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How much space do I need to grow my own grains?

We certainly aren't going to jump to the level of growing all of our own grains immediately, but I wanted to crunch the numbers and see if that would even be feasible.  The first step is to figure out how much of each type of grain we eat.  That part was pretty simple since we started buying our flour in bulk last year, and thus know that we go through about 100 pounds of wheat flour, 5 pounds of cornmeal, and 25 pounds of oats in a year.  Here's my estimate of how many pecks of whole grain those pounds of flour and rolled oats are equivalent to:

Logsdon's suggestions for a typical family (pecks)
How much we currently eat per year (pecks)
Square feet needed to grow 1 peck
Corn (for meal)
Grain sorghum
Triticale or rye or barley
348 (rye), 122 (barley)
Soup beans
less than we should...
Alfalfa for sprouting
1 to 2 quarts
less than we should...

As you build your own estimate of how many pecks of grain you eat per year, you might find the following conversions useful:
  • 1 cup of wheat converts into just a little more than a cup of whole wheat flour, and that weighs about a quarter of a pound --- this might help you convert from the five or fifty pound bags of flour you buy to cups.
  • A peck is equivalent to about 37 cups (and is also a quarter of a bushel.)  So if you go through one five pound bag of cornmeal each year, like we do, you're probably eating 0.5 pecks of corn, very roughly.
How much land would you need to grow your own grains?  Basically, to provide our current near monoculture diet of wheat, corn, and oats, we'd need about a fourteenth of an acre.  That's an area about 56 feet by 56 feet --- pretty big, but not unfathomable.  It would simply mean expanding our garden by about a quarter.

Check out our poop-free chicken waterer, a great time-saver on the homestead!

This post is part of our Backyard Grain Growing lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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I want to do this too! I don't know if it'll happen this year, but I definately think that by 2011, I'll have figured out the best way to apply home grain growing here.
Comment by Bethany Wed Jan 27 12:04:52 2010
I figure it's smart to start small, so we're just experimenting a bit this year with plans to expand if all goes well.
Comment by anna Wed Jan 27 13:19:19 2010

Wow, a fourteenth of an acre? I could feed an army here on my three level acres then. I really should be growing some oats or wheat here just for the experience. I just built a couple of new tomato/pepper/whatever planters over the weekend. 2'x12' of cypress planters filled with medium quality soil... I intend to build a few more in the coming weeks. Maybe as I build more planters I can experiment with grains in parts of the garden that get replaced by them.


Comment by Shannon Wed Jan 27 13:33:08 2010
Well, those figures are just for feeding people --- if you want to feed chickens or other livestock, you need to start multiplying! But it's still impressive how little space is needed. I'll be very curious to hear how yours does if you try some grains!
Comment by anna Wed Jan 27 14:58:25 2010
I meant to say 2'x24' cypress planters (not 2x12). About 20" high. I built it for less than $40 and being cypress it should last a good while. I'd do more raised beds, but I find with a couple of dogs it's easier to keep them out of the planters. I also have some tilled space on the other side of the fence that they can't get to...
Comment by Shannon Wed Jan 27 15:36:31 2010
It is a bit of an uphill battle combining dogs and raised beds, but I've discovered that it's possible to train your dog (mostly) to stay off them. Lucy now walks down the aisles, although we had to add one diagonal aisle on a path she just wouldn't give up. She does dig in them occasionally, but I've learned to put small branches across newly planted beds if she gets too interested --- within a week or so, the plants are up and the soil is no longer so soft and inviting.
Comment by anna Wed Jan 27 16:40:21 2010
a 1/14th of an acre using your permanent bed style of planting?
Comment by Jalen Mon Oct 10 15:13:56 2011
That would be for any fertile, irrigated soil. My raised beds would possible produce a bit more, while if you're not watering, you should expect less.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 10 18:19:29 2011

I'm sorry anna for the constant replies, i'm just trying to suck in all the information i can.

I was under the impression to grow grians, either you do it in a tilled system or in beds. You say a fertile, irrigated soil so i'm assuming you are using a tilled system for grains? Because wheat or other grains wouldn't just grow in hard clay with a top dressing of compost would they?

Comment by Jalen Mon Oct 10 19:08:40 2011

Don't apologize for questions --- I'll just stop answering if I ever get sick of them. :-)

High quality no-till systems, like mine, create soil conditions as good as or better than tilled soil. The distinction I was making wasn't between till and no-till (both of which work fine for grain), but between soil low in organic matter and nitrogen (like your clay will be the first year you work it, unless you add a whole lot of compost) and soil high in organic matter and nitrogen, and again between watering and not watering. This difference is often described as intensive vs. extensive gardening. Both styles have pros and cons, but you'll need to allow more space if you use extensive gardening. We generally garden intensively.

To answer your specific question about whether wheat would grow in hard clay with a top dressing of compost --- it would probably depend on how much compost you added and when you added it. If you add compost to the soil now, worms will do a lot of work mixing it into the soil before spring, so the hard clay won't be so hard.

Comment by anna Mon Oct 10 19:23:13 2011

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime