Sustainable Grains

If you have read my blog posts, or my designs, you’ll know that I have been experimenting with small scale grain growing using the Bonfils method.  I have been looking at a number of other ways that have been used to grow grain in an attempt to identify what might be the optimum way to grow them on a small scale. What I want to do is to compare the various ways that grain is grown, analyse them, and come up with a series of trials/experiments to identify the key components for a sustainable grain growing system of my own.

Establish Aim and Objectives

Must Do

Identify the key characteristics of existing Small Scale Grain Growing systems

Compare those systems

Form a research plan to identify suitable trials/experiments.

Could Do

Form a template for any Permaculture Association Grain Research project.

Gather Information


Although I have described the Bonfils method of small scale grain growing before, this link BONFILS gives a good description, written by Marc Bonfils himself. The key characteristics are planted at 2 feet/60cm spacings, planted into White Clover, with all of the straw returned. The following crop is planted after Summer Solstice, before the preceeding crop is harvested.


The following LINK takes you to a description of Fukuoka’s method written by Larry Korn, who lived with/studied under him. The grain is formed into clay balls and scattered onto a mulch of clover and old straw. The clover is weakened by temporarily flooding of the fields.

SCI Wheat

SCI is a method of growing wheat on a small scale based on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The link takes you to the Wheat page of the Cornell University SRI site. It contains links to articles documenting  SRI wheat growing successes. This link is to a recent article describing how farmers in developing countires are increasing their yields using SRI Methods.

The link below is to a PDF file which describes the SCI Wheat Method. It is comprehensive. The key characteristics are pre germination of seeds, planting at 8inch spacings (8 x 12 inch for seed production). Otherwise the growing is conventional.

SWI manual

Grow Biointensive

The Grow Biointensive method of John Jeavons grows wheat in beds spaced at 5 inches, in a triangle, rather than a grid. Other than the spacing, the treatment of the crop is the same as for vegetables, including the use of compost.


There are lots of differences in the way that conventional wheat/grain is grown. The crop is broadcast/drilled, aiming for about 250 plants per square meter, which works out at about 2.5 inch spacing. There is little information about conventional Small Scale Grain Growing.


I am still waiting for books to arrive from India to try and identify anything that might prove useful.

Update October 2012. My reading has thrown up some really useful information on small scale grain growing which has been posted HERE.


The table below provides a brief comparison of the different small scale grain growing systems.

Comparison of Grain Growing Methods

Comparison of Grain Growing Methods

There are a number of obvious differences worthy of trials, or further investigation.


There is a real spread in spacings from just over two inches to twenty four. The most recent evidence comes from SCI wheat, with an 8 inch spacing, 12 x 8inches for seed production. This system has been established for growing in developing countries, which have a higher light intensity than here in the UK. My gut feeling is that if they have gotten their spacings right, a slightly wider spacing would be ideal here, probably in the region of 12 inches. The Bonfils spacing is double that, and gives 1/4 of the total number of plants.  What isn’t clear is how much of the wider spacing is to allow the Bonfils technique of sowing the following crop in the gaps between the existing crop before it is harvested.

Sowing Date

Following on from the last point in the preceeding parargraph is the question of sowing date. My question here is how significant is the late June sowing date of the Bonfils system? It complicates sowing and harvesting, and if there is little appreciable gain in yield from this early sowing, doing so immediately after harvesting may be a better option. In this instance, it may also allow a reduction in spacing from the Bonfils 24 inches, towards the SCI spacing of 8-12 inches.


Both of the sustainable small scale grain growing systems include an undercrop of White Clover, and the return of all of the straw to the fields. What effect does the clover have on yield, weed suppression, moisture retention/use, and the supply of Nitrogen to the grain crop? My own reading to date has provided mixed results to these questions. Additional questions include whether alternative clovers, or other Nitrogen fixers would be better suited, or whether any should be included at all? Is the return of the wheat straw all that is needed to maintain soil fertility, relying on free living Nitrogen fixing bacteria, rather than those present in plant roots.


