What Is 2-Row Barley – Why Grow 2-Row Barley Plants At Home

What Is 2-Row Barley – Why Grow 2-Row Barley Plants At Home

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By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

For many growers, the process of expanding their garden toinclude unique and interesting crops is an exciting one. This is especiallytrue for gardeners who wish to expand their hobbies to make use of fresh,homegrown ingredients, as is often the case for experienced home brewers andbeer enthusiasts. Although labor intensive, the process of growing grains, suchas 2-row malting barley, for use in home brewing is one that can be extremelyrewarding.

What is 2-Row Barley?

Commonly referred to as 2-row malting barley, 2-row barleyplants are the most common type of barley used for brewing beer. Europeanbrewers, specifically, emphasize its use due to the large kernel sizes producedby the plants. This type of barley is extremely easy to identify, as evidencedby the growth arrangement on the seed head.

Seed heads of this barley are neatly organized, with twodistinct rows of seed growing down the entire length. This uniformity isespecially helpful for processing and grinding of the barley.

Why Grow 2-Row Barley?

Growing 2-row barley for beer is done for many reasons.Traditionally, European growers emphasize the use of only 2-row barley inbeers, as other types are often regarded as being better grown for livestock.In addition to its uniformity, the larger barley kernels allow for easierproduction of sugar for the beer making process.

Growing 2-Row Malting Barley

Growing barley is a relatively simple process. Though asmall crop, the process of growing barley at home does not necessarily requirelarge amounts of space to produce a usable harvest. First and foremost, growerswill need to select a variety that will grow well in their own gardens. Whilesome types may be more cold tolerant than others, it is imperative to choose atype which will thrive in the home garden climate.

To sow, broadcast the seeds in a well-draining location thatreceives direct sunlight. Gently, rake the seeds into the soil and water well.Keep the soil moist until germination occurs. In some areas, plantings may needto be lightly covered with straw in order to prevent the seeds from being eatenby birds and other garden pests.

Beyond planting, barley requires little care or attentionfrom growers.

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Planting spring barley

I have a bad blogging habit of procrastinating until I can present a single complete account of our process and outcome. As a result, my posts tend to sit in the drafts folder for months until I’ve collected all the relevant data and can muster the motivation to knock out a couple thousand words and a pie chart. Last summer we grew trial plots of three grains (amaranth, sorghum, flint corn) but none of them have made it onto the blog yet. I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf this year and report on our latest grain crop as it happens.

I’m fascinated by the process of growing grains, perhaps because it seems more like ‘real’ farming or because it requires specialized tools to harvest and process. Whatever the reason, my project grain this year is barley.

The case for barley

Barley is a pretty ideal grain for small scale growing. It produces large yields with minimal water and nutrient inputs and competes well against typical weeds. The resultant grain can be used as a livestock feed, consumed as a nutritious cereal or flour, or malted to make beer. My particular interest lies with malted barley.

There are two main types of barley: 2-row and 6-row. Two-row barley has only two rows of kernels down each grain spike. The kernels tend to be slightly larger and more uniform in 2-row, with higher levels of starch, lower levels of protein, and moderate enzyme levels. When making beer, the enzymes are used during the mashing process to convert the starches into fermentable sugars. Two-row barley is often used by craft breweries. Six-row barley is pretty much the opposite on each point: smaller kernels with greater yield, lower levels of starch, more protein, and high enzyme levels. You should grow 6-row barley if you plan to eat it, feed it to an animal, or sell it to the BMC Beer Monopoly.

On a totally unrelated note, the barley genome was sequenced in 2012.

Like most grains, it’s difficult to find a desired barley variety in appropriate quantities for home-scale plots. When I first looked for barley 3 years ago, I bought a 5 lb bag of Conlon 2-row Barley (a malting variety) from Johnny’s. Shipping barley seed over from Maine was kind of ridiculous since our nearby Oregon State University has a breeding program devoted to barley. They’ve created the Barley World website to promote their work and provide quick guides to growing their varieties at home. Now if only they sold the seed!

Plot preparation

I didn’t want to turn our whole garden into a barley field, so I tilled up a new area just outside the garden perimeter. The plot ended up being 22′ by 67′, which is 1474 sq ft or almost exactly 1/30th of an acre. Sizing plots to be some reasonable fraction of an acre is convenient when calculating fertilizer rates. I read through the University of Idaho’s spring barley reference and compared each nutrient guideline against the results of our most recent soil test. As it turned out, our soil was more than sufficient for growing barley without modification. The one exception was sulfur, which leeches away in the winter rains. Conveniently, I had tracked down a bag of elemental sulfur last year to use in pH modifying the soil around our blueberries.

Inconveniently, a rodent chewed a hole in the bag during the winter and when I picked it up sulfur went everywhere. Now the dirt under our tractor port has been pH modified too.

The chart showed that I needed to apply one pound of sulfur to the barley plot. I didn’t want this to lower the pH any (it’s presently an acceptable 6.1), so I added six pounds of lime to my fertilizer dose for good measure. Somewhere out there a university extension has written a document about computing liming rates to correct for acidifying fertilizers, but I haven’t found it. I spread these 7 lbs using a portable broadcast spreader .

While most grain crops would also require some kind of nitrogen supplement to maximize yield, the existing tilled organic matter should be sufficient for our barley. Too much nitrogen causes high protein levels in malting barley, which leads to cloudy beer and can complicate the mashing process.

