Homegrown Oat Grains – Learn How To Grow Oats At Home For Food


By: Amy Grant

I start the morning off with a warm bowl of oatmeal and I know I’m in good company. Many of us realize the health benefits of oatmeal and regularly purchase the grain, but have you ever wondered “can you grow oats for food at home?” Growing oats in home gardens is really no different than growing grass for a lawn except you don’t mow down the seed heads; you eat them! Interested in homegrown oat grains? Keep reading to find out how to grow oats at home.

Can You Grow Oats at Home?

Oats are used in a multitude of ways, whether crushed or rolled or ground into flour. Oats are even used for brewing beer in England and in Latin America a cold beverage made from ground oats and milk is popular.

But I digress, we were wondering about growing oats in home gardens. It is very possible to grow your own oats even if you only have a small garden plot. The introduction of hull-less oats has made it even easier to grow your own oats since they need less processing once harvested.

How to Grow Oats at Home

Sow seeds outdoors in a sunny area with well-draining soil. Just broadcast them over a well cultivated area. Try to get them fairly evenly distributed.

Once the seeds have been broadcasted, lightly rake over the area. The goal here is to cover the seeds with an inch (2.5 cm.) or so of soil, so the birds don’t get to them before they can germinate.

Once you have sown the oat seed, keep the area moist while your homegrown oat grains germinate. Continue to provide irrigation as they grow since oats like more moisture than most other grains.

Further caring for backyard oat crops is minimal. There is no need to weed and the denseness of the crop would make it futile to attempt anyway. Within 45 days or so, the green kernels atop the grain stalks should be turning from green to cream colored and the oats will be between 2 to 5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 m.) tall.

Harvesting Homegrown Oats

Don’t wait to harvest until the kernels are hard or you will likely lose a lot of grain. The kernel should still be soft and easily dented with a fingernail. To harvest the oats, cut the seed heads from the stalks as high up as possible. Higher up is better, as you will have less straw to mess with when threshing the grains.

Now that the oats are harvested, you need to let them cure. The length of time for curing will vary depending upon the weather and may be several days to several weeks. Store the oats in a warm, dry area while curing them.

Once the kernels are ripe, you can thresh out the oats. Spread out a tarp or sheet and then either stomp the oats loose from the stalks (cover the oats first before tromping all over them) or use some other implement, like a plastic baseball bat, to thresh the oats from the stalks (chaff).

Then separate the oats from the left over pieces of stalk. Place the oats and chaff in a bowl or bucket and toss it up into the wind. The wind will blow out the loose chaff while the heavier oats drop back into the bowl or bucket.

The threshed oats can be stored in an air-tight container in a cool, dark area for up to 3 months.

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How to Plant Oats for Fall Deer Food Plots

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Attracting wildlife to a feeding station, or food plot, serves a variety of purposes for both the large-scale farmer and the country gardener. In the cooler months, when food is scarce, deer are known to ravage winter gardens unless a food plot is created as a diversionary tactic. Planting winter oats for deer in the fall not only provides them with a nutrient-rich diet that enables them to withstand the cold winter months, but it also invigorates the soil and prepares it for spring planting. USDA plant hardiness zones 7 and colder yield a greater production of the crop, while warmer zone yields are lower but still viable.


An exciting new addition to the Siskiyou Seeds collection is the various cover crop seeds now available. Amongst them, a truly versatile plant, the Oat. In Avena sativa, which easily translates from Latin into cultivated oat, we find a great companion for the garden. A cover crop, food and fodder for human and animals and also a wonderful and adaptive plant medicine.

Oats make an excellent companion to peas in cover crops and emphasize the ability for peas to fix nitrogen in the soil. They grow quickly, help with erosion control and enjoy the cold moist seasons. Oats can be surface sown in the fall or early spring for an excellent soil building weed suppressant in your garden. Avena sativa is a tufted grass with a fibrous root in the Poacea family and can grow to be about 5 feet tall. It takes about a week to germinate and will fruit in 100 days in the Spring or about 270 days if Autumn sown.

The part that you are probably most acquainted with is likely the kernel of which the end result is oatmeal! Mature oat seed is harvested and made into whole oats, rolled oats, oat milk and many other nourishing products. Oats are often fed to animals both the green grass, hay and the seed. The part used in herbal medicine is the fresh milky immature oat seed. It is in optimum stage for medicine making when immature and you can take the oat kernel between your fingers and squeeze a “milky” white exudate from the endosperm.

Humans have been cultivating oats for a thousand of years with good reason and it would take much more than a short post to exalt the many benefits of the addition of oats to your diet and to your garden. Some of the most notable are that oats are high in amino acids, vitamins and soluble fiber, they contain high levels of lysine and have anti-oxidant properties to help prevent free radicals in your body from damaging your DNA. Oats contain B-glucan which is said to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Oats can also improve insulin function and normalize blood glucose. As oats are a food, the medicine made from them is gentle and nourishing to many body systems. They are considered to be helpful with anxiety, a true tonic to the nervous system. Milky oats can be made into a tea or tincture or decoction.