Whilst there is some fixation of Nitrogen by clover, this could be replicated by an intercrop such as Broad (Fava) beans, Soy, or French beans. In the Book Farmers of Forty Centuries, FH King describes the practice of growing a Nitrogen fixing intercrop between grains. The layout would be two rows grain, one row beans, two rows grain. With Broad beans fixing more Nitrogen than White Clover, there is a case to be made for leaving out the clover, and growing beans. This would ease weed control, as the weeds could be removed with a hoe. The Broad beans would also add a significant yield of high carbon biomass, provide nectar for bees, and food.

Pre germination/Module

One of the SCI wheat trials compares direct sown wheat with transplants, from a nursery bed, just like rice. The trial showed that the results for direct sowing was much better. It didn’t look at the use of module grown plants, which might be a way to get an earlier sowing, without the need to make space until after the preceeding crop is harvested. Whether the extra work is justified or not depends partially on the result of a trial to see how much benefit a very early sowing might give.

Multiple Factors

Almost all of the potential experiments that might come about as a result of this analysis will be affected by multiple factors. For example the ideal spacing for plants might change dependant on whether or not a clover, or another intercrop is used.

Further Information Gathering and Analysis

Having looked at the different small scale grain growing methods there are still too many unanswered questions. Before formulating my trials I need to look at some of the research information that is already available. The important parts of that research is recorded below.

Plant Spacing

This research paper suggests that for wheat a spacing of 7 inches (18cm) gave better yields than a spacing of 14inches (36cm). The wider spacing gave a higher yield of Broad beans. The research was for plants grown in dense rows, not planted on a grid like SCI wheat/Bonfils. What is interesting is that they give an optimum compromise spacing for wheat as 23cm, which is about 9 inches.

Sowing date

This research paper on sowing dates suggests that planting too early leads to excessive tillering, some of which will die back reducing yield. At first glance this would make you think that there is no benefit to early sowing, but if you read the article fully, the reason for the die back is excessive competition. This is for a conventionally grown crop, and there would be nowhere near as much competition from a more widely spaced crop. In the conventional crop the early planting increased tillering, but the competition caused dieback of those tillers. This suggests that early sowing, combined with a wider spacing, may prove to be a good combination to try.

The Use, type, and management of Clover

  • This wheat/clover research document says that growing wheat with White clover results in a lower yield than wheat alone, unless the clover is defoliated. If this is done, the yield is higher, with best results obtained by defoliating at stem elongation, and flag leaf stage. The increased Nitrogen makes the grain more suitable for bread making.
  • This Clover research document shows that defoliating clover increases the Nitrogen uptake of neighboring plants, increases the root and shoot biomass of the clover, and gives an increased the microbial population.
  • This Red Clover research document suggests that the use of Red clover reduces the slug damage to a wheat crop. The article quotes a reduction in yield of the wheat crop, but the first of these clover documents may explain that loss. The clover needs to be defoliated to increase the wheat yield.
  • This website provides good information on White Clover, and has links to other cover crop descriptions.
  • This newspaper article describes experiments with a Wheat/White Clover intercrop. It suggests that weed suppression and disease protection is enhanced by the clover, but that yield is reduced. Suppression of the clover with chemicals was best for yield, with mechanical suppression less succesful.
  • The book Growing Green suggests that both Red and Crimson Clover form better associations with Mycorrhizal Fugi than White Clover. Both also fix more atmospheric Nitrogen.


  • This research article looks at the effect of growing an intercrop of Wheat and Broad beans, at six inch spacings between rows, and within the rows. Most of the trial lots showed a net benefit to growing in combination.
  • This research paper staes that growing wheat and beans together, at 75% planting density for each crop reduces weeds, and loss of Nitrogen to weeds, whilst increasing overall yield.

Soil Fertility

  • This mycorrhizal fungi research article shows that fungi are able to obtain minerals by dissolving rocks. This is particularly useful in providing Phosphorus.
  • This research paper Nitrogen and Phosphorus acquisition by microbes is the best paper on soil fertility that I have read.
  • The book Growing Green states that the biggest loss of nutrients is through leaching during the Winter. One of the ways to avoid this is to maintain plant cover all year.
  • There is a loss of Nitrogen from White Clover at the onset of Winter. Planting a cereal crop would help to minimise the effects of this and the leaching in the previous point.
  • Research carried out by the Rodale Institute suggests that the best way to maintain levels of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil is to maintain all round plant cover, or to replant as soon as possible after any cultivation.
  • This research article discusses the importance of soil microbes in mobilising Phosphorous for plant use.
  • The Book Soil Fertility and permanent Agriculture suggests that the best way to maintain soil fertiltiy is to return all organic material to the soil, use a small amount of lime to correct excess acidity, and sufficient rock phosphate to replace that removed in crops.
  • Phosphorous is the only mineral likely to deplete in most soils.
  • Wood Ash contains about 50% calcium carbonate (Lime), 5% Potassium, 1/2% Phosphorous.

