How to grow buckwheat?

Contents

Buckwheat

BUCKWHEAT
Fagopyrum esculentum

Type: summer or cool-season annual broadleaf grain
Roles: quick soil cover, weed suppressor, nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects, topsoil loosener, rejuvenator for low-fertility soils
Mix with: sorghum-sudangrass hybrids, sunn hemp
See charts, pp. 66 to 72, for ranking and management summary. Buckwheat is the speedy short-season cover crop. It establishes, blooms and reaches maturity in just 70 to 90 days and its residue breaks down quickly. Buckwheat suppresses weeds and attracts beneficial insects and pollinators with its abundant blossoms. It is easy to kill, and reportedly extracts soil phosphorus from soil better than most grain-type cover crops.

Buckwheat thrives in cool, moist conditions but it is not frost tolerant. Even in the South, it is not grown as a winter annual. Buckwheat is not particularly drought tolerant, and readily wilts under hot, dry conditions. Its short growing season may allow it to avoid droughts, however.

BENEFITS

Quick cover. Few cover crops establish as rapidly and as easily as buckwheat. Its rounded pyramid- shaped seeds germinate in just three to five days. Leaves up to 3 inches wide can develop within two weeks to create a relatively dense, soil shading canopy. Buckwheat typically produces only 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre, but it does so quickly—in just six to eight weeks (257). Buckwheat residue also decomposes quickly, releasing nutrients to the next crop.

Weed suppressor. Buckwheat’s strong weed suppressing ability makes it ideal for smothering warm-season annual weeds. It’s also planted after intensive, weed-weakening tillage to crowd out perennials. A mix of tillage and successive dense seedings of buckwheat can effectively suppress Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, Russian knapweed and perennial peppergrass (257). While living buckwheat may have an allelopathic weed-suppressing effect (351), its primary impact on weeds is through shading and competition.

Phosphorus scavenger. Buckwheat takes up phosphorus and some minor nutrients (possibly including calcium) that are otherwise unavailable to crops, then releasing these nutrients to later crops as the residue breaks down. The roots of the plants produce mild acids that release nutrients from the soil. These acids also activate slow-releasing organic fertilizers, such as rock phosphate. Buckwheat’s dense, fibrous roots cluster in the top 10 inches of soil, providing an extensive root surface area for nutrient uptake.

Thrives in poor soils. Buckwheat performs better than cereal grains on low-fertility soils and soils with high levels of decaying organic matter. That’s why it was often the first crop planted on cleared land during the settlement of woodland areas and is still a good first crop for rejuvenating over-farmed soils. However, buckwheat does not do well in compacted, droughty or excessively wet soils.

Quick regrowth. Buckwheat will regrow after mowing if cut before it reaches 25 percent bloom. It also can be lightly tilled after the midpoint of its long flowering period to reseed a second crop. Some growers bring new land into production by raising three successive buckwheat crops this way.

Soil conditioner. Buckwheat’s abundant, fine roots leave topsoil loose and friable after only minimal tillage, making it a great mid-summer soil conditioner preceding fall crops in temperate areas.

Nectar source. Buckwheat’s shallow white blossoms attract beneficial insects that attack or parasitize aphids, mites and other pests. These beneficials include hover flies (Syrphidae), predatory wasps, minute pirate bugs, insidious flower bugs, tachinid flies and lady beetles. Flowering may start within three weeks of planting and continue for up to 10 weeks.

Nurse crop. Due to its quick, aggressive start, buckwheat is rarely used as a nurse crop, although it can be used anytime you want quick cover. It is sometimes used to protect late-fall plantings of slow-starting, winter-hardy legumes wherever freezing temperatures are sure to kill the buckwheat.

BUCKWHEAT
(Fagopyrum esculentum)

MANAGEMENT

Buckwheat prefers light to medium, well-drained soils—sandy loams, loams, and silt loams. It performs poorly on heavy, wet soils or soils with high levels of limestone. Buckwheat grows best in cool, moist conditions, but is not frost-tolerant. It is also not drought tolerant. Extreme afternoon heat will cause wilting, but plants bounce back overnight.

Establishment
Plant buckwheat after all danger of frost. In untilled, minimally tilled or clean-tilled soils, drill 50 to 60 lb./A at 1/2 to 11/2 inches deep in 6 to 8 inch rows. Use heavier rates for quicker canopy development. For a fast smother crop, broadcast up to 96 lb./A (2 bu./A) onto a firm seedbed and incorporate with a harrow, tine weeder, disk or field cultivator. Overall vigor is usually better in drilled seedings. As a nurse-crop for slow growing, winter annual legumes planted in late summer or fall, seed at one-quarter to one-third of the normal rate.

Buckwheat compensates for lower seeding rates by developing more branches per plant and more seeds per blossom. However, skimping too much on seed makes stands more vulnerable to early weed competition until the canopy fills in. Using cleaned, bin-run or even birdseed-grade seed can lower establishment costs, but increases the risk of weeds. As denser stands mature, stalks become spindly and are more likely to lodge from wind or heavy rain.

Rotations
Buckwheat is used most commonly as a mid-summer cover crop to suppress weeds and replace bare fallow. In the Northeast and Midwest, it is often planted after harvest of early vegetable crops, then followed by a fall vegetable, winter grain, or cool-season cover crop. Planted later, winterkilled residue provides decent soil cover and is easy to no-till into. In many areas, it can be planted following harvest of winter wheat or canola.

In parts of California, buckwheat grows and flowers between the killing of winter annual legume cover crops in spring and their re-establishment in fall. Some California vineyard managers seed 3-foot strips of buckwheat in row middles, alternating it and another summer cover crop, such as sorghum-sudangrass.

Buckwheat is sensitive to herbicide residues from previous crops, especially in no-till seedbeds. Residue from trifluralin and from triazine and sulfonylurea herbicides have damaged or killed buckwheat seedlings (79). When in doubt, sow and water a small test plot of the fast germinating seed to detect stunting or mortality.

Pest Management
Few pests or diseases bother buckwheat. Its most serious weed competitors are often small grains from preceding crops, which only add to the cover crop biomass. Other grass weeds can be a problem, especially in thin stands. Weeds also can increase after seed set and leaf drop. Diseases include a leaf spot caused by the fungus Ramularia and Rhizoctonia root rot.

Other Options
Plant buckwheat as an emergency cover crop to protect soil and suppress weeds when your main crop fails or cannot be planted in time due to unfavorable conditions.

To assure its role as habitat for beneficial insects, allow buckwheat to flower for at least 20 days—the time needed for minute pirate bugs to produce another generation.

Buckwheat can be double cropped for grain after harvesting early crops if planted by mid-July in northern states or by early August in the South. It requires a two-month period of relatively cool, moist conditions to prevent blasting of the blossoms. There is modest demand for organic and specially raised food-grade buckwheat in domestic and overseas markets. Exporters usually specify variety, so investigate before planting buckwheat for grain.

Management Cautions
Buckwheat can become a weed. Kill within 7 to 10 days after flowering begins, before the first seeds begin to harden and turn brown. Earliest maturing seed can shatter before plants finish blooming. Some seed may overwinter in milder regions.

Buckwheat can harbor insect pests including Lygus bugs, tarnished plant bugs and Pratylynchus penetrans root lesion nematodes (256).

COMPARATIVE NOTES

Buckwheat has only about half the root mass as a percent of total biomass as small grains (355). Its succulent stems break down quickly, leaving soils loose and vulnerable to erosion, particularly after tillage. Plant a soil-holding crop as soon as possible.
Buckwheat is nearly three times as effective as barley in extracting phosphorus, and more than 10 times more effective than rye—the poorest P scavenger of the cereal grains (355).
As a cash crop, buckwheat uses only half as much soil moisture as soybeans (299).

Seed sources. See Seed Suppliers.

Top | Oats

How To Grow Buckwheat: Learn About Buckwheat Uses In Gardens

Until fairly recently, many of us only knew of buckwheat from its use in buckwheat pancakes. Today’s sophisticated palates now know it for those delicious Asian buckwheat noodles and also realize its superior nutrition as a cereal grain. Buckwheat uses extend to those in gardens where buckwheat can be used as a cover crop. How then, to grow buckwheat in the home garden? Read on to learn more about the growth and care of buckwheat.

