Barley varieties may be bearded varieties or beardless depending on whether each seed possess a slender bristle usually about three inches long, called an awn. Farmers who grow barley for livestock normally grow beardless varieties, since horses for example, may not eat the awns, especially if they are rough or barbed as is often true.

Grow barley almost exactly like you would grow wheat. Barley can be spring or autumn planted. Autumn planted barley may winter kill where the winter temperature averages less than 20f. As a general rule, plant winter barley where winter wheat is planted; spring barley where spring wheat is grown.

Prepare the soil and plant as you would for wheat. Fertility requirements are similar. Barley ripens sooner than wheat, spring barley in 60 to 70 days, winter barley about 60 days after growth begins in the spring. Because barley ripens quicker than wheat, it fits into a double –cropping system better. A second crop planted after barley has longer to mature than when planted after wheat. The resilient gardener seeking to make his garden as productive as possible would find this to his advantage.

In the garden or if you have a larger area you can put barley in your rotation as a replacement for wheat. Where you have potatoes in the rotation, barley can follow wheat or oats in place of corn.

Research has shown that planting barley in rows of 14 inches apart on beds 40 inches apart produced as good a crop as solid-planted barley even though much less seed was used. The plants in rows had more room for the rotavator, the plants anchored better which kept them from lodging. What’s more, researchers reported much greater use of in natural fertilizer use and weeds could be controlled by cultivation, if necessary.

For the gardener, planting grains in rows makes sense. Apart from using less seed, he can use his precious compost and organic fertilizers more efficiently, and can weed control far easier.

For barley soup or other table food, barley should be hulled. The blender should do a fair job if you winnow or sift the hulls out. Barley can be fed whole to rabbits, chickens, pigs and other forms of livestock. Chickens don’t seem to like it as well as wheat on account of the hulls and all animals will consume more barley if it is ground. Better than grinding, is to sprout the barley, at least for feeding to a small number of chickens or other animals. After all, most organic growers are well aware of the value of sprouts in their own diets. Sprouted oats and other grains were standby for chicken feed in the good old days. Why not utilize barley this way now, since its sprouting ability is so well documented. You do need to store the barley for four to six weeks before trying to sprout it. The process is called “after-ripening”, and it is necessary for prompt germination.

An easy way to sprout barley is to soak the grain heads when they are still attached to the stalks in tied bundles. Do a bundle at a time. It should sprout in about five days in 60 F temperature . Eventually, you will know how much barley to begin soaking so as to keep a steady ration coming for the chickens every day. The barley will sprout right in the head and you can toss the whole bundle or part of it to the chickens. They get excellent feed, the stalks make excellent bedding, and you do not have to thresh the barley.

Like all the grains which have endured for so many centuries, barley is not a plant to roll over and play dead every time a disease comes along. Yellow dwarf virus may come close to destroying an area of barley occasionally if it attacks the plants at the seedling stage. Older plants will be less stunted, but the top leaf will be yellowed and the grains in the lower parts of the heads stunted. An aphid carries the disease. The aphid transmits the virus before it can be killed. Fortunately, the disease is not common. Many fungal diseases bother barley, as they do other cereal grains. Check in your area which varieties are more resistant to the diseases.

For storing barley, follow the same precautions as is given for wheat. Though insect infestation problems with barley are not as critical as with wheat, you still have to take care. The small amount you will want for your own use can be protected by heating or cold storage, as with wheat. Dried barley sprouts can be stored with no problem from insects. Grain stored for animals should be put in clean, tight metal bins.

More information on seed drying can be found on our ‘Seed Cleaning and Drying’ section on our website.