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drummstikk 12-14-2011 02:57 AM

100% homegrown
Going to catch up with a thread I began over at brewingnetwork.com. Progress posts will go up on both sites. I know this section is for growing hops, and that will eventually be part of the project -- but these first posts are all about barley!

Originally posted Nov 15, 2011

A field is required. Through the generosity of a field manager, I have access to about 3,000 square feet of irrigated healthy soil to grow barley. It's not too sandy and it doesn't have too much clay. It has a moderate amount of organic content, derived from a compost addition every other year. One third of the field intensively grows corn in the summer, followed by a winter cover crop of legumes and oats, which is plowed under. The other two thirds may have had the same rotation in the past, but are coming off of a winter of growing chickpeas followed by a fallow summer.

Last week the entire field was disced by a local ranch. The discer is a big device dragged by a tractor -- it's two big rows of steel discs that cut into the soil, and each disc has a metal bracket extending to the side. They simultaneously chop up whatever was standing in the field and churn up about 8" of soil. This has a different effect on the soil than plowing, but I'm not sure how -- perhaps someone else knows?

I followed with a shovel to dig out the corners of the field that the discer missed. Then I began making 14" East-West rows to hold barley seed. The soil is loose in most parts of the field, and this job is easier than it sounds. Still exhausting, though, about as intense as jogging, and I can go for an hour and a half at a time before my arms turn to jelly, getting 800 square feet done in one go. Should be finished tomorrow! I use posts and nylon rope to keep the rows straight, measuring tape to keep them even.


I ordered 2-row Conlon seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds and a mix of harvested malting barley seed adapted to Colorado from Welcome to the Future of Your Beer! I expect disease will be big problem, based on the advice I received from a plant breeder at UC Davis who is attempting to create a California-adapted malting barley cultivar. So, I want as much diversity in my seeds as possible, in case some are better suited to the area than others. I'll seed part of my field with the single cultivar and part with the mix.

I'm planting all spring 2-row, now in November, as soon as the field is ready. Fall-sown Spring barley is how we do it in California. Apparently, winter barleys achieve their frost-resistance, in part, through delaying flowering until after a long period of cold temperatures. If you don't expect any freezing during the winter, then choosing a winter barley will only delay harvest time. It does freeze here in Palo Alto, but it's only a few nights a year, and only a degree or two below 0 C. Things get colder in Davis, where all the local barley knowledge comes from, so I'm confident about sowing spring barley in the fall.

In planning: a technique for seeding. Any advice here is much appreciated! I don't have a seeder, so I'll have to do it by hand. Any ideas to avoid the pain of planting 45,000 seeds? I'm thinking of dragging a metal rod across each row to dig a 1-2" trench, then following with a PVC tube with funnel attached to top, pouring seeds into funnel. Then cover seeds by dragging a metal chain along rows, followed with packing by foot.

Another option would be to build a makeshift seeder. The least desirable option is to spend $90 on a real one. Any advice here?

Last year's work: Planted 11 hop rhizomes in my backyard. Ordered from freshops and picked up locally at MoreBeer. The quality was very poor, and only five survived! This spring, I expect cones from one plant each of Cluster, Chinook, Columbus, and Glacier. A Goldings plant grew anemically last year, so I'm not sure if I'll get cones from it. I left the bines up so they could feed the roots as much as possible, but they're dying now. This is the Cluster:

Depending on the yield of the barley, I'll get enough for anywhere from 0 - 20 batches of beer. I'm setting my expectations low, because from what people tell me, this is hard. If I can get enough barley to survive aphids, scald, stripe rust, and yellow dwarf virus, get it all threshed, malt it without any fungal growth, kiln it without destroying enzymes, then get enough hops to balance 5 gallons of beer, I will be more than happy.

There's a brewer, Mark VanGlad, who did everything except the malting at a commercial scale.

Why do this? Same reasons we brew, brothers and sisters. Because we can!

drummstikk 12-14-2011 02:59 AM

Originally posted Nov 16, 2011

I finished making 14" rows yesterday:

And I discovered an Earthway seeder in a shed, complete with seed plates useful for barley!
This hand-pushed device cuts a furrow (you can set the depth), deposits seeds, closes up the furrow with a dragged chain, and presses down with a wheel to pack the soil around seeds.

It's not perfect, and each scoop of the seed wheel actually deposits several seeds -- but if you're pushing fast enough, they get spread out to roughly 1 seed per inch. This solves the seeding problem.

Plan: As soon as the neighboring fields are raked (they were recently seeded with a cover crop), which will happen tomorrow, the entire field will begin to be irrigated. I'll wait a few days for weed seeds to sprout, then spray with Roundup. Then, Friday or Saturday, I'll fertilize and plant!

drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:01 AM

Originally posted Nov 18, 2011

I thought the plan would be for the field manager to begin irrigating via those posts you see in the photo by Thursday, when the neighboring field's cover crop seeds were raked in. I talked to him today, though, and he said that since rain was forecast today and Sunday, we would wait. A sensible decision for conserving water and managing the whole field. That's why he's the field manager. But I need my weed seeds to sprout now so I can kill them, so I can plant barley!

