Buckwheat is a tiny, prolific, broad-leaved annual that’s worth its weight in gold! Well, not literally, but that’s how much we love this versatile grain. Not only is it a cover crop used for soil remediation between crop rotation, it also serves as a pasture for honey bees and a highly nutritious alternative to cereal grains. This warm season crop prospers in the poorest of soils, is virtually unaffected by pests and diseases, and will continuously give the loving gardener a hefty yield. You will often hear of the seeds of buckwheat referred to as grouts, the combination of grains-sprouts, or groats, the combination of grains-oats.
The Common variety has a smaller seed than other types but retains the fast growing characteristics we love about this plant. Common buckwheat seed is the variety most commonly used for making flour.
Seed: Grain seeds are usually broadcast and raked into the soil rather than individually planted in neat rows.
Seed Depth: 1/2–1″
Space Between Plants: 1–2″
Space Between Rows: 2–4″
Germination Soil Temperature: 65–85°F
Days for Germination: 3–7
Sow Indoors: Any time for growing sprouts inside.
Sow Outdoors: 2–3 months before average first frost if growing for a grain harvest. Anytime after average last frost date if growing as a cover crop.
Buckwheat enjoys cool, moist climates and is well adapted to areas of southern Canada. High humidity mixed with cool evening temperatures is ideal for buckwheat growth. Because it cannot withstand high temperatures, those growing in areas above USDA Zone 7 are at risk for losses. Planting later in the season for Zones 8 and 9 could prevent loss from heat shock.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade.
Artificial: Grows well under LED or fluorescent lamps. Needs at least 12 hours of light daily.
Soil: Buckwheat will grow just about anywhere except for boggy, water-logged soils. Its wide range of tolerance extends to soil pH, which can be anywhere from 5.0–7.0.
Soilless: Buckwheat sprouts will grow great in a variety of soilless media, such as clay pellets or rockwool.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low levels of water. Irrigate 1–2 times per week.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. Buckwheat’s wide pH tolerance doesn’t necessitate adding lime to the soil, and adding nitrogen can prevent seed formation by promoting vegetative growth. The incorporation of some compost when sowing or planting will suffice.
Pest(s): Rarely bothered by pests, but watch for:
Disease(s): Not very susceptible to disease, but watch for:
Rotation: Buckwheat is often sown as a cover crop on soils and plots that need to be remediated or to increase soil fertility.
Companions: Buckwheat has been used as a cover crop for multiple generations because it out-competes other weeds. Try planting as part of a mixture with cowpea and sesbania. Buckwheat is often a companion for larger trees and plants due to its ability to suppress weeds and attract beneficial insects, like the honey bee. Isn’t that sweet?
Harvest: Raze the crop when 80-90% of the buckwheat has matured (most of the green turned to brown)—the seeds will not all ripen uniformly. Harvest before the first frost and thresh.
Storage: Leaves should be used fresh within days of harvesting. Dry and store seeds in an airtight container. Seeds that have been ground into flour should also be stored in an airtight container in a cool cabinet or the refrigerator. Buckwheat flour has a shelf life of several months.
Advantages: Buckwheat can be used as a green manure/cover crop for improving soil quality, acts as a honey crop because of buckwheat’s profuse flowering, smothers unwanted weeds, is an attractive food for livestock, and is high in protein. What more could you ask for?
Preserve: Dry seeds are ground into a flour. Leaves can also be dried and ground for use in baking or smoothies. You can brew beer using buckwheat as your grain.
Prepare: Buckwheat leaves can be used like spinach and eaten raw or cooked. Seeds can be sprouted or grown into microgreens and are one of the quickest seeds to sprout, taking only 2–3 days. Seeds are also cooked as a hot cereal or side dish. Buckwheat flour is often mixed, at a 50/50 ratio or less, with other flours, and is a popular base for healthy pancake mixes. Soba, a type of Japanese noodle, is made from buckwheat and is very popular in Asia.
Nutritional: Buckwheat protein content is on par with levels found in meat. This astounding fact is due to its high concentration of all essential amino acids. Buckwheat contains zero gluten and is a popular alternative for those with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease. It’s also rich in iron and selenium and contains several antioxidants such as rutin and tannins.
Medicinal: Rutin, the antioxidant mentioned above, is a phytochemical that has been proven to strengthen capillary walls. Currently, studies are underway regarding the effect of a constituent in buckwheat treating type II diabetes.
Warnings: A potential potent allergen, particularly in Japan and Korea. Leaves and microgreens contain fagopyrin, a mildly poisonous chemical which can cause photo-sensitivity of the skin if consumed in very high amounts.
Lettuce isn’t the only thing that can make a salad: try this Buckwheat Salad with Mushrooms and Parsley Oil for a healthy something new!