Summary of Research and Analysis

Looking at all of the different information presented here, combined with what I already know, I can draw the following conclusions.

  • If clover is used, it has to be defoliated, preferably at the right times, in order to avoid reducing grain yields, and enhance the growth of the grain.
  • The need to defoliate may affect overall plant or row spacings. Plants too close together will make it difficult to mechanically defoliate.
  • Both beans and clover can enhance yields of grain, and suppress weed growth.
  • Keeping plants growing at all times will reduce fertility loss through leaching, and maintain mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Maintaining or supplementing Phosphorous is critical to maintaining fertility, but too much Phosphorous reduces mycorrhizal association.
  • The optimum spacing for grains is not readily apparent, and is a good trial to undertake.
  • The importance of the early sowing for the Bonfils method is not supported by any other research that I could find, and is therefore also worth experimenting with.
  • If the use of White Clover helps to prevent germination of weed seeds, it casts doubt on the suitability of simply pushing wheat seeds through clover to germinate, as in the Bonfils method.
  • I have not seen any research into a grain/bean/clover intercrop.


Identifying the problem

There are two main problems to solve, and both are connected. The first is to find the best way to grow grain. The second is how to maintain or enhance fertility whilst doing so.


Mineral Cycling

Hopkins gives figures for the composition of plants. 90% comes from Carbon Dioxide, and water, 5% from Nitrogen. Therefore 95% of the resources needed for plant growth come free, and are renewable. Only 5% of the material needed for growth comes from the soil. Provided that only the grains are removed, and the remainder of the grain is returned, only a small amount of material/fertility is being lost. If growing crops for sale, this would entail supplementing those minerals lost, principally Phosphorous. When growing for your own consumption, provided that as much effort as possible is made to return those nutrients to the soil, through humanure, or mulch from a WET system, only a tiny amount of fertility is being lost. Phosphorous is technically insoluble in water, but is soluble in a weak acid, such as is created by soil microbes, plant roots, and fungi. That gives three sources of Phosphorous in the rhizosphere.

  • Dissolved in the soil water.
  • Bound up in plant, animal, and microbial bodies.
  • Within the mineral fraction of the soil, sub soil, and bedrock.

Returning the plant material to the soil increases the supply of the second of those sources. We use wood as heating fuel, which is about to increase with the addition of a wood fired cooker. Using the ash in the vegetable growing system is a way of adding some lime, and minerals, gathered from other parts of the property, and then concentrating it. I can also harvest some woody growth as prunings, to compost, or to add directly to the soil, which will have the same effect.

Longstraw/tall plants

The use of longstraw varieties of grain, and taller plants like broad beans, gives a higher yield of organic matter to return to the soil. This high carbon material should help to provide a significant boost to soil fertility, by providing the fuel for the soil microbes to use to dissolve minerals from the soil, and fix atmospheric Nitrogen. My own observations after just one year of grain growing, is that it yields a significant amount of straw. The straw can be cycled as animal bedding before being returned to the soil, helping to accumulate more nutrients ‘gathered’ by the animals from the wider environment. My own system includes a deep litter chicken house, which is building up nicely, supplemented by twigs, nettles, and other plant wastes.

Deep Rooting Plants

The gathering of minerals is restricted by the reach of roots, or their associated mycorrhizal hyphae. Having observed how deeply chicory, docks, and comfrey roots penetrate, there is an argument in favour of incorporating some into any system. With Red Clover, Sweet Clover, and Alfalfa all being deep rooted, and capable of fixing Nitrogen, all could be included, either as intercrops, or as a separate fertility crop. Chicory, when it starts to produce flowering stalks, changes from soft sappy growth, to a much tougher, carboniferous composition. However I had sown too much, and it needs to be thinned judiciously. Any of the above, when cut and dropped on the surface, bring minerals from deeeper in the soil profile, and deposits them on the top soil, in a form that is easily converted for plant use.