It was 3pm and still no rain, with only a 65% chance of rain forecast tonight, so I decided to just spray what weeds the field had and plant barley seeds ASAP. The herbicide is Roundup (glyphosate) -- a glycine analog that prevents amino acid metabolism, mixed with diquat, which destroys plant tissue on contact. I mixed a blue dye in with the herbicides so I wouldn't walk on an area I'd already sprayed.


I didn't spray areas without any growth, because glyphosate and diquat only work on growing plant tissue. Plus they both break down quickly in soil from microbial action. You don't want to dump them straight into a water supply, so any excess has to go in a low place in the field to be decomposed, not down the drain.

Anyway, it's well into the night right now, and still no significant rain shower! It looks like the field won't go through a round of pre-seeding irrigation to let weeds sprout. I've got to plant soon, because if I wait a week for weeds to germinate, then spray them again, I'll be pushing my heading date into late March. I've got to be out of the field in May-June for corn to come in. Damn the weeds -- it's time to seed!

Extrapolating from measurements made by some dudes with an Earthway at the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, running the seeder down 14" rows will result in 43-47 pounds of barley seed / acre. On a commercial farm, people typically seed closer to 100 pounds / acre, but there are a few reasons I may want to plant less densely.
  • There are trees and bushes to the west and south of my area. My corner of the field is shady, which (along with the field manager's awesome attitude and benevolence) is why I'm able to use it -- the corn people don't even bother to plant it some years. The seeding recommendation of 100 lb/acre is based on picturesque Dakota plains, not a corner of Northern California woodland. Planting too densely can actually decrease yield if the plants are stressed and compete for resources.

  • Planting over the winter will give the barley plenty of time to send up multiple shoots. It's called tillering, and it's a process of barley growing laterally in a dense tuft. It can mess up your rows, but if the plants are old enough to tiller, you don't care. The rows were there to facilitate weeding during the early stages of growth, and by the time tillers show up, the barley plants typically have grown tall enough to form a canopy, outcompeting weed seeds for light.

So, here's the plan: I'll plant 2/3 of my field at 43-47 lb/acre, and 1/3 at twice that rate. For the doubled rate, I'll just go over each row with the seeder twice. I'll choose the sunniest, most fertile area for the higher seeding rate. I really don't know what to expect, and I could imagine either seeding rate producing more than the other. (I'll do this experiment instead of trying different cultivars of 2-row, which was the previous plan.)

drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:01 AM

Originally posted Nov 20, 2011

Planting is finished!

Rain came early this morning, and the sky was clear by the time my partner and I got out to the field. We practiced a bit with the seeder full of malt, then switched over to seeds. We followed up each seeded row on foot to press the dirt down around the seeds, and to cover up any seeds that were left exposed.

The rows were fairly straight, but the mounds I had dug actually made it very difficult to keep the seeder going in a straight line at any speed. I'd say most rows deviated 3-4 inches within the 14" row. I'd suggest to anyone else trying this to forget about digging mounds and trenches, and just seed into flat tilled earth.



The estimates for the seeding rate of the Earthway with plate 22 were pretty accurate. We seeded two 33' x 33' plots with single passes of Conlon seeds in 14" rows, and one 33' x 33' plot with double passes. I reserved a few grams of seed to play with later on, and the five pound bag ran out just shy of finishing up the last of the second-pass rows.

Enough room remained at the ends for one row of Golden Promise and four rows of bere, a Scottish six-row. Those seeds were obtained from the National Plant Germplasm System, which will send you a few grams of seeds, about enough for one 30 foot row. I expanded the bere last spring in my backyard, and was pleasantly surprised to have enough for four rows!

The whole job only took about two hours, and then it was off to enjoy the rest of Saturday. Now that the seeds are in the ground (a few weeks too late, most would agree), some time pressure is relieved. Whew! But now I'm afraid a battle with weeds, insects, viruses, and fungi is about to begin. I'll keep my eye out for the weeds first. I have a hand cultivator and plenty of Roundup -- let's hope the rows were straight enough to allow for some weeding!

drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:02 AM

Originally posted Dec 1, 2011

It was a cool and wet holiday weekend, but apparently enough sun came through to grow the barley to about an inch tall.


I'm completely psyched. I've had a lot of help from the field managers and my planting buddy to get to this point. I've had some luck too, with weather and tools. But now comes what most people describe as the hard part. For example, check out these weed seedlings scattered among the barley


You can see the small sprouts with two leaves. Here's a better feel for how many weeds there are overall.


