How to Grow Your Own Barley

Learn to grow barley in your backyard. Widely considered to be the ideal fermentation cereal, this starch filled grain is a crucial component of any brew.

| April 2019


Botanical Name: Hordeum vulgare
Plant Type: annual grass
USDA Zone: 3–9
Height: 2–3 feet
Soil: well-draining, fertile loam
Light: full sun
Water: moist soil during germination, drier as the crop reaches harvest
Growth Habit: grassy
Propagate By: seed. Some varieties are spring-planted and some are fall-planted. Use 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. Seed can be scattered by hand or by a broadcast seeder; rake into the top 1–2 inches. Keep soil moist during germination.
Spacing: Scatter seed across a fallow bed, or sow in the rows with twenty– twenty-five seeds per foot.
Months to Bearing: two months once growth begins in spring.
Pruning: none
Harvest: spring-sown barley matures in about 70 days; fall-planted barley ripens about 60 days after growth resumes in the spring. Reap when barley is dry. Cut, bundle, and shock (stack upright in bundles) to dry.
Notes: Barley comes in two distinct types: two-row or six-row. The type you choose will depend, in part, on your region.
Best Used In: beer


If hops are the heart of beer, barley is its backbone. And for good reason: Barley is an alcohol alchemist. No other cereal grain contains as much of the fermentation- friendly enzymes that break down grains’ stored starches into the sugars required for turning seeds into beer, whiskey, and other spirits. Barley’s effect is so powerful that it acts as a catalyst to ferment other, less endowed, grains such as wheat, rice, rye, corn, oats, and millet.

Growing your own backyard barley may sound hardcore, but it’s actually surprisingly easy. Barley, Hordeum vulgare, is a forgiving crop in northern climates. In addition, it is high yielding, matures early, and is widely adapted to all but the hottest and driest conditions. It is an annual crop that completes its entire life cycle within a year—usually sprouting in spring and seeding (and dying) in summer. If well sited and well tended, a 10x10-foot barley bed can deliver 5 to 15 pounds of grain, enough for one or two 5-gallon batches of all-grain brew, or a dozen or more batches of partial mash. A plot of this size will require ½ to ¾ pound of seed. The thicker the seeding, the less room there will be for weeds.

Perhaps the hardest part of growing barley is deciding which kind to grow. Two-row or six-row? Bearded or beardless? Hulled or hull-less? Really, the number of choices seems excessive.



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