroot flour for
hypoallergenic muffins and nut breads. Amaranth lacks
gluten, so it won’t make good yeast bread unless mixed with
wheat flour.

Quinoa is another ancient Andean plant that produces
abundant tiny seeds. Grown, harvested and used the same as
Amaranth, it’s available from Seeds of Change.


Corn comes in several species and thousands of varieties.
Familiar sweet corn is grown for its high sugar content
when green, and isn’t even, able to resist developing
starch at maturity. Don’t bother trying to dry and grind it
like I did years ago. It makes a gummy, nasty-tasting meal.
The flint corns sold as ornamental Indian (multicolored)
are better for animal feed than cornmeal. It’s the plump
ears of flour corn, which come in many colors, and the big
dent-kerneled yellow field corns that make good meal and
flour. You’ll have to try several to see which ones work
best on your place.

Plant corn in well-separated blocks of at least four rows;
it is wind-pollinated, and separation helps keep varieties
true to type. Plant seed 1″ to 1X” deep in cool, moist
spring soil. Otherwise, two to three inches deep in
well-prepared warm soil. Drop in a trench or drill four
seeds to a foot, rows 24″ to 48″ apart depending on
rainfall-farther apart in the dry west. Thin seedlings to
8″ to 10″ for high yield in well-watered areas, to 24″ in
drylands. Give the robust dent corns that throw tillers
(auxiliary stalks) more space. Hill soil around roots to
kill weeds and support stalks.

Corn is a heavy feeder. To help replenish nutrients, till
husks, stalks and cobs back in and interplant legumes such
as cornfield beans; harvest the dry pods along with the
corn. Pull late tillers as they sprout and runty lower ears
before they swell.

Let ears dry on the stalk as long as you can. On the stalk
or in storage, mature corn will mold and can develop toxic
aflatoxins, most particularly from Aspergillus flavus. In
the South, and in the North if you are sure they’re dry,
crib or dry-store ears in the husk to keep out pests.


There are two kinds of wheat. Soft wheat is traditionally a
southern crop. It lacks gluten and is best for cakes and
biscuits. Hard, red wheat is bread wheat and is grown
primarily in cooler areas.

Either kind can be planted as “winter wheat” in September
and harvested from late May in Texas to July 21 in the
North. In the far northern tier, it is better planted as
“spring wheat” between February and April and harvested in
June and July.

Sowing rates vary between two to eight pecks per acre and
doubling the rate or better is often recommended,
especially if broadcast and not raked in. (A peck is eight
quarts or one quarter of a bushel and weighs about 15
pounds.) But the thinner the sowing rate, the more tillers
(secondary stems) are produced. Yield varies more with
rainfall and temperature. A sowing rate of six pecks per
acre is a good starting point.

Unless you live in wheat-growing country, you’ll rarely
experience significant pest problems if you rotate every
year and use varieties bred to be resistant to locally
important problems. The worst disease, stem rust, is an
airborne fungus. Eliminating a secondary host, barberry
bushes, around your wheat fields can help.


The common Avena species is a fast-growing cereal grain
that is easy to grow and makes great hay and stock feed.
But its hull is inedible unless you are a horse and hard to
remove without polishing, parching or parboiling. So grow
A. nuda (from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and others), which
needs threshing and winnowing like wheat, but is nearly
…well, nude. In early spring, sow 100 pounds per acre or
two to three pounds per 30′ x 30′ plot. Best in the cool
northeast quarter of the U.S. and lower southeast section
of Canada, but grows anywhere and can be fall-sown in the

Rye and Triticale

Secale cereal and triticale (tri-t-cal’-ee), the more
refined cross between rye and wheat, are extremely
winter-hardy. They can be sown as late as November and
still produce a crop next summer. And they’ll tolerate less
rain, worse soil and more neglect and abuse than any other
grain. Grows so fast it is self-weeding. Plant a locally
adapted variety, at two bu/acre or four to ten pounds per
30′ x 30′ plot.

Nearly as nourishing as wheat, it has no gluten, but makes
a dark, chewy leavened peasant bread.