Small Scale Grain Growing Update 2012/2013 Season

My small scale grain growing experiment has reached the end of year two, having grown and harvested, rye, spelt, and wheat. I’m almost ready to start sowing the grains for year three, and thought that I would record my results and observations here.

Harvesting

rye and spelt

Small scale grain growing results

This is the rye and spelt before harvesting. The rye was even more impressive than last year with most of the grain over six feet in height, and some reaching 8 feet tall. I started harvesting a little before I thought that the grain was ripe as I was experiencing a lot of bird predation. I had pigeons eating the spelt, and smaller birds eating the rye.

small scale grain growing problems

Damage to spelt from pigeons

The picture above shows some of the evidence. The pigeons land on top of a bundle of grain, forcing it towards the ground where they can get to it more easily. Once down it then becomes easier for rats and mice to get at it too.

I was a bit concerned that with harvesting it a bit early germination may be reduced, but I was preparing the beds for sowing today, and there was grain sprouting where some had been missed by the birds.

measuring yields for small scale grain growing systems

My High Tech Yield Measuring system

This is my High Tech measuring system to get a rough idea of yields. I simply stuff the grain into  the rubbish bin until I cannot get any more in, and then tie it up into a bundle. Not that scientific, as it only measures the straw, but ti gives me a rough comparison between different crops and systems. That’s not too much of an issue for me, as the straw is as important to me as the grain is. it will be used as poultry bedding, and then returned to the growing area to help build fertility. Were I more concerned with money, the rye straw is perfect for making skeps, for which beekeepers pay a lot of money. The picture also gives you an idea of just how tall these grains are compared to the modern ‘vertically challenged’ grains grown conventionally.

Small Scale Grain Growing yields

It’s difficult to describe or assess what your yields will be when you are growing grains on a small scale, so I thought that |I’d show you my yields in pictures.

 

harvested bed of spelt

A 100 Sq foot bed

The picture above shows a bed of 100 sq feet (4 ft x 25 ft). (In theory this bed would be 5 ft wide, but the high nature of the bed won’t allow planting all the way across). This is the standard size bed for the Grow Bio-intensive system. it’s also the right size to allow comparisons between fertilizer applications (grams per 100 sq ft bed is roughly equivalent to lbs per acre). The picture below shows the yield of spelt taken from it.

small scale grain growing yield

The yield of spelt taken from a 100sq ft bed

The 100sq ft bed produced four ‘stuffed bin’ sized bundles, which is pretty cool. Once these have been threshed and winnowed, I’ll start to get an idea of how much grain i get from each bundle, which will be much more useful.

The overall yield from this year’s grain growing was 30 of these bundles, with roughly equal amounts of each of the three grains.

Comparing Yields

The only direct comparison that I did was two roughly equal sized beds of wheat. In one the wheat was was spaced at 12 inches apart, and in the other the rows remained 12 inches apart, but the grain was only six inches apart within the rows. of the two, the smaller spacing yielded fractionally more than the wider spacing. 3 1/4 bundles as opposed to 3 for the 12 inch spaced grains.This used twice as much seed, and was harder to weed, but seemed to resist lodging better. The recommended spacing for the System of Wheat Intensification method is 8 inches, and perhaps the results of this comparison bear that out. The difference in yield for such a small plot is not significant, but it will be interesting to repeat this a few times to see if the difference remains over a number of years.

Observations

One of the benefits of small scale grain growing is the ability to observe closely what is going in with each grain. On a huge scale you can only look at little patches of the whole picture, whereas I get to see everything in great detail.

Ergot

Ergot is a problem in chemical free rye, but I only found one infected grain. Earlier in the season when the weather was damp it looked as if more were infected, but the grain seems to have fought it off on it’s own. There were tiny patches of black on the very ends of a couple of grains, but the grains themselves were healthy. The weather may have helped, but it’s reassuring to see a strong, healthy rye plant.

