What does barley look like in the field?



Triticum durum wheat Wheat is one of the world’s top food crops and one of the first to be cultivated. The development of wheat agriculture is credited with dividing the Stone Age from the age of civilized man. Today, wheat is the world’s No.2 dietary staple just behind rice but ahead of corn and bananas, accounting for 19 percent of all the calories that mankind consumes, compared to 20 percent for rice.

Wheat can easily be grown, handled and stored and keeps so well it can shipped anywhere and stored for years. It yields a large amount of food for its weight and can be used in making a wide variety of foods: bread in Germany, noodles in China, pasta in Italy, couscous in North Africa, and breakfast cereal in the United States.

Most wheat is divided into two types: hard wheat and soft wheat. Hard wheat such as durums are used to make pastas and soft wheats are used in pastries, noodles and mixed with other grains for bread. Soft wheats alone lack the stickiness to make bread and stiffness for pasta.

Websites and Resources: Wheatmania wheatmania.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Wheat Foods Council wheatfoods.org ; Purdue University article hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/crops/wheat ; National Association of Wheat Growers wheatworld.org ; International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center cimmyt.org ;


wheat Grains are members of the grass family. Scientists have found genetic evidence that the world’s four major grains—wheat, rice, corn and sorghum—evolved from a common ancestor weed that grew 65 million years ago.

Grains like oats, barley, wheat and rye contain three parts: 1) the endosperm (rich in carbohydrates and protein); 2) the bran (rich in fiber, B vitamins, chromium and other minerals); and 3) the germ (rich in B, E, and K vitamins, iron and other minerals). Milling grains into flour usually removes the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperms. Manufacturers often enrich their products with the missing nutrients.

Grain protein, called gluten, is nutritious and provides a stickiness useful in trapping yeast and making bread. Grains like oats, barley and rye are rich are soluble fiber, which slows down digestion and helps lower cholesterol. Wheat is high in insoluble fiber which helps keep bowel movements regular.

Grains as Steppe Grasses

grain structure Grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye were originally steppe grasses. The grass family is one of the largest in the plant kingdom, embracing some 10,000 different species worldwide. Contrary to what you might think, grasses are fairly complex plants. What you see are only their leaves.

Grass flowers are often not recognizable as such. Because grasses rely on the breeze to distribute pollen (there is a usually lots of wind on the steppe) and they don’t need colorful flowers to attract pollinators such as birds and bees. Grass flowers have scales instead of pedals and grow in clusters on special tall stems that lift them high enough to be carried by the wind.

Grasses need lots of sunlight. They do not grow well in forests or other shady areas. Tall feather grass grows well in the well-watered parts of the steppe. Shorter grass grows better in the dry steppe where there is less rainfall. Chiy, a grass with cane-like reeds, is used by nomads to make decorative screens in the yurts

Grasses can tolerate lack of rain, intense sunlight, strong winds, shredding from lawnmowers, the cleats of Athletes and the hooves of grazing animals. They can survive fires: only their leaves burn; the root stocks are rarely damaged.

The ability of grass to endure such harsh conditions lies in the structures of its leaves, The leaves of other plants spring from buds and have a developed a network of veins that carry sap and expand into the leaf. If a leaf is damaged a plant can seal its veins with sap but do little else. Grass leaves on the other hand don’t have a network of veins, rather they have unbranched veins that grow straight, and can tolerate being cut, broken or damaged, and keep growing.

First Crops, Einkorn and Emmer Wheat

emmer wheat The first domesticated crop is believed to have been einkorn wheat, a kind of nourishing grass adapted from a wild species of grass native to the Karacadag mountains near Diyarbakir in southwestern Turkey first cultivated around 11,000 years ago. Scientists deduced this by examining the DNA of modern strains of einkorn wheat and found the were more similar to einkorn wheat grown in the Karacadag mountains than in other places.

Collecting seeds from wild grass is not an easy matter. If you pick the seeds before they are ripe they are too small and hard to eat. If you wait so long they fall from the stem and you have to pick them up one by one. With some grasses the period in which the seeds are feasible to collect is only a few days a year. If one wants to get a long term food supply it makes sense to collect as much as you can and take it back to your cave and store it.

Emmer wheat, rye and barley were cultivated around the same time, and is difficult to say which was cultivated first. Emmer wheat and another wheat strain from the Caspian Sea are thought to be the first bread wheats. Emmer wheat is a wild grass. It is thought to have been singled out because its seeds stay attached to the stem significantly longer than that of other grasses.

Which Came First Beer or Bread?

Beer making in ancient Egypt No one knows why man made the switch to agriculture. There at least three dozen major theories. One, the beer theory, argues that people decided to settle down and grow grain so they sit around and drink beer together in small villages. Forty percent of the wheat from Sumerian harvest went to make beer.

Neolithic food consisted of barley bread, beer, and likely a variety of meat and grain dishes. The oldest barley beer have been dated to 3400 B.C. The date was determined by analyzing samples of beer extracted from ancient jars with solvents.

Archaeologists debate which came first bread or beer. Beer starts with sprouted barley, which is moistened and allowed to geminate, a process called malting which converts starches into fermentable sugar called maltose.

Maltose can be fermented producing alcohol as one its byproducts. The same yeast used in fermenting can also be used to make bread. Consuming maltose was one way barley could be consumed without it being hulled, cracked or milled.

Wheat as Food

Barley, wheat and rye bear their seeds in spikes. Wheat grains (seeds) contains about 10 percent water, 14 percent protein, 2 percent fat , 2 percent ash and 72 percent carbohydrates. The protein, called gluten, is nutritious and provides a stickiness useful in trapping yeast and making bread. Most of the carbohydrates are in the form of starch.