There are two clear trial projects, and a number of variations, that I need to undertake, in order to potentially produce my grain growing system.

  • The first is a comparison of different plant spacings to see which spacing gives the best yield.
  • The second is to compare the yield of grain from identically spaced plantings, sown at different dates. This is specifically to see if there is a significant benefit to a sowing date earlier than the harvest of the previous year’scrop.

For both of the above, I would like to use a Wild White Clover undersowing initially, but need to identify a good method of defoliating the clover. I had wanted to use chickens, but the volume of vegetable material would be far too high for my egg layers to eat. It might be possible to use a large batch of growers (meat birds), concentrated for a short time, to do the same job, but I don’t eat meat. Use of a hoe would be effective, but this soil miller looks like it could be the answer. As well as cutting the clover off from its roots, the discs will incorporate it into the topsoil, where it will break down more quickly. There is the potential for some damage to the roots of the grain plants. With a wider plant spacing, a push mower could do a better job, but I have yet to find one that would be narrow enough for the sort of spacings that I am likely to be using. It may be possible to use very sharp blades on a wheel hoe, and set them really high. I have seen some good tools used in Asia, such as the finger weeder, but cannot find anybody who wants to send me one.

  • The first variations would be to try the first experiment but incorporate a sowing of grain without clover, a sowing with beans and grain, and a sowing with grain beans and clover.
  • I would also like to try using red clover as the intercrop.
  • With an established bed of White Clover, I would like to compare the germination of grains pushed into the clover, as per the Bonfils method, with a sowing made into the clover after it has been tilled/hoed.
  • I still need to consider how to incorporate deep rooted plants, although if the red clover intercrop works well, it may fulfil this role.
  • Ultimately I would like to experiment with how much of the straw I could remove from the system, whilst retaining fertility. This might enable me to concentrate any surplus straw on beds that would be growing crops requiring a higher level of fertility, such as corn, or potatoes.

With all of the above I will need to keep detailed records of how much organic material was returned to the beds, what mineral/ash amendments were made, and the yields of each bed.



The late Summer/Autumn 2012 sowing has had to be made before undertaking this design. I have therefore sown/planted out all of my grains at 12 inch spacings, with a sprinkling of White Clover seed around each plant.

Spelt and White Clover

Spelt and White Clover

This has been useful as it will allow me to grow similar crops in each bed this year, which will help to reduce any potential differences in yield that may be due to the crop grown in 2011/2012. They will all start 2013/2014 following a grain crover crop.

Whilst not directly comparable, I should also get a feeling for whether there is a significant advantage to growing at this spacing, compared with the 24 inch Bonfils spacing used in 2011/2012. I will also get to try out different methods of weakening the clover, and look at how to keep birds and rodents from harvesting significant quantities of my grain

I intend to sow a row of Broad beans down the center of each bed. This is just to see how a three crop bed might function, and to maintain my hardy winter bean experiment. This is experiment two in my Vegetable Grain Design.


My initial plan is to plant identical beds of grains, with only the spacing varied. At the moment I would like to try spacings of 8, 12, and 18 inches, all with an established White Clover ground cover. This would be hoed and incorporated along the planting rows only, with the clover between the rows left untouched. All to be sown at the same time, after the 2012/2013 crop is harvested. All of the grains to be pre germinated like the SCI method.


The second year trials partly depend on the first. If there is a clear ‘winner’ in terms of yield from the first set of trials, I would like to try using that spacing, but with three sowing dates. Late June, late August, and Mid September. The aim of this trial would be to see if there was any significant benefit to the early (Bonfils) sowing of grain into the old crop, before harvesting. Should the 2013/2014 trial not identify an optimum spacing for UK conditions, I would like to repeat the initial  experiment to see if the results stay inconclusive. Should it be found that the yield remains fairly constant for all of the spacings, it should be possible to use the widest spacing, which would make the defoliation of the clover, and hand weeding, much easier.