Buckwheat Growing

Buckwheat is one of the earliest crops cultivated in Asia, most likely in China 5,000-6,000 years ago. It spread throughout Asia to Europe and was then brought to the American colonies in the 1600s. Common on farms in the northeast and north central United States at that time, buckwheat was used as a livestock feed and as a milling flour.

Buckwheat is a broadleaf, herbaceous plant that flowers abundantly over the course of several weeks. The small, white blooms rapidly mature into triangular brown seeds about the size of soybean seeds. It is often referred to as a pseudo-cereal since it is utilized in much the same way cereal grains like oats are, but it is not a true cereal due to seed and plant type. The majority of buckwheat growing occurs in the United States occurs in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota and much of it is exported to Japan.,

How to Grow Buckwheat

Buckwheat cultivation is most suited to moist, cool climates. It is sensitive to temperature fluxes and can be killed off by a frost in the spring and fall while high temps affect blooms, and thus, seed formation.

This grain will tolerate a wide range of soil types and it has a higher tolerance to soil acidity than other grain crops. For optimal growth, buckwheat should be sown in medium textured soils like sandy loams, loams and silt loams. High levels of limestone or heavy, wet soils adversely affect buckwheat.

Buckwheat will germinate at temps ranging from 45-105 F. (7-40 C.). Days to emergence are between three to five days depending upon planting depth, temperature and moisture. Seeds should be set 1-2 inches in narrow rows so a good canopy will be established. Seeds can be set with a grain drill, or if planting for a cover crop, simply broadcast. The grain will grow rapidly and reach a height of 2-4 feet. It has a shallow root system and is intolerant of drought, so care of buckwheat entails keeping it moist.

Buckwheat Uses in Gardens

As mentioned, buckwheat crops are used primarily as a food source but they have other uses as well. This grain has been used as a substitute for other grains when feeding livestock. It is generally mixed with corn, oats or barley. Buckwheat is sometimes planted as a honey crop. It has a long blooming period, available later in the growing season when other nectar sources are no longer viable.

Buckwheat is sometimes used as a smother crop because it germinates rapidly and the dense canopy shades the ground and smothers most weeds. Buckwheat is found in many commercial bird foods and is planted to provide food and cover for wildlife. The hulls from this grain have no food value, but they are used in soil mulch, poultry litter, and in Japan, for stuffing pillows.

Lastly, buckwheat uses in gardens extend to cover crops and green manure crops. Both are much the same. A crop, in this case, buckwheat is planted to prevent soil erosion, aid in water retention, squelch weed growth and enrich the soil composition. A green manure is tilled under while the plant is still green and begins its decomposition process at that time.

Using buckwheat as a cover crop is an excellent choice. It won’t overwinter, making it easier to work with in the spring. It grows rapidly and creates a canopy that will smother weeds. When plowed under, the decaying matter significantly raises the nitrogen content for successive crops and also improves the moisture holding capacity of the soil.

Restrictions on Buckwheat Use in Cover Crop Mixes Near Commodity Wheat

On March 16, the USDA-NRCS released an eBulletin stating that NRCS will not recommend buckwheat in cover crop plantings in areas in rotation with or adjacent to commodity wheat production that will be planted to wheat within the next 2 calendar years after planting buckwheat. This is because of the potential for buckwheat seed to contaminate the wheat crop and the health risks that it potentially poses. This decision has been taken as a result of a request by some U.S. wheat grower associations and their concerns about Japanese markets.

The NRCS bulletin, NB 190-16-8 ECS, is as follows:

Exclusion of Buckwheat in Conservation Plantings in or Near Commodity Wheat Fields in Selected West and Central States

Purpose. To explain potential health risks of buckwheat allergies in some Asian countries and provide guidance for excluding buckwheat in conservation plantings in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming and reducing contamination in wheat exports to Japan and other Asian countries.

Expiration Date. September 30, 2017

Background. Farmers in the United States grow buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) as a grain crop but also as a cover crop to improve soil health and, in pollinator habitat seed mixes, to support bees and other pollinators. The Pacific Northwest exports much of its wheat crop to Asia, including Japan. In recent years, Japanese buyers have found low levels of buckwheat in their wheat shipments from the United States. Japan is concerned with buckwheat contamination in wheat shipments. They require listing of the presence of buckwheat as an allergen on food products. Japanese have a higher level of sensitivity to buckwheat allergies, causing issues analogous to peanut allergies in the United States.

U.S. wheat grower associations are working to eliminate buckwheat contamination in wheat shipments to Japan. Their efforts are critical due to the potential health risk the buckwheat presents to those with an allergy, and buckwheat contamination in wheat shipments to Japan could have significant economic impacts. Grain and wheat associations are working diligently to educate producers who grow buckwheat as a grain crop. They have asked NRCS to assist with buckwheat used in conservation programs.

The wheat export stream through Pacific Northwest terminals to Japan comes from many wheat-producing States, including Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming. Some of these export to Japan only when economic conditions are conducive.

NRCS recommends buckwheat as a cover crop throughout much of the United States. Buckwheat is a warm-season annual that can mature in less than 60 days, and is useful in rotations with cool-season crops. Buckwheat is highly attractive to a number of pollinator species including honey bees and native bees. Both traditional and organic producers use buckwheat.

Explanation. NRCS State offices in Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming must update their seeding recommendations to exclude buckwheat in conservation plantings around wheat crops as follows:

  • NRCS will not recommend buckwheat in conservation plantings in areas in rotation with or adjacent to commodity wheat production that will be planted to wheat within the next 2 calendar years after planting buckwheat because of the potential for buckwheat seed to contaminate the wheat crop, and the health risks that potentially poses. “Adjacent” is designated as within 30 feet of a wheat field. Although the general recommendation is to not plant wheat for 1 year after growing buckwheat, NRCS will be more conservative and require 2 calendar years.
  • Each State must update their conservation practice specifications (i.e., seeding recommendations and implementation guides) to permanently reflect this exclusion of using buckwheat around commodity wheat fields. This update includes, but is not limited to, the following conservation activities:
    • Use of buckwheat must be excluded from cover crops plantings in rotation or adjacent to fields with wheat production or abstain from growing wheat as a commodity for 2 calendar years after planting buckwheat.
    • Use of buckwheat must be excluded from pollinator plantings in rotation with or adjacent to fields currently planted or that will be planted to commodity wheat within the next 2 calendar years.
    • The use of buckwheat in conservation plantings in these States is still permitted in fields or areas that are not used for commodity wheat production.
  • Each State must ensure that conservation planners are aware of this issue and the guidance and criteria for buckwheat exclusion.

Actions must be completed prior to 2016 planting season for buckwheat.

Contact. Questions regarding this bulletin should be directed to John Englert, National Program Leader-Plant Materials, Ecological Sciences Division, at [email protected]

Planting buckwheat has been surprisingly good at creating lots of unexpected benefits in my vegetable garden. PLUS, growing buckwheat plants is super easy.

Be sure to check out this handy guide on watering vegetables the right way.

When a farmer I know mentioned a couple of years ago that he uses buckwheat plants alongside his crops, I was intrigued. I peppered him with lots of questions. I’d never heard of this tactic, one he claimed would help deter pests.

So of course, I decided I had to grow buckwheat. Let me tell you: It’s been awhile since I’ve tried something completely new and had it work so well.

What is buckwheat, anyway?

It’s not considered a grain — grains come from grasses. Sometimes it’s called a pseudo-cereal. Poor buckwheat has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s a starchy seed harvested from a flowering plant. Buckwheat is not a low-carb option, even though it’s technically grain-free.

Is buckwheat gluten free?

Yes. Buckwheat is naturally gluten free, despite the fact that it has ‘wheat’ in its name. Buckwheat and wheat are from two different botanical families. Believe it or not, buckwheat is related to rhubarb!

When to plant buckwheat

Buckwheat prefers moderate temperatures and does well in 70-degree weather. When to plant buckwheat in your garden will depend a bit on your local conditions. Planting buckwheat in the spring and fall will provide the conditions it likes, as well as providing some benefits for your newly planted seedlings.

We don’t have hot, harsh summers like many gardeners do, so I’ve had luck starting it any time between March and November.

If, like me, you want buckwheat to grow between your garden veggies to help deter pests and hold down weeds (see below) allow the veggie seedlings to get a couple of inches high before scattering the buckwheat seeds.

How to plant buckwheat seeds

Buckwheat seeds are dark brown, kind of triangular seeds, about an 1/8′ across. I purchase mine at the health food store in their bulk section.