A kernel of wheat is comprised of 83 percent endosperm, 15 percent bran and 2.5 percent wheat germ. The endosperm is used in making white flour. Bran is used in making whole wheat flour.

Bread can be made from almost anything—grains, potatoes, bananas, nuts—but wheat is most commonly used. All bread is either leavened or unleavened. Leavened means that it contains a substance such as yeast or baking soda that produces carbon-dioxide and causes the bread to rise and become light from air bubbles in the bread. Unleavened bread is hard and dry like matzo.

Hard wheats make a lighter bread than soft wheats because they are richer in gluten which traps more yeast.

Wheat Agriculture

Wheat is a member of the grass family and thus is very hardy. It grows well in areas with both plentiful rain and little rain but generally needs 400 mm of rain or irrigation water a year,. a cool and moist spring and hot and dry summer. The best soils for wheat are deep, well drained loams.

Wheat harvest Winter wheat is grown in places with mild winters. It is planted in the fall. After it takes root it stops growing until spring, when it starts growing again. It is harvested in the early summer with enough time to allow for the planting for another crop for the summer. Winter wheats originated in the Crimea area, north of the Black Sea.

In much of the world wheat agriculture is highly mechanized. After the ground is prepared with a tractor-pulled plough made up of steel disks, wheat is sown with mechanical sowers using both the broadcasting (scattering) and drilling methods. Wheat is resistant to most diseases and pests. Once it starts growing it needs little maintenance. Its tall, thin stems grow close together to keeps weeds out.

Timing is important for the harvest. If the wheat is cut too soon it will not keep well. If it is cut too late, the seeds will scatter in the harvesting process. In the old days wheat was harvested with a sickle. Now it is harvested with a mechanical cutter called a reaper.

After harvesting wheat chaff and stalks need to be winnowed from the grains. In the old days this was done by hand. Now it is done by machines called threshers. A combine is combination reaper and thresher that does both the cutting and threshing. The machines used to harvest and winnow wheat had a great impact on agriculture by reducing the number of people needed to work the fields.

New Strains and Increased Wheat Yields

Wheat agriculture is more productive than it used to be. A field of wheat that produced food for 5 people 750 years ago now produces food for between 20 and 50 people. Wheat yields in developing countries doubled between 1970 and 1995 thanks to Green Revolution seeds and technologies and wheat now vies with rice as the number one crop in the developing world.

New plant varieties and advances in agriculture have boosted wheat yields by nearly 80 percent. New wheat strains are resistant to heat, drought and pest and are more efficient at converting sunlight, water, and nutrients to grain. Wheat now grows in areas that were originally thought to be too arid and dry to raise crops.

The down side of the trend towards widespread use of a few types of high-yield wheat strains has been to the disappearance and extinction of many other strains in a very short period of time. Only 10 percent of the 10,000 wheat varieties grown in China in 1949 are still in use.

Wheat Production

Droughts in 2006 sent wheat prices to record highs. Wheat production during the 2006-2007 cycle was 588 million tons, with a shortfall of almost 30 million from an expected demand of 607 million.

See Biofuel, Food Crisis


Barley field Barley is a grain that is similar to wheat in appearance and is the only grain that grows well in the extreme north and in high altitudes. It can be found in Arctic regions and in the high Himalayas. Russia leads the world in barley productions (around 42 million tons a year).

Barley is rich is soluble fiber, which slows down digestion and helps lower cholesterol. It is rarely eaten in the West anymore because it regarded as coarse and is associated with peasant food.

Barley is made into black barley bread and sometimes served as a side dish. Traditionally barley has been a less important food source than other grains because it contains only small amounts of gluten, which is desirable when making bread. It is chiefly used as livestock feed, malt, thickening soups and modifying cow’s milk for babies.

Websites and Resources: Barleyworld: barleyworld.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; World’s Healthiest Foods whfoods.com ; BarleyFood, org barleyfoods.org ; U.S. Grains Council grains.org/barley ;

History of Barley

Barley fruit Grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye were originally steppe grasses. Emmer wheat, rye and barley were cultivated around the same time, and is difficult to say which was cultivated first. Emmer wheat and another wheat strain from the Caspian Sea are thought to be the first bread wheats. Emmer wheat is a wild grass. It is thought to have been singled out because its seeds stay attached to the stem significantly longer than that of other grasses.

Barley was first grown in the Jordan valley about 10,000 years ago. The earliest levels of excavations at Jericho indicate that the people that lived there collected seeds of cereal grass from rocky crags flanking the valley and planted them in the fertile alluvial soil.

Wheat and barley agriculture spread out of Fertile crescent by 7000 B.C. By 6000 B.C., it had gotten as far as the Black Sea and present day Greece and Italy. By 5000 B.C. it had spread to most of southern Europe. The Linear Pottery Culture of central Hungary is believed to have introduced agriculture to central Europe around 5000 B.C. Agriculture finally reached southern Britain and Scandinavia around 3800 B.C. and north Britain and central Scandinavia by 2,500 B.C.

Barley Agriculture

beer Ingredients Barley, wheat and rye bear their seeds in spikes. Barley is divided into the six-rowed type, four rowed-type and two-rowed type, based on the structure of the spikes. The six-rowed type has the highest yields. The four-rowed type are used in high altitudes and northern climates.

Barley needs well drained soils but does not thrive in sand. Because barley ripens in a relatively short period it can often be sown and harvested after wheat.

