Buckwheat Cultivation (Kuttu), Farming Practices

Introduction to buckwheat cultivation in India

Buckwheat is a herbaceous plant of the Polygonaceae family and its edible seeds. Common buckwheat or buckwheat is a plant cultivated for its grain-like seeds and as a cover crop. Buckwheat is notable for being a short-season crop, needs 10 to 12 weeks to mature, and for requiring only moderate soil fertility.

A step by step guide to Buckwheat cultivation

Buckwheat is easy to grow and offers many benefits to gardeners as a food source and the environment as a cover crop. With so many positive attributes, it is a great crop to add in your spring planting lineup if you live in a region where it will thrive.

A guide to Buckwheat cultivation.
A guide to Buckwheat cultivation.

Soil requirement for Buckwheat cultivation

Buckwheat will perform well on well-managed soil with moderate fertility. Buckwheat tolerates soil pH level as low as 4.8. Though, it does not tolerate stressful conditions or poorly prepared soil and its fine roots penetrate the soil quickly, but do not tolerate compaction, flooding or drought.

Buckwheat plant grows on a wide range of soil types and fertility levels. It produces a better crop than other grains on infertile, poorly drained soils if the climate is moist and it is an efficient crop in extracting phosphorous of low availability from the soil. Also, buckwheat tends to lodge badly on fertile soils.

Buckwheat crop has a higher tolerance to soil acidity than any other grain crop. It is best suited to light to medium textured, well-drained soils such as sandy loams, loams and silt loams. It does not grow well in heavy, wet soils or in soils that contain high levels of limestone. It grows well where alfalfa and red clover would not. On soils high in nitrogen, lodging can occur and cause a reduction in yield. Once lodged, a buckwheat plant does not return upright. Crusting on clay soils may result in an unsatisfactory stand because of poor seedling emergence.

Different varieties of Buckwheat

There are two common types of modern buckwheat, Common buckwheat and Tartary buckwheat. The main differences between these two varieties is the preferred climate and their breeding system. Tatary buckwheat is a self-fertile plant. Choosing buckwheat varieties is very easy because the variety is determined by the processor. Most of the buyers specify the variety they need in the contract. Many also supply the seed to contracted growers. Some of the important Buckwheat varieties are Koto, Manor, Common Buckwheat, and Keukett.

Growth habits for Buckwheat

Buckwheat has an indeterminate growth habit. Consequently, the plant grows vegetative and flowers until terminated by frost. So, buckwheat yields, unlike those of other crops, have remained relatively stable and thus have discouraged production. Flowers of cross-pollination species of buckwheat attract insects because of their secreted nectar. Though, that insect activity is not essential to get effective fertilization and seed set.

Right time to plant Buckwheat

Buckwheat is a fast-growing plant that begins to flower 4 weeks after it is sown and produces grain in 10 to 12 weeks. It can be planted in summer until mid-August. If planting buckwheat as a cover crop, it can be planted in early summer or late spring. Before it goes to seed, and you can turn it into mulch or green manure for the next crop you plant.

Site preparation for Buckwheat cultivation

The buckwheat plant has a fine root system, and preparing a good seedbed is time well invested. It is a good idea to prepare the ground several weeks in advance when the soil is easier to work and there is more moisture obtainable for crop growth. The seed will rot if water collects around it, so seedbed preparation must aim to create drainage around the seed. If the seeds are submerged in water for as little as two hours, half the stand can be lost. Overworked or overly wet soil drains poorly and does not allow roots to grow well. Disking can make an undesirable compacted area just below the seed.

Climatic requirements for Buckwheat cultivation

Buckwheat grows best where the climate is cool and moist. It can be grown rather far north and at high altitudes because its growing period is short and its heat requirements for development are low. The crop is extremely sensitive to unfavourable weather conditions and is killed quickly by freezing temperatures both in the spring and fall. High temperatures and dry weather at a blooming time can cause blasting of flowers and prevent seed formation. Normally, buckwheat seeding is timed so that the plants will bloom and set seed when hot, dry weather is over. Often seeding is delayed until 3 months before the first killing frost in the fall.

Buckwheat does not do well with extreme temperature levels. The ideal temperature for Buckwheat crop is 21°C. Buckwheat doesn’t tolerate frost or even cold temperatures. The coolest temperature it can tolerate is about 10°C. So, you should not plant buckwheat too early in the spring. Buckwheat doesn’t tolerate drought conditions or hot summers.

The seed rate and seedbed preparation for Buckwheat cultivation

A firm seedbed is best for successful buckwheat production because of its small seed size and its shallow root system. A firm seedbed facilitates absorption of nutrients essential for rapid growth and tends to reduce losses from drought. If the soil has been ploughed for a previous crop which has failed, only disking or harrowing may be required. Rolling the seedbed just before seeding is sometimes useful.

A seed rate of about 20kg/hectare is sufficient for optimum grain yield. Application of 20kg N, 10kg each of P2O5 and K2O per hectare preferably one day before sowing gives higher yield.

Seed preparation and germination of Buckwheat

Buckwheat will germinate at temperatures ranging from 7 to 40°C. The freshly harvested seed of some types may not germinate until after 30 to 60 days of drying and storage. The seed could retain its viability for several years, but a seed that is no more than one year old is best to use for planting. Buckwheat plants will emerge from the soil 3 to 5 days after planting. The time required is influenced by the depth of seeding and the temperature and moisture content of the soil.