Weeds

There was very little weed amongst the grains themselves. The picture below shows one of the rye beds after harvest, and you can see for yourself how clean it is.

harvested rye

weed free rye stubble

The next picture shows a bed of spelt after harvest. can you spot the difference?

spelt harvested from a small scale bed

Stubble remaining after harvesting spelt

Well I hope that you can see a lot more green in the second picture. Both of these crops were module sown, and I added some wild white clover to the modules. On planting out, both crops had a small amount of white clover around the base of each plant. As you can see from the pictures. This clover has grown reasonably well with the spelt, but very little has survived with the rye. Some of this may be due to the extra shade cast by the rye, which was taller. Another possibility is that the rye is a bit allelopathic, chemically suppressing it’s rivals. If that’s true it could be really useful to help combat spring germinating weeds, possibly in an organic vegetable system. That’s in addition to the yield of grain, masses of straw for fertility building, a massive root system, and a late sown crop to help mop up Nitrogen after the harvest of an earlier crop. Not a bad set of reasons to incorporate small scale grain growing into your own system. To test the allelopathy I’m going to swap the crops grown on these two beds this year.

Growing Grains in 2013/2014

The next year’s small scale grain growing experiments are similar. The single wheat variety will be replaced by a mixture of six winter wheats, grown as part of the Permaculture Association’s ‘Sustainable Grain’ project. This is a research project to develop a sustainable, small scale grain growing system. Now that I have a good supply of grain and seed, I will grow less of the rye and spelt this year. Sowing just enough to maintain a fresh supply of seed. I want to grow out some Rivet Wheat that I was given, mainly to see what it looks like, but also to keep the seed fresh. I have to read up in chemical free methods to clean the seed from Bunt. I was told that coating in mustard powder, or dried milk works, but I’d like to look into that over the next few days before deciding whether to risk using this seed or not. I also have two different varieties of oats to grow next spring. One variety is Naked Oats, and the other Black Oats. The Black Oats may also have some allelopathy so could be potentially useful. Although oats are normally a spring sown crop here, the Black oats are supposed to be really tough, so I might broadcast sow a small bed soon to see how much survives. Even if none does, it will suppress weeds first, mop up nitrogen, and then winter kill. acting as a non hardy green manure crop. There is a lot that you can do with this small scale grain growing, and I intend to try as much as I can.

All of the best

Deano

 

 

21 thoughts on “Small Scale Grain Growing Update 2012/2013 Season

  1. Dave Jackson

    Hi Deano, looks great, the few perenial rye plants you gave Ceri have done well too. Really looks worthwhile doing this sort of system to go with our chickens. wondered about the grams/100sq ft. If you are mixing systems there shouldn’t yo go for pounds /hectare? for consistancy?

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      I operate at a 100 sq ft scale, which is why i call it small scale grain growing, and it’s a simple conversion from lbs per acre to gms per 100 sq ft. Glad that the rye is doing well.
      Deano

      Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Thanks Andrea
      Are you doing any small scale grain growing?
      Just to let you know that the edible lupins are doing well. Plenty of pods have formed, and some are starting to swell to the kind of size that the original seed suggested they would.
      Take Care
      Deano

      Reply
      1. Andrea

        I’m not Deano, no, with the exception of a couple of small scale experiments with rye as animal feed which I haven’t repeated.

        Glad to hear you’re having some success with the edible lupins. The smaller variety I’ve been growing did exceptionally well earlier in the summer. Now that the long grass has taken over the field they are the only way of identifying where the swales are! I’m hoping they’ll self seed as successfully there are they do elsewhere.

        Reply
        1. Deano Martin Post author

          I was growing both initially, keeping the larger seeded variety in the polytunnel, and the smaller one outside. I’ve read that they are cross -pollinated bery easily by bees, so will stick to the larger seeded variety in future.
          I’m also going to try growing a few from an Autumn seeding to see if they do better.
          Thanks again for the seed.
          Deano

          Reply
  2. tom

    The photos are magnificent. I’m as obsessed with compostable material as yield as you are and that amount from a 100 ft bed is looking good. Can you do us a pic of the straw piled up on the ground so we can get a clear picture of the amount a 100 ft bed produces?. My experiment with rye and spelt went wrong and I went with French beans at the last minute. The broad beans were good tho and provided a lot of compost matter. How did it go with your broad beans?