In highland areas such as Tibet, barley is cultivated on rocky terraces or hills. Sometimes plows are attached to yaks but most fields are hoed by hand with long-handled wooden spades. To ensure that the barley gets all the available water, weeds are pulled up and later eaten as food or given to animals. Some farmers also manage to grow turnips, radishes and cabbage.Harvesting is done by hand with sickles. Villagers help their neighbors during the harvest in return for help with their harvests. Those with no land trade labor for grain.

After harvesting barley is bundled and laid out in sheaves to dry. It is threshed with rakes and sticks. Eric Valli wrote in National Geographic, “The barley is prepared handful by handful as workers twist the tops of the stalks from the straw. Then the threshing begins as beaters face each other, the women in one row, men in the other. Singing to set the rhythm, each row of beaters wields wooden flails against the heads of barley on the hard packed ground. As the beaters tire, their song slows; it picks up as they revive.”

Barley is often winnowed in the wind by women. In the Dolpo region, the women whistle to call wind and gently tips their basket. Valli wrote, “A woman with a basket tosses threshed barley in the air; the chaff blows away and the seeds fall.” When most of the work is done in Dolpo, there is feast in the village with barley beer and music made from with five-string lutes and dancing around a fire.


large bag of beer malt Malt is barley or another grain that has been artificially germinated or sprouted by moisture and heat. Traditionally, it was made by steeping the grain in cisterns from 48 to 100 hours at a temperature of about 55̊F, then spread on a floor to germinate, and then dried.

During the malting process various enzymes are produced by fermentation. One of the most important is diastase , which has the ability to change starch into sugar. Maltose is a kind of sugar produced from starch by malting with diastase.

Malt is used in brewing beers, making malted milks and baby food (the malting process has the same effect as partial digestion).

See Beer

Other Grains

Rapeseed oil has shown great potential as an alternative to fossil fuels. On the down side, though, studies have shown that it produces 10 times more cancer-causing pollutants than diesel fuel.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Page Top

&copy 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated March 2011


Hordeum vulgare

Type: cool season annual cereal grain
Roles: prevent erosion, suppress weeds, scavenge excess nutrients, add organic matter
Mix with: annual legumes, ryegrass or other small grains
See charts, pp. 66 to 72, for ranking and management summary.
Inexpensive and easy to grow, barley provides exceptional erosion control and weed suppression in semi-arid regions and in light soils. It also can fill short rotation niches or serve as a topsoil- protecting crop during droughty conditions in any region. It is more salt tolerant than other small grains and can sop up excess subsoil moisture to help prevent saline seep formation (136).

It’s a fine choice for reclaiming overworked, weedy or eroded fields, or as part of a cover crop mix for improving soil tilth and nutrient cycling in perennial cropping systems in Hardiness Zone 8 or warmer.

Barley prefers cool, dry growing areas. As a spring cover crop, it can be grown farther north than any other cereal grain, largely because of its short growing period. It also can produce more biomass in a shorter time than any other cereal crop (273).


Erosion control. Use barley as an overwintering cover crop for erosion control in Zone 8 and warmer, including much of California, western Oregon and western Washington. It’s well-suited for vineyards and orchards, or as part of a mixed seeding.

As a winter annual, barley develops a deep, fibrous root system. The roots can reach as deep as 6.5 feet. As a spring crop, barley has a comparatively shallow root system but holds soil strongly to minimize erosion during droughty conditions (71).

Nutrient recycler. Barley can scavenge significant amounts of nitrogen. It captured 32 lb. N/A as a winter cover crop following a stand of fava beans (Vicia faba) in a California study, compared with 20 lb./A for annual ryegrass. A barley cover crop reduced soil N an average of 64 percent at eight sites throughout North America that had received an average of 107 lb. N/A (265). Intercropping barley with field peas (Pisum sativum) can increase the amount of N absorbed by barley and returned to the soil in barley residue, other studies show (215, 218). Barley improves P and K cycling if the residue isn’t removed.

Weed suppressor. Quick to establish, barley outcompetes weeds largely by absorbing soil moisture during its early growing stages. It also shades out weeds and releases allelopathic chemicals that help suppress them.

Tilth-improving organic matter. Barley is a quick source of abundant biomass that, along with its thick root system, can improve soil structure and water infiltration (273, 445). In California cropping systems, cultivars such as UC476 or COSINA can produce as much as 12,900 lb. biomass/A.

Nurse crop. Barley has an upright posture and relatively open canopy that makes it a fine nurse crop for establishing a forage or legume stand. Less competitive than other small grains, barley also uses less water than other covers crops. In weedy fields, wait to broadcast the forage or legume until after you’ve mechanically weeded barley at the four or five-leaf stage to reduce weed competition.

As an inexpensive, easy-to-kill companion crop, barley can protect sugarbeet seedlings during their first two months while also serving as a soil protectant during droughty periods (details below).

Pest suppression. Barley can reduce incidence of leafhoppers, aphids, armyworms, root-knot nematodes and other pests, a number of studies suggest.

(Hordeum vulgare)


Establishment & Fieldwork

Barley establishes readily in prepared seedbeds, and can also be successfully no-tilled. It prefers adequate but not excessive moisture and does poorly in waterlogged soils. It grows best in well-drained, fertile loams or light, clay soils in areas having cool, dry, mild winters. It also does well on light, droughty soils and tolerates somewhat alkaline soils better than other cereal crops.

With many varieties of barley to choose from, be sure to select a regionally adapted one. Many are well-adapted to high altitudes and cold, short growing seasons.