I can imagine far worse -- the field managers have been diligent about planting cover crops to prevent weed buildup. In fact, these could even be seedlings from the legume cover crop that was planted here in the past. (Pure speculation -- any plant people have an idea what these little two-leaved seedlings are?)

Well, this is why you plant in rows, right? The first thing I did yesterday was to cultivate between rows with a tool that looks like this


which was able to dig up (and hopefully kill) all the weeds that weren't too close to a barley seedling


I could have also sprayed between rows with Roundup, but I'd still have the problem of what to do with weeds that are mingling with the good stuff. Does anyone know how harmful the remaining weeds will be? Is it worth plucking them by hand?

You can also see in the previous photo how the seeder deviated from straight lines. Not too crooked, because you can still walk between rows. But surely an experienced gardener looks at these rows and winces!

Maybe, though, the bigger problem is how non-uniform the seedlings are within a row. You can see clumps of seedlings followed by gaps with no plants in every photo. Buying a better (and more expensive) seeder seems to be the only solution. Earthway just doesn't make a plate that will drop one barley seed at at time. Let's see if the non-uniformity negatively impacts growth over the course of the season.

I also fertilized with a Scott Basic spreader


You pour granular fertilizer in the bin, and adjust a dial, which in turn adjusts the width of a gap in the bottom of the bin that you can open with a handle. You have to take a guess as to the proper setting (some fertilizers will list the application rate you'll achieve with different Scott settings -- check the package -- but mine did not). Weigh the fertilizer before and after application to know how much you actually put into the field.

I put down one pound of a 16-16-16 fertilizer mix. These numbers are always percent N-P-K by mass (16% Nitrogen, 16% Phosphorus, 16% Potassium). I also put down 5 lbs of urea, which is 46% nitrogen by mass. This works out to about 33 lb/acre nitrogen and 2 lb/acre phosphorus, a little under half of what I had calculated the field might need over the course of the season. I'll fertilize again before the plants get too tall.

To get the slightest idea for how much of these nutrients to apply, I used this excellent tutorial provided by the Queensland government. Does anybody have experience fertilizing malting barley? I'm currently shooting for 70 lb/acre nitrogen and 7 lb/acre phosphorus, and I'd like to know if these are in the ballpark.

You can see some chunks of fertilizer (and a few damn weeds) here


Since the seedlings have only one leaf, I don't need to worry about fertilizer chunks getting stuck where the leaves come off of the plant -- this can be lethal.

We've got nothing but sun in the forecast now -- the field is being irrigated just a little, and I'd say it's perfect -- the soil is moist enough about a half inch below the surface that you can squeeze it into a clump with your hand, but not so moist that the clump won't fall apart with a little poke. Some website I read somewhere along the way described this as the correct soil moisture.


drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:03 AM

Originally posted Dec 12, 2011


Ouch! Those barley plants have been chopped by some animal, probably a squirrel or chicken. In fact, I think predation may be the most significant reason the upper third of the field hasn't grown. This is the shadiest part of the field, so I previously thought that light was limiting this area's growth. But a closer inspection reveals entire rows of chopped leaves.


If I can stop whatever is munching away, these damaged barleys should be able to recover and reach maturity. Yield will be affected, but it should still be possible to save the plants.

There are two solutions: the first is to call out a groundskeeper. My field is right across the street from athletic fields, which don't get any sort of rodent management. It could be that squirrels are expanding their territory -- they can simply be trapped and taken away.



The other solution is to put a net over the hardest-nibbled sections of field. If the problem is chickens, (not unreasonable -- chickens freely roam the area) the nets will stop them. Here, you can see the stark difference in growth between the upper and middle sections of the field.


Like the seeder, these nets and stakes belong to the corn genetics lab that uses the field in the summer. I am extremely grateful to have access to these essential tools! It only took me about an hour to install the netting, but for now I'll just put it up over the section that has taken heavy losses -- the upper third. Nets prevent weeding and fertilizing, so the more I put up now, the more I'll have to take down when it's time for field maintenance. If the animal problem does expand to the rest of the field, I should be able to set up more nets quickly.


Before I put up the nets, I needed to finish cultivating between rows to uproot weed seedlings. The process doesn't do anything to the weeds that are right up next to the barley. These weeds are currently competing with the barley seedlings, and there's not much to do except wait to see which plant wins (c'mon, barley!). But cultivation will kill weeds in the spaces between rows. Later in the season, this soil should be weed-free so barley roots can grow into it.

Here, I've cultivated the rows on the right, but haven't gotten to the ones on the left side yet.


There was one more unrelated problem -- the lower field (which is mostly immune to predation so far) is a bit too dry. Even when you dig down an inch or two, the soil is dusty and does not form a clump when you squeeze it. The barley plants are right on the edge of health, and depending on the day, can show some signs of water stress -- on a dry windy day, their leaves are a little droopy, and not stiff with turgor pressure as they should be.