Sowing of Buckwheat seed

It is important to sow buckwheat early enough to avoid the first frost in September, and late enough to avoid the heat of July month. Furthermore, planting at the right time will ensure that the shorter days of August help the seeds mature for harvesting.  At elevations over 1500 feet, sowing seed can be a week earlier. Where large lakes delay the first frost, sowing can be as late as mid-July.

Buckwheat should be sown with a grain drill at a depth of about 1/2 to 1 inch. Though, drilling the seed will produce an even and uniform stand. If a drill is not available, a Buckwheat crop can be obtained by broadcasting the seed at double the usual seeding rate.

The seed should be sown at 40-55 lb/acre. Larger plants will produce on good land, so the lower rate can be used. Higher rates are needed if plant growth is likely to be slow for example if the soil is cold, wet, or poorly prepared at sowing. Large-seeded varieties need slightly higher rates than “common” seed because there are fewer seeds per pound. These seeding rates are based on 85% germination. Germination could decline quickly in common storage, and a germination test is worthwhile if the seed is not from the most recent harvest.

Field preparation and fertilization for Buckwheat crop

For buckwheat, as with most grains, it is important to prepare a firm seedbed if the field is tilled. When no-till planting, make adjustments to ensure that the soil closes over the seed furrow. Many growers do not fertilize buckwheat due to its relatively low value and modest fertility needs. However, for optimum yields, some fertilizer may be needed. Nitrogen fertilizer may improve growth, particularly if available soil N is depleted following wheat. Low rates of N should be used, since more than 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre may lead to lodging.

Buckwheat can get by without P and K on soils testing medium to high in these nutrients, but on soils testing low in P or K, the application is recommended to achieve optimum yields. Buckwheat is effective in capturing soil P or P from rock phosphate fertilizer, and that P becomes available to the next crop in the rotation as the buckwheat residue breaks down.

Buckwheat has a modest feeding capacity compared to most other grains, and if fertilizer is not applied, the removal of nutrients by a buckwheat crop could have a depressing effect on the yield of the following crop. Typical nutrient removals by the grain for a 1200 lb/acre crop are 9 lb/acre N, 3 lb/acre P2O5, and 12 lb/acre K2O. The crop grows well on acid soils and gives little response to liming above a pH level of 5.0. It has about the same acid tolerances as oat and potatoes. Soils must be limed for the crops grown in rotation with buckwheat. It is unlikely that buckwheat crop will respond to additional P or K at soil tests above 30 lb/acre P or 300 lb/acre K.

Pest and diseases management in Buckwheat cultivation

A well-sown buckwheat stand will out-compete weeds and it is also seldom damaged by insects or diseases. For this reason, buckwheat has no registered pesticides or herbicides. However, buckwheat that is planted earlier than the recommended date is at risk because aphids could attack and stunt the plants in mid-June.

Few pests or diseases bother buckwheat. It’s most serious weed competitors are small grains from preceding crops, which only add to the cover crop biomass. Other grass weeds can be a problem, particularly in thin stands. Weeds can increase after seed set and leaf drop. Diseases include a leaf spot caused by the fungus Ramularia and Rhizoctonia root rot.

Buckwheat harvesting and yield

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Buckwheat grain.
Buckwheat yield.

Buckwheat is harvested when the grains are mature, and even though the plant is still green. Buckwheat is ready to harvest when the grain or seed is ripe around 8 to 10 weeks when the seeds turn a dark brown. Most gardeners use threshing to remove the seeds, while commercial growers use swathing or windrowing methods. The Buckwheat crop yield varies from 10-12 quintals per hectare.

Commonly asked questions about Buckwheat cultivation

What is Buckwheat called in India?

Buckwheat is also sold as flour, popularly known as kuttu ka atta in India, which is used during Navratri to make parathas.

Why is Buckwheat so expensive?

You can find buckwheat in the natural foods section of supermarkets. It’s more expensive than other grains because its triangular shape requires special milling equipment. Buckwheat is sold as groats, grits, or flour.

Does Buckwheat come back every year?

Buckwheat will regrow after mowing if cut before it reaches about 25% bloom. It can be lightly tilled after the midpoint of its long flowering period to reseed a second crop. Some growers bring new land into production by raising 3 successive buckwheat crops this way.

How much is Buckwheat per acre?

A general recommendation for seeding rate is 700,000 plants per acre, which is about 50 to 55 pounds per acre of large seed or about 40 pounds per acre of a small seed. Buckwheat can compensate somewhat for a thin stand by branching more, and as a result, studies show little yield response to seeding rate.

How long does Buckwheat seed last?

Flowering may start within 3 weeks of planting and continue for up to 10 weeks. Due to its quick, aggressive start, buckwheat is rarely used as a nurse crop, while it can be used anytime you want quick cover.

Will Buckwheat grow in shade?

Buckwheat prefers moist, well-drained soils. It also tolerates those with low fertility and decaying organic matter. It will not do well in too much shade or drought, or compacted or saturated soils.

How long does Buckwheat take to grow?

Its rounded pyramid-shaped seeds germinate in just 3 to 5 days. Leaves up to 3 inches wide can develop within 2 weeks to create a relatively dense, soil shading canopy. Buckwheat typically produces only 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre, but it does so quickly in just 6 to 8 weeks.

What is the difference between Buckwheat and Wheat?

The biggest difference between wheat and buckwheat is that buckwheat is not related to wheat at all. Buckwheat is completely gluten-free and is not related to wheat or any grasses associated with the wheat family at all. Wheat is a seed of grass, but botanically, it is a fruit known as Caryopsis. On the other hand, the buckwheat crop is a seed of Asian origin. It is not a grass like wheat and is called a pseudo-cereal because of its use in the culinary world where we use it as a cereal and not as a seed.

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