Spring annual use. Drill at 50 to 100 lb./A (1 to 2 bushels) from 3/4 to 2 inches deep into a prepared seedbed, or no-till using the same seeding rate.

If broadcasting, prepare the seedbed with at least a light field cultivation. Sow 80 to 125 lb./A (1.5 to 2.5 bushels) and harrow, cultipack or disk lightly to cover. Use a lower rate (25 to 50 pounds) if overseeding as a companion crop or a higher rate (140 pounds) for very weedy fields. When broadcasting, consider seeding half in one direction, then the rest in a perpendicular direction for better coverage (71).

Winter annual use. Barley can be used as a winter annual cover crop wherever it is grown as a winter grain crop. It is less winter-hardy than rye. In Zone 8 or warmer, it grows throughout the winter if planted from September through February. Plantings before November 1 generally fare best, largely due to warmer soil conditions.

Expect mixed results if trying to use barley as a self-reseeding cover crop.

Mixed seedings. Barley works well in mixtures with other grasses or legumes. In low-fertility soils or where you’re trying to minimize tie-up of soil nitrogen, growing barley with one or more legumes can be helpful. Your seeding cost per pound will increase, but the reduced seeding rate can offset some of this. A short-season Canadian field pea would be a good companion, or try an oat/barley/pea mix, suggests organic farmer Jack Lazor, Westfield, Vt.

In northern California, Phil LaRocca (LaRocca Vineyards, Forest Ranch, Calif.) lightly disks his upper vineyard’s soil before broadcasting a mix of barley, fescue, brome, LANA vetch, and crimson, red and subterranean clovers, usually during October. He seeds at 30 to 35 lb./A, with 10 to 20 percent being barley. “I’ve always added more barley to the seeding rate than recommended. More is better, especially with barley, if you want biomass and weed suppression,” he says.

After broadcasting, LaRocca covers erosion prone areas with 2 tons of rice straw per acre, which is “cheaper than oat straw here and has fewer weed seeds,” he notes. “The straw decomposes quickly and holds seed and soil well.” Besides contributing to soil humus (as the cover crop also does), the straw helps keep the seedbed warm and moist. That can be very helpful in LaRocca ’s upper vineyard, where it sometimes snows in winter.

In his other, less-erodible vineyard, LaRocca disks up the cover vegetation, then runs a harrow quickly on top of the disked alleyways to set a seedbed before broadcasting and cultipacking a similar mix of cover crops.

Field Management
Although barley absorbs a lot of water in its early stages, it uses moisture more efficiently than other cereals and can be grown without irrigation in some situations. About half of the commercial barley acreage in dryland areas is irrigated, however. California cropping systems that include barley tend to be irrigated as well. Low seeding rates won’t necessarily conserve moisture, as vegetative growth often increases.

LaRocca hasn’t had any moisture problems or grape-yield concerns from growing barley or other cover crops, even in the 40 percent of his upper vineyard that isn’t furrow-irrigated. “Once your vines are established, their root system is deeper and much more competitive than a typical cover crop’s root system,” he observes.

Mowing can postpone and prolong barley flowering, as with other cereal grains. As a spring cover, barley puts on biomass quickly, so you can kill it in plenty of time for seeding a following crop. If you want barley to reseed, don’t mow until most of the stand has headed and seed is about to fall off.

To encourage reseeding of his cover mix, Phil LaRocca allows every other row in his upper vineyard to go to seed, then disks it down. That lets him skip reseeding some blocks.

If you’re concerned about barley reseeding or crop competition when intercropped, however, plant a lighter stand, suggests Alan Brutlag, Wendell, Minn. During droughty conditions, he broadcasts 25 to 30 pounds of barley per acre as a soil-protective companion crop for sugarbeet seedlings. The low-density stand is easy to stunt or kill a month later with the combination of herbicides and crop oil that he uses for weed control in his sugarbeets. Another control option is a single application of an herbicide labeled for grass control.

Kill barley with a grass herbicide in late spring, or by rolling disking or mowing at the mid- to latebloom stage but before it starts setting seed.

If plant-parasitic nematodes have been a problem, incorporate overwintered barley early in spring, before warm temperatures encourage nematode populations.

Pest Management

Annual weeds and lodging can occur when growing barley in high-fertility soils, although these wouldn’t pose problems in a barley cover crop. Despite their less dense canopy, six-rowed varieties tend to be taller and more competitive against weeds than two-rowed varieties. If you’re considering a grain option, harrowing or hoeing just before barley emergence could reduce weeds that already have sprouted.

Barley produces alkaloids that have been shown to inhibit germination and growth of white mustard (247). These exudates also protect barley plants from fungus, armyworm larvae, bacteria and aphids (248, 455).

Barley seems to reduce the incidence of grape leafhoppers in vineyards and increase levels of beneficial spiders, one California grower observed (211). Growing high-biomass cover crops such as barley or rye increased populations of centipedes, predator mites and other important predators, independent of tillage system used, a study in the Pacific Northwest found (444).

Cutworms and other small grain pests can be occasional problems. Some perennial crop growers in California report increased incidence of gophers when growing cover crop mixes and try to minimize this by encouraging owl populations.

Avoid seeding in cold, damp soils, which makes barley more prone to fungus and disease. Assuming adequate soil moisture, shallow seeding can hasten emergence and lessen incidence of root rot disease, if this has been a problem in your area (397). Varieties resistant to leaf diseases are available. Two-rowed varieties are more resistant to leaf rust and mildew. Also avoid planting barley after wheat.

