Published in the May 16 – 29, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life
Long ago, when people were first growing cereal grains in the Fertile Crescent, there was a weed on the side of the fields. These weeds may have benefited from the irrigation and fertilizers used on the primary crop, or they may have cross-pollinated — we don’t know for sure. But that pesky weed turned out to be oats, of oatmeal cookie fame.
Oats are members of the grain family. Like other cereal grains, the seeds we use to make oatmeal are actually a fruit, called a caryopsis. Unlike other grains, oats contain a legume-like protein. Commonly grown for livestock fodder and human use, there are plenty of other reasons to grow this versatile weed-come-cereal-grain.
Oats make an attractive stand of tall stalks and waving seed heads. As an annual, oats will reseed an area indefinitely. Unlike other grain crops, oats are not as attractive to most small songbirds, but larger birds, such as mourning doves, may flock to them.
Adding oats to your garden or landscape can provide several benefits:
- Deep roots counteract compacted soil and improve soil structure
- Help retain nitrogen in the soil
- A nutritious chicken food
- Prevent erosion
- Used as a green manure
- Provide weed control when grown with other crops.
How to grow oats
Oats can be planted as soon as temperatures are consistently higher than 40°F. Seeds can be broadcast over an area and raked in or, in the case of severely compacted soil, a drill can be used to create holes 1/2 to 1 inch deep.
Oats are heavy feeders, so side dressing young plants will give them the nutritional boost they need. Oats are more tolerant of cooler temperatures and rain than other cereal grains, making them a good late winter and early spring crop, in South Valley. Oats take slightly less than three months to mature, so plan accordingly.
Pests and diseases of oats
Bacterial blights can affect oats, along with stem and bulb nematodes, and barley root knot nematodes, dried fruit beetles, and crane fly larvae. Fungal diseases, such as leaf blotch, stem rust, crown rust, and powdery mildew are common, but not serious, threats for the home garden. This cereal grain is great to add to your annual crop rotation, garden, or landscape.
Kate Russell is a UCCE master gardener. Details: mgsantaclara.ucanr.edu or call (408) 282-3105 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.