You don’t need to manually plant buckwheat seeds in rows or holes or whatnot. I simply scatter buckwheat over a raked, weed-free bed; it won’t outcompete aggressive weeds. Maintain steady moisture, watering a couple of times a day if necessary to keep the seeds damp.

Germination will happen in the first week, with round leaves emerging from the soil. Note that buckwheat seeds can be grown and harvested as microgreens, too!

Buckwheat cycles through its growth process quickly, going from seed to flower in six weeks, ending its life cycle by producing more seeds in just 13 weeks.

9 Good reasons to plant buckwheat in your garden

Now that you know more about buckwheat, here are nine good reasons planting buckwheat in your garden makes good sense!

1. Planting buckwheat deters pests

Scattered alongside newly sprouted vegetable seeds or starts, the buckwheat seeds quickly take root, reaching its 12-15″ height in just a couple of weeks.

Flying pests find it difficult to maneuver through the lush growth of the buckwheat plants to reach their intended target. What this has meant in my garden is that cabbage moths can’t lay eggs on my kale plants (image below), giving them a chance to really get established before they outgrow the buckwheat. I’m hoping that similar holds true as my summer squash starts to bloom.

If I can prevent the night-flying moths that produce pickleworms from reaching the flowers, I might just have a shot at growing cucumbers and melons, too.

2. Growing buckwheat plants to attract beneficial insects

Honeybees have become a rare enough site that spotting one calls for excitement.

Since my buckwheat started blooming, honeybees appear in multiples alongside hover flies and other pollinators. And while they’re here enjoying the plentiful flowers, you know they’re helping to pollinate my veggies, too.

Related:

  • Natural Weed Control – 11 Ways to Kill Weeds Without Poison
  • Perennial Vegetables and Fruits: Plant Once, Harvest for Years
  • Grow Your Own Food: Vegetable Planting Guide

3. It makes great animal fodder

If it looks like some of my plants are too shaded by the 12″ tall plants, I clip some to allow a bit more sunlight in. Those clippings go straight to the chickens — they love the greens!

4. Buckwheat is edible

In and of itself, it can be a crop for gardeners who have the patience to process it. Ripe buckwheat seeds easily fall off the plant. Once the chaff is removed, use a grain mill to turn the seeds into flour. If you don’t want to mill the buckwheat into flour, you can grow buckwheat microgreens.

5. Buckwheat reseeds itself

If you’re organized about it, you can collect the seeds to control where it pops up next. If you’re a little more casual about things, like I am, you can let Mother Nature do her thing and just let the seeds fall.

To get started, you can buy basic cover crop seed or—if you’re planning to harvest a crop—choose an heirloom variety of buckwheat seeds for better taste.

6. Growing buckwheat plants as a green manure crop

If you want to juice up your soil a bit, scatter seeds on a fallow garden bed or planting area. When it’s about a foot high, use the “chop and drop” method or till it in.

It’s also great at extracting phosphorus from insoluble sources, so planting buckwheat helps to improve the soil.

7. Buckwheat keeps weeds at bay

It grows so quickly that the plants shade out many weeds before they have a chance to take hold. Growing buckwheat plants helps with weed control!

8. Buckwheat seeds are handy little buggers

You can dry the seeds you harvest and use them as filling for a traditional Japanese pillow, an aromatherapy eye pillow, or a homemade heating pad.

9. Grow buckwheat simply because it’s pretty

Even if it didn’t deter pests or help build soil or feed my chickens, I’d plant it. The soft green is a beautiful way to fill in bare areas.

Health-food crop extends rotation options

Harvested buckwheat ready for milling into buckwheat flour.

Cool-climate grain growers in southern Victoria may soon be adding buckwheat to their increasingly diverse cropping programs following successful trials and strong interest from the Japanese market

Buckwheat by name

Despite its name, buckwheat is not a cereal but a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. It is growing in popularity as a health food for people sensitive to wheat or other grains containing protein glutens. Buckwheat’s grain-like seeds are rich in complex carbohydrates. Russia and China are the largest producers. In 2016 buyers in the US were paying up to US$605 (A$791) per tonne for conventional and US$695/t (A$909) for certified-organic buckwheat.

Buckwheat could become a high-rainfall crop option in southern Australia following interest in new sourcing opportunities by Japanese markets.

Early interest is in the Gippsland region of Victoria because the crop performs well in highland or coastal areas with a distinct contrast between day and night temperatures, and where successive hot days are uncommon.

In late 2015, Southern Farming Systems (SFS) was contacted by a commercial gluten-free-foods manufacturer to facilitate trial sowing by growers.

“We had 2.5 tonnes of seed available for trials, ideally to be grown on the back of fallow, pasture or canola crops, to reduce the incidence of volunteer cereals,” Janice Dowe, SFS Gippsland branch coordinator, says.

Ms Dowe says the first trial sowing indicates buckwheat could be a promising addition to cereal, pulse and pasture rotations – following faba beans, canola or pasture, and harvested in time for following crops to be sown on about 25 April.

“We believe it would be a good crop to have in the toolbox to fit within a break crop rotation, particularly if the window between crops is shorter than usual. For example, sow November, harvest March and follow with a winter cereal. It can also help dry the soil moisture profile, if necessary.”

Ms Dowe says the trial crops indicated soil-moisture content in the seed is an issue but desiccation can mitigate this.

One of the trial sites was at Millring Pastoral, where Rowan Paulet direct-drilled an 18-hectare irrigated crop on a block at Traralgon.

He sowed it in the first week of January, at a rate of 50 kilograms per hectare with 80kg monoammonium phosphate (MAP), into Italian ryegrass pasture, previously cut as silage, and sprayed Roundup® pre-sowing.

“We planted it into a pasture paddock as we needed to guarantee no prior cereal crop because the buckwheat was for a gluten-free cereal processor,” Rowan says.

Irrigation was weekly from January to April, but varied depending on summer rainfall and temperature. Windrowing was done during the week of 23 March. The crop was harvested on 22 April.

“We followed harvest with 100 cows grazing on stubbles for a week, then sprayed and direct-drilled with Italian ryegrass,” Rowan says.

He sees it working well as part of a year-round crop rotation.

The latest trials follow initial research in the early 2000s by agronomist Chris Bluett, which languished after the millennium drought.

Mr Bluett says it is exciting that the crop is back on the agenda, with growers in Gippsland and Geelong keen to add it to their programs.

He says buckwheat grown in this region has strong buyer interest from Japan because Japanese quality requirements demand a very specific environment as moisture content and kernel colour are crucial.

He says south-eastern and southern Victoria look to be among the best places in the world to grow the crop.

Buckwheat is a triangular-shaped seed with a brown to black seed coat that comes away to reveal a similar-shaped starchy kernel. At optimum moisture content, kernels are a pale translucent-green colour.

Mr Bluett says that it is easy to sight-check moisture levels: as buckwheat seed matures, the moisture content drops and the kernel colour changes from green through pale orange to a deep, rusty red.

He believes its best use in southern-Australian cropping systems is as a break crop or as a cover crop as part of mixed grazing/cropping/livestock rotations because it tolerates a wide range of soil types, fertility and pH levels.

Buckwheat will tolerate more soil acidity than most crops. US experience shows it will produce reasonably well at a pH of 5.4 to 6 if adequate phosphorus is provided.

“But it doesn’t like hot weather, which rules out traditional cereal-growing areas,” he says.

Mr Bluett says phosphorus applied at sowing is recommended, but nitrogen is rarely needed, unless soil fertility is particularly low.

Overseas markets have traditionally not favoured buckwheat growing in Australia because of the crop’s ready availability in Asia, but Mr Bluett says perceptions are changing, with Australian production seen as healthier and of higher quality.

“We can grow a better product here but it would also need to be marketed as such.”

SFS is trialling crops in the Ballarat district this summer.

More information:

Chris Bluett, HRZ Consulting,
0409 336 113,

[email protected];

Janice Dowe, SFS Gippsland,
0488 600 209,
[email protected];

Rowan Paulet,
0427 924 435,

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Region South

Buckwheat • Quick & Easy Summer Insectary/Smother Crop

Field of buckwheat in Albion, Maine, in August Notes Eero Ruuttila, former Farm Manager for Johnny’s, “Buckwheat is a great set-up crop for prepping soil prior to planting late-July or early-August, fall carrots.”