Further trials

If it is possible to establish an optimimum spacing and planting date, I would like to experiment with the other clovers, and with Broad bean intercrops. However this is some time off, and I am going to leave the details of these trials until I have produced a workable system.


For the initial three years, I want to keep the soil amendments, and quantity of organic material returned to the soil, the same for all of the beds. After this, I would like to maintain a section of the growing space that sticks to a single grain spacing and sowing date, irrespective of what other trials may be going on. I want to use this space to experiment with the types and quantities of soil amendments/additions, that I need to use to maintain fertility. This may depend on what other crops/vegetables may be incorporated into a whole system.


There may be a need for some specialist help/training/eqipment here. Specialist analysis of my soil would be a great tool to see how effective the soil fertility/building is. Sadly, I don’t think that my budget is going to stretch to that. Simple tools to weigh and measure yields of grain, straw, and biomass will also be needed. Some help from somebody competent in making, or modifying tools might help to create a tool capable of defoliating clover in a relatively narrow strip.


41 thoughts on “Sustainable Grains

  1. Pingback: Small Scale Grain Growing 2012 and beyond « The Sustainable Smallholding

  2. Alison Tindale

    Hi Deano,

    Finding your blog very interesting. I have narrow white clover paths between 110cm wide vegetable beds on my allotment and am curious about the effect of the clover on the fertility of the plot. I generally keep the paths cut short with shears or pushmower and mulch with the clippings or add them to the compost heap. Your research links on clover are very interesting.

    Do have any perennial grain to sell to other growers? Madeleine McKeever at Brown Envelope Seeds needs all of hers for resowing this year and well I am a little impatient to try some – so thought it was worth asking! I’m trying to grow a business selling perennial vegetable plants and would like to offer perennial grains in time as well as small-scale growing for myself.

    I’m not a trained permaculturist – just a keen amateur!

    Kind regards
    Alison Tindale

    1. Deano Post author

      Hi Alison
      Sorry, but I’ve gotten rid of all of the perennial grains, in order to concentrate on the annuals.
      I gave out trays of perennial rye seedlings at the convergence, so there may be the possibility of getting some from another permaculturalist next year.

      1. MikeH

        I’m curious as to why you got rid of your perennials grains and have concentrated on annual grains. Perennial grains seems much preferable for many reasons – drought tolerance because of deeper roots, no tilling of soil, no need to replace fertility, permanent ground cover, better ratio of energy expended to energy received, etc.


        1. Deano Martin Post author

          Hi Mike
          Do you have any data that suggests that the perennial grains actually have deeper roots than the annuals? Most annual grains have extensive roots.
          I’ve grown perennial rye and wheat and they don’t cover the ground any better than the annuals. With the straw returned there is no difference in the amount of organic matter returned, in fact the annuals probably return more as the whole plant is returned each year, as oposed to leaving an untouched infrastructure. There is very little energy involved in growing grains, they’re pretty easy, the older varieties thrive in a lower fertility environment, and there may be a way to grow them in a no-till fashion. In terms of energy, you are perhaps assuming that there is a similar output from the two. In my experience the size, quantity, and quality of grain from the annuals is far superior to the perennial equivalents. To grow a similar quantity of calories using perennial grains will therefore consume more land for human use than the annual equivalents would.
          My preference is for a more intensive agri/horti culture using less space, but that doesn’t make me right.
          Thanks for the questions.
          Where are you based?

    2. Andy Waterman

      Hi, I haven’t read all your blog and am currently in New Zealand but I shall be back in the Uk in mid May. If any one wants some perennial wheat or rye I have some (in the UK) been growing it for years and would like to pass it on. I have found though that it is not truly perennial, only comes up for 2 or 3 years, maybe that could be improved. i don’t have much but what i have i am willing to share.
      Andy Waterman

      1. Deano Martin Post author

        Hi Andy
        Thanks for the offer.
        I’ll leave this here for people to see, and put people in touch with you as they contact me.
        All of the best

  3. Alison Tindale

    Thanks Deano – read your reply minutes after reading the part of the blog where you mention taking the perennial grain out of the system! I’m sure a bit of grain will come my way in time – a small and slow solution!

    I keep finding new things in your blog connected to things I am trying or have thought/read about (like growing onions in white clover) so really enjoying it. Many thanks for sharing.