If nematodes are likely to be a problem, plant late in fall or during winter to avoid warm-season growth and incorporate early in spring in Zone 8 and warmer. Barley can be a host for a nematode species (Meloidogyne javanica) that adversely affects Thompson seedless grapes.

Barley drastically reduced root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne hapla M. Chitwood) populations and increased marketable carrot yields by at least seventeen-fold in a Quebec study comparing three-year rotations (242).

Other Options
Barley can be grazed lightly in winter or spring or cut for hay/haylage (191). It has greater forage nutritive value than oats, wheat or triticale. It also can be grown as a specialty grain for malting, soups, bread and other uses. As a feed grain (in a hog ration, for example), it can replace some costlier corn.


Barley tillers more than oats and also is more drought-tolerant, but oats generally perform better as a companion crop or winterkilled nurse crop because they are less competitive than barley (397).
Barley tolerates alkaline soils better than any other cereal.
Winter cultivars are less winterhardy than winter wheat, triticale or cereal rye.

Cultivars. Many commercial varieties are available. Look for low-cost, regionally adapted cultivars with at least 95-percent germination.

Six-rowed cultivars are better for overseeding, and are more heat- and drought-tolerant. Two-rowed types have more symmetrical kernels and are more disease-resistant (e.g. leaf rust and mildew) than six-rowed types, in which two-thirds of the lateral rows of the spike are smaller and twisted.

Seed Sources. See Seed Suppliers.

Top | Brassicas and Mustards

Great British Harvest: wheat, barley and corn

September 27, 2018 6:13 am Published by Yzanne

Wheat and barley are the UK’s two main cereal crops. Each year, we produce around 6.5 million tonnes of barley – and more than twice that amount of wheat. Corn – properly known as maize – is fast catching up, now covering around 250,000 hectares of land each year. Many other crops are grown on British farms, of course, but if you’re staring out of a train window at gently waving stalks in a field, or tramping past fully grown crops on a ramble in the countryside, there’s a fair chance you’re looking at either wheat, barley or corn.

What’s growing here?

But can you tell the difference?

Can you reliably tell the difference between these three crops – at sight? Here’s what they look like.


Wheat looks much like grass (with the stems a little wider) when it’s young. It grows taller, developing a seed-head that’s a bit like a brush. At harvest time, it’s a golden-brown colour.

Barley looks pretty similar to wheat, but is a lighter gold at harvest. Its seed head has a long ‘awns’ or ‘beard’, which stretches out past the seeds.


Corn is completely different and easy to spot! It grows in kernels – what we know as ‘corn on the cob’ – on long, thick plant stalks, which rise up past human head height.

Where do these crops grow best?

Wheat grows well in Britain, where we can rely on some hot weather in the summer, but nothing excessive, and a fair amount of rain. It needs plenty of sunshine before harvesting. Good flat land and suitable soils make the eastern areas of the UK ideal for wheat-growing.

Barley thrives in temperate climates too, making it another good crop for the UK. Again, it’s most often found in the eastern areas of the country.

Maize, meanwhile, prefers it slightly warmer. New varieties of maize have been developed that suit the UK’s climate particularly well: the crop is currently concentrated in western parts, but is spreading rapidly eastwards year by year.

How are these crops harvested?

Wheat is harvested in the summer months, when its moisture level is just right. A combine harvester cuts it (leaving the stalks in the field), threshes and winnows it, and dumps the grain into its truck. The stalks left in the ground are often ploughed back into the soil or are turned into hay bales (or stacks of hay blocks) for use as animal feed and bedding in the winter. For the barley crop too, combine harvesters are used to reap, thresh and winnow.

The golden, olden days of haymaking, with pitchforks and wagons loaded with hay and laughing infants, are long gone! Combine harvesters also put an end to traditional haystacks or ricks, which were made from the actual grain itself, left to dry before being threshed.

Harvesting techniques continue to move forward. In a futuristic move, a farm in the UK last year became the first to plant, tend and harvest an entire crop – in this case, barley – without any human setting foot in the field. Automated machines operated from a control room, as described here.

There are concerns about automation on farms, of course – and there are also significant concerns about the growing and harvesting of maize in the UK. This article from the Soil Association explains the issues very clearly. The late harvesting of maize, with the subsequent potential degradation of the soil, is a particular concern.

What do we do with these crops?

Surprisingly, we don’t eat very much of the maize we produce. It’s mostly designed for animal feed or for fuel, as described by the Soil Association in the article here.

Wheat overwhelmingly ends up as flour (wheat farmers in the UK supply almost all the country’s demand for wheat flour – and export some too). Different varieties produce different types of flour.

A smaller amount of wheat grain is sold for cooking, where it’s often simmered in stocks and stews. And, of course, the grain plays a vital role in breweries!

Barley is grown for consumption, for malting, distilling and brewing purposes, and for use as animal feed.

NGF wheat

We’ve got wheat bran, wheat germ and wheat grain in their original state, as well, of course, as a huge array of wheat flours, for all purposes. Other products, including our biscuits, breads, noodles and pasta, are made from the finest wheat flour.

If, like a certain prime minister, you’re unable to resist wheat grass in its original form, you’ll be glad to know that you can buy the grain from us for sprouting your own mini-field – along with the powdered stems of young wheatgrass too.

NGF barley

In our range of barley products, you’ll find barley malt extract and barley miso, as well as barley flakes, grain (pot and pearl) and powdered barleygrass. Naturally, various of our (lightly) processed products contain barley too.

NGF corn

Corn cakes, cereals, crispbreads and crackers fill our shelves, along with corn syrup, corn flour, couscous, pasta, polenta and popcorn.