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is one of the easiest and quickest, summertime cover crop options, used primarily to suppress weeds and improve soil tilth, but simultaneously to help break up disease cycles and provide habitat for beneficial organisms. It is a warm-weather species that can be slotted in between spring and fall vegetables. Notes Eero Ruuttila, Farm Manager for Johnny’s, now retired, “Buckwheat is a great set-up crop for prepping soil prior to planting late-July or early-August, fall carrots.” It can also be useful when preparing new ground: when planted on newly prepared sod ground, buckwheat will help rot down the sod, for vegetable, flower, or berry production in fall or the following year.

Buckwheat forms attractive stands of plants, 2′ to 4′ in height, with triangular leaves and flowers of white, pink, or red. When grown as a cover crop, buckwheat can be planted as soon the soil is warm enough for seed germination, at least 55°F/12.8°C. It will germinate within days and begin to flower in about 4 weeks, proving an excellent source of nectar for honeybees and native pollinators as well as serving as a good thrip trap crop.

Seed (“groats”) matures 2 to 3 weeks after flowering and, if left in the field, provides a food source for ground-dwelling birds such as quail and pheasant. Buckwheat will be killed by light frost. It does not provide nitrogen (N); nor does it increase soil organic matter significantly, but it does accumulate some phosphorus (P), and it will improve the soil condition within the top few inches, to the benefit of subsequently direct-seeded or transplanted vegetable, flower, or fruit crops.

The key to using buckwheat for weed control is to provide the optimum conditions for getting it up and growing ahead of weeds. Here are some tips for achieving a strong stand and managing it for improved vegetable production in the future:

Buckwheat in flower at Johnny’s Research Farm According to Ruuttila, “Buckwheat will host many beneficial insects, including several species of predatory wasps.” Its flowers are also an excellent source of nectar for honeybees and native pollinators. It is additionally reported to function well as a trap crop for thrips.

  • Before planting buckwheat, till in any weeds or plants from a previous crop. Wait 1 week for the debris to decompose sufficiently, in order for the buckwheat seed to germinate. Break up big clumps of soil, and create the finest seedbed possible.
  • Let the soil warm up, and if conditions have been wet, allow it to dry out. Buckwheat seed rots easily in cold, wet soil. If the soil is extremely dry, however, irrigate to a depth of 1″ before planting. Notes Eero Ruuttila, “It’s important for the soil to be warm, so late May or early June are good seed dates here in the Northeast. Adequate moisture is important for good germination, and light covering by shallow harrowing.”
  • For best germination, buckwheat seed should be barely covered with soil. Do not plant too deeply, but do not leave the seed exposed on the soil surface, either. Ruuttila suggests “utilizing a cultipacker… to seal in moisture and provide good seed-to-soil contact.”
  • Buckwheat seed can be hand-broadcast at a rate of 60 pounds per acre, provided that care is taken to spread it evenly. Or, it can be drilled to a depth of less than 1 inch at a rate of 50 pounds per acre. If there is heavy weed pressure, however, or your preference is for thick buckwheat stands with minimal to no gaps, you may want to increase the rate. Ruuttila notes he “usually seeded at a heavier rate… 80 pounds per acre or more.”
  • As the seed germinates, check for gaps in the stand, and reseed any bare spots wider than 1′ in diameter. If weeds are allowed to grow in these empty areas, they will produce seeds that continue the weed cycle, and the benefits of the buckwheat will be reduced.
  • The plants should start to flower about 4 to 6 weeks after seeding. If the land is needed for a fall crop, mow the buckwheat before the seeds mature. If the land will not be needed until the following year, the buckwheat can be left to reseed, and a second crop can be grown in the same season. Buckwheat will not overwinter, however, so it should be mowed and replaced with a winter cover crop in late summer or fall.

Learn More

For growers in the Northeast, Eero Ruuttila recommends Marianne Sarrantonio’s Northeast Cover Crop Handbook, published by Rodale Press.

Good resources from other regions around the country include the following:

  • Buckwheat for Cover Cropping in Organic Farming• USDA NIFA eXtension
  • Buckwheat Cover Crop Handbook • Cornell University
  • Buckwheat Makes a Good Summer Cover Crop for Gardens • OR State University Extension Service
  • Cover Crop Database: Summary of Buckwheat • University of CA Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Buckwheat makes a good summer cover crop for gardens

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Need a summer cover crop to add nutrients to your garden’s soil? Try planting buckwheat.

“This crop provides many benefits for the home gardener,” said Clare Sullivan, a field crops expert for the Linn, Benton, and Polk county offices of the Oregon State University Extension Service.

“The fast growth and dense canopy smothers annual weeds, protects the soil from erosion, and helps conserve soil moisture,” Sullivan said. “The abundance of blossoms attracts pollinators and beneficial insects, and in a pinch, buckwheat can be added to a bouquet.”

Buckwheat’s many fine roots help loosen the topsoil. The roots are also efficient at accessing phosphorus within the soil, which is then stored in the plant’s tissues. When buckwheat residues are returned to the soil, the phosphorus becomes available for the next crop.

Its fast growth makes it ideal for planting in places that might be left bare over summer, such as spare garden beds whose spring crops are harvested or whose fall crops have yet to be planted. So plant buckwheat in the spring to early summer, at a time when your garden area will be empty for six to seven weeks. Buckwheat prefers moist, well-drained soils. It also tolerates those with low fertility and decaying organic matter. It will not do well in too much shade or drought, or in compacted or saturated soils, Sullivan said.

Bed preparation for planting depends on the condition of the garden. It can be seeded directly into a clean bed or you can gently till the soil and wait about a week for organic material to decompose before seeding. Ensure the bed has been watered ahead of time and then scatter the seed over it at a rate of about 1 pound per 500 square feet of garden space— or about 3 ounces per 100 square feet—and then rake and water the seed in.

Because of the large seed size and shape, buckwheat can germinate within days of planting, especially if the soil is warmer than 55 degrees. Although buckwheat does not require much water, plants will wilt on hot summer afternoons but bounce back overnight.

Buckwheat reaches flowering stage at about 2 to 4 feet high after a month or so. It continues to flower for several weeks and sets seed 2 to 3 weeks after flowering has started. Mow or cut down buckwheat within a week and a half of the first flowering to avoid setting seed.

“If buckwheat is mowed too late, it can become a weed in the following crop. You want to make sure to cut down the plants before the first seeds mature—before they start to turn brown and harden,” said Sullivan, who added that buckwheat is easy to kill and is sensitive to frost, so it will die over winter.

After mowing or cutting, the buckwheat residue can either be left on the surface or turned into the soil, depending on your goal. Mulch left on the surface will decompose and release nutrients more slowly, help maintain soil stability, and help suppress weeds, Sullivan said. Residue that is turned into the soil will decompose and release nutrients more quickly, but tillage can also break up the stable soil aggregates you have created, she said.

If transplanting seedlings, try leaving the mulch on the surface. If seeding, you likely want an even seedbed that comes with tillage, Sullivan added. If tilling the buckwheat into the soil, wait about two to three weeks before planting your next crop, as nutrients will be less available during this time of decomposition.

Buckwheat seed can be purchased from farm supply stores, garden centers, seed company websites and mail-order catalogs.

Buckwheat Seed For Cover Crops & Green Manure

BUCKWHEAT:
Summer annual which can be used as a green manure crop. An early maturing wheat suitable for almost any type soil. Seeds remain on stalk after ripening, providing food over extended period of time. Buckwheat has a short growing season, maturing in 10 to 12 weeks. It is quickly killed by frost. It is a short-season cash crop with properties that can make it fit specific situations on your farm. While it is unlikely to be your main crop, it can be a worthwhile part of your overall farm plan.

Reasons to grow buckwheat:

  • Fits into rotations at a time when fields might otherwise be idle.
  • Can be grown as a catch crop where another crop failed.
  • Inexpensive to grow because it requires no pesticides and little fertilizer.
  • Can be grown with equipment available on most farms.
  • Requires little attention during the growing season.
  • Mellows the soil and suppresses some weeds.
  • Easily raised Organically, at a premium price.

For more information from Cornell University: Buckwheat

Plant in spring or summer after all danger of frost is past. Buckwheat matures in about 10-12 weeks after germination. Plant depth 1″ or less.

SEEDING RATE: 40 to 50 lbs per acre or 3 lbs per 1,000 square feet

Buckwheat plant was domesticated in northwestern China 3,000 years ago, Now becomes one of the Chinese favorite teas.

