Monday, June 9, 2008

Organic Gardening Magazine April 1978

Millet Jim Bolick

People living in areas where conditions make it difficult to grow conventional crops might be more successful in growing millet, one fo the most versatile of all grain crops.
Since prehistoric times, farmers have cultivated millet for human consumption. The main attribute of millet that's made it an attractive food crop is that it's so rugged. It'll grow well where it's too hot, too dry, or where the growing season is too short for other crops, but it also produces well under favorable conditions.
Besides being rugged, perhaps the greatest advantage of millet is that it uses water so efficiently. Proso millet is superior to any domestic crop in converting water into grain. Agricultural researchers in eastern Colorado have shown that millet can yield about 45 bushels per acre with 13 inches of water. In contrast, wheat produces only about 15 bushels with the same amount of water.
Other traits of millet include quick maturing (60 days after it's planted) few insect or disease problems if grown under semiarid conditions, a need for little , if any, fertilizer, and, depending on the type grown, a practical use for everything from puffed cereal to winter floral decorations.
There are three types of millet, and each has it specific uses. In this country, proso millet is grown for the birdseed market. Foxtail millet is grown for livestock feed and for birdseed. Pearl, or cattail, millet is used as a forage crop in the southeastern U.S. The plants themselves all can be fed to livestock as forage. Also, millet grain can be fed to chickens, pigs, or cows. Unprocessed grain can be given to chickens, but has to be dehulled or flaked before being fed to pigs or cows.
Greg Hinze, a Colorado State University agronomist and one of this country's millet experts, says dehulled proso grain can be used for human consumption as a hot breakfast cereal when cooked or as a puffed cereal. Dehulled, ground prose millet can be used for flour. As compared to wheat, proso millet four has about one percent less protein, a little more fat, but about three times the amount of fiber. Hinze recommends the variety abarr as the best proso millet for gardeners who might be interested in growing some specifically for grain.
However, for gardeners who aren't able to dehull and grind their own grain, or who don't have livestock to feed it to, millet offers another attractive alternative. It's possible to sell heads from foxtail and pearl millets to florist who use the heads in floral decorations.
Under dryland conditions (12 to 13 inches of moisture, including existing soil moisture) pearl millet grows to about 5 or 6 feet tall. Under irrigation it can reach 12 feet. Irrigations will increase the yields of both proso and foxtail types.
Millet should be planted shortly after the last frost. But since it matures quickly, it can be planted as late as July or August, depending upon growing conditions. For prompt germination, sow seed into a moist soil. Cover seed with moist soil, but hold it to less than one inch even on sandy or light soil. Covering depth should be less under heavy soils.
You can plant millet solid like you would plant a lawn plot, broadcasting the seed over well-worked soil and raking it lightly in. Or you can plant it, in rows, very shallow, with about a plant every inch or so. If planting in midsummer, plant deeper, one to two inches, to make use of available moisture when the weather is dryer.
Growers interested in millet might encounter difficulty in finding seed, especially if they don't live near areas where farmers cultivate the crop. Hinze offers two possible solutions to this problem. The first is to go to the supermarket and buy a bag of wild birdseed. The major ingredient in this package normally is yellow, white or red millet grains. Other ingredients are sorghum (milo), sunflower seeds and wheat. The small, oval grain is the millet, which can be taken directly from he bag and planted. The only drawback to this method is that gardeners will know only that they're getting either a proso or foxtail millet: they won't know exactly which until the crop emerges. The next suggestion is to contact Hinze and have him send you some---so I am leaving that information out since it is outdated.

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