Well, you can grow it for grain and flour, but for our purposes it's used as a hot weather cover crop. Cover crops are crops grown to add back to the soil.
Most vegetables take valuable nutrients out of the soil. That's their job: take up nutrients and put on fruit within a single growing season for harvest. This is hard on the soils. Over time the soils are exhausted. Eventually you'll end up with a dust bowl so barren that weeds would struggle to grow. So, cover crops are not eaten. They help to condition and fertilize the soil, to replace what has been taken out.
In What Ways Are Buckwheat Grown?
Buckwheat grows best in warm weather. Summer is best time for it. It establishes quickly, and can be mowed down and incorporated into the soil as a kind of green manure. The old-timey farmers, like my grandmother, would collect cow manure from dairy farmers and incorporate it into their fields. Manure has a lot of nutrients that plants need, but the cow, horse, pig, chicken and goat manure is only half digested as far as plant food goes. It has to be further refined by worms, bacteria and fungus until it full breaks down into stable, dark brown humus we often call compost.
In the old days, animal manure was easy to find. In fact getting rid of it was the problem. Today it's hard to find these kinds of manures. An easy solution is green manuring. Crops like buckwheat and soybean and rye and vetch can scavenge for nutrients and fix nitrogen respectively. Once mowed down, turned in, or even left on the surface, they have the same effect as the cow manure from grandma's day.
How to Plant Buckwheat
Scatter it to the wind! There are no complicated planting patterns, but here are a few steps:
- For one of the Greenhorn Gardening Raised Beds (32 sq. ft.), measure 3/4 of a cup of buckwheat seed.
- Broadcast over the entire bed.
- If you have any dried leaves, cover the bed with them to protect them from the birds.
- This is a dense planting, meant for green manuring and cover cropping.
- You can mow down the buckwheat at any time. Be sure to do it before it puts on seed, as it will become a serious weed problem if you wait too late.
Buckwheat Ninja Tricks!
Okay, so, here are a couple real ninja tricks to using buckwheat:
- Plant it with soybean, a nitrogen fixing plant used to reduce or even eliminate the need for nitrogen fertilizer.
- As you mow down the buckwheat, add another layer of dry leaves. Now you'll have four layers: the bedding mix, dry leaves, green buckwheat, and another layer of dry leaves. Now you're beginning to simulate what happens in on the forest floor, organic matter being added on a annual basis, breaking down over the long term. You'll have healthier plants, and you'll build the soil up over time.