How Long Does Barley Take to Grow? In my apartment, seed catalogues are piling up. I don’t currently have enough garden space to cultivate everything I want to plant, but I can’t stop myself from reading the descriptions from my favourite seed companies.
When seed catalogues arrive in my mailbox in December and January, it always surprises me. It’s -8 degrees outside, people! I’m not thinking about planting tomatoes just yet; I’m out in the snow, cursing my thermometer. But the seasons pass, and the more organised among us make garden plans and order seeds in time to start seedlings indoors.
With that in mind, I produced a growing barley guide for all of you brewers who want to experience your beer from the ground up. I get as much delight from developing a beer, brewing it, and sharing it with others as I do from tending to my garden. Combining the two increases my enjoyment of both and broadens my appreciation of beer. It takes an incredible amount of work to get from seed to glass, and it’s well worth it to watch the process on a micro-scale in your own backyard.
It is not necessary to grow your own grain if you wish to malt at home. There are now various sources that sell grain on a small scale, and we will supply high quality grain in addition to the automated home malting equipment that we are creating and intend to sell.
Growing barley or other grains, on the other hand, is enjoyable, fascinating, and educational. It requires less effort than cultivating other veggies, and it’s very fantastic to produce a beer from things you cultivated and processed yourself. Spring may seem far away, but we wanted to get everything organised during seed ordering season so you’d have a guide to go to once planting season arrived.
How Long Does Barley Take to Grow?
1. Selecting Seed – How Long Does Barley Take to Grow
Every year, around 3 million acres of barley are planted in the United States, with approximately 75% of the crop going to the malting sector. This land is mostly on huge farms, with only a few small farms or home gardeners cultivating grain. As a result, the seed system is largely designed to sell huge amounts of a limited number of types (we dug into how barley varieties are developed and the lack of options in this article).
Given this, most seed firms sell barley in 50 pound bags, which will cover slightly more than 1/3 acres. If you want to cultivate on this scale, or simply buy high-quality barley to malt, the Craft Malting Guild has some suggestions. Albert Lea Seed Company is highly recommended by us. We got seed from them this summer when we grew 3 acres, and they were nice and helpful. Just make sure to order early because things get chaotic for them in April when corn and bean farmers start placing/picking up orders!
2. Space – How Long Does Barley Take to Grow
How much should I grow? 1 plant? What is 10 square feet? 100? 1,000? This is obviously entirely up to you, but here are some calculations to assist you in making your decision.
The yield of barley is measured in bushels per acre. Bushels were once a volumetric measure equivalent to 8 gallons, but are now weight-based and represent 48 lbs/bushel for barley. One acre equals 43,560 square feet.
Barley yields vary depending on the growing conditions. A yield of 40 bushels per acre is considered mediocre, 60 is considered fair, and 80 or higher is considered excellent.
|Lbs of Barley Low
|Lbs of Barley High
|4’ x 8’ (Raised Bed)
|10’ x 10’
|10’ x 20’ (Community Garden Plot Size)
A square foot won’t yield much beer, but it’s a very unusual plant that looks lovely when dried. Grow enough to make a tidy profit for your brewery! Reconnect with the agrarian roots of your hobby!
A 200 square foot plot is nearly large enough to produce enough malt to brew 5 gallons of your own beer. You can harvest enough for several batches of beer in 1,000 square feet. And you can grow more than this by hand – we’ve done around 5,000 square feet by hand – it’s just a bigger project. You can grow hundreds of pounds of barley by yourself if you have enough area, a rototiller, and simple but effective harvesting equipment.
3. Preparing for Planting – Barley Take to Grow
Barley planting preparation is identical to that of the rest of your garden. You’ll need loose, weed-free soil in a dry area of your yard. Begin by hand or with a rototiller, eliminating any weeds or grass from your patch. If you don’t have a rototiller, use a pitchfork to aerate and decompact the soil.
Before planting, apply a thin coating of compost. If you want to be more careful about optimising your soil for barley, there are many fantastic resources on gardening, farming, and grain production to help you. We normally get a soil test done at our local land grant institution (Goooolden Gophers!) and base our decisions on the results, but this isn’t required for a first-time grower to get their hands in the earth!
4. Planting – Barley Take to Grow
Planting can be accomplished through broadcasting or direct seeding. Broadcasting appears to be simpler at first, but as popular grain growing author Jack Lazor writes:
“The typical image of the ancient farmer wandering around his field with a cloth sack under his arm, dispersing seed by hand looks beautiful as a block print in an old book, but it’s not the ideal approach to build a high-yielding barley stand.” Remember that the drill seeder was designed by Jethro Tull in the seventeenth century and has been the main grain seeding equipment since the Civil War.”
Broadcasting is difficult and inefficient. Seeds require good soil contact, which is difficult to achieve after flinging the seed around aimlessly. Birds also love to come and eat all of the seed you just placed out for them. Finally, weeding is nearly difficult.
Plant in rows! You can do this by hand by digging a furrow with a stick, then placing barley seeds in the valley and covering them with earth. The improved way would be to use a seeder, such as the EarthWay. Simply pushing it along causes it to place seeds in the furrow it creates.
With lines and buried seeds, your seeds will germinate well, and weeding will be much easier. It’s a good idea to plan out your plot and indicate where you planted with twine or marking sticks. Making your rows 6 to 8 inches apart has worked well for us and is common for bigger size planting. However, you can adjust this to the size of your hoe or weeding tool!
