Planting spring barley

I have a bad blogging habit of procrastinating until I can present a single complete account of our process and outcome. As a result, my posts tend to sit in the drafts folder for months until I’ve collected all the relevant data and can muster the motivation to knock out a couple thousand words and a pie chart. Last summer we grew trial plots of three grains (amaranth, sorghum, flint corn) but none of them have made it onto the blog yet. I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf this year and report on our latest grain crop as it happens.

I’m fascinated by the process of growing grains, perhaps because it seems more like ‘real’ farming or because it requires specialized tools to harvest and process. Whatever the reason, my project grain this year is barley.

Handful of barley seed

The case for barley

Barley is a pretty ideal grain for small scale growing. It produces large yields with minimal water and nutrient inputs and competes well against typical weeds. The resultant grain can be used as a livestock feed, consumed as a nutritious cereal or flour, or malted to make beer. My particular interest lies with malted barley.

There are two main types of barley: 2-row and 6-row. Two-row barley has only two rows of kernels down each grain spike. The kernels tend to be slightly larger and more uniform in 2-row, with higher levels of starch, lower levels of protein, and moderate enzyme levels. When making beer, the enzymes are used during the mashing process to convert the starches into fermentable sugars. Two-row barley is often used by craft breweries. Six-row barley is pretty much the opposite on each point: smaller kernels with greater yield, lower levels of starch, more protein, and high enzyme levels. You should grow 6-row barley if you plan to eat it, feed it to an animal, or sell it to the BMC Beer Monopoly.

On a totally unrelated note, the barley genome was sequenced in 2012.

Like most grains, it’s difficult to find a desired barley variety in appropriate quantities for home-scale plots. When I first looked for barley 3 years ago, I bought a 5 lb bag of Conlon 2-row Barley (a malting variety) from Johnny’s. Shipping barley seed over from Maine was kind of ridiculous since our nearby Oregon State University has a breeding program devoted to barley. They’ve created the Barley World website to promote their work and provide quick guides to growing their varieties at home. Now if only they sold the seed!

Tilled field

Plot preparation

I didn’t want to turn our whole garden into a barley field, so I tilled up a new area just outside the garden perimeter. The plot ended up being 22′ by 67′, which is 1474 sq ft or almost exactly 1/30th of an acre. Sizing plots to be some reasonable fraction of an acre is convenient when calculating fertilizer rates. I read through the University of Idaho’s spring barley reference and compared each nutrient guideline against the results of our most recent soil test. As it turned out, our soil was more than sufficient for growing barley without modification. The one exception was sulfur, which leeches away in the winter rains. Conveniently, I had tracked down a bag of elemental sulfur last year to use in pH modifying the soil around our blueberries.

Sulfur bag ripped open by a rodent

Inconveniently, a rodent chewed a hole in the bag during the winter and when I picked it up sulfur went everywhere. Now the dirt under our tractor port has been pH modified too.

The chart showed that I needed to apply one pound of sulfur to the barley plot. I didn’t want this to lower the pH any (it’s presently an acceptable 6.1), so I added six pounds of lime to my fertilizer dose for good measure. Somewhere out there a university extension has written a document about computing liming rates to correct for acidifying fertilizers, but I haven’t found it. I spread these 7 lbs using a portable broadcast spreader.

Seeding barley

While most grain crops would also require some kind of nitrogen supplement to maximize yield, the existing tilled organic matter should be sufficient for our barley. Too much nitrogen causes high protein levels in malting barley, which leads to cloudy beer and can complicate the mashing process.

I suspect that April 9th is a little late to plant spring barley, but most guides say “as soon as the soil is workable.” It rains a lot here in the spring. Tough. Maybe next year I’ll plant in the fall when the weather is more predictable. I spread my 5 lbs of seed using the same broadcast spreader, making multiple passes to get an even distribution. This worked out to a planting rate of 150 lbs/acre, which is well above the recommended rate (85-100 lbs/acre). Then again, my seed was 3 years old. If any of it germinated I was going to be surprised. Barley likes to be planted about 1″ deep, but can tolerate deeper or shallower planting. To avoid feeding the birds, I buried the seeds by tilling the plot one last time on the shallowest setting. It rained the day after I planted and turned cold for a week. Barley is cool with that.

It’s alive!

I wasn’t terribly confident that any of the seed would sprout. I considered my options for explaining the patch of bare earth to inquisitive neighbors. Tilling practice? Crop rectangles? Quadratic wildfire?

