Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Rye?

I'm currently looking into adding a small grain crop to our "farm". Mostly as an experiment to see how naturally I can grow a grain, but if I end up with a couple loaves of bread a month as a result... then all the better. When I say 'naturally' grow grain, I mean 'neglect' grain. As in... very little to no tilling of the soil, certainly no soil-repair or added nutrients, and no watering except for what our California skies provide.

Let me make it pretty clear that we have really crappy soil and not in the literal sense. It is practically a sandbox full of rocks. That's why rye grain is so appealing! It's almost immune to failure. Rye is hardy against frost, easy to harvest, makes a good cover crop, and loves to grow in poor soil.

It is recommended that you plant rye seed in early fall to winter. However, we have a harsh winter ahead of us and our area is already starting to freeze at night so I will be waiting until about four weeks before the last frost to plant our rye crop. That way it will be able to tough out the last of the freezing temperatures, but will still get an early start to the growing season.

Here is's guide to growing rye for seed production:

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Prepare your seed bed before planting. Rye prefers a light, sandy soil rather than a heavy, clay soil. However, it is drought-tolerant, so dry conditions are suitable.

Broadcast your rye seed either by hand or with a seeder. If you intend to plant acres of rye, a tractor pulling a broadcast seeder is recommended, but you can hand-broadcast large amounts of seed. Most extension services recommend that you plant 60 to 200 pounds of seed per acre.

Till or drag about 1/4 inch of soil over the seeds for a light covering.

Roll or pack your seeds firmly so they make contact with the soil.

Water your seeds well on a regular basis before germination. The seeds require about 1 inch of rain or watering before they will germinate.

Harvest your rye once it reaches maturity and seeds form in the flowering spikes called inflorescences. Rye can be cut by hand with a scythe or with a combine pulled by a tractor. Mature seeds are usually tan or brown. Seeds that are not ready for threshing will not come off the grass easily.

- Sarah

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