Ask the Farmer: Getting started with oats

Rodale Institute Farm Director Jeff Moyer talks about what is happening in our fields and yours.

Melissa asks:

I am passionate about growing organic produce and I decided to grow oats for my family, animals and maybe extra for friends or bartering at farmers’ markets. I am new bloomer—never farmed before. With all the information about prepping the garden and controversy over tilling versus no-tilling, what do you recommend? What kind of oats do you recommend? Also, how do you spread the seed? Do you plant oats in long rows or cluster plots? I live in southeastern Indiana and I really appreciate any information you can offer. Spring is just around the corner and I need to make some decisions.

Jeff says:

Welcome to farming. Glad to have you aboard. Oats are a crop that you can plant early in spring, preferably in March if the soil and weather allow. I would suggest that you till the soil as soon as possible. Typically oats are planted in fields using a grain drill to establish them in 7- or 8-inch rows. When this is done early in the season the oats can germinate and grow with very little interference from us as farmers. That means you'll need to get all your fertilizer or soil amendments in place before you till the soil. A soil test will help you decide if additional crop nutrients are needed.

Oats are usually harvested with a combine in field situations but in smaller plots they can be harvested by hand in early to mid-July then taken to an area where you can thresh them out. If they are for human consumption you'll need to hull them. This can be done by rubbing them between two rough surfaces that roll the hulls of the seed. Southern Exposure Seeds has instructions on making a dehuller attachment for a hand-crank grain mill. Or, you could always plant hulless oats. Good luck.

5 Responses to “Ask the Farmer: Getting started with oats”

  1. William N Hale

    I planted and harvested Penn Nuda buff oats last year. I put in only a little over an acre, the early weeds were fairly heavy (I even tried tine weeding early on, which helped) and the field was not terribly rich. I was disappointed to only get about 20 bushels threshed, which yielded even less once they went through the cleaner. I assume that the naked oats generally do not yield well, but they seem to have some other good things going for them, like good prices for seed producers. My combine (an old F2 Gleaner) seemed to do a pretty good job on them, despite having only fair cylinder bars, which have since been replaced. Most of the hulls were removed in the machine and there seemed to be very little damage to the berries. I was lucky, I thought, that it was extremely dry when I combined them, and I could run the cylinder pretty slowly as a consequence. When it came time to do germ tests (at Sou. Exp., who wanted the seed), I got a rude shock in that they only got 50-70% germination. I got a little better myself, but not a lot. They did not seem to have insect damage and nothing much changed after putting them through a freeze cycle. I am currently thinking that the naked oat berries are just very sensitive to threshing damage. So I ended up with more seed than I had planned on, most of which I sowed this Spring. Some leftovers I will put in a high class chicken scratch that I am bagging for market. The soil has been very cold here this year, so what I got in this year before the early March snowstorm only came up in the last couple of weeks. I planted a bit heavy, thinking the germ was poor, but the germ in the field turned out to be pretty good and now have a solid stand, if short, on several acres. I also put some in an early cover mix with naked oats, yellow mustard, phacelia, turnips and red clover, which is coming up even better. This Spring has been entirely different than last year which was so warm the cool weather stuff, like Bell Beans, just couldn’t hack it. I write all this because I am interested in anyone else’s experience with naked oats. Thanks for listening.
    William Hale, Louisa Va

  2. Kent Russell

    Can anyone tell me about the safety of using a plastic greenhouse?

  3. Debbie

    Do I have to wait til after the last frost before planting as we still have below freezing temps well into may..if I wait that long will I get a harvest before first snow in mid October?


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