This year I will definitely be adding oats to my cover crop program. Eliot Coleman recommends under sowing oats with tomatoes in his “New Organic Gardener”. Usually for cover crop you would want to crimp, mow or let your animals chew down the grass before it goes to seed. If you want to grow oats as a cover crop and for medicine making I would recommend leaving part of your cover crop standing so you can harvest the milky oats when they are ready. It you have a small space that you are cover cropping you could leave all of it to go to seed and then be sure to harvest the milky oats before they mature. Oats are prolific and you want to make sure to not let them go to seed. They are safe to use for people and the issue of gluten contamination with factory processed oats is not a problem with home grown oats.

Al-Snafi, Ali Esmail. “THE NUTRITIONAL AND THERAPEUTIC IMPORTANCE OF AVENA SATIVA - AN OVERVIEW.” International Journal of Phytotherapy , vol. 5, no. 1, 2015, pp. 48–56. research gate , www.researchgate.net/publication/313664348_The_nutritional_and_therapeutic_importance_of_Avena_sativa_-_An_Overview .

Assefa, G., 2006. Avena sativa L. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Resources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. Accessed 12 November 2020.

Coleman, Eliot, 1938-. The New Organic Grower : a Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener. White River Junction, Vt. :Chelsea Green Pub. Co., 1995.


Can you grow oats at home?

To challenge me to follow through with my question, they sent me a few oat seeds to plant. This oat variety is called Leggett, and it is one of the main oats varieties used to make Cheerios. I know from being in the bread business that the variety of a plant you use can drastically change the flavors of your finished product, so I’m sure this variety of oat has special characteristics to make Cheerios taste good.

Oats are a sustainable crop that usually require less fertilizer and pesticides than other major crops, and they are hardy and have persevered when other crops (like wheat) have struggled. They typically rely entirely on rainfall – instead of irrigation – for water (good for me because I’m bad at remembering to water plants!)

Here were the growing tips Cheerios team sent me:


Harvesting Grain

As you admire your wheat stand, you’ll notice in midsummer (later for spring wheat) that the color of the stalks turns from green to yellow or brown. The heads, heavy with grain, tip toward the earth. This means it’s time to test the grain. Choose a head, pick out a few grains, and pop them into your mouth. If they are soft and doughy, the grain is not yet ready. Keep testing. One day the grains will be firm and crunchy, and it will be time to harvest.

At harvest, how should you cut the wheat? If you have a small enough plot, you’ll just snip the heads of wheat off the stems. It goes quickly if your wheat field is no larger than about 6 feet wide by 25 feet long.

Using a scythe. If you like the old-time way of doing things and are going to harvest a larger amount of grain, you might use a scythe and cradle. The cradle is a series of long wooden fingers mounted above the scythe blade. The scythe cuts the wheat, and then the cradle carries the cut wheat to the end of each swing and deposits it in a neat pile, stacked with all the heads grouped together. You could cut with the scythe alone, but you would spend a lot of time picking up the cut wheat and arranging it for easier handling.

Harvesting with a sickle. Another possible tool for cutting small amounts of grain is the sickle. It’s a matter of grab and cut, grab and cut. Hold a handful of wheat in your left hand and swing the sickle with your right to cut the plants at nearly ground level. It’s possible to kneel or crouch in various positions to avoid getting too tired. As you cut handfuls, lay them in small piles with all the heads pointed in the same direction.

Binding sheaves. The next step is to bind the grain into sheaves, each about 12 to 14 inches in circumference — a bunch you can hold comfortably in your hands. Bind the same day you cut the wheat. It’s nice to have two people taking turns cutting and binding. You can bind with cord or baler’s twine or even with some of the wheat stems, twisting them in a way that holds the bundle firm.

Curing the grain. Stack sheaves upright in a well-ventilated, dry location safe from grain-eating animals. Our ancestors stacked sheaves to make shocks in the field, but with small quantities, it’s easy to bring the sheaves in out of the weather. The grain has been cured when it is hard, shatters easily, and cannot be dented with your thumbnail.

Threshing. Now it’s time to thresh the grain — to separate the straw and chaff from it. You can go about this in any number of ways. One method is flailing. A flail consists of one piece of wood about 3 feet long — the handle — attached with a leather thong to a shorter piece about 2 feet long. The shorter piece is flung at the heads of grain repeatedly, shattering a few heads each time. If you are using this method, you can expect to produce about 3 pounds of wheat in 20 to 25 minutes. That’s slow work. Also, there’s a trick to learning to swing the tail without rapping yourself on the head.

