According to Bountiful Gardens, supplier of heirloom, untreated, and open-pollinated seeds, “All gardeners should grow some grains and seed crops”. They say that they are easy to grow and maintain and make for a beautiful display in the garden. So, this year I decided to take their advice and planted out two test plots of barley and oats (hull-less varieties, which are supposed to be easier to hand-harvest). I must say that they were the easiest plants I’ve ever grown. I used the “Do-Nothing Farming” method to sow the seed, then just stood back and let them do their thing! Each plot produced beautiful plants with loads of seed-heads for me.
Harvesting the seeds, however, has proved to be much more of a challenge then I thought it was going to be — even though I specifically chose varieties that aren’t supposed to require any specialized milling equipment.
While it was a simple task to remove the seed heads from the plant (we cut each individual head off of the barley and stripped the heads off of the oats), and thresh them (the barley went into a pillow case, which was placed on the ground and stomped on; the oats were simply crushed in our hands), separating the seed from the chaff and collecting the seed for storing turned into a much more monotonous, and time-consuming undertaking. The work itself was not that difficult, but after an hour, having only produced a few tablespoon-fulls of seed for saving, an economic principle known as the “Law of Diminishing Returns” was staring us squarely in the face, making it abundantly clear to us that it was going to require much more work than our food was worth to finish processing it. It didn’t take much time for us to decide what to do…
1. We fed it to the goats –
2. We fed it to the chickens –
It would have been nice to sit down to a nice, steamy bowl of steel-cut oats, or an acorn squash stuffed with barley, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us this year. I don’t consider growing the grains to have been, at all, a waste of my time or money, though. In the end, I learned a lot about growing oats and barley. I learned that they really are as easy to grow and as beautiful in the garden as Bountiful Gardens says they are, and I learned that they make great animal feed and straw mulch. I also learned that, even with hull-less varieties, it would be wise to invest in a small milling machine. So, instead of taking any more time trying to discover more efficient ways of collecting oat and barley seed by hand, I’ve decided that a much better use of my time would be spent on the internet searching for an inexpensive mechanical harvester. Perhaps by this time, next year, if I’ve found what I’m looking for, I will be sharing with you a story about our wonderfully- delicious home-grown oats and barley.