Here in western Pennsylvania buckwheat is blooming. Long fields of buckwheat carpet the countryside in a solid mass of tiny white flowers.
The name “buckwheat” is a little bit of a misnomer because the plant is neither wheat nor any type of grain or grass. Buckwheat is actually related to common garden sorrel and rhubarb.
Buckwheat is a spindly easy to raise plant that grows very fast in well-drained slightly acid soils. It will attain a height of about 3’ or 4’ tall in less than 100 days when planted in mid spring. The yield per acre varies depending upon soil conditions, but about 15 – 20 bushels per acre is pretty average for this section of the country.
The leaves of buckwheat are heart-shaped and seeds are small and triangular and remind me a little bit of Morning Glory seeds – except they are a dark brown.
Buckwheat seeds usually are harvested for food. Perhaps the best known food uses for buckwheat in the US is buckwheat flour and buckwheat groats. Buckwheat pancakes are a staple here in western Pennsylvania and are often served for supper with fresh sausage and coffee.
Buckwheat is grown in my part of Pennsylvania both as a cover crop and for flour.
If you don’t already know, cover crops are sometimes known as “green manure” and are used to improve and build soils. Certain cover crops will choke out noxious weeds and help to control different types of plant diseases and insects. Buckwheat is not native to North America – it originated in Russia. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were some of the first American farmers to grow buckwheat as a cover crop to help improve and amend the tobacco depleted soils on their plantations.
When buckwheat is used as a cover crop, it is plowed back down under into the soil while the plants are still in bloom and green. By plowing the green buckwheat into the soil, nitrogen in the soil is increased. Before the introduction of modern chemical fertilizers, buckwheat and legumes as cover crops were the preferred method for enriching soils.
In about another 3 or 4 weeks this year’s buckwheat crop will begin to be harvested.
Fresh milled buckwheat flour will become available once again and local Granges and fire halls will host buckwheat pancake suppers.
Fresh buckwheat pancakes are a sure sign that cooler weather isn’t too far off and small game hunting season is just around the corner.