Buckwheat, a Garden Ally

Updated: May 2018

Photo of Squash Growing with Buckwheat
Winter Squash interplanted with Buckwheat and Cowpeas

Every year around this time I’m reminded how much I love buckwheat.  There are many reasons to love and utilize this fast growing pseudo-cereal, not technically a cereal (like wheat), which grow on a grass, but a fruit seed, grown on a broadleaf plant (like quinoa or amaranth).

I use buckwheat mostly as a cover crop to add organic matter and smother weeds during the warmer months beginning in late spring.  But there’s more:  Buckwheat is a dynamic accumulator that can bring nutrients (like phosphorous) up from the subsoil and make those nutrients more available to subsequent plants.  Buckwheat is also a bee magnet and good eating for both people and poultry (both the green plant and the seeds).  I haven’t hulled any yet for my own kitchen, but I’m glad to know that I could if it came down to it.

As I use mostly hand tools, I appreciate that buckwheat is easy to sow, grow, reap with sickle or scythe and then work into the soil with a grub hoe.  In around 30 days, buckwheat will be in flower and ready to chop and drop, till in, or allowed to go to seed for feed or to reseed itself.  I have found that it’s not too picky:  a little warmth and regular water will germinate and keep her growing well.

 

Buckwheat seedlings rising up through the previous crop’s mulch.

Last summer I grew a cover crop of buckwheat on half of our garden that lay fallow.  Once in flower, I broadcast more buckwheat underneath, then cut the standing buckwheat to mulch the fresh seed.  I watered and in short time had a nice stand (though not as lush as the first run) of the plant growing up through the buckwheat mulch.  This crop grew all the way into early fall when I planted a cool season cover crop of field peas.

Fast forward to now and buckwheat seed from last year is popping up all around the young melons, squash and peppers in the summer garden.  As both the buckwheat and the main crops grow, we make sure to pull the buckwheat plants that are too close to the main crops and lay them down as mulch.

Because buckwheat grows so fast it can be used in between two main crops for a quick boost of organic matter and to keep your soil covered and living while you wait for your second crop to go in.  An example would be to plant buckwheat now after a garlic harvest while cool season starts like cabbage or kale grow in their seedling flats.

I have purchased buckwheat seed in the past from Peaceful Valley in Grass Valley, CA.

Do you use buckwheat in your garden?  Have any other plants that you consider your ally in the garden?  I’d love to hear about it below.

Happy Gardening,

Matt

Photo of Buckwheat growing in the garden
Buckwheat growing in the foreground