Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Getting into Buckwheat

When many folks are thinking about self-provisioning from the soil around them, they often find the notion of growing seeds for consumption, i.e., grains, intimidating.  It's easier to imagine the traditional garden vegetables and tubers.

O.k., so at least I, Jason, have felt that way.

Being serious about this stuff, however, we have tried to dabble in grains despite our trepidation, and it turns out to be laborious, yes, in general, but not prohibitively so. Some species are more involved than others, and require more specialized knowledge and infrastructure (this doesn't have to be complicated). Some are easier and more accessible.

The easiest we've found is probably grain amaranth. That'll be another post. Next easiest is probably buckwheat. That's this post.

Buckwheat grows well in most decent garden-type soils. It is useful in the garden as a cover crop, since it grows so darn fast it out-competes most weeds. A month after sowing, it can be two feet tall and flowering. Another month or so and you've got a grain crop! For cover crop purposes, most people till it in when it flowers or soon after to avoid the weeds surging through it, to avoid it becoming taller and stringier (harder to till in but still pretty easy), and to avoid the seed being developed enough to resprout as a weed in the next crop. It is purported to release phosphorous bound in the soil.

If you are like us, you don't own a tiller, and it's easier to deal with cover crops once they give up voluntarily. Also, we like to eat a little grain (but not too much)! Buckwheat supplies some nutrients that cereal grains don't, and has some other nutritional advantages. Also, the greens are edible! Quite nice, in fact. Some will warn of the oxalic acid content. I can't confirm or deny this, or comment on just how much to worry about it...spinach is also in this category, and westerners might like to know buckwheat greens are popular in parts of Asia. While we're listing attributes, know that beneficial insects love the flowers' nectar, and it is supposed to make great honey.

But the grain. That's what we're here for today. The reason buckwheat makes such a good entry-level grain for the home gardener is that harvesting the grain can be so simple and effective with tools you probably already own.  Bunches of still-standing, still-green plants (even from a weedy patch) can be cut with a sickle and slapped pretty forcefully against the inside of the sloped front of an ordinary home wheelbarrow, and the vast majority of the seed will end up in the wheelbarrow. See the video below for our technique:
See? No cutting, binding, shocking, etc. Just cut and slap, and you're all threshed.  The grain will need to be dried in a thinnish layer in an airy place immediately so it doesn't mildew.  Then you will want to winnow it to remove leaves and dust, etc.  If you are just using it for more cover crop seed, you're all done after that.  

If you hope to eat it, grinding will be necessary, but that's another process. We still have some things to learn about that but...there's really nothing that compares to chocolate persimmon muffins made with home grown and ground buckwheat flour!

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