    1. Dolmen

      Hi Alison
      Just wondering if you have any results with the onions and white clover experiment? Keeping onions wed is a big job!
      I’ve lost my allotment and I’m hoping to buy some ground in the near future. I follow these posts with great interest, I have some oats growing in pots, it’s not ideal, but it keeps the interest alive.

      1. Deano Martin Post author

        I have a friend who has just grown onions in red clover. His observations were that the size looked smaller, but he didn’t have a control bed to compare. His biggest problem was cutting the clover regularly, and I suggested that instead of planting at a 6 inch spacing, that he tries a clusters of four onions grown at 12 inches between clusters, like Eliot Coleman does. That will give much easier access to keep the clover cut back.
        Hope that helps until Alison replies

      2. Alison

        Hi Tia, only just noticed that you had asked me a question here so hope you are still visiting. I’m still growing clover on paths between veg beds but haven’t deliberately sown it between the onions yet. But having reread these comments tonight I realise now is a great time to do that for this year. I’ll do some control patches too.

        Deano I got some perennial wheat from Oikos in the end. I grew some last year and it overwintered fine. Will see what it does this year now.

        1. jonny reid

          hi alison, ive been trying to track down perennial grain seed for a looong time! cant get tim peters rye seed from u.s. because of aggravating seed import restrictions – i looked at the oikos website but it didnt mention anything about perennial? please could you advise me?
          best regards, jonny.

          1. Alison

            Hi Jonny, I only got a notication of your comment today -sorry for the delayed reply. Oikos seem to have perennial wheat here Just plants atm but I should think they’ll have grain again after harvest. I seem to have seed forming on my square metre of plants OK so far as I can tell. I’ll be happy to send out small quantities to people later in the year (but will ask for postage costs via some convenient method). Sorry don’t know about rye – Seed Savers Exchange in the US is listing two varieties but I couldn’t work out if their swaps are available to us here. Alison

  4. annisveggies

    Hi Deano
    I love your systematic and rigorous approach to these vital experiments. I have a few observations based on my perennial veg polycultures. They are anecdotal rather than empirical, but are going in the same direction as you I think:

    Re intercropping – I tried planting white clover in spring / summer 2011 to fix nitrogen between the veggies and decided to remove it soon after it began to grow as it was a terrible thug and just swarmed over the adjacent plants in my lovely fertile beds! I have been using field beans and some broad beans as N2 fixers and prefer them from a manageability point of view.

    Also they stay in the ground for a long time, helping to maintain fertility via keeping the area planted as much of the year as possible and returning all but the harvested pods and beans back to the soil at the end of their lives.

    Happy growing


  5. Pingback: Sustainable Grains Update October 2012 « The Sustainable Smallholding

  6. AndyR

    Great work on the grain trials, thanks for posting the results.
    The whole point of a clover cover crop is that you need to leave it there for a few years to get the full impact. Otherwise it just draws N from the soil in the first season. You only get the additional N when the clover breaks down. That can be caused by anything that causes die-back. Mulching, cutting, shading etc. With a first season crop of clover and wheat you are having two crops both of which are drawing N from the soil, neither of which are releasing any. I doubt you will find a better cover crop then white clover. It is hardy, it provides full year round ground cover, has low nutrient and moisture requirements, and doesn’t inhibit cereals.

    Regards Andy

  7. Pingback: Small Scale Grain Growing Update - The Sustainable Smallholding

  8. Pingback: Sustainable Grains Update October 2012 - The Sustainable Smallholding

  9. Pingback: Small Scale Grain Growing 2012 and beyond

  10. Pingback: Polyculture Update. February 2013 - The Sustainable Smallholding

  11. Rob Squires

    Hi Deano. I read your article in Permaculture Works with interest. Also a great looking blog – I’ll read the above in more detail later.

    I was wondering how large an area you are doing your trials on, and how you go about harvesting – do you use any machinery? Also, how do you process your grains, and what are your yields like (i.e. kg / acre).


