Suburban gardens encompass 190 million acres in the US. The USDA estimates it takes approximately one acre to produce enough food to feed a person in the US. Just think about how many people we can feed if we utilized just some of the land in our yards to grow food. In this episode we meet food scape evangelist Brie Arthur, who explains how to add ancient grains to your garden and reap big rewards. Check out the hashtag #PlantSomethingEdible for more great ideas. You can follow Brie on social media with #CrazyGrainLady #SuburbanGrainExperiement
Thanks to our sponsor Garden Destinations Magazine for making this episode possible
Seeds and Sources
- Black Tip, German Spelt and Ornamental Oats from Seedman
- Black Emmer, Ghirka, Hungarian White, Huron, and Spring (awned bulk) Wheat from Backyard Seed Savers
- Emmer and White Sonora Wheat from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed
- Red Turkey Winter Wheat from Seed Savers Exchange
- The modern variety Glenn-Chip Hope from Western Piedmont Community College
As a service to our followers, we offer a complete transcript of this show
Welcome to the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. We’re gearing up for the fall planting season and I’m on a mission to see just how home grown, home made food can be. Today I’m learning that I can grow some some basics in my yard that I’ve never considered.
But last year from an 850 square foot space we ended up with 25 pounds of ground flour. To me that’s meaningful.
Thanks to Garden Destinations who sponsored this story. Garden Destinations is a new digital magazine for travelers who want to include the world’s finest public gardens and garden destinations in their travel plans. You can find them at their website, GardenDestinations.com.
Now, on with today’s story…
I come from a farming family and I try to make my tiny patch of suburban heaven as productive as possible. While newspapers and gardening magazines are touting the glories of urban gardening there’s a lot of land out here in suburbia. In fact the Extension Service reports that collectively our yards encompass about 190 million acres. That’s about as much land as all of our national parks combined.
The USDA says it takes roughly an acre of land to feed a person in the US. Just imagine how much food we could produce if we utilized just some of our suburban lawns to grow food. Now I have lots of different plants tucked in my ornamental beds and I and thought I was doing pretty well —tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, strawberries, blueberries. You get the idea. But then I met someone who is rocking it old school. Really old school.
My name is Brie Arthur
Where are we?
I’m noticing your flowerbeds. Beautiful larkspur. But right now there’s something else peeping out. Can you tell me more about that?
I’ve become obsessed with grains. Grains have this great opportunity, particularly here in the southeast where we have a milder winter climate, to have something green all winter. Growing wheat and different varieties of oats and of course, summer grains like rice and sorghum. I think its an unusual edible and a real nod to what’s at the base of all of our diets. Whether you eat carbohydrates directly or you eat animals, you’re never eliminating the carbohydrates from your consumption in some context.
Brie is growing 12 different varieties of ancient grains in her garden. These are grains which are not in commercial production and have not changed through cross-breeding or genetic modification. While they may have better nutritional value they often have traits which make them undesirable for large-scale agriculture, but well suited for our gardens. Brie’s description of how she grows her grains may sound familiar to our great grandparents.
I’m using 18th century methods. I still hand harvest everything. I’m doing it in a way where I’m using the bio mass to help build my soil profile. So nothing goes to waste. I leave the roots in tact. I just cut them off at the ground. Cut the heads off. This year we’re going to be hand threshing. We have a threshing board that we beat the seeds out, and it will collect into a bucket. From there you grind the seed and that’s how you get flour. Its just that simple. It’s something our ancestors all did.
How much can you produce in a typical suburban garden?
That’s part of what this experiement is about. I think some varieties are going to be more productive than others. But last year from an 850 square foot space we ended up with 25 pounds of ground flour. To me that’s meaningful. If every person in this neighborhood had 850 square feet of wheat in production and that flour went to our local bakery we would really reduce the amount of flour that’s coming from 3,000 miles away by a significant margin. And this is just one neighborhood. If you think about all the neighborhoods that are surrounding every city across this country. There’s a lot of power that’s not being harnessed in the suburban landscape. So my hope is to raise awareness. Not just with the fun summer crops but with the real staples. This is not to suggesting you’re not going to buy food at the grocery store. Its a supplemental approach to changing ultimately the dynamic of commercial agriculture. Trying to hyper localize some of the things that are at the base of our nutrition and cut down the food miles crisis. Everybody wins.
Having no experience growing grains, I had to quiz Brie about some of the basics. Like when to plant.
I recommend to everybody stop shopping on Black Friday and sow your oats. Literally. In the southeast you can sow these grains anytime as the soil temperatures are getting cooler. I think you can really start mid October and do it anytime up to Christmas, until late December. You have a good two month window to get them in the ground.
Grain crops have extremely long roots. A good rule of thumb is the roots of a mature grain crop plant can be about twice as long as the part of the plant you see above ground. Their roots go much deeper than most of our garden plants. Grains are great for controlling erosion and I’m going to try some oats on a steep hill in my yard.
Brie’s garden is pretty. The oats and wheat provide texture and movement —they remind me a lot of ornamental grass. But unlike grasses these grains stay green throughout the winter and turn gold in the late summer. And they’re cheap to plant — some under a dollar for a pound of seed —and and that goes a long way. I’m going to buy a few different varieties and share with my gardening friends. We’ve listed sources for seed on our website, TriangleGardener.com.
Here at Triangle Gardener we want to know what edible plants work well in your gardens. So we’ve joined the national PlantSomething campaign and we’re asking you to tell us what edible plants you enjoy growing here by using the hashtag #PlantSomethingEdible in your social media postings. So tag your favorite edible plants on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and anywhere else in your digital world with #PlantSomethingEdible.
You can find our show on iTunes. If you like what we’re doing give us a review. I’m Lise Jenkins. This is the Triangle Gardener show. We’re your guide to enjoyable gardening in North Carolina. Thanks for listening.