I suspect that April 9th is a little late to plant spring barley, but most guides say “as soon as the soil is workable.” It rains a lot here in the spring. Tough. Maybe next year I’ll plant in the fall when the weather is more predictable. I spread my 5 lbs of seed using the same broadcast spreader, making multiple passes to get an even distribution. This worked out to a planting rate of 150 lbs/acre, which is well above the recommended rate (85-100 lbs/acre). Then again, my seed was 3 years old. If any of it germinated I was going to be surprised. Barley likes to be planted about 1″ deep, but can tolerate deeper or shallower planting. To avoid feeding the birds, I buried the seeds by tilling the plot one last time on the shallowest setting. It rained the day after I planted and turned cold for a week. Barley is cool with that.

It’s alive!

I wasn’t terribly confident that any of the seed would sprout. I considered my options for explaining the patch of bare earth to inquisitive neighbors. Tilling practice? Crop rectangles? Quadratic wildfire?

To my surprise, by April 18th there was a fuzz of green sprouts which were too uniform and succulent to be normal grass. A few days later, we were certain the barley was sprouting. As of April 24th, the plants are about 2 inches high and many have reached the two leaf stage. Less than 3 months until harvest!

I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with the barley if it matures. I’m sure we could hand harvest a plot of this size, but threshing is another matter. You really need a specialized machine for threshing, because the old method using a flail was extremely labor intensive. Our little 1/30th acre plot could yield about 100 lbs of barley. That’s enough grain to make 50 gallons of beer, which would be great while it lasted but what would we drink the other 11 months of the year?

What Is Malted Barley?

Malted barley is one of the four essential building blocks of beer. (The other three are water, hops, and yeast.) Most commercial beer is made with malted barley, though some beers are made with wheat malt, rye malt, and other cereal grains. So, what is malted barley?

Barley is a grass that comes in a 2-row or 6-row variety, which corresponds to way the grains are arranged around the barley stem. Barley grains (also called corns) are the seeds of the plant that in optimal conditions will grow into a plant. The corns store energy in the form of starch, a complex sugar, so that the plant can grow.

These sugars are what brewers use to make beer. The grain provides the sugar that feeds the yeast, which in turn converts the sugar into alcohol and CO2. But before these sugars can be used, they must be made accessible through a process called malting.

The Malting Process
Malting the barley is a three-step process carried out by a professional maltster. Using a variety of barley grown specifically for making beer, the maltster creates conditions that encourage the barley corns to grow, then kilns the barley corns before they have a chance to grow into plants:

  1. Steeping – The maltster soaks the barley in large steeping tanks, aerating the malt and maintaining a constant, cool temperature that discourages microbial growth. The water is periodically replaced, which gives the barley a chance to breathe.
  1. Germination – The barley is then moved to the floor where it is allowed to sprout. During this phase, enzymes are activated in the barley. The enzymes begin to break down the cellular structure of the grain, which makes the starches accessible for conversion into fermentable sugars. The barley will typically be turned regularly to prevent the rootlets, or “chits,” from getting tangled. The degree to which the barley is allowed to grow is called “modification.”
  1. Kilning – The final step in malting the barley is the kilning. The maltster kilns the grain to stop the growing process, which preserves the starches and the enzymes for use in brewing. Depending on the style of malt produced, grains are kilned between 175-400°F. This step introduces color and flavor to the malt as the proteins and sugars are heated in the kiln.

Common Types of Malted Barley

Malted barley is generally categorized by color and given a Lovibond number rating between 1 and 500 to rate the color (1 being pale 500 being black). These are several of the most common malted barleys:

  • Pilsen Malt – This very lightly kilned malted barley is ideal for lagers, but can also be used as base grain for ales. (1° Lovibond)
  • 2-Row Malt – A very common base malt for ales and lagers. 2-Row malt typically contains more fermentable sugar and less protein than 6-Row malt. (1.8° Lovibond)
  • 6-Row Malt – 6-Row is often used for lagers for its grainy flavor. 6-Row barley is primarily grown in the US. (1.8° Lovibond)
  • Vienna Malt – Vienna malt is kilned slightly more than Pilsen and 2-Row malts, but it still works well as a base malt. It is recommended for use in Pilsners and Vienna-style lagers. (3.5° Lovibond)
  • Munich Malt – Munich malt is a well-modified malt that lends a sweeter, maltier flavor than the lighter malts. It is ideal for amber ales, Märzen lagers, and dark lagers. (10° Lovibond)
  • Crystal Malt – A wide range of malted barleys are kilned at higher temperatures and called crystal, or caramel malts. They range from 10 to 120 degrees Lovibond, contributing significant color and sweet caramel flavor. (10-120° Lovibond)
  • Chocolate Malt – Chocolate malt is often used (in moderation) for brown ales, porters, and stouts. It contributes a chocolate-like flavor and aroma to beer it is not actually made with chocolate. (350° Lovibond)
  • Black Malt – Black malt has been kilned nearly to the point of burning. It provides roasty, astringent bitterness and very dark color to stouts and other dark beers. Very little needs to be used to get the desired effect. (500° Lovibond)

Want to learn more about malted barleys? This book is a great resource if you want to learn more about malts or homebrewing in general: Homebrewing for Dummies

Now that you know the answer to the question: “what is malted barley?”, what are some of your favorite malts for brewing beer at home? And, what brews do you use them in?
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

Release Your Inner Maltist

Now that you know what to look for—color, malt process, usage amount—and we all have enough knowledge to dream about nothing but malts varieties for months. Who’s complaining?

Happy Brewing!

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