Grow-A-Along: Barley and Wheat Part 1

Growing grains in the garden is not common, but has increasing interest due to the “self-sufficiency” ideals and movements springing up during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, such ideals are hard to reach without a lot of land to dedicate to grains that may be better suited for other crops such as potatoes or vegetables. So why grow grains anyways?

At our place we started with sorghum as a feed (stalks/leaves) and treat (seed heads) for the sheep. Then we expanded into trying out wheat after discovering some growing wild. The planting was a success and the sheep got to enjoy the wheat stalks while we kept the seed for growing future plantings. From there it sprang into having barley, as we like to eat barley but we don’t need (or want) to eat it every week, so a small plot could cover what we do eat. We started with 12 seeds (out of 25) sourced from the Kusa Seed Society and grew 3 ounces from that for planting this year.

Both wheat and barley can be useful to supplement our goals of having barley stew sometimes and having some stalks as feed treats for the sheep. It also allows us to have an additional crop for garden rotations. Further the wheat and barley grew nicely to cover and keep weeds down, making it easier to clear and plant the next crops after they were harvested. If we are able to grow a good yield this year, we could also use the barley and wheat in other ways. Barley can be used as a koji to make miso. While wheat can be ground into flour and baked into breads or muffins. And ultimately, it can be fun to grow new plants.

Source of barley seed: Kusa Seed Society (Note their order form instructions!) or Great Lake Staple Seeds, which has a lot of Kusa’s seed varieties for sale every year.

Source of wheat seed: Found growing wildly on the street here, but another source includes Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or Territorial Seeds’ wheat collection.

Johnny Seeds also has both wheat and barley seed in their catalog.

**NOTE that spring wheat and barley varieties are best planted in spring; while winter barley and wheat varieties are best planted the fall/autumn year before harvest. However, they’ll grow as long as they’re planted in spring.

Checking Soil Temperature:

Soil temperature will govern if your seed will sprout and how long it will sprout. All seeds have a set of conditions required in order to begin growth. To check your soil temperature a thermometer can be used to check if you have one. Or you can get an estimate from several websites that map out soil temperature conditions. We use Syngenta to get a rough idea.

Planting Seeds:

Barley Planting: 6 to 9 inches apart in rows equally apart

Wheat Planting: 6 to 9 inches apart in rows equally apart

We prefer to plant seeds in a grid formation or at least in measured lengths. Broadcasting seed can be done but you will need more seed to ensure weeds don’t take over the plot. Plus broadcast seeds may be a feast for birds who see what you’re doing. If you’re in a semi-arid or dry area, ensure the soil has moisture before planting. Consider planting wider spacings in drier areas as well to save water.

When to Plant: For the Central Texas region both barley and wheat can be planted as “winter”, where they are planted September to November for harvest in spring. If planting in spring, plant as soon as the soil starts to warm in late January to February for harvest late spring. Both barley and wheat will sprout in cold conditions, but are good to germinate in the 45F-55F (7C to about 13C) temperature range given the early, high heat of summer in Texas. For other locations, consult the Ag. Extensions in your province/state by searching “Barley/Wheat planting times in [Your province/state]”.

Barley

Date of Planting for Barley here: 11/29/2021

Date of Visible Emergence: 12/06/2021

Estimated Growing Degree Days to emergence: 150-165

Second Barley planting: 01/01/2022

The barley emerged uniformly but suffered from armadillo damage due to digging. This has resulted in some barley growing nicely over December but the damaged ones are further behind. Some barley plants also died due to the damage, along with the wheat plot being very damaged. To remedy the damage and start a new, the wheat plot was redone and rewatered and planted with some more barley. This second planting has not yet emerged, but will likely do so in 2-4 weeks depending on the weather. Below is the first emergence of barley, it comes out as a single leaf, looking like a regular grass.

Wheat

Date of Planting for Wheat here: 12/07/2021

Date of Visible Emergence: N/A, armadillo damage

Date of Second Planting: 01/01/2022

A local armadillo caused massive damage to the wheat and barley plots. While the barley plots were able to hold on and keep growing with some tending, the wheat plot was in effect tilled by the digging armadillo over December. The plot was left fallow and cayenne pepper/water mix was applied to the perimeter in the last week of December. This appeared to work and a replanting was done in a newly watered plot on January 1st. Castor oil was bought and will be applied during January to help further deter the armadillo from digging in the garden. Below is the garden plots as of roughly the time of writing, the barley visible with the damaged areas being seen as less growth or absence. Hopefully by Part 2, the plots will have all emerged and grown some more!

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