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If you’ve ever wondered How to Grow Buckwheat to improve your crop rotations, this post contains all the information you could need to get started! Learn how to grow it, when and where, and the best way to use it in your vegetable garden or yard.
What is Buckwheat?
Common buckwheat is a very fast growing grain originally native to central Asia. Part of the Polygonaceae or “knotweed” family, this cover crop is a flowering plant that’s typically cultivated for its seeds. Easy to grow, buckwheat comes in with arrow or heart shaped leaves and yields pink and white flowers that resemble other knotweeds when they bloom.
Buckwheat has many different uses – you can harvest the grain, thresh it and then mill it. Turn it into a delicious buckwheat pancake. Or feed it off to your livestock; poultry loves buckwheat.
You can use it as a green manure crop in your garden beds, because it is great for aerating your soil and greatly improving the quality of poor soil. Buckwheat is a wonderful soil builder! And we need to build our soil – naturally all we have is clay. Here’s how to improve clay soil, if you have it.
You can also plant buckwheat for weed control, as this plant is naturally proficient when it comes to smothering weeds. Plant it between rows of corn or anywhere you need to retain soil moisture.
Other buckwheat cover crop benefits: this plant is a fantastic source of nectar. Buckwheat also attracts beneficial insects like hover flies, certain predatory wasps, lady beetles, and more. These insects are excellent for controlling mites, aphids, and other pests that might cause harm to your buckwheat or other garden plants.
Though often likened to true cereal grains like barley, oats, and rye, buckwheat isn’t in the grass family and is more of a pseudocereal grain. This plant also contains lysine, an amino acid that’s rare to find in true cereal grains.
How to Grow Buckwheat
- Choose your buckwheat seed based on climate. There are two major kinds of buckwheat: Common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) and Tartary buckwheat (Fagopyrum tartaricum). Common buckwheat is better for lower altitudes and temperature climates. Tartary buckwheat resists frost and therefore thrives better in colder climates. This latter variety also self-produces, or inbreeds using its own pollen.
- Learn buckwheat growing seasons. Though this plant isn’t too fussy, it’s important to give it the best chance possible of thriving. Sow your buckwheat seeds outdoors a week to a month after the average last frost date in your climate. You can even sow as far into the year as late spring or summer.
- Surface sow your buckwheat seeds, or plant them up to a half an inch deep. Plant buckwheat in an area that gets at least 4-6 hours of full sun or partial sunlight for best results. Soil quality only matters to a certain extent; buckwheat naturally improves soil that may otherwise be hard to grow in.
- If you’re looking to accelerate soil improvement, mix in some fertilizer to the soil before planting.
- Wait for your buckwheat to grow. Edible leaves will be present in about 3 weeks, the plant will flower after a month to a month and a half, and the buckwheat grain can take anywhere from 70-85 days.
Uses for Buckwheat
- Buckwheat grain and flour: One of the most common uses for this plant is using its grain. After dehulling the seeds, grind them into flour to use for foods like buckwheat pancakes or soba noodles. Use buckwheat flour as a gluten-free flour alternative as well. Just be aware that because of the lack of gluten, some recipes that require wheat flour (like many breads) won’t have the same lift or rise if buckwheat flour is used.
- Pillows: Use leftover buckwheat hulls to stuff pillows. Though slightly crunchy, buckwheat hull pillows remain cooler than other kinds of pillows. The Japanese have used buckwheat hulls in pillows for centuries.
- Livestock feed: Buckwheat acts as an excellent supplement for livestock diet. Feed either whole grain buckwheat or buckwheat groats to livestock. Harvest the plants for hay, but be aware that buckwheat hay lacks the protein to be sufficient for cattle ration. Combine buckwheat hay with a supplemental protein source for best results. Buckwheat can also attract wildlife like deer, wild turkey, and pheasants.
Why does buckwheat make a good cover crop?
