Barley plant: grain for brewing or bread

The barley plant doesn't get a lot of attention, but it's worth learning more about this spring annual. It may not be as popular as other small grains like wheat, rice, rye, oats, or corn, but it's important nonetheless.

Known as the other grain, it has been grown for thousands of years and is grown in areas that would otherwise not support food crops. It's also a major source of animal feed, and many brewers grow their own malt barley in search of the perfect ale.

Each head of barley (Hordeum vulgare) produces up to 20 to 60 grains, which means that even a small barley field is productive for the home gardener. Barley contains 8 essential amino acids and a variety of other vitamins and minerals. Plus, a beef stew wouldn't be as tasty or filling without barley.

As you continue reading this article we are going to describe more about this fascinating crop and once you find how easy it is to grow, it will surely inspire you to grow it in your own food garden.

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Brief instructions for care

The barley plant produces edible seeds that we use for baking or brewing. Source: enneafive

Common name (s) Just
Scientific name Hordeum vulgare
Days to harvest 70-90 days
Bright Full sun
water Keep the soil slightly moist
floor Well-drained, loamy soil
fertilizer A small amount of nitrogen in poor soil
Pests Cutworms
Diseases Leaf rust

All about barley

Green unripe barleyIn the development phase, all parts of the plant are green in barley. Source: Roja

Barley is a member of the grass family with the botanical name Hordeum vulgare. It's an annual spring and an ancestor of the wild barley, Hordeum spontaneum. Barley production is an important crop in the world and one of the oldest. There is evidence that it was domesticated in Southwest Asia at least 10,000 years ago.

Barley grows as an upright grass with 1-6 stems and spikelets on each head. There are independent side branches known as pine trees on each plant. Every tillage machine has the potential to develop into a seed-bearing head. The more tillage machines the plant produces, the more yield the harvest brings.

Providing plenty of nitrogen to the growing barley helps increase the number of tillage machines produced. As the barley plant ripens, it changes color from light green to light brown and the spikelets produce the edible grain. Each flower head contains both male and female parts, which allows it to pollinate itself.

Compared to other grains such as wheat and rye, barley plants tolerate a wide variety of climates and thrive in many conditions. Therefore, it is an important food crop in areas where other grains do not grow. It is best known for its use as animal feed, and brewing barley produces beer and whiskey.

Barley planted in the fall can be grown as a catch crop to prevent erosion, prevent weeds, and provide valuable nutrients to the soil for an extra nutrient boost. After the seeds have been removed, the dried stems are used as straw to combat algae in ponds and lakes.

Types of barley

There are hundreds of varieties of barley seeds on the market today. You will often hear the term double-row and six-row barley. Looking at a barley head from top to bottom, the two-row barley has two rows of kernels while the six-row barley has six rows of kernels – this refers to the arrangement of the seeds along the stem.

Double-row barley is preferred for beer production because of its richer taste and higher yields due to the lower enzyme and protein content, as well as the higher starch content. Six-row barley has higher protein and carbohydrate content, which makes it a good food.

Two popular varieties are the six-row Robust Barley, as it is high-yielding with plump kernels and is resistant to stem spots and stem rust. Pinnacle is a double row variety that ripens a little later, but has high yields, large seeds and strong stems.

Planting barley

Barley prefers cooler weather and thrives when planted in spring or winter. You don't need many acres to grow this nutritious crop. For example, 200 square feet post-harvest can yield up to 40 pounds of barley.

Plant barley (Hordeum vulgare) in well-drained soil, either in the ground, in raised beds, or in large containers. However, you may not get a large harvest using only containers. With dense planting, it is possible to get up to 25 plants per square meter. The recommended sowing rate is 95 to 120 pounds per acre.

Barley needs full sun and regular moisture, although it will not grow well if the soil is moist. Sow seeds when the soil is workable in the spring and keep the soil moist until germination. Barley thrives best in cooler environments, and you can choose varieties that do better for the time of year you want to plant.


Barley fieldA field of young barley is developing. Source: neilalderney123

Maintaining your own barley is a simple process. This section covers the requirements for growing this crop and how to get the best results.

Sun and temperature

Barley needs full sun to grow sufficiently, that's at least 6 hours a day. The USDA growing zone is 3-8, but you can find a strain that will grow well in your climate and the time of year you plant it.

The ideal temperature for growing barley is 55 ° C, but that too depends on the variety you want to grow. It's a cool time of year, however, and you will get better yields in warmer areas if you plant them in early spring or fall.

Spring barley must be harvested before the first frost to avoid damage to the seed heads. In northern climates, winter barley is well adapted to the cold, although not as hardy as winter wheat and rye. Barley grows well in zone 8 or warmer if planted between September and February before temperatures rise above 85 ° F.

Water and moisture

Keep the seeds moist until they germinate, then water to keep the soil slightly moist. How much water you need depends on the air temperature and humidity. Frequent watering is required in warmer temperatures. When the temperatures drop, so does the need for water, barley doesn't like being soaking wet.

Barley plants can be watered with any type of irrigation. Most farmers find sprinklers easiest with larger crops, although doing so increases the likelihood of fungal diseases.


