Backyard Grain Growing

Backyard Grain Growing

Gardeners are great at growing fruit and veg, but the food that sustains us most often, is grain (and that includes seeds). Grain is the basis of our bread, our crackers, and our breakfast cereals. We consume it every time we eat rice and pasta, pancakes, and baking. What’s more, because we now think globally, we have access to a more diverse range of grains than ever – think buckwheat, millet, amaranth, sorghum, and quinoa. So what is it stopping gardeners growing these plants?

Part of the answer is grains generally require some sort of mechanical input to extract them from their seed casing (unless, of course, you happen to have a couple of bullocks handy to help with this ‘threshing’ process). Then there’s the problem of grinding grain into something approaching flour.

What many gardeners don’t realise, however, is there are a number of grains that don’t require this tedious sort of handling before they can be enjoyed. One of the easiest to grow, is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah).


Regardless of where you live in the country, you can aspire to grow this ‘fat-hen’ relative, and you need only a dozen plants to provide you with 1-2 kilos of grain. All that’s required to harvest your quinoa is your hands!

Once the quinoa seed has turned a golden orange on the plants, the heads are cut down and, if necessary, hung in a warm, dry place to complete drying. The seed is then stripped from its stems by being rubbed off with a strong hand. Any ‘dross’ (dry, non-seed material) that comes off the heads in the process, can be removed on a breezy day through a process called ‘winnowing’.

To winnow the quinoa, the seed and dross is spread on a tray in a thin layer. It’s then carried outside where the lighter dross is blown away on the wind (helped with a little shaking of the tray).

Quinoa can be boiled or steamed, and used as you would sweet or savoury rice. It can also be ground into a slurry and baked to form a pizza base.


Quinoa isn’t the only grain fun and useful to grow in your home garden. Edible millet can be grown in New Zealand (in frosty regions, it will need to be raised in seed trays, undercover, and planted out when temperatures rise in spring).

As with quinoa, millet has the advantage of being suited to hand harvesting once the seed heads turn dry. However, the seed on the upper section of the heads begins to dry (and drop) before the lower seed, so there is some wastage during harvesting.

The ripe seed heads are placed in a fabric bag which is sealed shut. Using strong, protective gloves, the bag can then be rubbed to extract the seed. The heads can also be trampled on using hard soled boots. As with quinoa, any dross can be separated from the seed through winnowing.

Millet can be boiled or steamed, and used as you would bulghur wheat or rice to accompany casseroles and curries, or as a grain-based salad.


Kiwis are more familiar with buckwheat than they once were – but more because of using it as a green manure crop than through growing it for grain. Buckwheat will grow anywhere in New Zealand but is especially useful as a crop in cool, wet parts of the country where other grain can fail to ripen in a poor season. Best of all, buckwheat is easy to harvest and extract. Once the seeds turn black on the plants, the tops are cut down. The seeds are then extracted by beating them with a stick to shake them off the plants. Dross is removed by winnowing.

Buckwheat can be toasted and used in muesli, boiled and used in place of rice, or ground into flour and used to make traditional Bretton pancakes.

Growing your own grain is fun and satisfying, and a great way to teach children where staple foods come from.