Growing Barley

by Karl | Updated: August 23, 2019

Growing Barley: Fun Facts and Homegrowing Tips

Barley is the oldest cultivated cereal, and it grows in varied climates around the globe. Barley is inexpensive, readily available, and very easy to cook. Barley is the fourth largest grain crop in the world, after wheat, rice, and corn. 

The plant is useful for making bread, soups, stews and even health products. One of the most popular ways to use barley is as the source of malt for beer and other alcoholic beverages. 

Growing Barely at the Homebrew Academy

In fact, it is one of the most versatile grains. It grows all around the world, so many cuisines use barley as tradition. 

Growing barley in large companies

In large companies, all factors are studied carefully to produce quality barley.

Remembering that barley ranks fourth in importance among cereals, a large variety of countries are significant producers of this cereal. Some of these countries are  Germany, Australia, Denmark, Canada, China, and the United States

The demands regarding the climate are few; this is why it is a prevalent crop. Barley grows best in fresh, mostly dry climates.

To germinate, you need to ensure that everything is in optimal conditions. Luckily, it’s not hard to achieve proper growth. For growing, it needs a minimum temperature of 6 ° C; it tends to flower at 16 ° C, and it matures at 20 ° C.

The large companies make sure that the soil to be used for barley is fertile for better production. They make sure they get a well-tilled and fluffy soil.

The barley destined for beer tends to have different care during growth. For beer, grain needs to have a great balance in the growth process with a low level of proteins.

Fertilizing is a highly monitored process in these companies. The absorption rate of mineral matter is very high at the beginning of the vegetative phase. Afterward, it decreases until it is cancelled. These industries are careful not to provide large amounts of nitrogen since the grain is usually sensitive and reacts badly to excess.

Irrigation occurs in the first stages before the barley has spiked; this way prevents damage. 

Finally, the harvesting process is carried out with large cereal harvesters. The result goes to a warehouse where it will be processed, packaged and transported to its respective destination.

The big companies need to be careful when it comes to pests and diseases. The barley usually suffers specific attacks during the year; if not treated in time, these can cause significant damage to the crop.

Typically, if a large production of barley is affected, the company is responsible for disinfecting the areas with aluminum or magnesium phosphide. Usually, the pests attracted to cereal are weevils and moths.

The processes carried out in the large industries bring the advantage of better quality for the grain; it’s also easier to obtain. You can simply go to your nearest store and buy the barley in the presentation you prefer.

This process, as well as any industrialized process, also brings disadvantages. It is possible for barley to be exposed to chemicals and more additions to ensure higher productivity. You end up exposed to their side effects. Grain does not always have an organic result when large industries process it. 

Growing barley by small farmers

The process used by small farmers is not so different from the industrial process; the main difference between these two is the size of production. 

Another difference is that small farmers end up with a more organic and healthy product. They don’t use the same amounts of chemicals a large industry does. While growing barley is not that hard, a large enterprise will still use a lot of chemicals and additions to preserve the “quality” of the product. 

The process used by small farmers is a more homemade type of farming, It’s very organic but organized to ensure a good batch at the end. They usually use their hands to distribute the seeds through the land where they want it to grow, and they take care of it really carefully. 

The advantage of this process relies on the healthy final product they obtain. 

And of course, if you choose small farmers, you are supporting your local economy. Buying from local farmers supports the sustainable development of their land. With income coming to the grounds, farmers will stay in them and use them to produce food. 

This takes advantage of them and giving jobs to many different families at the same time. 

On the other hand, local foods generate a lower environmental impact. Eating from small farmers has a lesser carbon footprint derived from their short distribution and transport. It’s true when compared to imported products.

With small farmers, you also know where your barley is coming from.

Small farmers avoid packaging materials and labelling with contamination agents, such as plastics.

The chemicals and pesticides used in large industries can contribute to damaging the water and creating risks for your health in general. You don’t want to put all of those toxic materials in your body. 

Those chemicals can affect your metabolism, your hormones, and the health of your future babies as well. 

Pesticides are linked to low birth defects, behavioral problems, autism, and cancer. Pesticides are also linked to infertility problems—not only in females but in males too. By choosing your small local farmer, you are also contributing to a better, much healthier environment for you and the people around you. 

When it comes to barley, smalls farmers use more organic and more straightforward techniques to get a good batch every time.  They prepare it for its future use, especially if it is brewing. 

Growing Barley Yourself

If you want to grow your own barley, you can do it comfortably from your home garden. Growing grains is a fun and natural activity. 

You need to know that the cereal grain grows better in cool grounds. If you want it for the winter, October is the right time to plant. These grains grows like wheat, but barley ripens sooner.  

Barley is known for being an easy crop, just like hops. It is commonly grown commercially, so it may seem weird to grow it in a garden, but it is an excellent plant for small settings. 

If you are a homebrewer, you can get a lot of satisfaction out of growing even a fraction of your own. Keep in mind that they grow fast and well, and it is useful in many ways, not just for beer. 

To start growing one, you need to select the right variety. It can be a little hard to get your hands on the seed in the first place, but you can look for them on grain and gardening stores.

Once you have your seeds, you need to get the ground ready. You need to decide how much space you want to use. You can shoot for a 10-by-10 footbed; this can give you up to 15 pounds of grain. 

