Summer Grains at a Glance

Learn how to grow a healthy variety of summer grains, including oats, buckwheat, sunflower and more.

October/November 2013

By Barbara Pleasant

The chart below offers plant descriptions and tips for how to use a number of summer grains. Learn more about cultivating these hearty summer staples in All About Growing Summer Grain Crops.

Description How to Use
(Fagopyrum esculentum)
65 to 75 days to maturity
Fast-growing, thrifty plants are topped with white flower clusters that provide nectar for beneficial insects. Harvest by slicing off the seed-bearing tops. Pull and compost the plants, or chop them into the soil. Buckwheat seeds that have had their black seed coats milled away are called groats. Roasted groats, known as “kasha,” are ready to cook. Prior to cooking, whole buckwheat seeds or groats can be sprouted.
(Zea mays)
100 to 120 days
Flint corn concentrates nutrients in hard kernels and is easier to grow than sweet corn. Harvest by twisting and pulling kernels off dry ears. Cracked corn is difficult to beat as chicken feed. ‘Floriani Red Flint’ and ‘Roy’s Calais’ grow well in a variety of climates, but also try local heirloom varieties adapted to your region. Fresh whole-grain meal is more nutritious than de-germed supermarket cornmeal.
Millet, pearl
(Pennisetum americanum)
75 to 85 days
Tolerant of heat and drought, this tall bunch grass produces upright spikes covered with pearly seeds. Harvest by clipping off ripe tops. Pearl millet can be rolled like oats for cereal or cooking. Plants make great forage or mulch. Pearl millet is the easiest grain crop to grow for chicken feed.
Oats, hulless
(Avena nuda)
100 days
Hulless oats contain up to 15 percent protein. All oats require much less nitrogen than corn. In warm climates, oats make a great grain crop to sow in late summer. Handle hulless oats gently when harvesting, because the seeds bruise easily. Oat plants can be dried as seed-rich hay for animals in winter. Temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit will kill plants.
(Helianthus annuus)
100 to 110 days
Shelled sunflower seeds are 40 percent protein in a high-fat package. Chickens can shell their own sunflower seeds from the dried flower heads. You can compost the large plants, or feed them to cattle or pigs.
Careful drying is needed to get mold-free sunflower heads for storage. Choose open-pollinated varieties that produce gray-striped seeds, such as ‘Miriam,’ ‘Snack Seed’ or ‘Sunseed.’ Small-seeded sunflowers are good grub for chickens or for pressing into oil.
Locate mail-order sources for these summer grain crops with our Custom Seed and Plant Finder.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.

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