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Tom
      The Broad Beans were poor again. I didn’t leave them space, and tried to add them into the exsting planting. I may be planting them out too early, which could be resulting in too much growth before the cold weather sets in. I’m also getting chocolate spot, which is normally described as a potash deficiency, but my tests show a surplus. I may leave spaces for some within the beds, and add a separate area for the beans, as well as trying a new variety.
      The grains is all stood in stooks now, waiting to be threshed. However if you imagine four bundles slightly smaller than a dustbin around, and as tall as your chest (taller for the rye) that should work. Or to put it another way an 8 x 4 sheet of ply is 32 sq ft, which is 1/3rd of a 100sq ft bed. That gives 1 1/3rd of those beds to put back onto an area the size of one sheet of ply.
      Hope thta helps
      Deano

      Reply
  3. MikeH

    We were starting to look at grains as well and then rethought our approach a bit. At the end of the day, you want the grain on your plate. So what does it taste like and how difficult is it to process? It doesn’t make sense to grow something that doesn’t taste very good or is difficult to process. So we experimented with a number of grains all prepared the same way as flatbreads. Chickpea flour was the best of the lot. Oats & barley came next. Then Romano bean flour. Then buckwheat. Then wheat. Then soybean flour. Amaranth, rye, & quinoa were not very good.

    Our first experiments with chickpeas have resulted in terrible yields although I have a friend from Cuba who says that they have a high yielding chickpea. The Rodney oats from our first go were difficult to thresh. What we are growing this year – Cavena Nuda – which are naked oats with no awns or hairs is a great deal more promising. They are extremely easy to thresh. And the barley we go grow – Faust – is both hulless and awnless. You can thresh it by rubbing it between your bare hands. So we’ve identified two grains that taste pretty good and are easy to process. I don’t have a good feel for yield yet because we are just beginning to clean the oats and barley.

    And we’re growing both of Tim Peter’s perennial rye and perennial wheat. The rye is very vigorous and overwintered very well. It does get ergot though. We only had one wheat plant overwinter but it has produced a goodly amount of seed for next year. We tried perennial buckwheat last year but the frost got it before it ripened. We had a terrible drought last year so that may have been a factor. We’ll try again next year.

    It would seem to me that perennial wheat, rye, and buckwheat are perfect for permaculture yet I rarely hear them mentioned. Perhaps they carry the grain stigma.

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Mike
      I echo your observations on ergot in the perennial rye.
      I like the idea of trying the flour first.
      I have naked oats and will be growing some next year.
      Carol Deppe sells a chickpea that she cooks like popcorn. Look up her website. She will send seeds to the UK, but charges 25% of the order to do so. Her climate is similar to ours, and she has tried lots of varieties, so it may just be the variety that you tried.
      Perhaps your right about the small scale grain growing in permaculture circles. Maybe it’s down to a lack of space for many permaculturlists.
      Take Care
      Deano

      Reply
  4. MikeH

    Hi Deano,

    We’ve tried a number of different varieties of chickpeas including Carol Deppe’s which we grew this year. I’ll see if my friend in Cuba can get me some of their seed. I haven’t entirely given up but the yields just don’t seem to compare to what I’m seeing on our wheat, rye, oats, and barley. Nonetheless, it’s worth pursuing a bit because chickpeas are one of the three most nutritious grains/pseudo grains along with lentils and soybeans.

    I’m not sure what the issue is with grain in permaculture circles although I’m pretty sure that it’s not a space issue for most fully practicing permaculturalists. I suspect that it has to do with grain and in particular wheat being mainstream while permaculture is alternative stream.

    Are you growing perennial wheat and/or rye? I’m impressed so far. Would you like seed? Email me with your address and I’ll send you some.

    Regards,
    Mike

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Mike
      I’ve grown soybeans, and am also trying edible lupins this year. If you have any success with chickpeas I’d be interested in trying some.
      I wasn’t impressed with either of the perennial grains, although the rye was a bit better than the wheat. If you do a comparison with conventional grains, and they get close to the same yields I would give them another try, but will stick to the annuals for now. Our differing climates might be having an impact on the results.

