Barley

The traditional commercial cereal crop around here is barley – mostly destined for the whisky distilleries. Oats grow well and wheat is occasionally seen, but mostly the golden summer fields in these parts are barley. I’m experimenting this year with growing barley on the allotment – I won’t be able to grow enough to do all the feed for the livestock but I can do some, and the principles will be useful when I scale up in future years.

Most of the commercial farmers have now just finished drilling their spring barley so I bought a sack of barley from the local feed merchants/farmers’ suppliers and did some research into how much I needed. I’m only sowing an area 7m by 1m, not a whole field, so the 25kg sack that I got (the smallest they sell) is far too big! It won’t go to waste, though – I’m sprouting some for the bunnies and the chickens will certainly eat whole barley without complaint if the sprouting doesn’t work out.

I looked up the sowing rate for barley and it’s recommended for spring sowing at 350-400 grains per square metre, with the higher rate being better for later plantings. I have better things to do than sit and count that many grains of barley, however, so I counted 50, then weighed them on the kitchen scales. 50 grains weighs 2g, so multiplied by 8 (to give the weight of 400 grains) and then by 7 (for my 7 square metres of seed bed) gave me a grand total of 1,12kg of grain required in total.

Our weather’s been very dry and the soil, being short of organic material, is also on the dry side, so to give the seeds a good start I decided to soak them in water overnight. This softens the seed coat, kickstarts the germination process and means I don’t have to muck about watering the whole seed bed after sowing and risk washing my broadcast seeds into clumps.

Soaked barley seed

Soaked barley seed

The following morning, I took my now somewhat greater volume of barley, all plump and luscious-looking, to the allotment and carefully scattered it as evenly as I could over a freshly-raked bed, then raked it in lightly. The fresh grain was a brilliant shiny gold against the soil, practically glowing, and the local rooks were almost queueing up watching, so raking helps to camouflage the seeds in the soil slightly as well as helping to get them into the soil for when they root. You can see in this picture how the grains on the left are less visible than those on the right.

Barley seed, partly raked in.

Barley seed, partly raked in.

The rooks were still watching, though, and all the crow family are intelligent, resourceful critters, so I finished off by stretching a length of fleece over the bed and weighting it down around the edges with rocks.

Barley, safely covered with fleece.

Barley, safely covered with fleece.

Now I just have to wait and see how it does!

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