Growing Oats:
How to Grow Oats Organically

Growing oats may sound complicated, but in reality it is a very easy bit of gardening pleasure. They prefer full sun, rich, loose soil, and a good amount of moisture, but they can thrive on less healthy soil than the rest of your crops.

Growing Oats: Plant Snapshot (Avena Sativa)

Growing Oats
  • Family: Gramineae
  • Annual or Perennial? Annual – Ready to harvest about 6 months after planting
  • Recommended varieties: Clinton, Cherokee, Bonda, Orbit (consider purchasing “hulless” varieties – varieties with easy-to-remove hulls)
  • Cold tolerance: Half Hardy – Will survive light frosts. Seeds germinate at low soil temperatures and can be planted 2 weeks before the average date of the last 32 degree F (0 degree C) temperature in spring.
  • When planning vegetable crop rotation, group with crops from this family: Gramineae, Bamboo, sugar cane
  • Companion plants (see Companion Planting Charts for more info):
    • Companions: Larkspur
    • Avoid: None
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Growing Oats: Planting the Seed

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Oats can be planted at any time either as a winter cover crop when planted before the last frost or a summer harvest when planted in early spring. If planted as a cover crop, churn them into the ground in the spring to improve the quality of the soil.

Since oats need more water than most other grains, be sure to plant them in an area where water is readily accessible. Nutrient-rich, well-composted soil will yield larger grains, but oats will also thrive in less healthy soil.

Planting oat seeds is easy, for all you have to do is broadcast the seed evenly over the planting area using a handheld broadcast seeder, after which the seed must be covered with less than one inch (2.5 cm) soil. Instead of covering them directly with soil, some gardeners smooth the ground with a rake after spreading the seed and simply walk over the entire area to press the seeds into the ground.

To give the seeds an even easier time, mix them with a little well-composted soil before broadcasting them.

Oats that are planted in containers and kept inside may be planted year round.

Snapshot: Planting Oats

  • Planting depth: about 1 inch (2.54 cm)
  • Spacing in rows: about 1/4 inches (0.25 mm)
  • Germination soil temperature: 37 to 65 degrees F (2.77 to 18 degrees C) (between 37 and 41 degrees F/2.77 and 5 C will lead to quicker germination)
  • Days to germination: 8 to 20 days
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Growing Oats: From Germination to Pre-Harvest

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Once your oats are established, they should have no problem taking over their bed. But until they have, be sure to keep their beds well-weeded. In addition to preventing the weeds from stealing soil nutrients, water and sunshine while your oats are young, weeding will make harvest time easier by limiting confusion about which plants are which.

While oats need less water than most of your vegetables, try to keep their soil continually moist.

Snapshot: Growing Oats

  • Preferred soil pH (see soil pH tester for more information): 6.0 to 7.0
  • Growing soil temperature: 55 to 65 degrees F (12.7 to 18.3 degrees C)
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Growing Oats: Harvesting Time

Oats are ready to use when their seed heads have completely dried out. You can either wait for this to happen while they’re still in the ground or cure them in the sun after harvest. The benefit of an earlier harvest is that fewer grains will shake off, giving you more grains.

To harvest your oats, simply cut off the seed heads with garden shears or snap them off with your fingers.

If you make the decision to plant one of the oat varieties that are without hulls, then you will be able to skip the task of husking, but you’ll still need to separate the grains from the stalks. There are a variety of novel ways to do this, including:

  • Place the harvested grains in a light sack or pillowcase, hit against a hard wall, then separate the grains by hand
  • Hold a bunch of grain and beat it against the inside of a large bucket until the seeds have fallen out
  • Hit the seed heads with a light object (i.e. bottom of a plastic cup), then separate by hand
  • Place the seed heads on the ground between two pieces of fabric, step on them, then separate by hand.

After the seed heads have been cracked, you may find it easier to separate the seeds by standing in front of a fan and dropping them into a bowl from a few feet in the air. While the fan is blowing air towards the falling seed heads, the heavier grains will fall into the bowl while the unwanted pieces blow away.

Snapshot: Harvesting Oats

  • Time to harvest: About 6 months after planting
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Storing Oats and Freezing Oats

Oats should kept in a cool dry area of your home (preferably in a sealed container), or they can be frozen.

To freeze freshly harvested oats, take the pre-dusted grain and place it into plastic freezer bags that will seal tightly. Place bags into your freezer carefully. Oats may be kept fresh in the freezer for up to two years.

Oat seeds are viable for up to four years.

Snapshot: Storing Oats & Freezing Oats

  • Storage temperature: 32 degrees F (0 degrees C)
  • Humidity: 90 to 95% relative humidity
  • Storage life (above conditions): About 3 months
  • Storage life (frozen): 2 years
  • Seed longevity: About 4 years
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Growing Oats: Pests & Diseases

The following pests and diseases have been known to affect the success of growing Oats. For more information about preventing and controlling them, see Organic Garden Pest Control.

Pests

  • Cutworm
  • Webworm
  • Armyworm
  • Lucerne flea
  • Desiantha weevil
  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Red legged earth mites

Diseases

  • Crown rust
  • Stem rust
  • Helminthosporium Leaf Spot
  • Septoria Leaf Blotch
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YOUR Experience & Advice About Growing Oats

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