Of all the cereal grains, oats ranks highest in protein and runs neck and neck with wheat as the all-round most nutritive cereal grain.

Oats require more water than other cereal crops to make a good yield along with a balanced organic fertilizer such as a preceding legume green manure which would provide the nitrogen plus animal manure and rock phosphate. Fertilizer balance is the key. Soil tests could show that there is plenty of nitrogen but low on potassium. That could spell trouble for a cereal crop like oats. It would grow big and heavy and fall over so flat on its strawy back as to be virtually un-harvestable.

For spring oats, the earlier you can plant the better. It is recommended to source ‘naked oats’ as opposed to the regular kind of oats that has hulls or ears connected to the grain which you have to de-hull before you can use the grain for oatmeal and oat flour. Naked oats does not have the hull on the grain and thus is far easier when it comes to processing your oats for table use. Naked oats is an old variety. Oats like cool weather and can get along just as well with cloudy weather as with constant sun. That’s why they are adapted so well to a place like Scotland.

In the garden, prepare the ground with a rotavator. Work the ground up, but not too finely, broadcast the seed by hand, scattering it as evenly as you can over the plot and rake in. On a larger plot you can broadcast or use a seed drill to plant. Set the seed drill to plant the seed not more than two inches deep.

Weeds will be a problem in oats unless you follow a good year-round, year in and year-programme of weed prevention. Once the oats are planted, you can’t get to them to cultivate, though on a small area you can walk through and hoe out some weeds. A good stand of oats will shade out some weeds itself. But if the area you plant in was weedy last year, you can be sure oats will be weedy too. The weeds won’t necessarily “take the crop” and might not even hurt the yield much, but they make harvesting more difficult and increase the problem of getting weed seed and weed chaff out of the grain.

Other than dealing with the weeds, you have nothing to do in your oats area until harvest.

You can harvest your oats as grain, as hay, or even as silage. For grain, wait until the crop is ripe and dry. Cut it before the dead-ripe stage with a scythe, and let it dry on the ground. Then stack it. Or even less risky, you can cut the oats when the grain is beginning to harden, and the stalks have still a little green in them, tie the stalks into bundles as described in the section on wheat, and place the bundles into shocks where the oats can finish ripening and drying somewhat protected from rain. Then place the bundles into a dry area or they can be left outside like a double stack of wood with the butts of the bundles to the outside and the heads inside to protect them from rain. If you have livestock they can be fed by the bundle. This method is from the past which fits the resilient gardener for the future.

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