A quick cover, buckwheat establishes quickly and easily. Because of its quick germination, this crop covers ground within just a few days. Buckwheat acts as a natural weed suppressor, and it also improves soil. This crop takes in phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients that other plants may not be able to use, then later releases the nutrients through mild acids in the roots.
Buckwheat flowers attract pollinators like honey bees, and buckwheat honey is another potential product that can be made from the flowers. The heart-shaped leaves spread quickly and provide a beautiful, lush visual in any garden or yard.
When to plant buckwheat as a cover crop?
Plant buckwheat in the late spring or early summer. Otherwise, choose a time when your garden will be empty or nearly empty for 6 weeks to about 2 months.
When to cut buckwheat cover crop?
Avoid setting seed by cutting your buckwheat within a week to a week and a half of the first flowering. If you mow it too late, there’s potential for buckwheat to become a weed in your following crop. Be sure to cut the plants before the seeds reach maturity. You’ll know the seeds are mature when they start to harden and turn brown. Either leave the buckwheat residue on the surface or till it into the soil. When left on the surface, the mulch will gradually release nutrients and continue to maintain soil quality while suppressing weeds.
How to grow buckwheat in Canada?
Keep your climate in mind when choosing buckwheat seeds. Buckwheat thrives in the Canadian Prairies and doesn’t require any special equipment! If you live in a colder climate, opt for Tartary buckwheat, which is more resistant to cold and frost.
How to store buckwheat?
When it comes to long term storage, you’ll want to keep your buckwheat in the fridge or freezer. Your buckwheat will last up to 3 months storied properly in the fridge, and in the freezer it can be good for as long as 6 months. Wherever you choose to store it, keep your buckwheat in an airtight container. This will keep out potential threats like moisture or pests like insects.
Use Buckwheat to Improve your Garden Soil
Buckwheat has a turnaround time of about 5 weeks from seeding to flowering. That’s pretty quick and with our growing season, Buckwheat works very well for us. We should be able to get 2 successive seedings of Buckwheat in the same area during the warmer months.
If you live in a warmer climate than Zone 3 in BC, you should be able to get 3 harvests a year. I first planted Buckwheat in part of our Berry Bed, which had become overrun with weeds. In the early Spring, after pulling as many of the weeds that I could, we had a trailer load of horse manure spread over the bed.
Then I put my hens in there on a daily basis to start working through the manure with their powerful feet. Within a week they had it all broken down and it was nice and fluffy. Want to read about how our chickens work everyday to earn their keep? There are no free lunches at our place! On June 10 I broadcasted the buckwheat seed and raked it in. It was watered every day as that whole berry bed is on a timer system.
By July 16 the Buckwheat looked like this. See how it can shade out the weeds?
And by July 31 it looked like this. Beautiful white nodding flowers covered the whole Buckwheat patch. This is when it should be harvested.
It looked so pretty, it was hard to think about cutting it down. But, it had to be done.
Cutting the Buckwheat
Since my patch wasn’t that large, I just use my large garden shears to cut the patch down. If you have a good sized bed of Buckwheat growing, you could use a weedeater!
Here is the stubble left behind which I will dig into the soil. This will help improve the soil and I will take any small improvement I can get.
I wanted to feed the Buckwheat off to the laying hens and they loved it. They gobbled it right up!
We hung the Buckwheat in our Greenhouse until it was dried. Every day, we just grab a bundle and throw it in for the laying hens.
Five weeks from start to finish and it smothers all the weeds due to the nice big canopy that the leaves of the Buckwheat provides. Now we regularly grow Buckwheat any place we can. What began as a garden experiment has turned out to be an ongoing part of our plan to continually be building up our soil.
We also grow Fall Rye – I have been using this as a soil amendment for over twenty years. It works great; we use it here at the end of the season. We never like to see bare soil in the garden, as we have worked so hard to build it up from the clay it once was.
So, when I harvest the last of a certain veggie and I know nothing else can get planted and harvested before Winter sets in, I sow Fall Rye. Here’s just how we work with Fall Rye as a green manure here.