Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Ruby Buckwheat

Last summer, I grew a cover crop in what was my garlic bed. After the garlic harvest, I planted Takane Ruby Buckwheat and California Blackeyed Peas to enrich the soil. I chose the colorful buckwheat because I thought it would be a pretty step up from the standard white buckwheat cover crop.

We just don't get enough hot days for the blackeyed peas to thrive, so though they germinated and grew a bit, they never made much of a dent against the buckwheat. The buckwheat, on the other hand, grew into a huge crimson-stemmed cloud covered with dark pink flowers. When backlit, the whole bed glowed like stained glass, the light warming up the semi-translucent red stems and lime green leaves. My neighbors asked me what the flowers were because they were so pretty. Buckwheat, really?

I saved seeds last year to plant again this year, this time around a row of black felt grow-bags. I hoped that the plants would grow and hide the ugliness of the bags, and perhaps shade the bags' surfaces later in the season, when it really warms up and plants' roots may suffer. They seem to be doing that job.

Buckwheat around black felt grow-bags.

This summer, I've had a bit of time to really sit in my garden. Right now, my favorite spot to sit is in a little corner of mulch, a giant catnip plant in bloom to my left, the cloud of buckwheat straight ahead, and just to my right, scenting the whole garden, a clump of naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna). There's a whole lot of pink in this spot, but more interesting than that, this corner of the garden is abuzz. Bees, wasps, hoverflies, moths, butterflies, bumblebees: it's a pollinator frenzy. If I sit still and just wait, I lose track of how many different insect species I observe. 

Hoverfly on ruby buckwheat flower.

Honeybee on ruby buckwheat flower.

I've also learned this year that the buckwheat makes a superb cut flower, lasting a long time in a vase and providing lots of visual interest with its contrasting stems, leaves, and flowers.

Could I harvest seeds (groats), grind them and use the flour? Maybe. I've read about it. That would take quite a bit of seed though, and I'm not sure I would ever have a large enough quantity to make anything. No matter. Without providing food for our kitchen, this plant still has plenty of purpose.

Young groats are just forming on these flowers.

Maturing groats.