Ornamental grasses have become popular with landscapers in recent years because the long stems and seedheads are so graceful swaying in the wind. However, have you ever thought of growing ornamental grains instead? They also put out plump seedheads, and they can be harvested and added to your raw foods for increased taste and nutrition. They are very colorful and you can add a unique look to your lawn while you are growing your own delicious food. You can find a wide variety of seeds in most farmers’ markets as well as in garden stores.
This is a beautiful grass that will grow to at least four feet tall and even up to eight in some climates. It's easy to grow and has an upright stem with plumes of seedheads from late summer through fall. They produce many tiny seeds and are a high-protein grain. The leaves are also edible throughout the growing season. There are several varieties that range from orange to red. The plant itself is an intense burgundy. This grain crop is heat-loving, and you will want to sow seeds indoors in early spring or in the garden in late spring, barely covering them. If you are transplanting, space the plants about 18 inches apart. You will need to thin the crop to that spacing if you've planted seeds. Let some of the plants drop their seeds, and you won't need to plant next year!
This plant will grow very tall–three to five feet–so you’ll want to plant it in the back of your garden. There is a purple one called Purple Majesty that is burgundy-leaved and a green one called Lime Light that you might want to try. In tests, the green one is more aggressive and tends to take over the purple plants. Millet makes a wonderful addition to your raw food diet, adding the kind of variety you’re always looking for. It's best to sow the seeds directly outdoors in late spring. Scatter them over the ground and very lightly cover them with soil. You can give Purple Majesty a head start indoors in mid to late spring. Set them six to twelve inches apart. Don't set them out until the threat of frost is past, however. If you grow them indoors, be sure to set them out while the seedlings are still small. If you wait too long, their growth will be stunted.
You may need a bigger garden for this grain, but it is also easy to grow and you don't need a field to produce some of this grain for your raw food plan. Two varieties you might try: Silver Tip (a cross between wheat and rye) and Black Tip. Let the plants dry somewhat before you harvest. Don't wait too long–the seeds tend to fall out of the heads and are hard to reclaim. Plant your wheat in rows; it's sometimes difficult to distinguish it from the grasses in your yard, and you may find that you've pulled some of your valuable plants. You can sow the seeds directly in the garden in early spring and just use your rake to work them in.
Don't forget corn when you’re thinking of grains. The extraordinary taste experience of corn directly from the garden is unforgettable. Eating the tender kernels raw makes you wish that summer would never end! You may think you need a huge garden in order to grow corn, but you can grow enough for a few meals even in a small plot. There are three major groups when it comes to variety: standard, sugar-enhanced, and supersweet. Standard-variety corn will taste like you expect corn to taste, and it will germinate better in cold soils than others. The sugar-enhanced varieties are sweeter than standard. Supersweets are the sweetest of all, but they are not quite as vigorous as the others. By planting early, midseason, and late, you can have a whole season of corn. You might talk to the extension agent for your county to get information on what variety will grow best in your area. Corn has shallow roots and uses a lot of soil nutrients; for that reason, you will want to prepare the soil with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer such as chicken manure or compost. The southwest side of the garden will the best place for your corn; otherwise these tall plants will shade your other plants. Because it is wind-pollinated, a square plot is a better choice than long rows. Do what the Zunis did: Put three or four seeds in a hill, leave about 3 feet between each hill and make a square. You’ll need to thin by cutting extra seedlings at ground level. Using the square formation will take care of pollination even in a small garden.
By TTS Cofounder Botanical Chef Omid Jaffari