So the field manager and I adjusted the sprinkler heads on the irrigation posts. Now that I know how to adjust them, I can tweak them as time goes on to make sure the entire field is getting properly irrigated.



Despite the predation setback, I've been extremely lucky with the crop so far. Temperatures have been high enough at the right times to get the plants established, and so far, there are no signs of disease. Most plants have developed two leaves, one large one and one small, which you can see in the first few rows here:


Please let me know if you have any experience getting rid of vertebrate garden pests, or if you have experience dealing with weeds growing right next to the plants you want to keep. Hoping the first problem will soon be fixed, and that the second turns out to be insignificant.

drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:04 AM

Are these tillers? It seems like every university cooperative extension goes on and on about tillers, but none of them actually describes what barley tillers will look like. The best I've found is this presentation about wheat tillers. I'm forming my image of a barley tiller on the fact that it shouldn't be too different from wheat.

Anyway, are these tillers?



I'm curious, because apparently the timing and extent of tiller formation can help you determine how much Nitrogen to apply.

In other news, a few of the Conlon plants (as featured above) have leaf number three! Almost all of the Scottish Bere (four rows only) have three leaves. They're supposed to be quicker than the Conlon, and so far they are. But no squirrels in the traps yet...

jgln 12-14-2011 03:09 AM

I didn't read all this but I plant winter wheat as a cover crop in winter then plow under in spring before it heads. Anyway, I wouldn't go through all the trouble you did with rows, just plant it like grass. Planting and growing wheat/barley/rye is the easy part. Harvesting is the bitch IMO. What I don't plow under (along the border of garden) I let grow to heads and just to collect that and get the seed out was more trouble than it was worth. Now we let the chickens have it. They grab the head with their beak then strip off the seeds, neat to watch.

Planting like grass will keep the weeds down too and you will be less worried about what gets picked at by animals, forget the rows. I don't have that problem with the wheat but I do with young corn plants with the chickens, they love to eat young corn plants.

drummstikk 12-14-2011 03:51 AM


Originally Posted by jgln (Post 3569282)
I didn't read all this

Haha, don't worry -- most posts won't be so damn long.


Originally Posted by jgln (Post 3569282)
Planting like grass will keep the weeds down too

I'd definitely broadcast if it can prevent weed growth better than rows. What's the reasoning behind it? How does broadcasting help the barley to keep the weeds down?

At the time, I went with rows so that I could do some mechanical weeding with a cultivator. So far, it's been great -- I've killed about 2/3 of the weeds in the field. The other 1/3 are too close to barley to scrape up.

Now, those remaining weeds should be getting a little more intense competition from the barley rows than they would be getting if I broadcast. For a given seeding density, making rows will concentrate all the plants into stripes -- the weeds in those stripes experience a local density of barley that is much higher, and they should have an even harder time than if the barley were spread out in a broadcast distribution. Would you agree, or am I thinking about this in the wrong way?

One change I'll certainly make will be to forget about making hills/furrows with a shovel prior to planting. I can't see any advantage this has given me so far, and it was about 95% of the work of planting!

jgln 12-14-2011 04:35 AM


Originally Posted by drummstikk (Post 3569409)
Haha, don't worry -- most posts won't be so damn long.

I'd definitely broadcast if it can prevent weed growth better than rows. What's the reasoning behind it? How does broadcasting help the barley to keep the weeds down?

At the time, I went with rows so that I could do some mechanical weeding with a cultivator. So far, it's been great -- I've killed about 2/3 of the weeds in the field. The other 1/3 are too close to barley to scrape up.

Now, those remaining weeds should be getting a little more intense competition from the barley rows than they would be getting if I broadcast. For a given seeding density, making rows will concentrate all the plants into stripes -- the weeds in those stripes experience a local density of barley that is much higher, and they should have an even harder time than if the barley were spread out in a broadcast distribution. Would you agree, or am I thinking about this in the wrong way?

One change I'll certainly make will be to forget about making hills/furrows with a shovel prior to planting. I can't see any advantage this has given me so far, and it was about 95% of the work of planting!

Since you broadcast at an even rate and since it will sprout within 1-2 weeks, the wheat/rye (in my case) will sprout before most if not all weeds and once it gets a few inches high it will begin to shadow the soil and inhibit weed sprout/growth. As the wheat continues to grow most all weeds don't have much chance. Yes there will be some but the wheat will dominate. Plus no weeding at all. It is also how farmers plant wheat, at lesat how farms in my area do. They harvest with a combine so row planting has no atvantage.

I have a John Deer 950 tractor I use. I till the ground, hand broadcast seed, then till again shallow about 1" to plant the seed and it comes up pretty even and I see few weeds even when I go to plow it under at about 4-5".

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