Over time, its cultivation was gradually spread across Russia and northern Europe and eventually came to the US as well. If you have decided to plant this fantastic plant in your garden, I have a few useful tips which will help you for sure.

Basic Data about Buckwheat Plant

Buckwheat plant (Fagopyrum esculentum) is an annual broadleaf pseudo-cereal and can grow equally during summer and cold season. It covers the soil very quickly and can produce up to three tons of dry plant material per one acre (4000 m2) in just two months.

Even though this crop thrives in cold and moist conditions, you can’t expect it survive sharp frost. Also, buckwheat is not particularly tolerant of hot, dry conditions and drought.

There are very few varieties of this grain in the US. Usually, you can see ‘common’ buckwheat, Canadian grown Mancan, and Canadian grown Manor. The original US type of buckwheat is Winsor Royal, but you can also find some commercial varieties such as Koto, Keukett, and Manisoba.

13 Reasons You Need Buckwheat Plant in Your Garden

  • It is edible– Ripe seeds of this plant easily fall off. After removing the chaff, you can make flour of its seeds by using a grain mill. On the other hand, you can always grow it as micro-greens.
  • It is a source of valuable nutrients– The great advantage of this type of flour is that it is entirely gluten-free, and has a lot of minerals and antioxidants. Thanks to a high concentration of amino acids, this plant is an excellent source of proteins.
  • It attracts beneficial insects – By attracting honeybees and other pollinators, buckwheat will help to pollinate your veggies and flowers. In fact, this plant has a great symbiotic relationship with these beneficial insects. On the one hand, buckwheat flowers need bees as pollinators. On the other hand, its flowers provide insects with nectar which will help bees produce flavored buckwheat-honey.
  • It supports smaller beneficial insects – Blooming buckwheat will help various beneficial insects, including hoverflies (Syrphid flies), lady beetles, insidious flower bugs, predatory wasps, tachinid flies, and minute pirate bugs. By providing food for females of these predators of aphids, buckwheat will deter pests far away from your potato, green beans, and broccoli.
  • It is excellent animal fodder– Its clippings can be a favorite food for your chickens!
  • It destroys weeds– Use it as an excellent method of weed control! The principle is simple. Buckwheat grows quickly and makes enough shade. That way it prevents the growth of most weeds. Plus, all compounds left in the soil after pulling out this plant, will suppress the germination of weed seeds by acting as a natural herbicide. You can count on buckwheat to effectively suppress sow-thistle, Canada thistle, leafy spurge, creeping jenny, quack-grass, perennial peppergrass, and Russian knapweed.
  • It deters pests– If you scatter buckwheat seeds alongside sprouted seeds of various vegetable, it will take root very quickly and reach the height of 12 to 15 inches (30.5 – 38 cm) in just a couple of weeks. That way, this valuable plant will protect your flowers and veggies from flying pests which find it difficult to pass through its lush growth.
  • It can be grown as a green manure crop– The only thing you need to do is to scatter seeds on a planting area or even fallow garden bed. Chop its green parts, add them to your compost pile, and let it enrich your soil as a natural fertilizer.
  • It is a soil conditioner– Abundant roots of buckwheat will make topsoil as loose as most of the useful plants need.
  • It improves soil– If you add calcium and phosphorous to the ground in your garden regularly, it can become enriched with these minerals, but plants have difficulties in taking them up. Buckwheat works as a so-called ‘phosphorus pump’ because it takes phosphorus from the soil and transforms it. When the mineral returns to the ground, it is plant-friendly, and your plants can use them.
  • Its seeds are useful– You can use dried seeds to fill your traditional Japanese pillow. It can also be used as an excellent homemade heating pad or an aromatherapy eye pillow.
  • It will reseed itself– You can choose to collect the seeds and control where it will grow the next season or let it fall wherever. The great thing is that you will spot new plants next year without making any effort.
  • It can be used as a cover crop– It is green and soft, and you can use this plant to fill every open area in your garden which is too poor for other crops or veggies.

Buckwheat plant

Botanical name Fagopyrum esculentum
Crop rotation group Miscellaneous
Soil requirement The perfect place for it is every sunny site in your garden with good drainage
Position Sunny space with partial afternoon shade
Frost tolerance It won’t tolerate low temperatures and frost
Feeding Mix an organic fertilizer before planting to help the plant improving inferior soil
Best companions It mixes best with Kale and Brussels Sprouts by making an attractive backdrop for these flowers
Spacing
  • Single Plants require at least 4 inches (10 cm) of space in all directions
  • Rows need at least 4 inches (10 cm) with 4 inches (10 cm) row gap
Sow and plant Sow plants from late spring to late summer into cultivated soil. The seeds should be sown approximately 2 inches (5 cm) apart and 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) deep. If you want to limit their reseeding, turn those parts under the plant between blooming and developing mature seeds
Harvesting You can harvest it at any time. Use it as composted or as food five to six weeks after seeding

How to Sow Buckwheat?

1. Best regions for growing buckwheat plants

Keep in mind that this quick-blooming plant doesn’t like hot and too dry weather conditions. In fact, you can produce it commercially only if you live in the northern states.

The reason is that high temperatures, especially at night, will reduce yields because increased heat causes ‘blasting’ of flowers when plants have a long period of blooming, and their blossoms fall off before forming seeds.

2. Seedbed preparation

Since this plant has a high-quality root system, timely preparation of a good seedbed is always an excellent investment.

Pick out firm seedbed to obtain uniform plants with a desirable percentage of essential nutrients. You want your buckwheat to grow rapidly as well as to reduce any damages caused by drought.

3. Select the Adequate Site

To achieve the best growth of your buckwheat plants, you should choose the soil which is not either too compacted or too sandy.

Experts say that you should avoid planting buckwheat at a field immediately after wheat harvesting, especially if you harvested this plant under wet conditions. Otherwise, you will have compaction problems with your new plants.

Moreover, planting buckwheat in compacted tire tracks is not a wise idea. If you do that, you will probably get plants stunted in growth.

4. Prepare the Soil

The excellent news is that you can sow buckwheat at low fertile soils such as loams, sandy loams, and silt loams. Surprisingly, your plants will have a lot of benefits if you choose the ground with a modest level of nitrogen.

When you decide to pick out an old pasture or empty field which has not been cultivated for years, you should start with deep plowing a couple of weeks before sowing. That way, you will improve the physical condition of the soil, destroy weeds, and retain the necessary level of moisture.

However, avoid sowing while the soil is wet since it can be too hard for new seeds. Buckwheat plants can tolerate moist soils to a certain level, but it prefers the well-drained ground. Also, it is noticed that it grows poorly on the land with too much limestone.

If you grow small grain or a cultivated crop at that field during the previous year, it will be enough to harrow the place. In any other case, you will need to plow the field. One more thing! Don’t forget to finish plowing and disking your garden by the end of June to retain necessary soil moisture.

5. Fertilizing

Your buckwheat will be tolerant of acidic conditions. Avoid using soluble nitrogen fertilizers since they can cause the growth of vegetative parts of the plants instead of seeds’ growth.

You can always add your own compost high in nutrients you got by the breakdown of organic materials. You won’t make a mistake if using compost made of winter cover crops ingredients such as rye and hairy vetch. They will maintain the fertility of the soil you plan to grow buckwheat on.

6. Rotations

Except for consuming, most gardeners sow buckwheat as a mid-summer cover crop to suppress excessive growth of weeds. If you plant it in late fall, it will kill all residue at the surface of the soil and provide soil cover.

7. Sowing

Since it is a fast-growing plant, you can begin planting it in late spring or during summer. If you start planting in spring, your plants will grow taller than those sowed later.

Always start sowing buckwheat after danger of frost passes. If you manage to avoid severe frost, you can expect it matures quickly. First flowers will show approximately a month after you sow seeds, and production of grain will start in two months on average.

To avoid high temperatures during the period when the seeds form, you should plant buckwheat as late as possible. That means that you should sow it at the last week of June if you live in northeastern states of the US, or later if living on the south.

In the average, you should sow 40 to 55 pounds (18 – 25 kg) of your buckwheat per acre. The rate can be lower if you have high-quality land or if the soil is too wet and cold. The same situation is when you poorly prepare the ground for sowing.