We’ve got a rich harvest in the UK – and we make the most of it at Naturally Good Food!

Tags: barley, barley flakes, barley grain, barley malt extract, barley miso, barleygrain, barleygrass, biscuits, bread, British, cereal, corn, corn cakes, corn couscous, corn flour, corn pasta, corn syrup, cornflour, crackers, crispbread, flour, harvest, maize, noodles, pasta, pearl barley, polenta, popcorn, pot barley, soil association, wheat, wheat bran, wheat flour, wheat germ, wheat grain, wheatgrain, wheatgrass

Categorised in: Cereals, Flour, Flour Gluten Free, Gluten free, Gluten free cereals, Gluten free pasta, Grains, Sprouting, Superfoods, Supernutrients, Wholefoods

This post was written by Yzanne


Sorghum, (Sorghum bicolor), also called great millet, Indian millet, milo, durra, orshallu, cereal grain plant of the grass family (Poaceae) and its edible starchy seeds. The plant likely originated in Africa, where it is a major food crop, and has numerous varieties, including grain sorghums, used for food; grass sorghums, grown for hay and fodder; and broomcorn, used in making brooms and brushes. In India sorghum is known as jowar, cholam, or jonna, in West Africa as Guinea corn, and in China as kaoliang. Sorghum is especially valued in hot and arid regions for its resistance to drought and heat.

sorghumSorghum.© fotohunter/.com Read More on This Topic origins of agriculture: Sorghum Just as the soybean was used for many centuries in Asia before its introduction into the Western world, so sorghum was a major crop in Africa.…

Sorghum is a strong grass and usually grows to a height of 0.6 to 2.4 metres (2 to 8 feet), sometimes reaching as high as 4.6 metres (15 feet). Stalks and leaves are coated with a white wax, and the pith, or central portion, of the stalks of certain varieties is juicy and sweet. The leaves are about 5 cm (2 inches) broad and 76 cm (2.5 feet) long. The tiny flowers are produced in panicles that range from loose to dense; each flower cluster bears 800–3,000 kernels. The seeds vary widely among different types in colour, shape, and size, but they are smaller than those of wheat.

broomcornBroomcorn (Sorghum bicolor).Pethan

Sorghum is of a lower feed quality than corn (maize). It is high in carbohydrates, with 10 percent protein and 3.4 percent fat, and contains calcium and small amounts of iron, vitamin B1, and niacin. For human consumption, the gluten-free grain is usually ground into a meal that is made into porridge, flatbreads, and cakes. The characteristic strong flavour can be reduced by processing. The grain is also used in making edible oil, starch, dextrose (a sugar), paste, and alcoholic beverages. The stalks are used as fodder and building materials. Sweet sorghums, or sorgos, are grown mainly in the United States and southern Africa for forage and for syrup manufacture and are sometimes used in the production of ethyl alcohol for biofuel.

What Is Sorghum – Information About Sorghum Plants

Have you ever heard of sorghum plants? At one time, sorghum was an important crop and served as a sugar substitute for many people. What is sorghum and what other interesting sorghum grass information can we dig up? Let’s find out.

What is Sorghum?

If you grew up in the Midwestern or southern United States, you may already be familiar with sorghum plants. Maybe you’ve woken to your grandmother’s hot biscuits slathered with oleo and drenched in sorghum syrup. Okay, more likely a great-great grandmother routinely made biscuits with syrup from sorghum plants since the popularity of sorghum as a sugar substitute peaked in the 1880’s.

Sorghum is a coarse, upright grass used for grain and forage. Grain sorghum or broom sorghum is shorter, bred for higher grain yields and is also called “milo.” This annual grass needs little water and thrives during long, hot summers.

Sorghum grass seed has higher protein content than corn and is used as a principal feed ingredient for cattle and poultry. The grains are red and hard when ripe and ready for harvest. They are then dried and stored whole.

Sweet sorghum (Sorghum vulgare) is grown for the manufacture of syrup. Sweet sorghum is harvested for the stalks, not the grain, which is then crushed much like sugarcane to produce syrup. The juice from the crushed stalks is then cooked down to a concentrated sugar.

There is yet another type of sorghum. Broom corn is closely related to sweet sorghum. From a distance it looks like sweet corn in the field but it has no cobs, just a large tassel at the top. This tassel is used for, you guessed it, making brooms.

Some sorghum varieties only reach about 5 feet in height, but many sweet and broom corn plants can grow to over 8 feet.

Sorghum Grass Information

Cultivated in Egypt over 4,000 years ago, growing sorghum grass seed ranks as the number two cereal crop in Africa where production exceeds 20 million tons per year, a third of the world total.

Sorghum can be ground, cracked, steam flaked and/or roasted, cooked like rice, made into porridge, baked into breads, popped as corn and malted for beer.

In the United States, sorghum is grown primarily for forage and feed grains. Varieties of grain sorghum include:

  • Durra
  • Feterita
  • Kaffir
  • Kaoliang
  • Milo or milo maize
  • Shallu

Sorghum can also be employed as a cover crop and green manure, substitutes for some industrial processes that generally use corn, and its stems are used as a fuel and weaving material.

Very little of the sorghum that is grown in the U.S. is sweet sorghum but, at one time, it was a thriving industry. Sugar was dear during the mid-1800’s, so folks turned to sorghum syrup to sweeten their foods. However, making syrup from sorghum is highly labor intensive and has fallen out of favor in lieu of other crops, such as corn syrup.

Sorghum contains iron, calcium and potassium. Prior to the invention of daily vitamins, doctors prescribed daily doses of sorghum syrup for people suffering from maladies related to deficiencies in these nutrients.

