Buckwheat is extremely easy to grow and has many advantages to gardeners, as a food source and to the environment. With so many positive attributes, it is hard to argue why a person shouldn't plant buckwheat.
While buckwheat can thrive in poor soil, it is unable to tolerate frost. Therefore you should not plant buckwheat too early in the spring because a late frost can foil your efforts. The best time to plant buckwheat in areas with a short growing season is usually later in the summer, from mid-July to early August. This fast growing plant begins to flower in four weeks and produces grain in 8 to 12 weeks. If planting buckwheat as a cover crop, it can be planted in late spring or early summer. Before it goes to seed, you can turn it into mulch or green manure for the next crop you plant.
There are different methods for planting buckwheat seeds. Some gardeners prefer to plant the seeds about an inch deep in narrow rows. Others prefer to scatter seeds randomly over raised beds, using about ¾ of a cup of seeds for every 32 square feet of ground (or three ounces for every 100 feet). The seeds should be covered by dry leaves or soil to prevent birds from eating them. Remember not to over water buckwheat, it does not do well in over saturated soil or shade.
Benefits of Buckwheat
- Cover crop: Many gardeners and farmers use buckwheat as a cover crop. This means it is used on tilled soil not currently being used for other plants or the soil is too poor for other plants. The plant does well in heat and requires little water. Before it goes to seed, the buckwheat can be tilled back into the soil and used as a green manure.
- Buckwehat honey: Beekeepers plant buckwheat because of the great symbiotic relationship it has with honey bees. Buckwheat flowers need pollination from bees and the flowers provide the bees with the nectar they need to produce a dark and distinctively flavored honey known as buckwheat honey.
- Gluten-free and antioxidant rich: Despite the name, buckwheat is not a type of wheat at all, it is actually related to rhubarb. According to the World's Healthiest Foods.org, buckwheat is gluten-free and due to its high concentration of amino acids, it is an excellent source of plant protein. Buckwheat is also a good source of minerals and antioxidants.
According to the University of Missouri's Extension website, there are very few varieties of buckwheat grown in the U.S. The majority is referred to as "common" buckwheat. Other varieties include Canadian grown Mancan and Manor. A U.S. based company called Winsor Grain, Inc., produces a type of buckwheat known as Winsor Royal.
Buckwheat is ready to harvest when the grain (seed) is ripe. The seeds will have a dark brown appearance and you should begin seeing this around the tenth to eleventh week after sowing. Most gardeners use threshing to remove the seeds, while commercial growers use windrowing or swathing methods. The grain is usually ground and mixed with other grains when used as feed for livestock, milled into flour for human consumption or used as poultry feed while still in seed form.
Not many plants can ask so little of their environment yet give back so much. Buckwheat has been underestimated and under appreciated by those who are ignorant of its true nature. If nothing else, do your local honey bees a favor and make some room for buckwheat in your garden or backyard this summer.