Starting now, and in the future, I plan to write occasional informational posts about growing food/living self-sufficiently/homesteading. I’m going to call this series Green Thumbs. I’m hoping to build a bigger readership in the homesteading/farming/gardening set as my goal in the next few years is to start my own CSA. I have a serious, SERIOUS desire to have my own farm. Barnheart, it’s called. That term was coined by Jenna Woginrich, one of my farming idols. Barnheart is an incurable longing for a farm of one’s own. Oh, does that describe me. And having something of a following will help me gain customers, too, when I am finally able to achieve my dream. There’s a lot standing in my way, the chief concern being how the heck I am going to afford land where I live. I will have to compete with people selling out their land for development into subdivisions (cows not condos, people!). Retiring farmers/landowners can get a lot more money for those subdivisions than they can from a young family who wants to farm, even with the crappy economy. We need to find someone who wants to see their land remain a working farm, and who is committed to that end. I’m looking into land link programs, which help aspiring farmers find folks selling land. I figure it can’t hurt to join now, since it will probably take years to get linked up, if ever. We plan to let our local extension agent know our desire, to see if she can help us find land. There are USDA loans, and other such funds out there. We WILL buy land in the next few years. It just feels so far off now, unfortunately. I’m trying to find comfort in my garden, which is doing very well, and considering it practice for the future farm.
So anyway, the first Green Thumbs post is about buckwheat. Buckwheat is such a neat crop, I thought it would be a good starting point. Buckwheat is a cereal grain, but has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to ALL cereal grains. It has a lots of lysine. Did you know the amino acid lysine helps get rid of cold sores?
In addition to buckwheat’s use in flour (buckwheat pancakes are awesome!), buckwheat is also a great smother and green manure crop. Because buckwheat germinates and grows so rapidly and because its canopy is quite dense, it can be used to smother weeds. These include the horrible quackgrass, Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed. In Montana, quackgrass, knapweed, and leafy spurge are common invasive weeds. In my garden, I am using buckwheat to smother grass, lambs quarters (which is actually quite tasty and great in salads!), and thistles.
As you can see in the above photo from my garden, buckwheat’s understory shades the ground below and crowds out weeds.
Buckwheat is also a green manure, as I’ve mentioned before. A green manure is a crop that one turns under once it flowers to add nutrients to the soil. The plant material of buckwheat decays rapidly and the resulting humus improves the soil, the soil’s ability to hold moisture, and the nutrient availability to succeeding crops.
Buckwheat thrives in poor soil. Later in the summer, when many flowers have expired, buckwheat’s flowers are a crucial source of nectar for bees. It is an indeterminate plant, which means its continues to grow until killed by frost. In the northwest, it’s typical to get three crops of buckwheat during a short growing season, as long as it’s tilled under at flowering. I’m planning to leave my current crop in flower for a few days, maybe a week, for the bees. Then I will turn it under for the green manure and plant another crop of buckwheat.
At the back of the garden, one of my beds is really struggling with grass. I’m planning to plant the entire bed to buckwheat next summer, to beat back the grass. It is partially planted to buckwheat now.
Here is a photo of buckwheat that was seeded about a little more than a week ago (buckwheat typically takes 3-5 day after planting to emerge from the soil):
And here is the buckwheat I planted a month ago:
As you can see, there are plenty of weeds around the buckwheat, but there are few in the buckwheat stand.
And this taller stand is about to flower, too!
Here are buckwheat seeds:
To seed, broadcast by hand in the area you want your buckwheat. Cover at 1.5 times the depth of the size of the seed (which makes raking a light cover over, about half an inch in depth). Pat firmly, as buckwheat has a small root system and prefers firm soil. Water daily. When the buckwheat comes in, it can be patchy, but fills in quickly. Below is an example of the buckwheat I planted more recently:
We haven’t decided yet if we’ll try to get some buckwheat from our last crop of the season to use for flour, but I think we’re going to try. We’ll pick it by hand and mill it ourselves, if so.
EDIT: To turn over your buckwheat, cut it if it’s pretty wooly, as mine is, like you would grass (I’ll be using scissors or a pruner), so that there isn’t so much leggy biomass. Then using a shovel, push the biomass into the ground to a depth of 3-6 inches. Follow with another crop of buckwheat, or if it’s the end of the season, cover the bed in mulch or straw until spring to preserve your topsoil.
I hope this has been helpful and informative. Please let me know in the comments if there is a way to improve upon this post, and if there’s something you’d like to learn about in the future. UP NEXT: Composting.
Special thanks to Purdue University’s horticulture department for this fantastic article about buckwheat.