Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thoughts on Finding and Evaluating Seeds for Grain Production

Offered by Anthony Boutard

With vegetables and fruits, gardeners and small-scale market farmers are used to opening a catalogue and ordering seeds or plants. The characteristics of the variety are generally outlined in a useful fashion. Various quantities of seed are offered. Unfortunately, this easy commerce is not available for the full range of grains.

For those of us who are interested in unconventional grains and seed crops, it doesn’t take long to find that the characteristics of varieties are poorly documented and supplies are limited. We have no choice but to hunt down seeds, grow them out, and make good observations on growth and culinary qualities. This site can serve as a means of sharing information gleaned from that experimentation, to the extent growers and gardeners are willing to share.

For example, in my experience, the naked barleys have a weaker straw than wheat, oats or rye. They lodge, fall over as the grain ripens, making harvesting difficult. Over-dense planting exacerbates this problem. The plants hold up better when they can tiller extensively, so plant at a lower density. Older references add credence to this observation. In my limited experience, the two-row barleys have the weakest stems. Bear this in mind as you proceed.

As David Mader notes, grains purchased from food stores are often stale or dried at a heat that weakens or kills the germ, making them useless as a seed source. Local seed and supply companies offer grains, but they are run of the mill varieties. In addition, they represent a narrow range of culinary qualities. Often, they are treated with fungicides and insecticides, so take care if you are an organic farmer.

As you can see, we are left with few options. Here are some sources for small grains offered as a starting point. This is not a definitive list, and I hope people will add to it.

Kusa Seed Society:

Kusa offers a good range of cereal grains in the form of several seed collections. They have one of the better sets of variety descriptions. They offer 18 varieties of naked barleys in three collections, two collections of wheat, as well as millet, hulled grain and lentil collections. Most of the varieties are offered at 100 grains per variety, but the hulled grains come in 25 ear packs – an ear has two grains. The grow-out process will be three to four years. I am planning to work with a couple of these collections each year. Kusa also offers literature on grains.

Sourcepoint Seeds, 26422 Moss Rock Road, Hotchkiss, CO 81419. Catalogue is $3.00, checks payable to Anpetu Oihankesni.

I have purchased naked barley seeds from Sourcepoint, specifically the varieties Dolma, Tibetian Purple and Glutinous. As with Kusa, quantities are limited, but I have had good germination and consistency of type. Anpetu, the owner, is very knowledgeable, and willing to share his observations. He carries a wide range of grain and seed crops.

Seed Savers Exchange:

SSE has a good selection of grains available through its “Listed Members.” Typically offered in quantities of 25 seeds. The Yearbook provides cursory observations, but less detailed than Kusa’s.

Bountiful Gardens:

Has a few grains and seed crops available.

Welter Seed and Honey Company:

Welter offers a range of wheat varieties and other grains such as triticale, and has certified organic grain available. Many are labeled VNI – variety not identified.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Johnny’s carries naked (hulless) oats and hard spring wheat in 50# sacks. They also have that standard (hulled) barley variety “Robust.” They appear to be out of stock at the present (January 2009).