Another way is to beat the individual sheaves against the inside of a large, clean trash can. In two hours a thresher can produce a can full of wheat, but with a lot of chaff and even solid heads in it. This is faster than flailing, but produces more debris that has to be separated from the wheat.

Winnowing. The usual method for winnowing is pouring the grain from one container to another, letting either the wind or the breeze from an electric fan push the lighter chaff out of the grain. Repeat the process a few times to get the grain as chaff-free as possible.


UNH Extension

For many gardeners, tilling the garden is as much a part of the spring gardening routine as fertilizing and planting. Gardeners come to rely on tillage to prepare a clean, fluffy seed bed, kill weeds, and simply turn the page. Tillage has other benefits too, including helping warm up the soil for planting, but increasingly gardeners are tuning in to some of the downsides of tillage and are exploring a new way of gardening with less tillage.

Mechanical Tillage

When gardeners think about tilling, rototilling often comes to mind first. Rototillers range in size, but for a garden setting are typically a gas-powered piece of equipment that is hand pushed and has wheels and uses blades to churn and break up soil. Mechanical tillage does have its place, especially in the formation of new garden beds with high compaction and low organic matter. In most cases, however, non-mechanical approaches to working with soil can help you accomplish your goals without negative effects on your soil.

If you are going to use mechanical tillage, such as a rototiller, you will want to avoid doing so when the soil is wet. For gardeners that are used to rototilling in the early spring, this is a common mistake that can compound problems of tillage. If you rototill before the soil has dried slightly from winter, the soil will be compacted once it does dry. Soil is dry enough to rototill so long as it does not stick to your shovel and shoes, and crumbles when squeezed. If you are going to use mechanical tillage, it should be done sparingly and should be used as an opportunity to incorporate organic matter like compost or manure and slow-release granular fertilizer.

Tillage and Soil Health

There are three types of soil health indicators, sometimes referred to as the three-legged stool of soil health:

  • The physical structure, or “house”, of the soil. The physical structure of the soil affects drainage and retention of water, soil erosion, surface crusting and more.
  • The biological properties refer to life in the soil, from earthworms to bacteria to fungi. These organisms form a food web that decomposes organic matter and releases nutrients in the process.
  • The chemical properties of the soil are macronutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) and micronutrients, pH and more.

Tillage of the soil, especially deep tillage, weakens and disrupts both the physical and biological properties of the soil. Tillage weakens the soil’s microbial community that metabolizes and holds nutrients, sequesters and holds carbon, and absorbs and holds water. This can mean reducing the soil’s water holding capacity, promoting surface crusting, increasing erosion potential, and speeding up the loss of organic matter through accelerated decomposition. Tilled soil is still bacterial rich, but un-tilled garden soil is also rich in fungi. Fungi helps your plants become more productive, and your garden will be more productive without disrupting the fungal community within your garden’s soil.

Low and No Till Gardening Techniques

When putting your garden to bed in the fall, a critical aspect of no and low till gardening is to cut your plants at the soil line rather than pulling them out by the roots. Over the course of the winter and spring, those roots will decompose and add organic matter to the soil. You still want to remove aboveground plant material as part of an Integrated Pest Management approach to reduce insect and disease issues, but the roots can and should stay in the ground. In the spring, whatever is left of the stem can be plucked out.

In the spring, use a broad fork to alleviate compaction, incorporate soil amendments and prepare the bed for planting.

If you planted a cover crop in the summer or fall and it was winter killed, you should be able to peel apart the dead material to slip in your transplants. Do regular soil testing and produce your own compost to incorporate into your beds in the spring and fall.


Winter killed oats, ready to plant into in the spring. Photo: Ron Trexler, Master Gardener Volunteer

Soil coverage is a key concept with no and low till gardening. At all times of year, your garden should either have mulched crops, a cover crop, or at least a layer of mulch on top. That mulch can be compost, straw, grass clippings, chopped leaves, or any other suitable organic material available to you. If using an organic mulch instead of cover crops in the fall, it should be left in place over the winter. In the spring, you can peel it away and plant into it. If using compost as a mulch, it can be incorporated in the spring with your broad fork.

If you can utilize cover crops when not growing crops, it’s worth considering because the living root of your cover crops benefits the soil and the biomass of the cover crop becomes green manure when incorporated. The most common time to sow a garden cover crop is in the early fall, after the conclusion of the summer harvest of warm season crops. However, time is of the essence because cover crops need time to germinate and get established before winter, so most cover crops need to be in the ground by mid-September at the latest. Some gardeners may also choose to grow a summer cover crop in between spring and early fall plantings of cool season crops. To incorporate cover crops, plan to group early season crops together that can be replaced with a cover crop, and group warm season crops together that can be replaced with another cover crop.

