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PHOTO: Chris Samuel/Flickr
Buckwheat is widely known as one of your baking choices at the grocery store, but most gardeners don’t recognize the opportunity they have to grow it in their garden.
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is an easy, fast-growing, short-season crop that thrives in poor soil conditions. In addition, it is one of the best natural weed suppressors a gardener can utilize. With its large (up to 3 inch wide) leaves and blossoms, it creates a smothering effect on most weedy areas. On buckwheat plants, the blossoms are an almost legendary nectar source for bees, producing a dark, rich honey. All that said, buckwheat is certainly a grain any gardener can plant, enjoy visually and harvest. This can create some diversity in the garden away from the typical fruits and vegetables. It also lengthens your growing season.
How To Grow Buckwheat
While buckwheat is a quick growing and maturing crop, it doesn’t like hot, dry weather. You’ll want to avoid as much of the scorching summer heat as possible during the time the plant is in bloom. As a rule of thumb, plant buckwheat about 90 days before your first frost. This will ensure a full season for the crop to grow without putting added strain on the yield from the dog days of summer.
Broadcast buckwheat seeds and work them into the soil by lightly ranking the soil with a garden rake. Much to everyone’s joy, you should notice sprouts beginning to appear in just a few days and plants that will begin flowering in seven to 10 days.
Harvesting buckwheat can be fun for the whole family. Begin when the majority of the seeds have turned from green to dark brown. However, don’t wait until they’ve all turned brown so the plant will continue to produce pretty blossoms right up until the first frost, when all the plants will fall into a tangled mess on the ground.
To harvest, simply cut the stems near the ground with pruning shears. Carefully transfer the stalks to a sheet or tarp. Many seeds can be lost in this transition, so be careful when handling the stalks. At this point, let the kids beat the sheets with brooms and sticks to loosen the seeds. The seeds and chaff can then be transferred into a container.
Doing this transfer in front of a box fan will generally blow most of the chaff away (it may take more than one time). You are now ready to mill the seed in a burr mill or even a blender. The hulls of the seeds will have to be sifted from your ground flour.
At this point, I would suggest some buckwheat pancakes to celebrate. Whatever your use of this high-protein grain, it’s a crop you can use to diversify your garden and enjoy with your family.