Planting rates are typically between 125 and 140 pounds per acre. This equates to around 0.003 lbs/sq.ft. or 1.4 grams/sq.ft. Plant 35 seeds per square foot based on our average of 25 seeds per gramme. In that square foot, if you have two rows 6-8 inches apart, you would plant one seed every 2/3 of an inch.
Plant early in the spring. From planting to harvest, barley normally takes about 90 days, and the earlier you get it in, the easier it will be. Barley blooms earlier than most weeds, thus you should only have to weed it 1-2 times before the plants shade out the competing weeds. We have only grown spring barley varieties in Northern regions, where you should plant in mid-April if possible. This depends on where you live and how early spring arrives, but a general rule is to plant the seed as soon as the ground is workable and not too wet.
Winter barleys (planted in the fall, dormant all winter, and then bloom in early spring) can thrive in your climate, but the planting instructions are a little different. We don’t have any expertise with growing in warmer climates, but we do have relevant resources and connections to assist you!
5. The Growing Season – Barley Take to Grow
How Long Does Barley Take to Grow? Grain farming requires labour during planting and harvest, but they largely do their own thing throughout the summer. As previously stated, you may need to weed 1-2 times early on to give your barley a head start, but after a month it should be able to survive for itself.
Barley obviously requires water, but it dislikes growing in puddles. If you reside in a dry environment, you will need to water or irrigate your plants more frequently. If you live in a climate that receives steady rain throughout the summer, you’ll probably be good with very little, if any, watering.
Barley does suffer illnesses, however numerous resistances have been developed into current forms. As a home grower, you can’t do much about disease; huge farms rely on fungicides to address disease challenges. As long as you aren’t planting grain in the same spot year after year and have healthy soil, you should be alright.
If a large thunderstorm passes through, powerful winds, hail, or heavy rain can flatten a barley field. You can’t do much in these situations, so just have a beer and hope everything works out. If the grain stalk collapses (“lodges,” as the agricultural phrase goes), you can try to straighten it with your hands or string.
Spend most of May, June, and July roaming around your yard or field, enjoying the wonderful crop of beer you’re raising! Once the plant has established itself, blue/green stalks will appear, followed by grain heads. The kernels will expand, and the grain will begin to dry and turn golden. The University of Minnesota provides a comprehensive page on the stages of barley growth.
Harvest time – well done, you’ve cultivated your own miniature version of the Midwest’s amber waves of grain! Isn’t it lovely when it sways in the breeze, golden and bright?
Harvest is nearing when your grain heads have transitioned from erect to hanging down. There are several techniques to determine whether it is dry enough. The grain should be firm, and a kernel should not be dented with your fingernail. You can also cut a stalk and examine the centre to see if it is hollow. You can harvest a small sample and determine the moisture level, which should be approximately 12-14% if you have a large enough field.
If you postpone harvesting and it rains heavily, the seeds may sprout while still on the stalks, which is very bad for your malting! Harvest earlier rather than later on such a tiny scale. Home growers can harvest the grain with a higher moisture content and then allow it to dry more. Large farms delay harvesting until the correct moisture content is reached; otherwise, they incur substantial energy expenditures to dry it down in the silo.
Harvesting is a lot of fun. To cut the straw at the base of the stalk on a very small scale, use scissors or a knife. A sickle is a useful and effective tool on a bigger scale. Fedco Seeds, Scythe Supply, and Scythe Works all sell them. Look for a sickle designed specifically for grain.
When you reach thousands of square feet, consider purchasing a scythe. A scythe is a fantastic and fascinating tool. The companies listed above mostly offer scythes, which is a hobby in and of itself. If you’d want to learn more about how to use/modify a scythe for grain harvesting, send us a mail or leave a comment below. Finally, you can build or alter motorised grain harvesting equipment. In Oregon, a malting acquaintance has a fantastic mower for harvesting his beer crop.
Cut your grain at the base of the stalk and tie it into manageable bundles, whichever you do it. You’ll probably want to let it dry a little longer, so stack bundles (also known as “stooks”) and stack a couple on top to build a miniature hut. This can be left in the field, but if you have the space, you can bring bundles into a garage and hang them up. Just keep an eye out for rodents, birds, and other wildlife if you’re bringing it indoors!
After you’ve harvested your crop and allowed it to dry for a week or two, it’s time to remove the kernels from the stalks and break off the long spikes at the end of the kernels (which are called the awn or beard). Brewing Beer the Hard Way, a terrific resource for home growers, maltsters, and brewers, taught us the best home threshing option.
Purchase a drill-attached paint mixer and attach chain to the end of the paint mixer. Cut a hole in the lid of a 5 gallon bucket, put your seed heads into the bucket, and let it rip. The chains smashed the seed heads, leaving a mass of kernels and broken stems.
Pour it between buckets in front of a fan until it’s clean. Another film that displays this effectively is Brewing Beer the Hard Way. Woo! You now have a bag of clean barley seeds that you grew all by yourself! Congratulations, you’ve earned a beer.
Before you get too excited, keep your precious grain the same way you would malt: sealed and in a relatively dry, cool location. To prevent critters from ruining your hard work, keep it in a sealed, hard plastic container.
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