Yet another option is growing a cover crop within your summer plantings – oats, for example, can be seeded in the early fall even while you’re still harvesting your summer crops from the garden. By the time you harvest your last vegetables and cut your plants to the ground, your cover crop should already be established. Adjust your irrigation practices accordingly.


Oats growing in a raised bed. Photo: Ron Trexler, Master Gardener Volunteer

  • Peas and oats are cover crops that can be sown individually or as a mix. Oats are a quick growing cool season annual grass that provides ample carbon while providing typical cover crop benefits. Peas are a legume that fix nitrogen. Both of these cover crops are winter killed in New Hampshire and are ideally planted in late summer or early fall.
  • Buckwheat is a popular cover crop because it can be squeezed in over the summer in between spring and fall crops. While it doesn’t introduce a lot of carbon into the system, it provides a nice, pollinator friendly cover.
  • Tillage radish is another good option for gardeners, providing a good source of carbon while also helping break up compacted soil with its deep root system. Keep in mind that tillage radish is a brassica, so it can attract brassica pests and add another consideration for rotating crops in your garden.
  • Winter rye is a popular choice because it can be seeded later in the fall than these other options, and it creates a lot of biomass. The downside is that it overwinters, and thus needs to be mowed when it starts to go to seed in the spring to terminate. It can also be tilled in, but if you’re aiming for a notill garden you would want to mow with a brush or flail mower instead.

Weed control

One of the primary reasons people till is to control weeds, but while tillage does kill weeds at the surface it also brings weed seeds to the surface where they can germinate. Many weed seeds can remain viable in the soil for many years, and your tillage may bring up weeds you’ve never seen before that have been buried for years.

To prepare a new garden bed, smothering the weeds with black plastic, cardboard, silage tarps, or even billboard tarps is a good option. Ideally you smother for an entire year, but several months at a minimum.


Silage tarp at UMaine's Highmoor Farm. Photo by Nick Rowley. Photo Credit: UMaine Cooperative Extension.

Sheet mulching, also known as lasagna composting, is another technique that can be used to covert grass to garden beds, create border beds, and improve soil at the same time.


Sheet mulching. Photo by Nick Rowley. Photo Credit: UMaine Cooperative Extension.

Once you have an established garden, always keeping the soil covered is key. Whether you use cover crops or mulch, use something to keep the soil covered at all times. Tarping is also an option for soil coverage over the winter or before planting in the spring.


Tarping in a vegetable garden. Photo by Nick Rowley. Photo Credit: UMaine Cooperative Extension.

Garden mats are also worthy of consideration. Garden mats are heavy-duty vegetable fabric that help control weeds and erosion, with pre-made holes for planting vegetables. Garden mats should not be left in the garden over winter.


Garden mats. Photo by Nick Rowley. Photo Credit: UMaine Cooperative Extension.

When you do have weeds, and you always will, use a tool like a stirrup hoe to efficiently control them. Of course, weeding by hand will always be a good option, and there are countless tools to aid your weeding efforts.

Tools for Low and No Till Gardening

One aspect of reducing tillage is to use different tools that reduce disturbance of the soil and have a lower risk of compacting the soil.

One of the best tools to use is a broadfork. This tool features tines on a toolbar with a handle, and is used by stepping or even jumping on the toolbar and rocking back and forth. Unlike with tillage, broadforking does not invert the soil, but it does break through compaction.

A wheelhoe that is designed to go no deeper than 3 inches is another good alternative, especially for weed control.

Finally, the use of a rake is helpful for preparing seed beds, although direct seeding may still benefit from tillage. If you’re transplanting seedlings into your beds, tillage should not be necessary. Instead of tilling your entire garden, you may just till sections where you will be direct seeding, if necessary at all.

If you’re willing to invest, you might consider a tool called a tilther. This would be something for a market gardener or serious gardening enthusiast to consider. Tilthers help suppress weeds without disrupting the soil, and also effectively incorporate compost and other amendments into the soil while chopping up the roots of the previous crop – all without tillage.

If you’re incorporating cover crops, a helpful tool is a flail or brush mower. A traditional lawn mower will likely not be an appropriate tool for terminating a cover crop, so keep this in mind if you choose to grow a cover crop like winter rye that is not winter-killed in New Hampshire.

Olivia Saunders on Granite State Gardening

Olivia Saunders joined Granite State Gardening on July 30 to talk about low and no-till gardening in New Hampshire. You can watch the full interview below. This article summarizes and expands upon key topics covered in the interview.

Resources

Cover Cropping for Success by University of Maine Cooperative Extension


Watch the video: How to make HOMEMADE GRAIN OAT MILK NOT SLIMY and EASY vegetable milk recipe


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