Reasons and Resources for Growing Your Own Grains at Home

The world’s smallest patch of Sonora wheat

Reasons to grow grain
Why grow some of your own grain? I can think of a bunch of reasons:

  • You can plant unusual varieties
  • The large amount of biomass for your compost pile
  • Forage for livestock
  • Easy to grow and maintain
  • Part of a rotational strategy for maintaining healthy, disease free soil
  • Know that your grain is not contaminated with pesticides

    How to grow grain 
    Growing grain is pretty much the same as growing a lawn (most grains are grasses, after all). The main problem, as with a lawn, is dealing with weeds. I can weed by hand the ridiculously small Sonora wheat patch I planted in January. When dealing with a bigger piece of land, the traditional, organic approach is to grow some sort of weed choking, nitrogen fixing plant such as cowpeas the season before planting grain. In Southern California, wheat is planted in January, as far as I can tell. In most other places it is planted in the fall.

    I looked through a couple of books for growing grain at home and the best I could find is Small-Scale Grain Raising: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers by Gene Logsdon, originally published in 1977 but recently updated and re-released. Logsdon covers the full spectrum of grains as well as legumes. Included are instructions for harvesting, threshing and winnowing by hand. Logsdon is an entertaining and engaging writer who calls small backyard grain fields “pancake patches”. My pancake patch will probably yield exactly one pancake, but I’m looking forward to the result. Logsdon was my guide.

    How to winnow and thresh by hand
    At a Grow Biointensive workshop in Willits last year they taught us how to thresh and winnow wheat with just hardware cloth and an electric fan:

    Using your feet you rub the seed heads against a piece of 1/2 inch hardware cloth attached to a board. You then lift off the hardware cloth and sweep the grain into a kitchen trash can.

    Then you dump the grain in front of a fan to separate the wheat from the chaff. Several passes are necessary.

    An optional last step is to pass the grain through special seed cleaning screens. It works great, but the screens are expensive.The alternative is more passes in front of the fan. I’ve done this process with flax and it worked just fine.

    If you’ve grown grain tell us how it went by leaving a comment!

    On Monday the final post of Root Simple’s grain week in which we will tackle why eating grains and other carbohydrates are so unpopular in the past decade.

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      • The contamination transfered to the wheat from the soles of his shoes would be more palatable than the chemicals in the wheat or flour that you are currently consuming if you are sourcing your product from a commercial outlet.

        If you were to follow wheat from where it is commercially grown to where is is ground into the flour that is then made into a loaf of bread at a large bakery you may just give up consuming it.

    1. I remember reading something similar about variety in bananas and how we’re setting ourselves up for failure focusing on just one species.

      I remember growing up in Indonesia and seeing literally 20 different types of bananas in the local market, small, big, thick, skinny, etc. etc.

      Now I go to my local grocer in San Fernando and you have one or two to choose from, you’re lucky if you get two!!!

    2. I keep thinking about doing this. But with only about 20 square feet of garden to work with I’m not sure if it’s worth it. But boy would I love to have my own grains!

      I try to eat as local as possible, meat, eggs, milk, veggies, but grains are where it ends because there aren’t any here in Arizona. Except one farm who grows durum wheat industrially for Italian pasta makers!

    3. I have grown a small patch of wheat and one of hulless barley over on the east side of the sierra.For my area it worked best to grow a winter wheat and plant in oct or so.Same with the barley.It is quite satisfying to grow your own bread.I am very interested in trying some wheat varieties that would be good for bread ie:higher protein/gluten content.The most thorough source for seed I have found so far is Sustainable Seeds.
      My biggest problem with the threshing is keeping it clean enough to keep small rock grit out.The first season we grew it we threshed on a tarp ,that ended up taking on alot of rock.My best success was using a stock watering trough I had around.It was oblong shaped about 3 1/2 ft long and had 10-12″ sides.I would clean off the bottoms of a pair of slip-on sandals and set them in the trough.Then I would step out of my other shoes into the trough and stomp the grain.That worked quite well.I like the idea of the hardware cloth to rub the seed heads over.
      When the grain is in its early stages of growing I would cut handfuls of the green and give it to the chickens.They loved it.And I would see the cat out grazing it too.Thanks for this great series.

    4. A friend sent me the link to your blog – it’s great to see you growing grains, and even better to see you writing about your experiences! We’d all be a lot happier, I’m sure, if we had our own little patches.
      I’d add to the shoe thing by saying you could always have a particular pair for threshing if it was gross to you. But if you’ve ever washed your store-bought rice before you cooked it, you’d know commercial stuff isn’t all that pristine. And if you haven’t ever washed it before you cooked it, you might want to 🙂

    5. I’ve thought of growing grains to store for sprouting rather than grinding into flour. Is it necessary to winnow so carefully for that use?

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