Growing Sorghum Grass

Sorghum thrives in areas of long, warm summers with temps consistently over 90 degrees F. (32 C.). It likes sandy soil and can withstand both flooding and drought better than corn. Planting sorghum grass seed usually occurs in late May or early June when the soil is sure to have warmed sufficiently.

Soil is prepared as it is for corn with an added balanced organic fertilizer worked into the bed prior to seeding. Sorghum is self-fertile, so unlike corn, you don’t need a huge plot to aid in pollination. Sow the seeds ½ inch deep and 4 inches apart. Thin to 8 inches apart when seedlings are 4 inches high.

Thereafter, keep the area around the plants weed free. Fertilize six weeks after planting with a high nitrogen liquid fertilizer.

Corn-lookalike weed

What you have is Johnsongrass. Johnsongrass is a coarse grass that can grow up to 6 feet tall. It is very vigorous plant and in addition to spreading by seeds, it produces stout rhizomes, appearing in dense clumps or nearly solid stands.This plant is considered a perennial weed in West Virginia. However, it could be shattercane. The following links will explain the differances and offer some treatments t rid your property of these weeds. http://www.caf.wvu.edu/~forage/johnsongrass/johnsongrass.htm
Typical lawn weed killers will be ineffective as this plant is a grass. If it is in fact Johnsongrass, some herbicide resistant stands have been noted in many locations.
One aditional thought, you can rent a piece of equiepment called a weed wiper from the Conservation District. This tool allows you to apply concentrated round up or a similar contact herbicide to agressivly growing weeds without killing the less prolific shorter and or cool season grasses. To throughly kill a stand if this particular weed, it may take more than one application. The application efficacy will be enhanced if you apply the chemicals or treat the stand when the plants are moving neutrients into the roots (summer and fall) as opposed to when the roots are sending neutrients the other direction (spring).

Throughout the spring, summer and fall, water corn plants about once each week. Provide a balanced fertilizer at half strength once each month. Be careful not to overwater this plant. Keep the soil slightly moist, but not dripping wet. In late fall and winter, allow the top 2 inches of soil to dry before watering the plant, and do not give it any fertilizer. Always keep it in a container with drain holes in the bottom and empty the saucer beneath the container after the water drains through. Keep it in potting soil that drains well. Check how well the soil drains by picking up a handful of it a few days after watering and squeezing it. If water drips out of the potting mix, it is not draining quickly enough. Use a potting mix that contains vermiculite or perlite to improve drainage. Only replant corn plants when they become root-bound, which commonly occurs every two to three years. If the potting mix has broken down and is not draining, change the potting mix. Do not put it in a larger container unless it is root-bound.

A Terrific Thursday,

Last weekend, Uncle Joe and Brother Charles started harvesting the milo. What is milo and why do the brothers grow and harvest milo?

In the United States, milo, which is also known as grain sorghum, is primarily a food grain for livestock. Its feed value ranges from 90% to nearly equal to corn, and it is quite a tasty meal for those hungry critters.

Grain sorghum is a grass derivative similar to corn. The Vavilovian Center of Origin for grain sorghum is Ethiopia. See the article entitled, “Who is Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov?” at http://www.unclejoestories.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=310&action=edit

Before 1940 milo was 5-7 feet tall, which made it hard to harvest, but the scientists figured out how to dwarf it to 2-4 feet with even more grain on the head. The head is called a panicle, with spikelets in pairs. Here are two pictures from last Saturday showing that spikey old sorghum head:

And, here’s looking at a field of milo near Uncle Joe’s house:

One of the reasons Uncle Joe likes and grows milo is that grain sorghum likes hot weather, which he has in Central Texas. Milo enjoys a day-time temperature of at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), and those temperatures are very normal here in June and July. So, milo has a potential advantage over corn in a hot weather region such as Central Texas.

Sorghum is harvested as a standing crop using a combine. Here is a picture of Uncle Joe’s combine leaving the field loaded with milo — see the red grain piled on top (be careful, don’t get too close, it is very itchy stuff, so don’t get it on you):

You can see the standing milo on the right that still needs to be harvested.

You have to be careful harvesting because the sorghum seed is easily damaged. That is why the combine platform is operated as high as possible. After the combine does its work, most of the plant remains standing in the field, with only the heads threshed. In the picture below, the combine has just off-loaded the milo seeds into the grain truck and is turning around. Notice the height of the trimed plants in the back:

And, here is the combine heading back for another load. You can see the complicated head arrangement with all the spinning wires. I bet these help to protect the seeds from bruising during the harvesting operation:

There you have it: a day in the milo fields with Uncle Joe and Charles.

Enjoy your day and may it be productive,

Grandpa Jim

All About Growing Sorghum

Sweet sorghum, also called cane sorghum, is grown for the sweet juice that is extracted from the tall stalks. The ‘Dale’ variety is productive in a range of climates, or you can try heirloom sweet sorghum varieties like ‘Sugar Drip’ or ‘Rox Orange.’ For more information on this type of sorghum, go to Sweet Sorghum Revival: How to Grow Your Own Natural Sweetener.

Broom corn is a type of sorghum that holds its seeds on sturdy straws, perfect for trimming into brooms. The ornamental tops also can be used in dried arrangements. Broom corn varieties vary in the color of the seeds, which may be black, red, orange or white. The seeds are eagerly eaten by chickens and other animals, and are most palatable when cracked.

How to Plant Sorghum

There is no rush to plant sorghum, which needs warm soil to germinate and grow. Even in warm climates, sorghum is customarily planted in late May or early June.