8. Where to purchase seeds

You can probably find quality buckwheat seeds in your local store. Some companies specialized for selling cover crop seeds are the cheapest source of seeds. Look for one of them at the Net. However, don’t try to sow toasted buckwheat grows you use for breakfast. Believe me; they won’t sprout, no matter what.

9. Plant establishment

One of the most significant advantages of sowing buckwheat is that this plant can compensate for lower seeding rates. In such a case, you can expect every plant develops more branches, and you will find more seeds per single blossom.

However, if you add too many seeds in one hole, your plants will become vulnerable to weeds until their canopies start filling in. Also, if stalks are too denser, they can become spindly and sensitive to wind blows and heavy rain.

10. Pest management

In general, buckwheat is highly resistant to pests and plant diseases. The residue of grass weeds, pigweed, and lambs quarters can cause some problems. Also, leaves of this crop are sensitive to diseases which cause fungi Ramularia and Rhizoctonia.

11. Harvesting

I really adore the fact that buckwheat blooms indeterminately. That means that you can expect to see flowers, ripe and unripe seeds at the same time until very late in the season.

When you spot that approximately 75% of the seeds are dark brown, you should cut their stems near the surface of the ground. Keep in mind that harvesting needs to start before the first frost. Otherwise, plant’s foliage will collapse, seeds will fall off the plant, and you will lose most of it.

To get mature seeds, you should lay plants on a sheet and beat them a few times with a stick while turning them over. Collect the separated seeds and chaff, and put them into a container. The best way to clean seeds is to put them in front of a window fan turned on at the highest possible speed. Use remained stalks as excellent organic mulch.

How to Grow Buckwheat

If that’s the best you can find, go with it. But there are a few certified varieties available in states with commercial buckwheat growers. For example, the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association supervises production of Mancan and Giant American seed. Your local county extension agent might be able to connect you with a source of these seeds.

How We Grow Buckwheat

In most areas, the best time to sow buckwheat is about three months before the first expected killing frost: The idea is to plant as late as possible to avoid high temperatures during much of the period of seed formation. Most northeastern growers, then, would sow during the last week of June, while southerners would plant a bit later. In a pinch, you can sow as late as two months before the first expected frost and still expect some yield.

Buckwheat does not need very finely worked soil, although numerous studies have shown that early seedbed preparation promotes high yields. In our experience, this grain loves to follow an early pea crop. We broadcast the seed by hand at a rate of between two and four pounds per thousand square feet, and cover it by lightly raking the sown area.

The seedlings emerge within a few days with two heart-shaped leaves. Growth is amazingly rapid — the plants start flowering in little over a week! As the seeds develop, they change color from green to dark brown-black. Because buckwheat blooms indeterminately (over a period of time), late in the season the plants will have flowers as well as both ripe and unripe seeds.

When about three-quarters of the seeds have become dark brown, we cut the stems near the ground with grass shears. We always harvest before the first killing frost; otherwise the foliage will collapse in a tangled mass and many of the seeds will “shatter” (fall off the plant). Even before frost, the most mature seeds shatter easily, so we try to be gentle when harvesting.

Threshing buckwheat is fun — our kids love it! We simply lay some plants on a sheet and beat them several times with a clean broom, turning the stalks over frequently. Conveniently, the unripe green seeds remain attached to the stalks, while the ripe ones fall onto the sheet. Then we transfer the separated seeds — plus a considerable amount of chaff and other debris — to a container and use the stalks as organic mulch.

The next step is cleaning the seed. We’ve had excellent results by simply pouring it slowly in front of a window fan that’s running at high speed. This must be repeated several times.

Buckwheat in the Kitchen

We grind buckwheat in a small stone-burr mill, but a blender could be used to process small quantities. The seed hulls (pericarps) slip off during grinding and are easily sifted out of the ground flour.

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Making buckwheat pancakes — from a 50:50 mix of buckwheat and whole wheat flour — is our favorite use for the finished product. However, adding up to 20% buckwheat flour to a whole wheat bread recipe is rewarding, too, and boosts the nutritional quality of the bread considerably. As several studies have shown, the amino acid composition of buckwheat flour is on a par with that of animal protein. And buckwheat contains a high level of protein, up to 12%. Furthermore, while most cereal grains have limited amounts of the essential amino acid lysine, buckwheat has abundant lysine, so it complements cereal proteins well.

Regardless of the nutritional advantages of buckwheat, though, we’re sold on its unique flavor! Buckwheat pancakes, bread, and even noodles, (made with a crank-type noodle maker) are here to stay in our household. And since this grain is so easy to grow and harvest, it’s here to stay in our garden as well!

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Overview

Buckwheat is an unusually fast-growing crop with a variety of uses. Its flexibility and wide adaptation led it to be grown on more than a million acres in the U.S. in the late 1800s, even though it is not native to our country.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were two of the first American farmers to grow buckwheat and recognize the benefit to their crop rotations. With increased focus on specializing in the major commodities during the 1900s, buckwheat become much less common. In recent years, some farmers in north Missouri grew buckwheat under contract with a major buckwheat processor. Overall acreage in the U.S. has climbed to more than 70,000 acres, with millions of acres grown worldwide. Russia, where buckwheat is native, has the largest acreage of buckwheat.

U.S. buckwheat production has been concentrated in the northern Plains in the last couple of decades, where it is planted in early summer. The long growing season available to Missouri producers provides an opportunity to grow buckwheat as a double crop after wheat harvest. Buckwheat can be planted much later than soybeans, as late as August 1st in many parts of the state. The crop matures in a little over two months, allowing it to be used for double cropping farther north than other crops such as soybeans. Buckwheat can also be grown as a double crop after spring crops such as oats, flax or spring canola.

Most buckwheat is ground into flour and used for a variety of foods, including noodles in Japan and pancakes and breakfast cereals in the U.S. Russians and eastern Europeans make a wide range of foods with buckwheat. Buckwheat has also been used widely as a cover crop to smother weeds and improve the soil. The crop seems to improve soil tilth, and is reported to make phosphorous more available as a soil nutrient, possible through root-associated mycorrhizae. Buckwheat flowers profusely, making it popular with bee keepers and an attractive crop in the landscape.

Production Guide

Plant Description

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) is a broadleaf plant native to northern Asia. Seeds are brown in color, roughly the size of a soybean, but irregularly shaped, with four triangular surfaces. The seeds germinate and emerge rapidly when planted in warm soil, typically in three to four days. Plants grow rapidly, producing small heart-shaped leaves with slender, hollow stems. Although a field of buckwheat in full flower appears to cover the ground densely, each individual plant, if pulled up, will appear rather spindly upon close inspection.

Flowering begins about three weeks after planting, and proceeds prolifically for a few weeks, before gradually tapering off as the plant matures. At the peak of flowering, a buckwheat field is a striking sea of white petals. After a flower is pollinated, a full-sized seed will form within 10 days, although that seed will need another week or two to reach maturity. Seeds appear and mature earlier on the lower stem, with seed development continuing up the stem as the plant matures. The prolific flowers on buckwheat have made the crop a good nectar source for honey bee keepers.

Plant height and speed of maturity depend on planting date. If planted early in the summer, and given good fertility, plants will usually be at least three feet (about 1 m) tall, and may take 11 to 12 weeks to mature. If planted in the latter part of July, buckwheat will mature in about 9 to 10 weeks, and will be shorter, about 30 inches on good soils and 24 inches tall or less on poor soils. A hot, dry period during plant development will limit the vigor and size of the crop. Buckwheat is not drought tolerant, even though some publications refer to it as such. It is really more of a drought avoider, since it may be maturing after the worst of the summer dry period is over, when fall rains may have begun. Buckwheat leaves will often wilt on hot, dry days, only to perk back up at night and appear normal the next morning.

Utilization

Buckwheat is primarily a human food crop, used in similar fashion to cereal grains such as wheat or oats. Even though buckwheat is not a true cereal, it is sometimes called a “pseudocereal.” Buckwheat seeds are dehulled, and the remaining seed material, called a groat, is ground into flour. The flour is often mixed with flour from other cereal grains, to make breads, breakfast cereals or other multi-grain products. In Japan, buckwheat and wheat flour are used to make the popular “soba” noodles. In Russia, where buckwheat is native, it is used in a variety of food products, including roasting the whole groats to make “kasha.” Buckwheat is high in lysine, which wheat and corn are low in. The protein content of dehulled buckwheat is about 12%, with only 2% fat.