To my surprise, by April 18th there was a fuzz of green sprouts which were too uniform and succulent to be normal grass. A few days later, we were certain the barley was sprouting. As of April 24th, the plants are about 2 inches high and many have reached the two leaf stage. Less than 3 months until harvest!

Barley at 2 weeks

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with the barley if it matures. I’m sure we could hand harvest a plot of this size, but threshing is another matter. You really need a specialized machine for threshing, because the old method using a flail was extremely labor intensive. Our little 1/30th acre plot could yield about 100 lbs of barley. That’s enough grain to make 50 gallons of beer, which would be great while it lasted but what would we drink the other 11 months of the year?

Barley resources

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Purple Sprouting broccoli

Purple Sprouting broccoli

Yummy!! I get excited every time I see it in the spring after forgetting about it all winter.

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Reducing the chicken flock

Last summer, before I got pregnant, I was going to build a fence by our house and get an area ready for a roadside egg selling station. We had bought chicks to add to our flock in preparation for this. Needless to say, I never got around to that. That left us with way too many hens laying way too many eggs everyday.

Hens milling about

We sold two Welsummer hens and got rid of one worthless Cochin hen. That leaves our laying flock at eleven hens. I’m considering whether or not to sell two more hens as the fence building/egg selling station probably wont happen until next year or later. Eleven hens are still producing more eggs then we need or can sell.

Welsummer in the forefront

Posted in Livestock | 17 Comments

Mystery of the missing poultry feed

When you keep livestock you expect to lose a small amount of feed to wildlife. We store our goose ration in an open barn, and the wildlife tax has occasionally been collected by some animal chewing the corner off the feed bag. More recently, we noticed that the holes were becoming larger and feed was spilling out. To reduce our losses, we bought a heavy plastic tub for grain storage. Problem solved.

Suddenly our “solved problem” started eating holes in the lid of the grain storage bin. Somehow this mystery animal was able to shred big chunks of plastic like it was no big deal. We started wondering if it was a raccoon.

Chewed lid

Lee began trying to outwit the food bandit. He tried setting the food bin on a crate. The animal started flossing it’s teeth with the plastic and nonchalantly tossing the chunks about. Lee then added a scrap of plywood and metal roofing on top of the food bin. The problem was solved for sure!

Outwitting the goose ration thief

We had been patting ourselves on our backs for outsmarting the grain robber until I went out to feed the geese today. As soon as I filled their feed pan and took a few steps away, the muscle bound lid-munching twerp made his appearance. The geese were unfazed.

Geese letting the squirrel eat it's fill

I guess we aren’t going to avoid this livestock tax. The “problem” now thinks we are feeding him directly.

Chow time

Posted in Livestock, Nature | 8 Comments

Catch a gopher by the tail

“Hey Robin, I got the gopher in my trap”!!

“Wow, thats big! Let me get the camera. Hmm, I need it held up so I can get the true scale of it’s size”.

Holding a gopher

“Are you putting me in the picture? I’m going to get the shovel so you can get the scale of it that way”.

Gopher by a tail

“I think it was better when you were holding it”.


Dead garden gopher

“I think this is the biggest gopher I’ve caught in the garden”.

“Well maybe you should go measure the gopher hole so I have the true size of that too”.

“Don’t tempt me, I will”.

Gopher hole

Posted in Gardening | 6 Comments

Fruit trees blooming

Some of our fruit trees are blooming. I checked the orchard bee box to see if any of the mason bees had left.

Orchard bee house

Sure enough, I found holes in the tubes so the bees must be out and working.

Orchard bees have left the house

Hopefully they do a good job as I am looking forward to a bigger fruit harvest this year.

Pear tree blooming

I’m working on fertilizing the trees and mowing the orchard. Then we will need to prune some trees. Yes, we are a little late on the pruning.

Flowering fruit tree

Posted in Beekeeping, Gardening | 8 Comments

Oregon grape

Mahonia aquifolium

The Oregon grape is blooming along with everything else. Spring is in full splendor here.

Posted in Nature | 6 Comments

New addition at Farm Folly

If you think things have been strangely quiet at Farm Folly lately you’d be right. Last summer Robin started work on a new construction project, the details of which we had been debating for years. We didn’t mention it on the blog, but the work affected all of our other projects. As the summer progressed, exposure to the harsh construction chemicals left Robin feeling sick and exhausted almost constantly. We scaled back our other plans for the year, and I took over most of the chores and gardening.