      Reply
      1. MikeH

        Hi Deano,

        I’ve had a go at edible lupins aka sweet lupins and wasn’t all that impressed. And soy is far more versatile, especially if you can get a triple-null Lipoxygenase variety. There are three enzymes that give some soy products a beany taste. After quite some digging, I did manage to find one that has a decent yield despite my having grown it without an inoculant.

        Yield is the problem, especially from a commercial perspective. An annual grain puts all its energy into continuing the species through seed production while a perennial grain splits its species continuing energy between seed production and storing energy in the roots. For commercial agriculture that’s a problem because perennial yields must equal annual yields or the farmer businessman will have difficulty making his payments. I don’t think it’s the same problem for the smallholder growing for himself assuming he has the land. Not having to till, seed, rotate crops/regenerate fertility more than offsets lower yield, I think. I’m not sure how the energy in/energy out relationship compares but the big gain is in time at a critical time of the year.

        If I get any king of yield on Deppe’s chickpeas, I’ll let you know.

        Regards,
        Mike

        Reply
  5. Patrick Whitefield

    Hello Deano and All,

    What great work you’re doing, and thanks for sharing the results with all of us. I have a couple of points:

    – it looks to me as though the greater suppression of the understorey by the rye compared to the spelt was due to shading rather than allelopathy, because the only surviving white clover on the rye plot was along the edge, where it will have got light from the side, which the inner rows will not

    – yes, you can expect perennials to yield less than annuals due to the need to split its photosynthesate between seed and rootstock. On the other hand the perennial starts every year, except the first, with all the resources of the rootstock to call on, whereas the annual has only the seed. So it can grow fast right from the start of the growing season, while the annual needs a lot of time just to build up the energy to produce a full set of leaves. So overall there’s no theoretical reason to expect a higher yield from annuals.

    Thus a lower yield in the first year after sowing perennials is expected, but not over the rotation as a whole. Nevertheless I would expect a lower overall yield just now because we’ve spent 1000’s of years breeding annual cereal varieties and have only just started on perennials. None of this means that perennials can’t equal, or exceed, annuals in the long run. They’re certainly worth persevering with.

    All the best, Patrick

    Reply
    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Patrick
      Sorry for taking so lonf to reply. I’ve been distracted by writing magazine articles and book reviews.
      My thoughts on the rye wee similar, but there is clover inside the blocks, not just on the edges. This year I’ve planted the rye into the spelt bed that had the best clover layer. Hopefully this will give me another set of observations to use.
      Whether the perennial grains are worth perservering with or not is now a mute point for me. The wheat was poor, the rye was better, but prone to ergot in a way that the annual rye that I am growing isn’t. I’ll try and monitor how it performs for others, but plan to concentrate on the annuals from now on.
      The association grain project has seven of us curently bulking up a mix of six old wheat varieties, and I am growing these, rye, spelt, and probably rivet wheat. I’m probably going to add some Naked Oats in the spring.
      Keeping me busy
      Hope that all is well with you
      DEano

      Reply
      1. MikeH

        I’m probably going to add some Naked Oats in the spring.

        Deano,

        I grew a naked oat variety this year that I am extremely pleased with so far. By comparison to a variety that I’d grown previously, this year’s trial was extremely satisfactory. Threshing was far, far easier to the extent that it was approaching the ease of Faust hulless barley which is so easy that you can roll it between uncalloused palms and listen to the plinking of the seeds as they shower down on the plate. Because I was trying to get past what I think was a germination inhibitor on the seed, I first had to germinate the seed and then pot it up. As a result, I was growing from starts not from seed. The yield was sufficient to allow me to do a planting from seed next year so that I will have a better idea of performance. If performance is good, I will have a keeper since I already am very pleased with its threshing characteristics. I have a bit of excess seed if you or anyone is interested.