Although most buckwheat acreage is for food, it does have a variety of other uses. In the past, buckwheat was often fed to livestock, especially hogs, and it is occasionally still used for livestock. Buckwheat has roughly the feed value of oats when fed to livestock. Buckwheat should be mixed with other grains when fed to livestock; this is especially true for light-skinned hogs, which can develop a rash or other complications after eating large amounts of buckwheat. Dehulled buckwheat may be less likely to cause this reaction.

Bee keepers like buckwheat for their foraging honey bees, due to buckwheat’s extended flowering period. The resulting honey is dark colored with a distinctly different taste from the more common clover honey. Thousands of gardeners and vegetable growers use buckwheat as a seasonal cover crop. A small, but interesting niche market for buckwheat has been to use the hulls to make buckwheat pillows, popular in Japan, and now being sold in the U.S. Sometimes buckwheat is also sold for wildlife forage plots.

Markets and Economics

Demand for buckwheat grain is solid and steadily improving. The primary demand has come from the export market, but even in the U.S. buckwheat use has risen, in part due to multi-grain baked foods. Japan has been the largest export market in recent years, but other countries, including Russia, have purchased U.S. buckwheat. Buckwheat is sent overseas both as whole seed, and in dehulled form.

Small amounts of buckwheat can sometimes be sold to local bakers or mills, but the bigger buyers are located outside Missouri.

Buckwheat contract prices have held relatively steady, unlike other crops. Contract prices available to Missouri producers have stayed close to $0.10 per pound, priced for local delivery. Contracts have been on an acreage basis, so a grower is not obligated to deliver anything if there is a crop failure. At typical yields of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds per acre, buckwheat grosses from $100 to $120 per acre. Under good conditions, buckwheat can yield up to 1,400 to 1,500 pounds per acre.

Buckwheat income is modest, but production costs are also low, making a net profit feasible. Seed costs about $15 per acre, with additional expense for planting and harvest operations and applying about 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen fertilizer. The other common is pre-plant weed control, either through tillage or by use of a burndown herbicide. A net return over variable costs of $20 to $40 per acre is typical, assuming that a good stand of buckwheat is obtained and soil fertility and rainfall are adequate. In northern Missouri, where soybean double cropping is not a good option, buckwheat provides some additional income after wheat where nothing else will. A hidden economic benefit with buckwheat is that it can improve the soil enough to increase yield on the following crop.

Site Selection

Buckwheat grows best on soils that are neither too compacted, nor too coarse or sandy. It can tolerate wet soils to a slight degree, but will generally fair better on soils where drainage is adequate. A field that had wheat harvested under wet conditions will probably need to be tilled to avoid compaction problems with buckwheat. Buckwheat growing in compacted tire tracks will often be stunted in growth. Buckwheat does not require highly fertile soils, but benefits from having modest levels of nitrogen fertility.

Place in the Rotation

In northern areas where most buckwheat is grown, buckwheat is usually planted in early summer, following a small grain that was harvested the previous summer. In Missouri, buckwheat should be grown as a double crop after winter wheat or canola are harvested. It could also be double cropped after an early spring crop, such as spring canola, oats or flax, which are all harvested in July. Missouri-grown buckwheat benefits from later planting, and is economically viable only as a double crop in this region. In certain situations, where rainfall has prevented planting a commodity, or hail has destroyed one, buckwheat can serve as an emergency late season crop. In these situations, care must be taken to avoid fields where residual broadleaf herbicides have been applied in recent months; otherwise, the buckwheat seedlings may be killed by the residual herbicide during or shortly after emergence (buckwheat is sensitive to atrazine, trifluralin, and sulfonylurea herbicides). A cash crop, such as corn or soybeans, may benefit by being grown after buckwheat, due to its reported soil-improving properties.

Varieties and Seed Sources

There are very few buckwheat varieties available in the U.S, and they do not differ greatly from each other. The standard two varieties in the last couple of decades have been Mancan and Manor, both Canadian varieties. Mancan and Manor differ only in one small, insignificant trait having to do with flower color (both have predominately white flowers). Mancan and Manor are available from a few different seed sources (see table). Many seed dealers carry “common” buckwheat. Usually, common buckwheat is simply Mancan, Manor or a mixture of the two, that has lost its identity over the years. Some food buyers will not accept common buckwheat and will buy only the named varieties, so it is better not to avoid generic buckwheat if it is being grown for the grain market.

The same Canadian breeder who developed Mancan and Manor as public varieties, has in recent years been developing proprietary varieties for Minn-Dak Growers, Ltd. Minn-Dak has recently started contracting for production of two new varieties, Koban and Koto, and they have a few characteristics different from the earlier varieties. Both the new varieties have a larger seed size, and higher test weight, than Mancan and Manor. Koto or Koban are only available to farmers growing buckwheat under contract to Minn-Dak, which also sells the older public varieties (701-746-7453). Another seed source for Mancan or Manor seed is Albert Lea Seed House (800-352-5247).

Planting

Buckwheat is not frost tolerant, so cannot be planted in early spring in Missouri, even when used as a cover crop. For maximum grain yield, buckwheat should be planted in mid- to late July. In central Missouri, buckwheat can be planted in early August, and in southern Missouri, as late as the second week in August. The later buckwheat is planted, the faster it will mature. The reason to plant buckwheat relatively late is to push flowering into a period when nights are starting to cool down, which will normally be the case in late August or early September. The percentage of flowers that develop into seeds increases if flowering occurs during cooler periods. Night temperatures appear to be more important for yield than day temperatures. The downside of planting in late July is the risk of experiencing a dry August during buckwheat establishment.

Most farmers who have grown buckwheat in Missouri as a double crop after wheat, have planted it with no-till drills directly into wheat stubble. This has the advantage of preserving soil moisture and minimizing trips over the field. If no-till planting is to be used, it is best to wait at least a couple of weeks after wheat harvest before planting; this allows volunteer wheat and weeds to emerge, so that a burndown herbicide application can be used prior to planting. If compaction is a concern, or herbicides are being avoided, then pre-plant tillage should be used, with the goal of preparing a relatively fine seedbed.

Buckwheat should be planted about 1 inch deep. To get maximum yields, narrow rows should be used. Ideally, rows should be as close as 6 inches apart. A seeding rate of around 55 pounds per acre is generally adequate for the larger seeded Koban and Koto, while 50 pounds per acre can suffice for Mancan or Manor.

Fertility

When double cropping buckwheat after wheat or canola, some supplemental nitrogen fertilizer will normally be needed. Around 50 pounds per acre of nitrogen is generally quite adequate. Higher rates of nitrogen can actually have a negative effect, causing the buckwheat to get excessively tall and start falling over (lodging). If buckwheat is being grown organically, some source of nitrogen should still be provided or a clover can be overseeded into the wheat in the spring. After wheat harvest, the clover can grow a few weeks, then be tilled in immediately prior to buckwheat planting (this approach may deplete the seedzone moisture needed to establish the buckwheat).

If the soil is low in phosphorous (P) or potassium (K), a little additional P and/or K should be added to the fertilizer applied for wheat the previous fall to cover the extra fertility needed by the double crop. Buckwheat is tolerant of somewhat acid soils, down to about 5.5 pH.

Pest Management

Weed control
Buckwheat is frequently used as a summer cover crop because of its rapid growth and ability to out-compete weeds. This fact demonstrates why buckwheat can be grown for grain without post-emergence herbicides. The main requirement is to control weeds that might come up ahead of buckwheat seedlings by using a burn-down herbicide, such as glyphosate (Roundup), or by tilling just prior to planting. If wheat seeds left in the field after harvest have not already volunteered as the time of buckwheat seeding approaches, it may be necessary to do a light tillage to induce their sprouting. Then a second tillage pass several days later (or a herbicide application) should be done before the buckwheat is planted. At the time this guide was written, there were no post-emergence herbicides labeled for buckwheat, although it is expected that Poast will become labeled in the next few years for post-emergence grass control.

Diseases and Insects
Buckwheat has been relatively pest free during several years of field production in Missouri. Occasionally grass hoppers will nibble on the leaves, but no extensive insect damage has been noted. Pollinators will be present during buckwheat flowering, including honey bees, and soldier beetles may show up to feed on grasshopper eggs and other insects. Diseases have not been a problem with buckwheat, although extremely wet conditions could promote seedling or root rot disease on rare occasion.