Summer transitioned to a rainy fall and mild winter as our new project slowly took form. One likes to imagine that all jobs can be a joint effort, but sometimes one person unavoidably bears the brunt. In this case Robin was responsible for all the major construction work and thus continued to be exhausted and miserable. No stage of the construction could be described as easy or pleasant. A few weeks ago the first phase of construction was finally complete and we are ready to share photos of our new addition. Her name is Sidney.

New baby

Fortunately, Sidney has agreed to manage her own construction going forward so long as we supply the building materials. This has freed Robin from the task, and she is already feeling much better. You’ll probably see more of Sidney in the future, but we have no plans of changing the focus of this site. Our post rate should soon return to normal. Auditory discord induced insomnia provides lots of opportunities for writing.

Baby Sidney

Posted in General | 24 Comments

Things we forgot to mention in 2012

Somehow 2012 has snuck by and there was a boatload of stuff we didn’t blog about. Here’s some of the highlights.

The sauerkraut I made back in June turned out well. I was nervous about making kraut so I used a sweet recipe and I actually wish it had more of a fermented “bite.” Next time I will not hesitate to use a more traditional recipe. We made eight pints which now live at the back of the fridge and are slowly disappearing.

Lee made several batches of beer. We had an outstanding hop harvest so instead of drying them he made two batches with wet hops straight off the bine. He wasn’t super thrilled with how either of those turned out, but I think he has high standards from all the great Northwest microbrews.

Before the winter rains hit, Lee tested out his BCS shredder on the corn, sunflower and broom corn stalks. We ended up with a million sprouting sunflower seeds that popped up from the wet and warm weather that followed before it got cold.

More wiring was roughed in.

Some friends of ours flew a guy up from Arizona to work on their drywall. Their guy is an affordable drywall master and came over to work on one of our rooms in his spare time. We were blown away by his speed and his specialty is a drywall finish that Lee loves. Lee is obsessive about the final finish so this was a big deal for him. The drywall guy doesn’t like cold weather so when spring arrives we hope to bring him back to finish up several rooms. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. :)

The roof on the old shed by our house has gotten more and more leaky. Jack uses it as a hunting perch.

In December the shed roof really started failing. One morning we were startled by a huge crash as joists failed and stored toys came crashing down. Hard hats are now required attire if you want to muck about in there. We are hoping the building doesn’t completely disintegrate so we can leisurely disassemble it this coming summer. Lee has already started digging the perimeter for where a new shed is going to be built. That one will house the well pressure tank.

Lee mocks me for my love of turnips. He calls them a subsistence crop for starving Dark Ages peasants. I happen to like them raw, baked, and fried. This year I grew one that was (almost) as big as my head.

Lee installed a grid of hooks under the tractor port. They were extremely handy this summer as we dried many different crops from our garden.

There was quite a bit of food preserving that we never got around to writing about. We were late to get started, so Lee took over tomato processing and had salsas, pizza sauce, and pasta sauce simmering away this past September.


He didn’t just do basic sauces but really got into it. The next thing I knew he was oven roasting tomatoes…

Adding fresh herbs…

And making the most glorious tasting sauces. Among others, we made up a large batch of pizza sauce using this recipe. It’s not approved for canning, so we froze it in half pints. We didn’t like our 2011 spaghetti sauce, so for 2012 we switched to the “Spaghetti Sauce Without Meat” recipe available from your local extension. It’s one of the few that doesn’t require acidification, and it tastes much better as a result. If anyone else has canning-safe spaghetti sauce recommendations we’d love to hear them.

We ended up with an amazing harvest of sweet and hot peppers this year. A lot of the sweet peppers were eaten fresh, but I still froze three bags of diced peppers once the weather turned cold. I also froze a huge bag of Serrano peppers whole along with canning a double batch of candied jalapeños.

Lee got fancy with the hot peppers and slow smoked several batches of Poblanos on the BBQ grill. Yes, they should be red, but Oregon has a short growing season.

Once dried, they are all called Anchos. (He also smoked and dried Jalapeños, which are then called Chipotles.) He plans on grinding them up later and using them as chili powders.

At the end of the summer a cold snap killed most of our tomatoes, so we sliced and dehydrated lots of cherry tomatoes to save them.

We had a huge outbreak of symphylans in one garden bed. I think Lee still plans on doing a more extensive post about them one day. This picture was taken mid-October of a cabbage that had been planted since early May. It is huge compared to some of the other nearby plants that were stunted at only a couple inches tall. Twenty feet away, a group of Brussels sprouts planted at the same time grew normally.

