As the seed catalogs start to flood in, everyone scampers to buy tomato, pepper, and zucchini seeds. In our conquest to become more sustainable, how about trying to grow hulless oats this summer? You have to act fast since oats need to be planted in the spring. And they are harvested just in time to use that area for a fall garden. Let me show you how.
Why Grow Hulless Oats?
Pictured above is oats. The edible part of the seed is covered with a hard shell. Unless you have a mechanical way to remove this hard shell, you are better off growing hulless oats. These oats have a paper skin rather than a shell.
I grow regular oats as a crop cover in the fall.
First Things First. Get On Your Oat’s Game Face.
I have grown hulless oats pretty unsuccessfully for a couple of years. They have frustrated the heck out of me. Half of the seeds I planted wouldn’t germinate.
Perhaps it was the seed? Who knows.
Personally I think it was the gardener in charge. *Gasp.*
I started to rule out if it was the seed. I spoke to a local grower of hulless oat seeds who assured me her germination rate was good. Hulless oats do not have the best germination record.
This year using Seed for Securities’ hulless oats, I actually harvested a lot of oats as compared to years past.
What was the game changer?
I covered the oat beds with pine needles. This kept the seeds nice and moist and kept the weeds at bay. When the seeds started to germinate, I am surprised you didn’t hear me shrieking with delight.
Success at last.
Oh, sweet mercy, success at last.
(This last year was a banner gardening year since I finally grew eggplant without the flea beetles killing them.)
How to Sow
Early spring is the best time to sow oats. But before you run out with a bag of oats, test your soil temperature. In order to germinae oats the soil temperature must be 55-65 degrees. (I use this soil thermometer.) In my zone 6, April 1 is my oat sowing day.
Rake out the bed so it is nice and smooth. Then simply sprinkle the oats on the bed. My raised beds are 8 feet by 4 feet. (Learn how to build raised beds HERE.) When you sprinkle, don’t over do it unless you want to waste money.
If you want to be more methodical, then space your seed 1″ apart in rows 6 inches apart.
Now here comes the fun part.
Some people rake out their seed. I don’t. I walk all over the bed to tamp the seeds into the soil. I know you aren’t supposed to walk on your beds, but I do when growing oats.
Then apply either an inch of compost or soil on top of the bed. I use compost.
Finally apply a layer of mulch. I use pine needles since straw could have weed seed in it. Oats and straw seed weeds look the same. They both look like grass. If you don’t have mulch that is seedless, then make sure you keep the bed moist.
Oats like water to germinate. They are quite thirsty as compared to other seeds.
When they grow, be mindful of weed competition. My pine needles helped in keeping the weed population at a minimum.
When to Harvest:
When I see the seed heads on the green stalks, I cover the whole bed with netting. (See picture above.) I used wood stakes, old tennis balls, and tulle. The old tennis balls keeps the tulle from ripping.
If you don’t cover your stalks, the birds will eat the oats. They know exactly when it is time to harvest them. (I learned this the hard way.)
When the seed heads turn from green to yellow, you are almost ready to harvest. ( My oats are ready for harvest around the middle of July for my zone 6.)
Pinch a seed head to make sure that it is firm. If you pinch a seed and a milk substance comes out of the seed, then the seeds aren’t ready. This stage is called the milk stage.
My rule of thumb is when the stalk is about 2/3rd yellow from the tips to the bottom, you can harvest. Make sure all of the seed heads are yellow without any tinge of green.
Since I am a small grower, I have the luxury of accessing each stalk and then hand harvesting it. If you grow a larger patch, you might harvest some unripe seeds.
Be sure to watch my video about harvesting oats.
How to Dry:
I bundle about 10 stalks with a rubber band, and hang them inside for a couple of weeks to dry. Now the hard part–how to get those darn oats out of their paper shells.
It isn’t easy but a story for another day.
Stay tune for my adventure in de-husking those oats. I promise not to keep you hanging if you decide to grow oats this year.
How much seed did I harvest from my 8 by 4 plot? Maybe enough to fill 3 spaghetti sauce jars. That isn’t a lot but it is fun to grow your own oats. Then I use the leftover oat straw for mulch in my beds.
Where to Buy Hulless Oat Seeds:
You can buy hulless oats here:
- Seeds for Security (This where I got my seeds.)
- Sustainable Seeds
- Johnny Selected Seeds (They only have options to purchase 1 pound or more)
- Southern Exposure
Join the Conversation:
Would you grow oats this season?
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