Get to know your grains and grasses

Grains and grasses were staples of early self-sufficient farms. Grasses, in the form of hay or pasture, supplied food for farm animals while grains provided flour, supplementary livestock feed and other raw materials.

Get to know your grains and grasses

Types and uses

Grains are the seeds of certain members of the grass family, such as wheat, maize and rye, that are used for food and animal feed. Buckwheat is also considered a grain, although the plant is not a grass but a member of the knotweed family. Wheat, rye, barley and oats are among Canada's most widely grown grains.

Major uses are for flour and animal feed, including grazing. They are also have many industrial applications. Other grains have more specialized uses, but all are nutritious, high yielding and good for small-scale farming. Plants such as wheat and maize have always been favoured because of their high productivity. Half a hectare (one acre) of maize can provide a year's grain requirements for a pig, a dairy cow, a beef steer and 30 laying hens. Still another use for pasture plants and grains is green manure, which are crops raised for the purpose of being turned under the soil to improve it.

Growing grains and grasses

Raising disease-resistant strains of grain or grass does not require a very large area of land or costly machinery. Indeed, if you can grow a lawn, you can raise grains and grasses as crops. A plot of land measuring approximately six x 16 metres (20 x 52 feet) can supply all the wheat that four people will need in a year. The crop can be harvested, threshed and winnowed with hand tools and ground into flour in a tabletop mill.

Like any other crop, grains and grasses will require soil preparation, fertilization and attention. Yet they generally require much less care than a good-sized vegetable garden.

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