Text & photos by Brian Vick, Community Kitchen Garden Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
Common buckwheat is sometimes used as a “honey crop,” because bees love it, especially in September when other nectar sources are dwindling. Have you ever heard of a “smother crop”? Buckwheat is a good competitor to weeds because it germinates rapidly, and the dense leaf canopy soon shades the soil. The rapid growth soon smothers most weeds, offering a soil-friendly control mechanism until time to mow the buckwheat for the succeeding crop.
In the Community Kitchen Garden we’re using buckwheat as a summer cover crop. We can’t use all of our limited space for constant food production, so the buckwheat will give the soil a break and serve as green manure when we till it into the ground prior to fall planting. The plant material decays rapidly when tilled into the soil, and makes nitrogen and mineral constituents such as phosphorous available for the succeeding crop.
Our challenge will be to mow the crop at the right time, before too many seeds develop, or we create a challenge from the ensuing volunteer buckwheat plants during the succeeding crop. However, we’re constantly challenged by myriad volunteer plants (aka weeds), and having a few buckwheat plants always around isn’t a bad thing.
For most people, buckwheat flour is a safe and nutritious source of food, however as with many substances in our environment, the properties of buckwheat can cause allergic reactions in some people — and even in some animals who eat the foliage.