The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

June 28, 2017

Buckwheat controls weeds and helps honey bees

Filed under: Cover crops,Grain — Tags: , , — bob @ 6:23 am

I have an area in the garden that I will not be able to plant this year. Instead of letting it stay fallow and grow weeds, I planted buckwheat. It’s something I’ve done through the years whenever I’ve been unable to use an area for one reason or another.

Buckwheat is a fast growing plant that will out compete most weeds. Planting buckwheat allows me to place-hold that unused garden area while reducing weeds at the same time. It also takes up mineral nutrients from that soil that are unavailable to other plants. Those minerals are incorporated into the growing plant. Eventually, I’ll cut down the buckwheat and till it into the soil. As it decomposes, all those minerals will be released back into the soil in a form that other plants can use.

Buckwheat is not an actual wheat at all. Wheat is a type of cultivated grass, buckwheat on the other hand, is a broad-leaf plant.  While regular wheat forms inconspicuous flowers that are hidden, buckwheat grows a profusion of while flowers. Those flowers are very attractive to honeybees and other pollinators. The dark, strong flavored honey that results from buckwheat nectar is highly prized by some honey aficionados.

Many years ago when I first started beekeeping, that dark buckwheat honey was considered a low quality product. Now that has all changed and buckwheat honey is often sold at a premium.

Buckwheat seeds have a distinctive pyramid shape.

Buckwheat seeds have a distinctive pyramid shape.

Planting buckwheat is a simple process. Till the spot you’re planting, spread some seed over the area and lightly rake it into the soil. Figure on using a couple pounds of seed per thousand square feet. In a few days you’ll see the young buckwheat plants emerge from the soil. If after a week or so of growing, some of your planting looks a little thin, sow more seed to fill in the area. Buckwheat can cover a space up to ten inches in diameter but an open spot larger that a foot across will allow weeds to grow.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress the buckwheat makes through the growing season.


May 31, 2017

Boot stage is the time to till under rye cover crop

Filed under: Cover crops,Grain — Tags: , , , , — bob @ 8:01 am

The rye cover crop I planted last fall made tremendous growth this spring. The plan all along was to till it into the soil before planting a week or so before planting.

Timing is important when it comes to tilling under a cover crop like rye. The plants grew and entered the “boot stage” of growth, forming flower/seed heads inside the stalk. This is the ideal time to till rye into the soil. At that stage the plants are about 20-24 inches tall.


You can feel the flower/seed head forming inside the stalk during the boot stage.

I thought the garden was quite fertile, and it is, but the spots that received a little heavier application of compost last fall are much greener, taller and are developing seed heads earlier. It’s a good demonstration about the benefits of compost.

As you would expect, areas with more compost were taller and a deeper green color.

As you would expect, areas with more compost were taller and a deeper green color.

The plants were too tall for the rototiller to handle on its own. I had a couple of options, either kill the rye with an herbicide like Roundup, which is what most of the conventional farmers do, or mow it. Since I’m trying to keep it an organic garden, I mowed.

Twenty inches tall sounds like a lot for a mower to handle but rye is very tender and juicy in the boot stage — they are almost all water. If I had mowed it before the boot stage, the plants would have grown back just like a lawn. If I waited too much longer, the plants would have been tougher and drier as they begin to form seeds. That would have made it much more difficult to till and would leave too much coarse plant material in the soil. The chopped up rye dried and left a fine textured residue that was very easy to till.

Mowing stops the growth of rye

The stubble after mowing is about five inches tall. Notice, there are no weeds present.

Plant growth stage was not the only thing I was checking, I was looking at soil moisture too. All the rain we had last week left the soil temporarily saturated but it dried fairly quickly.  Tilling a garden that is too wet destroys its soil structure negating most of the benefits that a cover crop provides. The rye along with winter freezing and thawing improved the soil structure by forming loose aggregates of soil particles leaving plenty of space for roots to grow.

The winter rye residue was easily incorporated into the soil b y the rototiller

The winter rye residue was easily incorporated into the soil b y the rototiller

Another very visible advantage to this cover crop was the lack of weeds this spring. By this time the garden would have been full of all kinds of broad leaf weeds and grasses. Dandelions would have come and gone by now. The rye did its job and out-competed virtually all other plants giving me a head start over the weeds this year.





October 8, 2015

Time to plant cover crops in the garden

Filed under: Grain,Soil — bob @ 7:23 am

It’s not your imagination, the growing season is winding down early this year. The excessive rain and cooler than normal temperatures in our area have combined to make it a challenging season for many garden plants especially the warm weather crops like tomatoes or peppers.

