The Growing Grain

Of feet and Grain: Most grains require much less care than does a vegetable patch. In fact, you shouldn't walk around in your grain field to weed or do anything else: feet are deadly to the tender grass grains once they get tall, past the "lawn" stage—unless they're planted in rows that you can walk between (and they usually aren't). Every step of man or beast in your closely planted, nearly ripe grain field wipes out part of the crop because the stalks are tall and very fragile and once bent over, they don't stand up again. Coping with Weeds: You have 4 options.

1. Plant buckwheat and amaranth. They are such fast growers that they are weedlike themselves and can race to maturity safely ahead of the competition.

2. Plant into a very thoroughly prepared field. Most grain fields are planted in a solid mass across the field, so they can't be cultivated or weeded once planted. So till as much as you can before and after your grain crop to keep weeds from getting a hold in the field. Do a good fall cultivation and another in the spring, as early as you can. Try to kill every weed seed that has germinated. Wait 2 weeks, or however long it takes, for the field to look greenish again. That color is evidence of another bunch of weed seeds that has now germinated. Cultivate again to kill all those new weed plants. If you got started early enough, you could give it yet another treatment; otherwise, go ahead and plant your grain. After that, your grain crop is on its own as far as competing with the weeds goes.

3. Pour on herbicides—chemicals that poison broadleaf plants but not grasses. Commercial grain, unless it's "organic," is raised using various chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Of course, that just selects for herbicide-resistant offspring of those weeds. I'd reject this option.

4. Weed grain that has been planted in rows. Corn and sometimes sorghum are usually planted in rows rather than in a mass. And you can plant any other grain that way using the Steve Solomon system. Steve advises: "Keep weeds thoroughly hoed between rows while plants are less than knee-high. Weedy fields are low-yielding and very difficult to harvest, and make it very difficult to obtain clean, pure grain. A couple of spring weedings will probably be sufficient. Twelve-inch row spacing just permits one to carefully walk in the patch. For weeding I've found possessing a diverse and well-sharpened hoe collection very helpful. Do not irrigate."

Grazing the Young Grain: The grass grains can be used as pasture early in the year if you let it grow at least a month first, so that the plants have a strong root system to come back from like a lawn does after it's mowed. After that first month of growing, you could let chickens, a few sheep, or a cow in there for the next month, if the ground isn't too muddy. Use good judgment to be careful not to let it be damaged. You have to decide how desperate for pasture, or for grain, you are. After a month of grazing, I wouldn't let any livestock in there but chickens. They'll eat some grain, but they have to be fed anyway so it comes out even. Of Watering Non-Row Grain Crops: You won't be able to water if you have densely planted stands, unless it rains, or you have flood irrigation as with the rices, or you put a huge sprinkler in place before the grain comes up so you don't trample it moving the sprinkler in and out. Or else you plant such a small patch of grain that you can water by sprinkling from outside the patch. Most grain is grown by depending on rain and learning to do a rain dance when needed. Or praying for something to fall from the sky. But not hail!

Continue reading here: Harvesting Grain

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