This year we decided we wanted to learn how to grow and harvest our own grains. We eat a lot of grains in their whole forms as well as ground for flour. We figure waiting until we are starving to learn how to grow something is a good way to die for want of food. Even a small patch can teach a lot of useful information.
Due to seed availability we decided to start with buckwheat. Buckwheat has a unique nutty flavour and I find I really like the grain toasted and used in place of rice in most dishes. The flour is harder to work with than regular flour but the bread, when I can get it to work, is to die for. It also turned out buckwheat was one of the easier grains to grow for the new initiate, at least the books and information on the Internet made it seem so.
Buckwheat is one of the few grains that actually prefers poorer soil. We had just received a load of bland topsoil from a coworker so we used that to created our planting plot. We loosened to top few inches of the soil and scattered the seed liberally over the surface and just brushed the soil over to cover the seeds. Unfortunately, the chickens decided this was the perfect place to hunt for worms and most of the seed was eaten in the process.
The second try began with a fence around the garden and a second liberal coating of seeds. The weather turned on us and got cold. We learned that buckwheat, for all it is a European grain, does not handle cold snaps very well. The seeds had sprouted but the cold killed at least half the plants. Those that did survive did well and I simply added a few more seeds to the empty spots in the plot.
Fast forward to July. The plants are growing very well and are covered with flowers and the beginnings of grain. The books all warned that buckwheat flowers and sets grain at the same time so you have to gauge when to pick to get the maximum harvest without loosing everything to the birds and weather. I looked at the plants and the weather and figured we had a few more weeks before we had anything to worry about. Boy did I miss call that one.
August rolled around and brought in hot, humid weather and bouts of intense downpours. Three days straight of heavy rain takes its toll on buckwheat. By the time it was over most of the grain was gone, washed into the ground. There were still plenty of flowers so I thought we might be able to salvage at least part of the crop, but Mother Nature is a little unpredictable sometimes.
As August progressed the weather began cooling off at night. A real blessing this year for us and the animals. Unfortunately, the cooler nights signalled the beginning of the fall migration for the birds. I've mention before that we are on one of the major North South migration routes for almost every species of bird found in Eastern Canada. Well, it turns out that all those birds really like buckwheat, though I expect any grain would have attracted them. The Sparrows, Blackbirds, and even the Rock Doves all spent the sunny days picking the ripening grains and stuffing their little bellies.
I can't begrudge them, like some farmers do. I made the decision to wait to harvest. It is obvious that I made the wrong decision. The birds, chipmunks, and squirrels just took advantage of my misjudgement of harvest time. But, as I said before this was a learning experiment. I learned a lot in this first attempt, and will hopefully have a more successful crop next year. I'm very glad I still have grocery stores to rely on while I figure out this whole self sufficient lifestyle.