Harvest and Storage

Buckwheat can be either direct combined or swathed and windrowed. Most northern plains buckwheat growers swath buckwheat, but it is usually direct combined in Missouri. For direct combining, a rough rule-of-thumb is to start combining when about 80 to 90% of the plant and seeds are brown. It is normal for buckwheat to still have a few green leaves, green seeds, and a smattering of flowers at the tops of the plants when combining starts. Although combining can be delayed until after frost, the frost can accelerate seed shattering and can make the stalks more prone to falling over (lodging). Buckwheat is a crop that should be harvested when ready, rather than letting it stand in the field for a long time. If swathed, buckwheat can be cut a little more green (when about 75% of seeds are brown), and allowed to ripen in the windrow for a few days before picking it up with a combine.

Combine settings for buckwheat vary by machine, but general guidelines are to set fan speed around 600 rpm, with a maximum of 700 rpm. Cylinder speed should be at 400 to 500 rpm, in some cases up to 600 rpm. If seeds going in the hopper are being dehulled, either cylinder speed needs to be slowed or the concaves opened. Concave setting, in general, should be the same as the combine guidebook lists for barley, which will be an opening of 1/2 to 3/4 inch on some combines (for newer John Deere combines use “sector 2” setting). The chaffer (or top screen) should be set to 5/8 to 3/4 inch, while the sieve (or bottom screen) should be at 1/4 to 3/8 inch.

At harvest time, buckwheat seed is usually sufficiently dry to be stored short term with no further drying, provided that green material is minimal in the grain. For long-term storage, buckwheat should be at 15% moisture or below. Most seed moisture testers do not have a buckwheat setting, but in general using a reading for barley will be within 1% ± of the actual buckwheat moisture. Buckwheat can be dried with ambient air or low levels of heat. Since buckwheat groats (the light-colored seed inside the brown hulls) start to darken over time, buckwheat should be delivered to market within a couple of months of harvest if possible.

USDA has no official test weight standard for buckwheat, and it is usually sold on a weight basis, rather than a bushel basis. However, buyers may use test weight as an indicator of seed size and quality. Price may be reduced on buckwheat seed that is below a desired test weight, such as 45 pounds per bushel. Foreign material and weed seed are generally discounted as straight dockage that must be cleaned out before the grain is sold into the food market.

Growing Buckwheat Groats

Planting Density

The more densely you plant the seed the less air circulates around the individual plants. This can cause some fungal growth – we call it “fuzzies”. This is not a problem, except that it is unattractive. Some crops will have mold or rot issues. That is a problem. If you get brown pockets at the soil level, where the plants just die, you are probably in need of more air circulation, so plant fewer seeds next time. If you do encounter rot spots like that, scoop them out – if you’re growing on a fluffy medium, and try to nurse your crop to completion. In summer we grow our Greens outside (from the point when we uncover the tray) for optimal air circulation.

Planting Medium

We have grown Greens – on soil – in Trays, for almost 2 decades. But, we now have options. We have multiple Soilless Mediums (including Baby Blanket and Vermiculite), and organic liquid Kelp Fertilizer to provide your plants some nutrients to draw upon as they grow. Baby Blanket is a thin organic material that you soak before planting upon. It holds moisture and is the least messy and compact medium we know of. Vermiculite is a mineral which holds moisture supremely, dispenses added nutrients over time and in general acts much like soil. We think you should try all of them if you can – there are differences and though they are minimal you may prefer one method over the other.

Instructions are pretty much the same, regardless of what medium you use, but we have specified differences where they exist. We may be offering other, or different Mediums (products are always coming and going) then when we wrote these instructions, or you might be using one you got somewhere else. Please follow our instructions that refer to Baby Blanket for other thin mediums (i.e. STG Pads). Consider Perlite, Potting Soil or other such fluffy mediums to be the same as Vermiculite, and so follow directions labeled for Vermiculite. There may be some small differences, but they’re likely to be minor.

Soil Notes

Virtually any soil will do for Greens. We used sterile composted cow manure for the tens of thousands of Trays we grew during our days as professional growers, but any sterile bagged soil will do, and should be available at any garden center, and be inexpensive (depending on the general cost of living where you are of course). You can use expensive soil if you prefer – we might even be selling some – it is your choice – always. The deal is this – Greens (garden greens anyway) are aided by the presence of the nutrient Nitrogen, in the soil. Nitrogen is the nutrient responsible for plant growth (a very good thing when growing lettuce, spinach, collards or other leafy crops, but too much nitrogen is bad if growing peppers or tomatoes or any plant where the fruit is what we eat). Manures contain varrying amounts of nitrogen depending on the animal that originally produced it. Too much nitrogen will burn plants – almost literally burn them – hence the word HOT is used in reference to nitrogen. The higher the nitrogen content the HOTTER the manure (or fertilizer) is considered. Cow manure is the least hot – it was perfect for our needs – it supplies the growing plants with a little extra boost. Chicken, other bird manures and Bat Guano (another word for manure) are much hotter, and Earthworm castings are hotter still (castings is yet another word for manure). The catch is this: Greens, Grass and Sprouts are theoretically all too young to benefit from nitrogen and other nutrients. It is written that every seed has, within itself, all the nutrients it needs to grow to the cotyledon stage. That’s as far as we grow any of our seeds (with the sometimes exception of Micro-Greens). So – though it is contradictory, it is our experience that nitrogen does help Greens in some cases (most obviously when growing Sunflower Greens). Like we always say – EXPERIMENT FOR YOURSELF. Draw your own conclusions. If you are familiar with our rap on Dogma, you’ll agree with us when we say; Just because it is written does not mean that it’s so. Whatever the reality – a little nitrogen can’t hurt. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could get our teenagers to use the words Guano or Castings instead of %&$# when they get ticked off?;-D

Hydroponic Greens

We do not grow hydroponic Greens. We have tried but have never gotten the yields we get with soil, and the flavor of the crops is nowhere near as fine. They taste watered down. Now that we have a soilless alternatives (Baby Blanket, Vermiculite, etc.) we are even less interested in hydroponic Greens growing. But, if you want to try – go to Val at Go Green/Green Smoothie – she is the queen of home hydroponics. Tell her us Sproutpeople sent you!

Tray Note

Your Planting Tray (the one with the soil or medium in it) MUST have drainage holes or slits! Nothing will grow in a medium that can not drain – that condition is commonly called “flooded”. When using Baby Blanket or Vermiculite your Planting Tray must also have drainage, but we do use the Drip Tray to hold some water at times in the growing process. (You’ll see the TIP in our instructions, above.)

As I’ve said time and time again on the site, we hate dogma, so take my dogma with a grain of salt. You can grow in trays without drainage (the amazing people at the Hippocrates Health Institute have long done so), but you do have to be able to drain excess water away. Tipping is a possibility, but we think it risky – especially for the novice grower, hence my dogma.

Re-Growing Your Crop

Greens can produce a 2nd – so you may continue to water after you cut your first crop. The 2nd and crop will not be as tender, and it may have fungal problems, but it is good to try growing a 2nd crop. Decide for yourself if it is worth it! Vermiculite is the best medium, as far as water retention is concerned – which is a very big deal if you want to go for multiple cuttings, but soil enriched with Earthworm Castings is perhaps a better choice as it gives the Greens nutrients to draw upon. Soil enriched with Earthworm Castings and with about 10-20% Vermiculite might be perfect. Funny that never occurred to me before…. Whatever you use, it’s worth a try if only for the experience and the knowledge gained.

Special Note

Some years ago a person wrote an article stating that consuming huge quantities of buckwheat greens juice, as he had done, could cause skin sensitivity to the sun. After reading his article we agree that consuming such large amounts is not recommended. We have always promoted moderation in food consumption and that applies here. Buckwheat in small quantities can promote health. Although some people may be sensitive to even small quantities of buckwheat lettuce, for most people it is a healthy addition to their diet. It contains rutin, a bioflavinoid not found in beans or grains, that can help strengthen blood vessels. The author of the article makes this statement near the end: “I would like to make the disclaimer that I am not advising people to stop eating buckwheat. The Latin expression dosis sola facet venenum (the dose makes the poison) attributed to the ancient Romans could be applied here. A small quantity of buckwheat greens (or buckwheat lettuce as it is often called) in an individual diet could allow for healthy nutritional benefits without the negative effects of large amounts……” Fear spreads. Please be careful not to take just anyone’s claims at face value. Use your common sense. Avoid Dogma. Read the article – thoroughly – and make your own decision.

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