    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Rob
      I’m growing grains on a patch the size of an allotment, or slightly larger. Harvesting of a smaller area was done by hand. Nothing too elaborate. As the individual plants are mass of tillers in a bunch, I just cut them at the base. I used secateurs as my sickle wasn’t sharp enough (bad preparation). I have yet to process quantities larger than needed for seed saving and sharing, but putting the heads in a pillow, and whaking with a plastic baseball bat worked OK for me.
      The purpose of the trial is to look at yields. Difficult to translate such small scale trials into a larger comparison with any accuracy.
      Hope that helps

      1. Rob Squires

        Hi Deano. Thanks for the reply. I’m interested because up here in Manchester we have a new project called Farmstart, being delivered by a group called the Kindling Trust. They’re making available quarter acre plots on an organic farm, as ‘incubators’ for fledgling new farmers. It is apparently the only project of its kind in Britain. A quarter of an acre is approximately four allotment plots. I completely agree with your sentiment that there is a need for some focus on growing grains sustainably, since we eat so much of them – work with (human) nature design principle etc. I’m thinking it would be a good idea to link with the FarmStart project and start growing some grains. I’m also interested in the possibilities for nettles and flax. Rob

        1. Deano Martin Post author

          Hi Rob
          Plots of that size should feed two people and provide all of the composting material that they need. It’s a bit late for a lot of the grains, but not too late for a sowing of Spring Oats, barley or wheat.
          Good Luck. I hope that you get one of these plots. There is loads of things that you could do with a space of that size.

  12. Ben

    Hi Deano,
    I got some of the Perennial Rye seed you gave out at the Convergence last year via a friend. I was wondering what you knew about it – age of seed/source/variety/selection work already done on it? Also if there is anyone else that is really keen to try some straight away then I could split the seed I have into three and share it with a couple of others. I will be sowing some of it this September/October.
    Thanks for sharing all your really interesting research work. I have grown small beds (approx. 10 square metres) of annual grain a few times on my allotment but never interplanted with a legume. The standard spacing I have used is 12″ between rows and maybe 1″ between seed in the rows with no thinning. I have a copy of harmonius wheatsmith (Bonfils summary zine) and, like it suggests, was thinking of trying much bigger spacings and earlier plantings to encourage massive tillering from each plant. I have seen the results of an October sowing vs. a late march sowing and the difference in yield is massive if you are able to overwinter grains in your local conditions.
    Also I’m curious about why you have decided to focus just on annuals, wouldn’t an optimum spaced polyculture system with a high yield perennial grain would be less work and more resilient?
    Best Wishes,

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Ben
      You need to check that it is the perennial rye, rather than the Mountain Rye, which is sometimes annual, biennial, and perhaps short lived perennial too. If you have the perennial rye seed it came from the States, and is now two years old. Bred by Tim Peters, the variety is Millwright. This blog describes it, and he is happy to share the seed. . If you have enough to split, I think that it’s the mountain rye.
      I have yet to see a perennial grain that yields as much as an annual. Once there is, I’m happy to use it.
      Good Luck with the Rye

  13. Ben

    Hi Deano,
    Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I’m not sure my friend will remember what you said the rye was at the convergence. It was given to him as dry grain by you, the seed are quite small compared to commercial rye and there are approx. 100 seeds. If it’s the mountain rye is it also bred by Tim Peters? He has a variety called ‘mountaineer’
    A few interesting articles here that I have come accross in the last few weeks:
    A great primer on Tim Peters perennial grain work on this page: – Tims quiet triumph articles. – Web version without pictures
    Some land institute articles about their progress with perrenial grains: – recent news article
    At the same time as being enthusiastic about perennial grains I totally appreciate your point about yield of annuals, much more trialling and sharing needed I guess.
    Best Wishes,

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      I suspect that you do indeed have the Mountain Rye. This is from germany where it is used as gamecover/feed. It isn’t perennial. The seeds are smaller than the agricultural rye, but it is tougher. One of my german friends says that you can sow it directly into grass and it will grow. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but he is trying it in DEvon as we speak, so I’ll know for sure soon.
      Hope that it grows well for you.

  14. Mark

    Great info as always Deano. I was wondering the same as Rob as to the harvest method so thanks for the info (although i thought you would be using your scythe skills 🙂 ).

    From the various books i’ve read i’m, still struggling to balance the work output needed to sow and harvest and process wheat (as an example) for the return in yield of food stuff.

    I wondered what your thoughts were having done it?


