Perhaps you had them for breakfast this morning, or maybe they were in a scrumptious cookie. Oats are everywhere and you can actually grow them in your backyard. Learn more about when to plant oats, how to grow them, and the somewhat complicated process of harvesting them.
When to plant oats: Oats are a great idea if you have extra space in your backyard. Plant oats in the spring if you plan on harvesting them for food consumption. You can also plant oats to work as ground cover which will then turn into green compost. For this purpose, plant oats in either early spring or mid-fall.
Planting Oats in Different Climates
Growing oats where there is a lot of humidity will be an issue. A tropical climate is not the best area.
Throughout the entire growing period, but in particular the germination period, oats require a good amount of water. If you really want to grow oats in a dry climate, you will need a very good irrigation system.
A temperate climate is perfect for growing oats. You can get them in the ground earlier and there should be plenty of warmth during the summer.
Growing oats in a continental climate should be fine. While the growing season is shorter, as winters are longer, you will still have enough time to grow and harvest your oats.
With a short growing season, a polar climate is not able to support the growth of oats.
Reasons and timing to plant oats
There are many reasons why a gardener will want to plant oats. All of these factors are important to consider as they will determine when you plant and how you care for your oats.
If you want to eat your oats eventually, you will need to plant them in the spring. Aim to have your oats in the ground just after the last spring frost and you will have a late summer or fall harvest.
Spring ground cover
Growing ground cover to create green compost is another reason to plant oats. For this, plant in early spring, before the threat of frost is over but after the ground has thawed.
The oats will grow and you can then cut them down while they are still green, which will allow them to become a green compost you can mix back into the soil for more nutrients.
Winter ground cover
Another option for ground cover is from fall to winter. For this to work, plant your oats in mid to late fall. The plants will grow but will naturally kill off once the weather is freezing.
In the spring you can then work all the dead material into your garden for nutrients.
Choosing Oats Seeds
While this variety of oats is often grown, the hulls are very tough and you will need a machine thresher to do the work. Although they are great for large farms, they are not ideal for backyard gardeners.
While this variety does indeed have a hull, it is very soft and very easy to remove. These types of oats are perfect if you are a backyard gardener and want to do the harvesting yourself.
If you are planting oats to act as a winter ground cover, then this variety will work great. They are very disease resistant and the stems are softer than other varieties. Furthermore, they only take two months to mature so you can plant them in mid-fall.
This variety will work well if you want either ground cover or oats for food purposes. It is very common in South America and is often used as food for livestock.
How to Plant Oats Seeds
As mentioned, above you will need to plant your oats at different times of the year, according to their purpose. For growing oats for eating, plant just after the first frost date while oats for ground cover can be planted in either early spring or mid-fall.
Full sun is best for oats. They need plenty of vertical space to grow and if you have trees nearby, they can cast shadows over your oat area, so be aware of this before planting.
Oats prefer soil that has a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Most likely this is where your garden already is but it’s also a good time to test your soil, just to make sure.
Make sure your soil is completely weed-free. While you would probably normally do this anyway before planting other crops, oats can be a bit delicate when first growing, so this is a step not to forget.
Finally, add in organic matter such as compost to help create a fertile environment for your oats. Dig the area up and mix in your compost before leveling it all out again with a gardening rake.
Soil that drains well is also important. You will need to add quite a bit of water to keep the soil moist but if the soil is too compacted, it will pool and lead to root rot.
No matter what time you plant your oats, the process will be the same. The seeds are small so you only have to cover them with 1 inch of soil.
Try to plant your oats in neat rows. While you can try to space the seeds out by ¼ of an inch, you may have to just add a bunch of seeds and thin them out after they start to grow.
After planting, walk over the seeded area in order to push the seeds into the soil. This will add the necessary depth of soil to the seeds so you don’t have to worry about covering them with too much soil.
How to Water Oats
The first few weeks after planting are especially important when it comes to water. If the soil isn’t continuously moist, it can affect the germination period and your oats won’t sprout.
Check the soil daily and if the weather warms up at all, you will have to add more water to the soil.
After your oat seedlings are a few weeks old, you don’t have to be as vigilant with watering. However, as you enter late spring to summer, the temperature will warm up and there will be less precipitation. This means you will still need to keep to a regular watering schedule.
How to Grow Oats
Every time you go out into your oat patch, be sure to check for any weeds. Lightly pull weeds up so that you don’t disrupt the delicate roots of your oats.
After your oat plants really start to grow, you can add a layer of straw to act as mulch. This will help prevent weeds and will also keep the soil moist.
The good news is that you won’t have to worry about fertilizing your oats. As long as you start with soil that is nutritious, you won’t have to add any extra fertilizer.
How to harvest oats
Dry seed heads
About six months after planting, your oats will be ready for harvest. This should be late summer to early fall.
Around this time, watch for signs your oats are ready, such as dry seed heads. They should be dry to the touch and not at all damp.
Cut the seed heads
Locate the seed heads at the top of the stalks and cut them off. Use a bucket as you do this to collect all the tops. Either use clean garden shears or your own hands.
Using a bucket will also help you to crack the seed heads open. Simply shake the bucket and the oats inside and this will break them open.
Separate the grains
This is the trickiest step. Let the oats cure for a few days in a warm, dry place, and then spread them out on a large sheet.
Place another sheet over top and then use your feet to stomp on them. You can even use something stronger like a plastic shovel.
Put everything into a bucket and then throw the bucket into the air. The lighter chaff, or outside part of the oats, will blow away with the wind while the heavier oats will fall back into the bucket.
Now that you have your oats, you can store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to three months. If you have a lot of oats, you can also freeze them for up to two years.
How long do oats take to grow?
Oats for harvest take about six months to grow. However, if you are growing oats for ground cover, you will want to cut them down sooner, at about two to three months.
Oats are a versatile crop. You can grow them for consumption or as ground cover to make green compost. For eating purposes, plant your oats in the spring and they will be ready for harvest six months later.