The ideal soil for barley grains is permeable and loamy with a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5. Of all cereal grains, it is the most tolerant of alkaline soils, which makes it salt-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and a great choice for overworked, herbaceous, and eroded fields as it improves soil slope.


Barley does not require high levels of fertilization. In fact, if you give it too much fertilizer, the plant will produce more vegetation and fewer seeds. It's a good idea to test your garden debris before applying fertilizer, especially since this plant doesn't need a lot of additional nutrients.

Barley only needs a small amount of potassium and phosphorus – even less than nitrogen. If your soil is insufficient, you can start fertilizing at the beginning of the season. However, if you have a rich garden base, it will be sufficient for growing this plant.

Pruning / training

Barley doesn't need pruning, but you can mow the crop to postpone flowering. Once you remove the seed head it will take time to produce another as another one will eventually grow. If you are growing it as a cover crop to bring nutrients into the soil, you should also mow or work it before the flowers develop to prevent the seeds from germinating and growing in the soil at a later date.


Barley can only be grown from seeds. In northern climates, sow the seeds in the spring for an autumn harvest. Otherwise, in warmer climates, spring barley from the barley planted in autumn is ready. The Planting section mentions more about barley cultivation and you will find widely adapted seeds for your region.

Barley seeds can be broadcast, but make sure the seeds are covered with about an inch of soil or the birds will eat them before they can germinate. Barley seeds germinate quickly, usually within 3 to 5 days.

Harvest and storage

Barley ready for harvestAt the time of harvest, the barley is completely dry. Source: Stanco

Once the seed heads have dried, it is now time to harvest. This process can be time consuming for the home gardener, but it can also be fun and not a difficult process.


When the grain comes off the head easily, it is ready to be harvested. If you plant a variety of barley with no peel, the peel will fall off easily. Use a hand trimmer or sickle to cut the stems from the base of the plant. Bundle the barley in sleeves upside down and place in the sun to dry for 7-10 days. Once they have dried sufficiently, cut off the seed heads from each stem and place them in a pillowcase. Hit the heads with a soft hammer to reveal the barley grains. This is also known as threshing.


Once the small kernels have separated from the chaff, place the kernels in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place for up to 6-8 months. Another option is to put them in freezer bags and store them in the freezer; they can be kept for at least a year or more.


Almost ripe barleyAs the harvest approaches, the barley begins to turn yellow. Source: Infomastern

As with any grain, there can be growing concerns and possible pests and diseases that are susceptible to barley. Fortunately, modern agriculture produces many resistant varieties.

Growing problems

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is not a difficult crop, but care must be taken not to overwater it as this can stimulate fungal root rot, which causes the roots to decompose and give mixed results with the growth of the plant. Rain or anything that causes the heads to get wet (e.g. sprinklers) when it is almost time to harvest can also cause the seeds to sprout. Watch the weather forecast at harvest time and remember that you don't need to water then.


Compared to other cereal grains, barley produces alkaloids that deter many common grain pests such as army worm larvae and aphids. Most pest problems occur in large camps, but a common pest seen during the growing season is groundworms.

Cutworms are night-flying moth larvae that eat the stems of young plants. They range in color from light brown to gray and have spots or stripes on their backs. Most will be less than two inches long and curl up into a ball when touched. They sleep in the ground during the day and eat at night. The best way to get rid of cutworms is to pluck them from the plant and soak them in soapy water.

Prevent cutworms from infesting by removing plant debris and weeds from where the eggs are laid. One natural pesticide option is Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a common bacterium that kills cutworms.


Leaf diseases such as leaf rust can impair the vegetative growth of the barley plant. It is a fungal disease caused by Puccinia hordei that produces orange-brown circular spots on the upper surface of the leaf. Infection begins later in the season and usually in high humidity and wet summers.

There are varieties that are resistant to this disease, but if your barley is affected, an organic foliar fungicide can be used at the first sign of infection. Remove plants as the disease progresses to prevent further spread to the rest of your crop. You can also prevent rust by providing plenty of space and air circulation between each plant.

frequently asked Questions

Ripe barleyDuring ripening, the seed heads swell and the seeds inside dry out. Source: enneafive

Q: What is barley plant used for?

A: Cultivated barley is ground into flour, used as a grain or a nice addition to soups and stews. Many alcoholic beverages are made from brewing barley, and sprouted barley is considered a superfood.

Q: Can I grow barley at home?

A: Yes, this is hardly a good option for home gardeners as an area of ​​200 square feet can produce up to 40 pounds of barley. Raised beds and large containers are also options for growing barley at home.

Q: How long does barley take to grow?

A: Barley takes around 50-90 days to ripen, depending on the variety and time of year. Spring barley is harvested earlier than planted in autumn.

Q: What is the difference between wheat and barley?

A: Although both belong to the grass family, wheat is from the genus Triticum and barley is from Hordeum. In its more natural form than whole grains or pearls, barley is easier to cook and eat. Wheat must be ground, milled, or broken, and the outer bran layer of the wheat is removed before consumption.

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