    1. Deano Martin Post author

      It’s a high yeld for the input. It’s about a loaf of bread per sq meter, but my early efforts have not reached anywhere near that level. Mine is a more intensive method, but broadcast sowing is quick and simple.

  15. J. C. Seery

    This is the first I have ever heard of the Bonfils method and will need to do more research on it. One thing strikes my as odd about the early planting. How does this work with Hessian Fly or is that not an issue in Europe?

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      I’ve not had any problems with Hessian Fly, and am not sure that it is a problem here.

  16. Peter Rodger

    Hi Deano,
    I’ve been reading your stuff with interest. My wife and I bought a hobby farm in Tasmania (Aust) last year and we plan on converting it to a permaculture Polyfarm, complete with edible food forest, assorted livestock and poultry and rotational veg gardens. I’ve managed to source some heritage wheat seeds with a view to trying the Bonfils method. I’ve just sown the White clover seed late last month, with a proposed grain sowing in the last week of December (6-months out sync to you northerners being as I’m in the Southern Hemisphere). If it works even moderately well, I plan on creating additional plots next year to grow several different wheat varieties (I was able to secure small ‘research’ samples of about 50 different old-style grain types).
    Now to my question… I plan on defoliating the clover with the whipper snipper, but at what growth stage should it be done?

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Using a strimmer may work in the first year, but if you’re sticking to the Bonfils spacings and planting sequence, it may be more difficult. Best time is a little before planting of the wheat, with potentially a second cut when the grains get a to a couple of inches in height. That second cut may be better done with a lawn mower so that you can adjust the height of cut. However from year two those cuts will be done with a standing crop of grain in place, which makes it a bit more difficult.
      I have found that with the early sowing, my grains are ready to harvest much earlier. Here that is early to mid july. So I have reduced the spacings, and sow immediately after harvest of the previous crop, which is working well.
      One thing that I have noticed is that when using the new grain to re-sow germination is much slower than with older seed for the first month or so. I’m guessing that there may be a germination inhibitor of some kind to prevent the grains from sprouting in the heads early.
      Good Luck, and keep in touch.

  17. Mark Gardner

    Hi Deano,

    I liked your blog on growing gains and I am interested in growing millet and sorghum as they are gluten free grains. I have received an email from Chris Evans of Himalayan Permaculture who gave you some seeds to try. Have you tried to grow them and did you have any success. Do you have any advice on which varieties would grow best in Somerset and were I can get seeds .


    Mark Gardner

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Really sorry for the delay Mark
      The proso millet came closest to giving seed. If it had been planted earlier I think that it would have yielded. same with the sorghum. Big strong plants, flowered, but no seed produced.
      Can’t recommend varieties. Proso millet and sorghum can be got from a few of the American seed companies. Try adaptive seeds, bakers creek, salt spring seeds, or John Scherk. A quick search should find them.

  18. Peter Rodger

    Hi Deano,

    Have enjoyed reading your stuff very much. As small-scale wheat is of interest to many who come here, I thought I’d let you know I’m running my own winter wheat experiment, following the Bon-Fuk method, with 80cm spacing into white clover.

    For your info (or anyone else interested in following along), I’ll be logging updates to my wheat trial here…

    Tasmania, Australia.

  19. Sam

    Hi Deano,

    I have recently discovered your blog and it is hugely helpful as we develop a 1/3 acre corner of a field into a productive market garden running alongside a restaurant in Bristol called Birch. I have been thinking more and more about grains as I have no access to locally grown food grains for the restaurant. This spring I sowed several heritage varieties of wheat, barley and oats, some of which are doing very well on our heavy clay soil and others not so well! I am looking for some long straw cereal rye which will perform well on clay soil and be very tasty, do you either have some which you would sell or know a good source of some? So far I have got seed from the JIC but they do not carry Rye in their collections. The plan for the short term is to grow small quantities of cereals in rotation with green manures and beans/grain legumes, and perhaps one day find more land….
    Any help/advice welcome.


    Sam Leach

    1. Deano Martin Post author

      Hi Sam
      I should be able to send you some of mine, however your climate is wetter than mine and you may find that you have problems with ergot. I only have a small amount of rye this year to keep my seed fresh, but there should be enough. Give me a shout in early August.


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