Cereals may show up in boxes on store shelves, but they always start out growing in a field or garden the same way all the other grasses you see coming up in lawns grow.
It is believed that people started cultivating figs some 11,000 years ago and that full-fledged farming of cereal grains started some 8,000 years ago. Many historians attribute modern society to the wealth created by agriculture and farming cereal grains in particular.
We get the word cereal from the Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture and the harvest.
Cereal grains include:
A cereal grain is actually a type of fruit called a caryopsis. The seed heads are called ‘ears’, even when you are talking about something other than corn
Combining the fruit of a a cereal grain with a legume provides us with complete proteins needed to stay healthy. This means peanut butter (legume) on wheat bread (cereal), or rice (cereal) and beans (legume) gives us the same amino acids as eating meat [though I will rarely turn down a steak]. Cereal grains contain amino acid chains, called peptides, that bind to the same receptors in our brains as opioid drugs, which may explain why those carbs are so damned addicting.
How cereal grains grow
There are warm season cereals and cool season cereals. Most of them are cool season plants, which means they grow best in mild climates. Of the cool season cereals, there are spring and winter types. Spring types are planted in early spring and then mature in late summer. Winter varieties are planted in autumn, grow for a time, and then go dormant during the winter. When spring rolls around, these plants have a head start on the competition and burst into full flower before maturing in late spring or early summer.
How to grow cereal grains at home
Most cereals are planted by broadcasting seed across a prepared bed and then raking the area to a depth of 2”. The area is then watered thoroughly and then covered with a 2- to 4-inch layer of straw. The straw helps retain moisture and reduces seed loss to birds. It also makes life more difficult for weeds. After that, there isn’t much you need to do. I like growing cereals alongside fences and the house, though you do have to watch out for mealybugs and fungal diseases.
Pests and diseases of cereal grains
Rats, mice, and other rodents, and birds love cereal grains and you will be hard pressed to keep them out of your cereal grain crop. Netting helps, somewhat. Extended rains can lead to blotch disease, rust, and leaf spot. I have also found mealybugs to be a problem.
Harvesting cereal grains
Amber waves of grain isn’t just a line from a song. Field or garden patches of ripening seed heads create a comforting sense of satisfaction. And that’s a good thing, because harvesting cereal grains takes a lot of work. First, the dried stalks, or stover, are cut off, close to soil level, and hung or stacked to finish drying. Then the threshing begins. Threshing breaks the seeds free of the non-seed portion, or chaff. Then the material is tossed into the air on a windy day or in front of a fan to get rid of the chaff.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!