Growing and Saving the Seed Of Barley

Barley, Latin name Horedeum vulgare, is a rewarding annual grain crop, and it is one of the prettiest grains to grow. This cereal grain is a cool-season annual that grows best between 25-70 F. It matures quickly and creates tons of biomass to improve the soil structure. Barley is typically sown in early spring in northern climates and harvested over the summer. In mild winter climates (about south of the Carolinas), the seeds are sown in fall to grow over winter. Barley is known to thrive in cool weather; it is not quite as winter hardy as winter wheat or rye.



Barley is an ancient grain with a wide native range. It was cultivated in ancient Tibet, North Africa and the Middle East and it was one of the first domesticated grains in the Fertile Crescent.


  • Ornamental and edible
  • Can be milled into flour and used to brew beer
  • Cover cropping




  • Seeds will germinate in temperatures as low as 37 F.
  • Sow seeds at a depth of 1-1 ½ inches.
  • Hand broadcast or use a seeder to seed 4 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet, or about 20-25 seeds per square foot if growing in smaller spaces.


  • Growing barley is easy. Provide well-drained soil with average fertility.
  • Plants prefer full sun and even moisture during germination and plant establishment; however, they do become more drought tolerant as the plants mature.
  • Seedheads should mature in about 60-90 days.
  • As a cover crop, barley works exceptionally well when mixed with legumes. This companionship will help to scavenge nutrients, fix nitrogen and add lots of organic matter to the soil.
  • Harvesting barley can be done with a scythe or by hand, using a sharp knife. Allow the plants to turn yellow and dry before harvesting. Be sure to harvest before the barley gets a heavy rain, as this can compromise the grains. Watch the weather and harvest before any impending rain.


  • Barley has no particular pest or disease issues.


  • Seed saving on this self-pollinating annual grain is quite easy. An isolation distance of just 10-20 feet between different varieties will ensure they are not cross pollinated.
  • Save seed from a number of different plants within the stand to ensure genetic strength.
  • Harvest seeds when dry and hard.
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place.