Also, the plant grows better in a fine seedbed with plenty of sunlight. The use of acidic soil is not good for it, which means ground with low pH. If you have doubts about your land, you can always have it checked and make sure is 6.0 or higher. 

Planting should start as soon as the land can be worked. You can do this in spring, so you can harvest in July. This means that you have your growing cycle happening in a fresh environment. 

For planting, you can calculate how much you will need by measuring the area and deciding how much barley you want. Once you do the math, it’s time to put them in the ground. It is a good idea to rake in the grain; it gets better soil contact and covers your seed, so the birds around won’t find them.

When we grow the grain, we will need to deal with weeds; they are the bane of a grain crop. It is difficult to stop them from competing with your grain. Once the plants get large enough, you quickly pull them out by the roots, but by this time the damage is already done. 

Weeds steal nutrients, water, and space. In large industries, plants are stopped with herbicides, but organic farmers tend to use flame weeders to kill weeds. For your garden, you won’t want to use any of these options. 

Luckily for you, barley is a pretty good competitor itself, and if given half a chance, it will outgrow most weeds, so you don’t really have to worry about it damaging your whole batch. 

You will also face pests and diseases. To avoid them, rotate your crops frequently, feed your soil and monitor the pH. 

If you are growing six-row type, you won’t need to water the plants at all—unless you’re having a dry season. If you are using the two-row type, use more water; they may need irrigation when the heads emerge. This way, you can help the kernels plump out.  That is the reason why two-rows today are grown in irrigated plantations. 

With this grain type, you’ll need to start threshing. Threshing is beating the grains off the straw with a tool. Most people beat the grain with an overhead smash.

A more elegant method is to hold the handle with widespread hands and spin the flail section like a propeller, this way, you will impact the grain more lightly.  You can even use a plastic baseball bat as a flail. 

If you are a new brewer, growing your own barley can be a really cool experiment to try out. 

The methods for growing the grain are not so different from each other. 

You can find both 6-row barley, also known as robust barley, and 2-row barley, also called Conlon barley. You can do malting with both of these. Keep in mind the above tips for growing the two types.

Remember that you need to plant as soon as the ground is workable. Tt is best to get the seed in the field as quickly as possible. 

Also, you can plant it in average soil, but it’s better if you have the pH under control. 

If you don’t know how to sow the seed, you first need to rototill your barley patch. Then, rake it and leave a series of little furrows. You can use a spreader or your hand to deposit the seeds. Then, scrape at a 90° angle to the furrows; you need to put dirt over your seed. Don’t worry if you can still see some of the grain. 

Now, you can water your garden if the soil is not wet already. It will ensure that the seed will absorb all the moisture it needs to grow and sprout. 

Once you are done and have sowed the seed, it’s time to sit back and literally watch the grass grow. Growing it is not as difficult as growing any other garden veggie. You don’t need to be trellising or doing any intervention while it’s growing. 

Also, as we said before, the grain is pretty much drought-resistant, so you don’t need to worry about it not receiving much water on dry seasons. If the dry season is longer than usual, you can set your sprinkler and shower your barley. 

While your plant is emerging, you will see it does as a small sheath, and you will soon see a single lead emerging from it. Enjoy watching your grain get bigger and bigger. 

What do You Do Then?

After your barley has grown, it is time for harvesting. One of the simplest and most common harvesting methods, especially for this type of grain, is to wait until the grain has ripened and dried. 

Once your crop is ripe, you need to harvest as soon as possible to reduce potential losses caused by the wind or weathering. 

You need to prevent the grains from cracking. You do this by setting the harvester correctly. You also need to avoid contamination by using clean equipment. 

Remember to monitor the sample throughout the day and adjust to suit conditions. 

While the heading of dry grain is one of the cheapest methods of harvesting, there is some risk.  If you come across long periods of high humidity, that will make the collection not possible. 

The humidity problem can cause delays to the harvesting; thus, it increases the risk of heat loss, or even grain being discoloured by early summer rains. 

To reduce harvesting delays, you can have the grain directly harvested at a moisture content above 12%. This way, you will be able to successfully thresh grain from the head. 

The cereal grain is harvested in the same way as wheat. Cut, bundle and then shock to dry. If you are doing this by yourself, wear a shirt because the awns can irritate your skin. 

Once you are done harvesting and drying your grains, it’s time to figure out what to do with them. You can cook with them and replace rice with the cereal grain in a lot of recipes to give it a new twist, you can use the grass for juicing and of course for malt. 

If you want to do the home malting, the first thing you need to do is steep the cereal grain in water. This begins the germination process. This can last for about 2 hours; then, you want to remove the grains from the water and let them out for 8 hours. If you leave your grains in the water, they will drown and die. 

After your grains have dried, steep them again in clean water for another two hours and dry them again. 

Now, the grain must be germinated in a moist-but-ventilated area to grow the leaflet inside the grain. After two days, this step will be done. The final step is to dry the malt; it requires a steady temperature of 31°C. Be careful not to destroy the enzymes with the heat, you need them for mashing. 

Once you start mashing and crushing, you will have the pale base malt ready. 

You can do a lot more than just malt though. There are a lot of recipes you can try out, and they are delicious. 

If you want to store your barley or sell it, you can use plastic packaging after you dry it. Even paper is a good ideaif you don’t want to contaminate your grains with plastic.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.