Black Creek Pioneer Village now has a luxurious field of green at the Mackenzie House Field Garden. The garden department has seeded this field to malting barley with the goal of producing 65kg of harvested barley for the malting process, eventually ending up in the kettle for our own batch of homegrown beer.
This crop was seeded on September 23 and benefitted greatly from heavy rains on the 25th and 26th. The barley germinated in 10 days and emerged as green shoots on October 5th. Once again the weather conditions were ideal and the barley has grown rapidly with approximately 2 weeks of sunny and mild fall weather.
The type of barley is a common winter barley. This type of barley is sown in the fall much like winter wheat. The optimum seeding date is September 15 in this area which gives the barley plants enough time to grow an extensive root system and harden up for the cold winter dormancy period ahead. One of the potential pitfalls is winterkill of the plants. A thick covering of snow is the best possible scenario to prevent winterkill, so once again weather conditions will play a key role in our success. A winter with many freeze/thaw cycles will cause heavy losses to our crop, a major problem with winter barley in general.
In early spring the barley plants will awaken and begin a rapid growth period in the cool weather conditions plants in the grass family prefer. The advantages of fall seeded crops should help the barley to produce thru the many potential problems ahead. First of all is the ever present threat of all the wildlife here at the Village. Groundhogs and rabbits may take a liking to the emerging growth, however the plants have a built in defense in the pytochemical present in the older plants which make the barley less palatable and digestible as compared to new seedlings of a spring seeded crop. I do not expect much damage from rodents. Deer in the village are another case altogether!
With good weather conditions and no insect or disease problems we should see the barley start to show signs of forming heads by the late spring with harvest sometime around Canada Day. One other problem with weather in Ontario is humidity. Too much hot humid weather will cause the seed in the seed head to sprout before harvest time, rendering the barley useless. Pre-harvest is also prime time for damage from squirrels and birds, especially in our case which is such a small-scale.
As you can see there is much stick-handling to get this barley to a harvestable state. When we do get to harvest, we will be demonstrating harvest techniques by hand, cutting with a scythe and stoking, threshing using 19th century techniques. After all this, I am sure the beer will taste good!!!
Ken Willis, Head Gardener