September 16, 2010

Winter Rye


Like winter wheat, winter rye is planted in late autumn. It thrives on fall's bright sunny days and cool damp nights, growing remarkably fast for it's first few weeks of life. Then, just as those young fragile looking wisps of green begin to turn into a lush green carpet, the weather turns harsh and winter arrives. Cold weather seems to choke out the new growth, turning it yellow and brown. You think it can't survive. Later in winter the snow and ice cover it brutally. And you forget all about it.

But those winter grains have remarkable survival skills. A field of wheat or rye can withstand even the toughest winter.

In the spring, melting snow will reveal dull looking patches of green. You may remember that the rye was there. But it looks bad. You wonder if it will make it. You think about how you trampled over it pulling a downed tree to chop for use in the wood stove over the winter. You remember how the monsters rough-housed on it after a brief thaw and how they tore deep gashes into the muddy ground. It couldn't have survived that, could it?

Don't worry. Rye is resilient. By the time nature gives us just one sunny day, a promise that spring will come, that rye turns into the prettiest green that you've ever seen. A field of wheat or rye in the early spring is the brightest, most colorful thing for miles.

We are all familiar with the sweet, nutty taste of rye, or pumpernickel bread, but rye might be grown for a variety of other uses, as well. The grain may also be eaten as cereal. Mixed with other forage it may be grazed upon by livestock in a pasture. Rye straw is preferred by some for animal bedding in stalls. And, of course, it can be made into whiskey!Rye might be grown by home gardeners for another purpose... to keep the topsoil in the garden! Each year, water, snow, and ice wash unplanted loose soil out of gardens. Planting a cover crop will help to keep the soil there. When you're ready to plant your garden just mow over the rye and till it in. Not only will it have helped to retain your soil but few weeds will grow in rye, so you will have relatively few weed seeds to fight.

But when you cut it and till it under you'll miss out on the fantasitc beauty of those tall golden stalks and silk encased grain tops. A field of rye is just magnificent.
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