Lee’s cat Jasper is still doing okay at the grand old age of 18 even though he was diagnosed with kidney failure and/or cancer early in 2012. He seems to have gone mostly deaf and his severe obsession with Lee has gotten even worse. (Neither of us thought that was even possible.) His brain is super cheesy and he doesn’t know what he is doing half the time.

Which means he sometimes wakes up and finds himself on a roof in need of rescue.

I didn’t get around to picking blueberries but we did pick cherries from an orchard. I froze 13 quarts of sweet cherries and canned Holiday Cherries and Brandied Sweet Cherries with Red Wine. The brandied cherries are delicious.

Early this year Lee made up some chicken stock. Man that stuff was awesome! It was like liquid gold. We froze a half dozen quarts and then wished for many more.

I’m sure I am forgetting some items. Lee has plans to write up more extensive posts about broom corn, painted mountain corn, symphylans, potatoes diseases, and hops. Hopefully he gets to those before 2014 rolls around.

Update (01/28/2013): Some of the comments below focused on aspects of food safety with respects to canning. Although your local extension office can provide you with safe canning recommendations, the most central organization seems to be the National Center for Home Food Preservation. For reasons of safety, we try to stick to their tomato canning recommendations and those in the Blue Book Guide to Preserving. While high acid preserves and pickles present few safety risks, moderate and low acid foods such as tomatoes and vegetables must be canned according to established procedures. A small change in acid level or food density can greatly affect the likelihood of a Botulism outbreak and Clostridium botulinum is one bacteria you want to avoid.

The down side of this is that for certain foods, there are very few “approved” recipes for canning. I know of only two tomato soup recipes for example. We made the “Spiced Tomato Soup” from the Blue Book this summer and it was absolutely horrible–like an over-sweet ketchup with cloves. For my second batch of soup, I made a roasted red pepper tomato soup somewhere between this recipe and that recipe. It’s not canning approved, so I froze it in quart containers. While I like the long term stability of canned goods, the freedom of frozen foods can be heady stuff.

Posted in Gardening, Pets, Skillset | 31 Comments

Garbage story

The yearly trash round-up happened a few weeks ago. Considering how much garbage was once piled on our land, we will be picking up debris for years to come. I decided to make a story for some of the pieces of trash that came out of the ground this time. Hold on to your pants because this is going to be epic! Epically weird? Perhaps.

Aliens Fear Milk-Addled Cows

There was once a cow with one leg. Like most cows, she used to have four.

Back in her wild days of bovine college, she had stumbled home from a long night of boozing on milk and tripped over a machete. Actually … she may have tripped several times. The town was shocked by this tragedy and made her their mascot.

Early one New Year’s Eve, a man driving a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport decided to visit this town. He was so distracted to see a cow with one leg hopping down the street that he lost control and smashed into a laundry mat.

His car crumpled like a tissue in flu season. One purple wheel detached and went bouncing down the road.

A bunch of little girls were playing in the city park pretending to be car saleswomen. They were just putting on their bow ties when the tire narrowly missed them.

Instead it crushed their ‘Deluxe High-Pressure Sales Coffee Cup Set’. The girls rushed from the park to consult the sales manager (i.e. mum).

They ran back home, but their mum was busy playing a competitive game of badminton with her Steampunk book club.

After trouncing the other team, she stopped to drink some spinach & absinthe smoothie from her water bottle. This Victorian cocktail was touted to cure everything from crooked mustaches to dull cuticles.

As she gulped down the last drop of her green elixir, she spotted an alien blob ship streaking across the sky.

She put on her driving coat to investigate. How did those Lego’s get in the pocket?

Before she could leave the house, there was an enormous explosion. The town mascot had been boozing on milk again and decided to launch a huge firework to start the New Year’s Eve party early. The aerial rocket had stuck the blob ship.

The alien blob ship crashed into the marina sending up an enormous wave which lifted a Geoduck trawler and hurled it down Main Street.

The trawler screeched past the laundry mat and city park and then ran a red light and sideswiped a rusty Dodge truck.

The heavy steel Dodge bumper broke loose and knocked over a man who was carrying a plate of peas and sausage for his lunch.

He dropped his plate whereupon it shattered and peas went everywhere.

Some of the peas splattered onto UFO wreckage, painting it green.

Other peas rolled under the wheels of a power chair being driven by the one legged cow. The wheels become stuck and the battery pack died.

That was okay with the cow, as she lived near the boat marina and was just going back for her coat as she was late for her book club.

Rather anticlimactic, wasn’t it?


Posted in Cleanup | 14 Comments