        Regards,
        Mike

        Reply
        1. Deano Martin Post author

          Hi Mike
          I have plenty of Naked Oats, but the hulless barley sounds interesting. Is it a winter or spring sown grain?
          If I can find it, I have some black oats to so, along with rivet wheat. I have delayed sowing the rivet as it comes from a site with bunt, but I’ve researched a chemical free seed treatment (milk powder slurry. 160gms powder per kg of seed), and am now happy to use it.
          Not aure if I could get the same effect from a spray/soak with a lacto-bacillus serum, but perhaps I’ll try that at some point.

          Reply
          1. MikeH

            Not exactly your problem but who knows – Antifungal activity of aqueous extracts from the leaf of cowparsnip and comfrey – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11525124

            Faust is spring sown. It’s a fairly old variety dating to the 1930s. From http://smallfarmcanada.ca/2009/grains-for-the-garden/: Faust Barley: Commercial varieties of barley have a tight-fitting hull that is removed by “pearling”. For many years, I have been researching barley cultivars with looser hulls that can be easily removed by hand or foot rubbing. Faust is one of these “hulless” varieties. Most barleys also have long, hair like extensions sticking out of the seed heads that are called awns. These awns can make threshing a bit cumbersome because they latch on to everything. Faust Barley doesn’t have these awns so is a rare barley that is both hulless and awnless. Faust is a fine-flavoured barley that matures in about three months.

            Is this the Gaspe flint corn – http://www.heritageharvestseed.com/corn.html – that you were looking for? Being in Canada, I can buy it for you. Email me if you are interested.

          2. Deano Martin Post author

            Hi Mike
            Thanks for the link. A good reason to exercise some caution as a soil drench, but possibilities as a foliar spray.
            That’s the corn. Currently I’m happy with the variety that I have, but am curious about actively crossing something like the Gaspe with soe of the other flints, to create a different mix. Sadly I’m not knowledgable enough on the specifics of corn breeding to do so with any degree of certainty as to the outcome. Nice to play with though.

        2. Deano Martin Post author

          I tried to get hold of some Gaspe flint corn, but the supplier would only dispatch to Canada and the US. I’m growing Carol Deppe’s flint corn this year and next, and it’s doing well.

          Reply
    2. MikeH

      Patrick,

      I think there is a reason to expect higher yields from annual grains over perennial grains. Because the annual continues its species by seed, all of its energy will go into producing as much as seed as possible. The perennial on the other hand must must send energy to its roots where it is stored until the beginning of the next growing season. Energy sent to the roots is energy not used to produce seeds. This is the problem that Wes Jackson’s Land Institute has been struggling with. They have had consistent perenniality in the grains they are working with for years but they are still years from have perennial grains that match the yield of annual grains. To be viable commercially, the yields must be more or less equivalent. As horticulturalists, we do not have that requirement. Our first requirement is perenniality. That’s not so say that yield isn’t important. When I harvest, I am concerned about seed selection at a qualitative level as well as a quantitative level. I look for heads where the grains are fat and large. When I find one, I collect all the tillers together and tie them lightly into a group. If all of the heads from that plant are more or less fat and large, I will segregate that seed from the rest. The next growing season, I will start those seeds in pots and plant out the starts in a separate growing area to see if I can get offspring with seed heads that are fat and large. Any plants that produce those seeds are allowed to grow; any that don’t are rogued out or transplanted into the main growing area to contribute to the quantitative yield. If I get lucky, I will increase overall yield.

      Deano’s inclusion of clover is something that I will also be trying next year. This fall we have established an area of Dutch white clover. In the spring, I will transplant perennial rye and wheat plants and starts into it at about 12″ apart. What I’m looking for is for the clover to act as a living mulch to reduce the weed competition. Based on plant spacing this year and weed competition, I’m hoping that 12″ planting will provide the clover with enough light and air circulation for it to thrive. The clover will not be competing for nitrogen but the extent to which it will compete for macro and micro nutrients is unknown. All plants will be inoculated with mycorrhizal fungi from fungi.com to extend the reach of the roots and assist in nutrient uptake.

      Regards,
      Mike

      Reply

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