Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Harvesting Buckwheat

Buckwheat, a favorite of honey bees. Who can blame them? This plant flowers and flowers and flowers giving them lots of delicious food. Yes, I realize that is a fly on the buckwheat flower but they have to eat too and none of the honeybees would hold still long enough to photograph. Besides, the fly is dressed in a color coordinating outfit adding quite nicely to the picture.  
This was my second year of growing buckwheat. Last year, I planted some late in the season and it never reached the seed stage. It was a green manure project to break up some hard clay soil. It worked. I also learned that the fifty days it said on the package was not nearly long enough in our area to grow a crop to harvest, for buckwheat is not frost tolerant.

So this year, I planted early in June and harvested in late August and September a little more in early October. I threw some seed amongst part of the potato plants and under the sunflower seeds. Bad move in the potato patch since the buckwheat did well, the potatoes did not. Stands to reason since they both have extensive root systems and buckwheat is aggressive.

 Yet, under the sunflower seeds they did okay.

Before embarking on this project I hadn't done my research. now don't be so shocked. Oh, I did check out its green manure aspects but not the grain harvesting part. Bad move. But even if I had, I still would have come up short for every area is just a bit different than another because of the soil, weather, and growing season length. 

The biggy that I hadn't checked out and found out was one plant will have both blossoms and developed buckwheat seed, with the lower blossoms forming seed before the upper ones. That means you either have to harvest plant by plant when  75% of the seeds have developed or crumple off the seeds from the lower stems while leaving the plant intacked and producing seeds on the higher stems. And my plants seem to be growing at very different stages of development meaning a large group was never at 75% seed development at one time compounded by the problem that all the seeds were broad casted in a area not allowing me easy access to individual plants.

So the next time I plant buckwheat I'm going to do things differently. 
1. I'm going to plant in plots that I can reach across for maximum harvesting capability since I don't have room to plant a large area and harvest when the 75% of the seeds are developed if they develop in that manner.

2.I will plant when I plant my green beans to ensure a seed crop.

3. Since lots of the seeds will naturally drop to the ground before I can get them harvested, ( because this is a time consuming plant) I will plan accordingly will the crop that will follow rotation behind the buckwheat.

4. I will be growing buckwheat not as a large food storage item but as an educational project since I simply don't have enough area to get the yields necessary for a substantial amount. Now this doesn't mean it isn't worth growing. I also plan in the future to grow rye and wheat. It is so I have a very basic understanding in case it becomes necessary in the future for us to produce our grains.

You might think I'm a bit paranoid and say as many others have told me that someone will always want to grow food for us if the are paid. The truth is someone is being paid now and very few want to grow food for us. The average age of the farmers in the USA is 57 years old. That means fifty percent are older with retirement age of Americans being between 65 and 67. Eight more years for the average farmer. And fifty percent are younger with most of the farmers I know don't have children who want to take over the farm.

What would happen if in a few years we lost fifty percent of our farmers? Two things, either we would get most of our crops from other countries like we do our oil and believe me this has been talked about by huge organizations.  Or, huge companies like Kelloggs will have bought up fifty percent of our crop land. A monopoly means control. 

So... just in case, I'm learning all I can for the tough days ahead that this will all need to be sorted out.  

This year, my efforts were with buckwheat. After all, I kind of like buckwheat pancakes. I only had them a few times but they weren't bad. I think they could grow on me.

And before I go any further and possibly lead you astray, buckwheat isn't a cereal grain but a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. Kind of reminds me of wild rice which isn't really rice at all. I guess things sometimes get put into catagories of things they remind you of instead of what they actually are.
With this goal to learn to grow as much as possible of what we eat, I've added learning to cook with whole grains on a much higher level than presently. That's part of my winter goals.

So I crumbled dried buckwheat seeds and flowers into a bowl whenever I had a little time. And I scrunched the seeds, leaves, and spent flowers between my fingers now and then as the bowl sat on the kitchen counter, creating a nice crumbly mixture.
Then with our oldest grand daughter, my husband helped me to set up the box fan outside and we began the task of cleaning the fruit seed. This was accomplished by holding the bowl of seeds up high and slowly pouring it into a tub that sat on the ground while the fan, which was on high speed, blew away the light weight sticks, leaves, and spent flowers. Several times of this and what was left was pretty clean.
There is still a little bit of this and that extra in with the seed hulls that I've got to pick out but over pretty good. The task isn't done yet though, as I've still got the hulls to remove from the seeds. I've read of two ways of doing this. One way is to roll them under a rolling pin breaking the seeds away and the other is to grind them in a hand grain grinder and sifting the hull off. I'm going to try both ways to see which works best. What will remain is very little buckwheat seed to use in pancakes.

Yes, I could have harvested more if I could of kept up with all I had to do and if I had of planted the buckwheat in a more manageable plot. Do I try again next year? I'm not sure. I haven't decided for I do know I'm going to put in a small plot of rye or wheat. I'll admit, I'm a bit discouraged by this project. Time will help put it into perspective. I do know that there is much to learn with such a small gardening plot.

1 comment:

  1. I too grow things just to learn how, and want to try buckwheat. But it seems to take several seasons to get the hang of anything. And the second and third season go better, and are less annoying, and then something vaguely approaching mastery comes. Well, I hope it does. Anyway, I can save my offspring a few seasons of what-not-to-do. And your blog has saved me a season or two, thank you. Churchill is attributed as saying 'Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm'. I work in my small garden mumbling a TV show maxim: 'if you are not killing things in your garden, you are not trying hard enough’. Come to New Zealand, the farmers here are as keen as mustard and the younger ones have university degrees in agriculture.