Home-Grown Oatmeal


I see where the FDA is cracking down on some breakfast food manufacturers for  claiming that their oat food products help lower cholesterol. Hmmm. Whatever the outcome of that debate, oatmeal is still a  healthful food and now there’s an easier way to grow and process your own. The problem with oats has always been the hulls which grip the groats so tightly that getting them off is difficult. Commercial hullers are available but getting a small satisfactory machine that is practical in the kitchen is still an on-going process.

But then along came porn oats, as I call them when I want to attract attention. Various oat varieties, referred to has naked oats, don’t have tight hulls and because of that are now becoming popular. You can find them offered for sale on the Internet. The dried grains look more like wheat than oats. Threshed and dried, these oats can be run through a flaker or crimper attachment on a kitchen food processor like the Bosch Compact kitchen mixer in the photo above. Presto: oat flakes to cook  for breakfast.

We got our first taste of home-grown oatmeal when my wife and I visited Russ and Beth Miller in central Ohio. They are an example of what I call the “complete” farm marketer. At their booth at the farmers’ market in Bellefountaine, Ohio, they sell, in addition to vegetables, sausage from their own hogs plus their own eggs and homegrown grains— all produced organically. That’s Beth at her food mixer in the photo above, flaking a batch of oats that she is about to turn into baked oatmeal for our lunch. The rest of the delicious meal was Russ’s cooking: fried blue corn mush from their own cornmeal, pancakes with a combination of their oats, blue corn and a white wheat they get from a friend, plus a special omelet from their own eggs with cheese and bell peppers in it, and their own sausage. Needless to say, the meal was very tasty, once again proving the worth of my standard advice to all people in all times: “Always make friends with the cook.”

I tried to  raise hull-less oats many years ago some 50 miles north of the Millers.  Birds, mainly red-winged blackbirds, swooped in and ate most of the acre I planted when the oat groats were in the milky stage. So my first question to Russ was about birds. He shrugged. He hasn’t had any significant problem. Blackbird populations aren’t high in his area, or, as I suspect, aren’t as high in Ohio anywhere as they were 30 years ago.

Russ grows his oats just like any other oats, in the age-old rotation with alfalfa and corn. The only thing different is his practice of storing the grain after harvest in an old  “wagon drier,” a rather strange piece of equipment that was popular for a brief time back in the late 1950s when farmers, switching from harvesting ear corn to shelled corn (I still think that was a big mistake) desperately needed a way to dry the grain down quickly at harvest time in wet years. The wagon drier looks sort of like a regular farm wagon, but has a screen floor to make drying with artificial heat easier. Russ doesn’t need hot air to dry his oats,  but the screen floor provides extra insurance that the grain won’t mold when stored on it until completely dry, because air could circulate naturally up through the grain.

The Millers farm about 22 acres organically, with a 16 acre field divided into four rotated fields of corn, oats and two of alfalfa in the traditional manner. A pasture on the other side of the farm is divided into rotated plots for a small brood cow herd. Russ took off four cuttings of hay this year and in late October, the stand was lush and tall enough to cut again. Although it was too late to make regular hay, he was thinking about taking a fifth cutting as balage, wrapping the wilted hay in plastic bags in the usual manner.  I asked him if he worried about potash shortages in his alfalfa since he was taking off four, maybe five cuttings a year and did not use chemical fertilizers.

“I apply about 8 to 10 tons of manure per acre every year,” he replied. “I take soil samples regularly and so far  no shortage of any nutrients has shown up.”

His chickens, Golden Comets, get whole corn coarsely ground and some of the hull-less oats too. “As far as I can tell, the hens lay just as well on that ration plus a little supplement mixed in than with a traditional milled corn and full supplement ration,” he says. The oats, being relatively high in protein, helps make that work.

(A longer version of this article appears in
Farming magazine in the current 2009 Winter issue.)


I have found a lot of good information on the internet by doing searches like you recommend, although it’s mostly very random. (I just found some more with your “backyard” keyword recommendation.) I’d love to see these people find an internet forum to come together, though, especially to ask questions and share information. I started a yahoo group
for the purpose a couple years ago, but it’s still a very small group, and I was hoping to maybe find a similar, more established group. In any case, thank you very much!

Eric, if you type in something like “growing grains in the garden” or “backyard grains” into your favorite search engine, or clink into almost any of the links accompanying this blog, you will surely find references to many small scale grain ventures. It will take some time, but eventually you will find all sorts of people talking your language. Gene Logsdon

Is there an internet forum anywhere where people that are re-learning how to grow and process grains on a home scale can ask questions and help each other?

Well, Gene, I tried the baked oatmeal recipe you had in your article from the Millers. Except we didn’t have any eggs in the house when I made it, so we had to fudge that, and I added some cinnamon and raisins [they always make any recipe better!]. Not bad and it seemed to taste better as it aged in the refrigerator. The amount was sufficient for the two of us for 3-4 days. Tell the Millers “Thanks!” for me.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House December 29, 2009 at 5:44 am

Thanks Gene and Kyle. I appreciate all the help I can get. Oh, and Happy New Year to all of you.

Oops, I meant my comment to go to Kyle. Sorry!

Kerri in AK

Russ – I bought and you can still get Conlon two-row barley from Johnny’s Seed in 1 and 5 lbs bags for the organic or 1, 5, 25 and 50 lbs for the conventional see.


I did a test batch using 1 lb up here in Anchorage, AK and it grew well. Trouble was the test plot was in a community garden and the fencing wasn’t sturdy enough to keep out migrating Canada geese. What was left to get harvested had gotten rather moldy from all the autumn rain. Lessons learned!

Kerri in AK

As a further response to Kyle’s query – commercial ag seed is usually sold in ~50 lb bags. You can usually request and get seed that has not been treated. Commercial seed has been run through a seed cleaner before being bagged which essentially makes it food grade even though it is not labeled as such. We routinely mill or flake leftover organic seed for our own use. Chances are the 50# bag won’t cost much, if any, more than 5 or 10 lbs of seed ordered through a catalog.

Thanks Gene. That’s what I figured – it won’t stop me from buying the book ;). I could probably find some unmalted grain from a home-brewery supply store and hope it germinates. It’s unfortunate how little interest any of the garden seed companies have in grains (other than corn and a few cover crops), not to mention they charge you $5/lb.

Teresa, you can get hull-less oats from Seeds of Change:

Teresa, Hull-less oats have been around a long time grown more in Canada than in the U.S. There may be new varieties.
Kate, So if you are a farmer and a cook, you could probably get elected president. Gene

Kyle, I did not include seed sources in the new edition. I just figured most readers would have access to the Internet and everything is on the Internet. But maybe not small quantities of two-row barley? Now that is a challenge. Gene

Gene, does your updated edition of “Small Scale Grain Raising” list seed suppliers? My library is probably sick of me hoarding their 1977 edition and I don’t think most of those places are around anymore. I’d love to see where you get your seeds, and can’t for the life of me find small quantities of 2-row barley.

Teresa Sue Hoke-House December 26, 2009 at 4:24 am

Gene, I’m curious, are these a new hybrid oat, or are they a variety that has been around for a while?

You said, “…proving the worth of my standard advice to all people in all times: “Always make friends with the cook.””

This, I feel, requires a slight amendment. “Always make friends with the cook; if you *are* the cook, make friends with the farmer.”

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