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).


Slow Hand Farm said...

I've also recently come across the Ancient Wheat Conservancy's web site. I don't have any direct experience with these people but they offer ounce quantities of various wheat strains along with descriptions. is the site.

ruffin said...

Looks like the URL for Kusa is mistyped in the entry, and needs an extra "a". ;^)

I'd grabbed a few packets of wheat from Bountiful Gardens to play with this winter.

Sorry for naivety; what's the "grow-out" period and/or why is it several years for barley?

Slow Hand Farm said...

Thanks for the edit, the link should be fixed.

To clarify, I believe Anthony is talking about the number of years it takes to increase a small quantity of seeds to something on a useable small commercial scale.

To take that a little farther, the first year you start with an ounce of seed and grow it all out and it yields maybe a pound. The next year you grow that out and it yields maybe 16 pounds. The following year you plant 16 pounds and get 256 pounds. So you're three years out and now you're at a quantity that might be in the very small commercial range.

If you're like me you're a little more conservative, especially as you get farther from that small quantity of seed, and you never plant much more than half your seed, just in case there's a crop failure that year.

Unknown said...

Hello All,

Just wanted to thank Anthony and everyone for starting & maintaining this site and the great information that has been provided. I am a beginning farmer that is hoping to grow some grains and pulses for family use and poultry feed. This year (2009) will be the first year of having a go at it. We are planning on some corn, beans, sunflower, and then wheat in the fall. If anyone has any favorite varieties I would love to hear about them.
One thing I am struggling with is what scale of cutter, thresher, and cleaner to look for or start with? I am only going to grow about five acres of grain & pulses at the most and probably only about .5 acres this year. I would like tools\machines that are versatile enough to accommodate all the crops planned if possible without being huge monsters. What would be great is to hear or actually see more about what other people are using and how much of which crops they are processing. Hopefully things will get worked out by the end of this season and I would be more than happy to relay my choices and experiences for other people in the same place or scale.

Thanks again,

Farmer John said...

I was further educating myself on grains when I found this great blog. I own a new seed company. I won't go into the details you can go to the site, but we are trying to offer a large selection of grains. This turning out to be much more challenging than I thought. It is impossible to find a ample supply of most grains. If anyone here has experience in growing grains and would be interested in growing for us or can help us with information. Please let me know. I really want to offer more grains for the homesteader such as myself, but it is going to take time to grow things out in enough quantity to sell at the seed company. Thank you for any help.

Steve Carrow said...

Just starting to research small grain production. I've found sources for small mills, but am interested in working with barley. Are there any sources for small scale hulling and or pearling equipment? I've read here that many use naked barley, but what do you do with small volumes of regular barley?

Unknown said...

Wheat gets worse as CO2 rises

Slow Hand Farm said...

thanks for the link, Eva. Steve, if you find any good equipment I'd love to know about it and be able to pass on the information through the blog.

Unknown said...

a good source of Glenn hard red spring wheat seed is Albert Lea seeds -- -- considerably cheaper than Johnny's for the same variey.

I grew Glenn HRSW in northern ny this year and was pleased with both yield and disease resistance.

Interestingly, Glenn suppressed summer annual weeds noticeably better than Red Fife. Both grown side-by-side in the same field. Both planted at 90#/acre in 8" drills.

I appreciate that not everyone wants a modern wheat, but I'm passing the info along for those requiring more disease resistance than available in many heirloom wheats.

Slow Hand Farm said...

Thanks for the info C., definitely good info. The website for Alberta Lea seed has no final s - it's I'm curious if you've tried heavier seeding rates or cross drilling for weed suppression?

Unknown said...

Thanks for the correction to the grain seed link.

No, I have not seeded heavier than 90# in drills.

I have had good luck at 90 because I spin red clover onto it at grain sowing. I think that the clover might be suppressed at a higher wheat seeding rate. The wheat-clover is important in my rotation so I will give up a little grain yield to keep the clover.

I inexcusably ran short on clover seed this year and so was unable to oversow all the wheat. It was definitely more weedy where the field lacked clover. A higher wheat seeding rate would have been appropriate there. i think i would shoot for 30-35 plants per square foot.

There seems to be a trend of planting spring wheat more heavily and in narrower drills. A proponent of this told me he gets better weed control and more uniformity of heads ripening since there is less tillering. Worth a thought...

I planted a small field of naked oats as a trial at 130#/ac. and my sense is that was too high a seeding rate. I will experiment with this in the future. I was surprised how slowly they grew in the early season compared to feed oats. I planted them very early, I believe end of April, in fall plowed mud. They came up slow. I was concerned that they might be overtaken by weeds but it was not so since they took off once the soil warmed. Variety was not stated, but presumably they were either Paul or Buff oats. Nice straw.

Slow Hand Farm said...

C., Thanks for the info, very helpful to hear your experiences. I've also had much better luck with winter sowings than spring. I've often used red clover with annual rye grass as a cover crop. Somehow that hasn't yet translated into using it with wheat but that's a great reminder and I think I'll do that with this fall's seeding.

Eli Rogosa said...

Hi Folks,
The Heritage Wheat Conservancy,, is conducting wheats trials on our farm in Colrain, MA and at the University of Mass, Amherst. In our winter wheat trials last year we found 18 landrace wheats that yielded higher than the best yielding modern wheat (AC Maxine) in New England. The source of my seeds are mostly traditional farmers in the Mideast and Europe. Not only are most of the heritage wheats higher yielding, but have richer flavor and taller for good weed competition. Am conducting nutritional analysis this season.
Eli Rogosa said...

I believe that my wife told me that Johnny's Seeds is a Monsanto Company for those of us who choose not to support that company.

Unknown said...

This is just a quick response for the above mention of Johnny's seed. It has made the rounds before and was addressed at this link;

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog and I'm so very glad you have this as a resource! I'm investigating growing wheat on my 1/4 acre plot just to see if it's possible.

My problem is that there is so little information on when to plant and when to harvest!

Native Seeds Search

Has Arizona varieties of wheat, beans, corn, sorghum, and more available. They will do well in any area with high heat and low humidity, and probably tolerate drought better than other varieties.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the second post, but do you know anyone that sells dryland varieties of rice?

Slow Hand Farm said...

Years ago I got a small quantity of "upland rice" seed from Bountiful Gardens in Willits, CA. They don't appear to have it anymore but you might have more luck if you search for upland rice which I think is the more common term.

Unknown said...

To take that a little farther, the first year you start with an ounce of seed and grow it all out and it yields maybe a pound. The next year you grow that out and it yields maybe 16 pounds.Carpet Cleaning Vancouver The following year you plant 16 pounds and get 256 pounds. So you're three years out and now you're at a quantity that might be in the very small commercial range.