Prepare soil much as you would for corn, and be sure to mix a balanced organic fertilizer into the bed or row before planting. Unlike corn, sorghum is self-fertile, so a large plot is not needed for pollination purposes. Sow seeds one-half inch deep and 4 inches apart, and thin to 8 inches apart when the seedlings are 4 inches tall.

For more specific recommended planting dates for your local climate — and to design your garden beds — try our Vegetable Garden Planner.

Growing Sorghum

Keep weeds under control until developing sorghum plants are big enough to dominate their space. Six weeks after planting, drench sorghum with a high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer to invigorate new growth. Many grain sorghum varieties grow to only 5 feet tall, but sweet sorghum and broom corn plants can top 8 feet.


Harvesting and Storage

Like corn, grains of sorghum go through an immature “milk” stage when a pierced kernel will bleed a milk-like juice. Sweet sorghum is harvested about two weeks after the milk stage by cutting off the canes at ground level, stripping off the leaves, and setting aside the green canes. The ground, pressed canes yield a sweet, light green juice that is then cooked into sorghum syrup. The barely-mature seeds can be fed to animals, or cooked and eaten like other whole grains.

Grain sorghum and broom corn are harvested later, after the seeds are fully mature, with hard glossy seed coats. Harvest grain sorghum by cutting off the seed clusters with a few inches of stalk attached, and dry them in a warm, well-ventilated place for at least a week. Roll the dried seed heads over a hardware cloth screen to free the seeds, and then winnow out plant debris and store your processed harvest in the freezer.

When the seeds of broom corn are hard and the plants begin to fail, cut stalks as long as you want them for decorating or crafting purposes. Allow the stalks to dry in small bunches.

Propagating Sorghum

In summer, select vigorous plants for seed production, and make sure they receive adequate food and water throughout the season. In fall, during a period of dry weather, select the largest seeds produced by these plants and save them for replanting.

For growing advice for many more garden crops, check out our complete Crops at a Glance Guide.

Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.

All About Sorghum

How is sorghum used?

In the United States, and other countries across the globe, sorghum grain is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol production, but is becoming popular in the consumer food industry and other emerging markets.

The livestock industry is one of the longest-standing marketplaces for sorghum in the U.S. In the livestock industry, sorghum is utilized in feed rations for poultry, beef, dairy and swine. Stems and foliage are also used for green chop, hay, silage and pasture.

Traditionally, nearly one-third of the U.S. sorghum crop is used for renewable fuel production. In fact, sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as comparable feedstocks while using up to one-third less water. Learn more about sorghum’s role in ethanol here.

Sorghum exports have represented a large portion of the U.S. sorghum marketplace over the last few years. International sorghum customers have included Mexico, China, Japan and many other countries. Sorghum is typically used for animal feed within these countries, but other opportunities in the consumer food industries as well as ethanol production are arising. Learn more information about how sorghum fits into the international marketplace here.

The consumer food industry is a growing marketplace for sorghum. With so many healthy benefits packed in every delicious grain, consumers are finding creative ways to use sorghum in recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks. Plus, sorghum grain can be cooked using a stove top, slow cooker, oven or rice cooker to add a new twist to favorite recipes. As a result, sorghum now can be found in more than 350 product lines in the U.S. alone. Learn more about how consumer demand for sorghum is on the rise.

Sorghum is also used for new and expanding markets such as building material, fencing, floral arrangements, pet food, brooms and more. Sorghum’s versatility gives it the flexibility to reach beyond traditional marketplaces, further enhancing producer profitability. Discover more about sorghum’s innovation.

Grow and Save Sorghum Seeds

How to Grow Sorghum

Sorghum is grown for beer-making, syrup production, and for their edible grains. Some varieties of sorghum, such as broom corn, are used for crafts.

Time of Planting

Sorghum is a heat-loving plant. It grows best in climates with long summers. Many gardeners do not direct sow their sorghum until mid-May or even early June.

Spacing Requirements

Direct-sow sorghum seeds ¼” deep 8-12” apart.

Time to Germination

4-10 days

Common Pests and Diseases

Protect your sorghum crop from predation by birds by covering maturing seed heads with bags or pieces of row cover.

When and How to Harvest

Harvest sorghum grain when the seeds can no longer be dented with a fingernail. Cane sorghum should be harvested before the first frost by cutting down stalks with hedge trimmers or a very sharp knife.


Sorghum has numerous uses in the kitchen. Sorghum seeds can be cooked as a grain and enjoyed in dishes that call for brown rice or barley. The seeds can be popped like popcorn. Sorghum flour is also used in breads and other baked dishes. Some varieties of sorghum were bred for their stalks, or canes, which produce a sugary liquid. This liquid can be pressed and boiled down to produce sorghum syrup.

How to Save Sorghum Seeds

Life Cycle


Recommended Isolation Distance

When saving seeds from sorghum, separate varieties by 100-200 feet.

Recommended Population Sizes

You only need to plant one sorghum plant in order to harvest viable seeds. To maintain a variety over many generations, save seeds from between 10-25 plants.

Assessing Seed Maturity

Sorghum seeds are best harvested when they feel dry and resist denting when you press them with a fingernail.

Cleaning and Processing

Seeds are easily threshed by rubbing seed heads by hand or by stripping the seed stalks. The seeds may still be inclosed in their casings, or glumes, after threshing, but this does not impact saving and storing seeds. Seeds can then be screened and winnowed.

Storage and Viability

When stored in cool, dark, and dry conditions, sorghum seeds will remain viable for 10 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *