Buckwheat is one of the fastest-growing grain crops out there, so if you have a short growing season, this staple is ideal. That’s why you often find it growing in the northeast in states like New York and Maine.
But it’s a marvelous plant to grow in far more places than that. You can use it for food, fodder, or as a cover crop. It’s so tolerant of poor soil that you can even use it for erosion control!
Interested in finding out more about this ancient grain and how to plant it? Then, keep reading.
Get To Know Buckwheat
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is commonly found growing in the northeast, but it originally comes from southwest Asia. Europeans quickly discovered how valuable this versatile grain can be and brought it with them across the West.
The magical thing about buckwheat is not only its semi-succulent nature but how fast it grows!
When buckwheat is happily growing it produces beautiful white flowers, which also makes the local pollinators and wildlife happy.
Buckwheat is often described as an ancient grain since it has been around for centuries. Even though the name has the name “wheat” in it that doesn’t mean it’s related to the same family (Poaceae).
Buckwheat is in the Polygonaceae family, which also includes rhubarb, as well as valuable weeds like knotweed and dock.
Varieties of Buckwheat to Grow
There are many varieties of buckwheat, but most of the time you’ll find generic seeds.
Farmers often used buckwheat as a cover crop and the best choice is any common buckwheat if that’s your goal. However, if you’re aiming for a crop of seeds, you have tons of options:
- Common: this makes a good cover crop or if you plan to mill the seeds for flour.
- Manor: this variety used to be the dominant one, but has been supplanted by newer, more productive options.
- Mancan: an excellent cover crop that also produces lots of seeds.
- Manisoba: high-yielding and a top performer in the northeast.
- Koban: an excellent variety for the midwestern plains, it doesn’t do so well in the northeast.
- Koma: very high-yielding with large seeds.
- Koto: a new, high-yielding variety that is stress-tolerant.
- Horizon: high-yielding with large seeds.
- Springfield: this variety is popular in the midwest, where it is high-yielding and sturdy
- Keukett: this variety is licensed by Birkett Mills and shows promise as a highly productive option.
Once you’ve decided on the variety of seed you’d like to plant you need to know about planting instructions and what growing conditions you need to grow buckwheat.
Farmers usually grow vast fields of buckwheat, but there’s no rule that says you can’t have a small plot on your homestead. Obviously, you won’t be able to harvest as many seeds, but you can grow enough to keep your family in good supply.
Most people opt to wait until May to plant since buckwheat likes warm weather. You will see seeds in about 10 weeks, but if you just want greens, the plants are ready in just a few weeks.
Scatter or drill one pound of seeds per 400 square feet. Seeds should be covered by about a half-inch of soil.
Buckwheat germinates best when the soil temperature is at about 70°F or above.
Pick the Right Soil
The good news about buckwheat is that it can grow in poor soil conditions but that’s not ideal for optimal seed production. You should use neutral to acidic soil which has been wet lightly to plant your buckwheat seeds.
Having said that, you can plant buckwheat as erosion control in poor soil. The long taproot (up to four feet deep!) makes it perfect for helping prevent erosion in overgrown areas. Just don’t expect a good seed crop.
Otherwise, aim for loose or medium texture soil with good drainage. Buckwheat won’t tolerate compacted soil or heavy drought. If you need to improve the soil, work in lots of well-rotted compost.
Caring for Buckwheat
As already mentioned, buckwheat enjoys growing in warm, moist conditions but it can survive in USDA Growing Zones 3-10. It can’t handle temps below 50°F and may struggle if the temps reach above 100°F.
When it comes to light exposure, buckwheat needs full sunlight. Even half shade or full shade is not enough for buckwheat so you’ll have to find a sunny place to plant the seeds.
Just remember that too much heat could also damage your plant so finding the balance between light and heat exposure is essential. Of course, this will depend on the climate you live in.
If the weather is too warm and the soil dries out, the leaves can wilt which will damage your crop. At the same time, the plants can’t handle standing water, especially when they’re young.
You need to find a happy medium. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before adding water. Err on the side of too little water rather than too much.
The nice thing about buckwheat is that it grows so dense, it will usually outcompete weeds.
Overall, buckwheat is a low-maintenance crop to grow so you won’t need to spend too much of your time worrying about caring for it. Although, it might require some fertilizer throughout its growing season for extra nutrients.
The best choice for fertilizer is an organic or slow-release product. This will do less harm to the land and will give your crops everything they need. The worst thing that can happen is your buckwheat receives too much nitrogen.
You can also top up the nutrients of the soil by covering the area with a layer of mulch or some organic compost. This is a more gentle way of adding nutrients and is better for the environment.
Pests and Disease to Look Out For
When growing buckwheat in your garden you need to be aware of a few pests and diseases that might visit your crop. In general, the plant is pest and disease-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to problems. To begin with, let’s take a look at buckwheat diseases.
Aster yellows is perhaps one of the most common diseases to infect buckwheat. Normally, you can spot the development of this infection with discoloration of flowers to yellow or green and can be dealt with by removing the diseased plants.
There is no cure, so the best way to deal with the problem is to prevent it by keeping leafhoppers out of the garden. Leafhoppers spread the disease.
Root rot can occur if you overwater.
If your plant starts showing signs of yellow leaves or has stunted growth then you need to take action. A healthy root is white and firm whereas a decaying root is brown and soft.
The solution is to water less, try to improve drainage, and spray your crops with a copper fungicide to prevent it from spreading.
For aphids, you can often control the spread by pruning leaves so the rest of the plant doesn’t become infected. You’ll be able to tell if your crops have aphids as tiny insects will appear on the leaves and stems of the plants.
The colors of the insects are yellow, green, pink, brown, or black depending on the species that have inhabited your plants. These pests also secrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which attracts sooty mold.
For more information on dealing with aphids, head to our guide.
Cutworms are small grub-like larvae that chew through the stem of plants near the ground. If they don’t complete sever the stem, they’ll leave a mark on the stem at the base. Obviously, this is bad news for your plant, so deal with cutworms ASAP.
To learn how to identify and eliminate cutworms, check out our article.
Finally, the last stage in growing buckwheat is harvesting your crops. You can harvest this plant while it is still green but the seeds are dark brown. Not all of the seeds will be brown, so just wait until about three-quarters of the seeds are ready.
To harvest, use a scythe to separate the stems. Dry the plants for a few days before hulling them. To hull, place the seeds in a cotton bag and whack it with a broomstick. Dump out the seeds in front of a fan to separate the seeds from the hulls.
If you’re using buckwheat as a cover crop, mow it into the soil about 10 days after the plants begin to flower.