|Posted on October 2, 2011 at 4:55 PM|
I know little about growing buckwheat or farming for that matter, but it is an idea that frequents the minds of many soba makers. Ever since I began making soba, I wanted to have access to fresh buckwheat because the most flavorful soba I've tasted in Japan has always been made with groats that have been freshly milled at the restaurant daily. Buying the ranch in Tehachapi gave me a chance to pursue the idea of starting a small buckwheat farm.
When I first came toTehachapi, I read in the local paper, Tehachapi News, that the Kawaisu indians from the area used to gather food in the wild, including the seeds of native Tehachapi buckwheat. I thought I may be able to make soba with this native varietal and got rather excited about the idea. I started searching for more information on the net, asking people about this buckwheat and one day, a local grape farmer pointed to the hills and said, "it's those reddish plants that cover the hills." They looked more like burnt sage than the buckwheat I am familiar with. Even though this native varietal is edible, it had little in common with the buckwheat for making soba. The buckwheat I was looking for belongs to the polyganaceae family.
I've been visiting the buckwheat farms in East Washington, even as recently as a week ago, and learned that East Washington and Tehachapi have similar climates and grow common crops. Tehachapi is in the high dessert. It has four distinct seasons. The farmers in Cummings Valley, Tehachapi where I live grows apples, melons, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, berries, cherries, apricots, lilacs, lavendar and peonies. I am sure buckwheat has a good chance, even though noone I know is growing it yet.
I've been in touch with growers and millers like Glenn Roberts from Anson Mills in North Carolian and Darrel Ottness - a buckwheat producer in East Washington - buckwheat capitol of the US where they grow sixty percent of the crop that is exported to Japan. They have been generously guiding me in my endeavor as a layman farmer, and providing me the seeds I need for free! Glenn says it is his mission to help farmers like me. He is dedicated to restoreing heirloom grain varietals and researching ways to grow food for better flavor and higher nutritional value. Glenn and Darrel would both answer my questions patiently by e mail - my questions about deer, birds, gofers, PH level of the soil, types of seeds, and how far to plant the buckwheat so they don't cross breed, etc.
When the hurricane hit North Carolina, Glenn didn't e mail me for awhile so I got worried about his farm. He e mailed me later and apologized for responding so late. His wheat crop was damaged by the hurricane but then he was back on the farm frantically trying to replant before the cooler weather set in. Farmers are a resilient bunch.
Then, there is Sakai who encouraged me to put my idea on paper and find someone who can help me prep the soil for planting. He found me a Okinawan gardner. He and his Nicaraguan wife came out to look at the land where I want to plant the buckwheat. They looked at a few videos about buckwheat planting and said, they could help me. We talked for a long time about other things besides growing buckwheat - like Japan, the earthquake, sake, apples, well water, etc. But after the hour visit, we finally got down to the buckwheat discussion, and made plans to do it this weekend.
Planting wise, October might be a little late but buckwheat only takes 75 days to grow, so I am hoping with that the weather will stay warm (it still gets in the mid-80s during the day) - optimum growing temperture is 64F. I need 10 weeks before the first frost. I hope the frost comes late this years. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but this is a test. If the crop fails, I can plant again in the spring. I have to start somewhere.
I am keeping the buckwheat garnden small. They say that you need 1 square meters of buckwheat to produce 100 grams of buckwheat, which is about 1 serving. I am using an area of 80'x80. I am planting three types of buckwheat - Kitawase, Tartan and Botan.
It's very exciting. I am already thinking about purchasing a stone mill for grinding the fresh buckwheat groats to make buckwheat flour. I am going to Japan in October to look for a mill. This buckwheat field is my field of dreams.