Farmers are noticing it too. Many field crops never fully recovered from poor start of the season and are showing signs of maturing early. As a result there may be a reduction in yields as well.

Certain beds in my garden are already kaput. But there is a silver lining in that. It gives me a chance to plant a green manure crop, which I don’t often get to do.

The terms green manure and cover crop are basically synonymous. Green manure is a crop that will be turned over into the soil while still growing, a cover crop may or may not be turned into the soil right away.

Oats used for feeding livestock are fine for cover crop seed. Note the husks are still on the oats.

Oats used for feeding livestock are fine for cover crop seed. Note the husks are still on the oats.

These types of crops are great for recovering soil nutrients from the soil and holding them until next year’s planting season. Some soil nutrients such as nitrogen are easily washed down into the soil profile by fall rains or melting snow putting them out of reach of most garden plants. Much of that valuable garden nutrients that you worked so hard to build up could be lost.

Multiply the nutrients over hundreds of acres and you can see why farmers use cover crops to save money and protect the environment at the same time. Nutrients that stay in the field will not get washed into steams and rivers where they end up being a source of water pollution.

In other words, green manures effectively “mop up” nutrients and hold them in place until they are needed next year.

In a garden situation, the biomass that a green manure crop adds to the soil may be more valuable than the nutrients they conserve. You really can’t have too much organic material in garden soil.

A cover crop also provides a better habitat for soil microbes to flourish as opposed to bare soil.

Planting cover crops is a fairly advanced technique for home gardeners even though it is very effective for both vegetable and flower gardens.

If this is your first time planting cover crops, consider oats, yes the same plant that is harvested and used for making your breakfast cereal. They make a very effective cover crop.

This time of the years we are looking for a plant that will make quick growth and oats fit the bill. Even though they grow quickly, they should be planted very soon.

The other big advantage that oats have is that they will die over winter leaving a mulch on the soil surface that can be tilled in next spring. That also eliminates the possibility that they may become a weed in your garden. I’ve had winter wheat come up in the spring — seeds from straw mulch — and before I knew it they became a problem. Have you ever tried to pull up a well established clump of wheat? They’re pretty tough plants.

Planting oats is much like planting grass seed except the seed is much larger.

Sow oats at a rate of two or three pounds per 1000 square feet about an inch deep. Farmers use an implement called a seed drill to plant oats. The easiest method for a gardener is to broadcast the seed by hand, then till very shallowly with a tiller. Finish off by lightly pressing the area down so the seeds make good contact with the soil.

Farm supply stores sell oat seed however you may have to go online to buy small quantities.




October 9, 2013

Growing winter wheat in your garden

Filed under: Grain — bob @ 10:31 am

I’ve had people ask me if it is possible to grow their own wheat.

Actually you can grow wheat in small, garden-sized areas using the gardening tools you already have. In Michigan we grow soft winter wheat. So, what does that mean?

Wheat is classified into six general types — or classes: Hard red spring wheat is the type we see most often in the grocery store, it is ground into flour used to make bread; hard red winter wheat is made into all-purpose flour; soft red winter wheat is used for cake and pastry flour; soft white wheat is used pretty much like soft red winter wheat; hard white wheat is also used for some types of breads and is closely related to hard red wheat; durum wheat is used for making pasta.

Even if you don’t want to grow wheat to make into flour, it is still useful to grow in the garden. It makes an excellent over-winter cover crop that helps to scavenge minerals from the soil. Then, when you till in the plants,  those minerals are made available for next year’s crops.

Winter wheat grows thick roots that, along with the tops, add organic material to to garden. It also will keep annual weeds from growing in the spring until you are ready to till an area.

Farmers plant around two million wheat kernels per acre.

Right now is the optimum time to plant winter wheat in our area. Mid to late-September is called “the Hessian Fly free date”.

Hessian Fly is a serious pest in wheat that can drastically reduce wheat yields, although it is not as serious a problem now as it was in years past.

Wheat is fairly simple to grow in a garden. First, till an area as you would for planting vegetables or flowers. Then spread wheat seed evenly over the area by hand or with a seed spreader. For a 10 x 10 foot area use about a quarter pound of seed or a little more to allow for losses from birds or uneven planting.

Lightly roto-till the area so that the seeds are covered by an inch of soil. Finally, press down the seeded area with a lawn roller to make sure the wheat seed has good contact with the soil.

It won’t be long before the seed germinates and you’ll have a nice green stand of growing wheat.

Your amber waves of grain won’t be ready for harvest until the middle of next summer.


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