If you would like to expand your garden horizons beyond vegetables, fruit and flowers, consider growing your own grains, such as oats. Grow oats either for livestock feed or for human consumption. Many gardeners also plant oats as a cover crop which they later till into the soil to improve soil fertility. Oats grow best in cooler climates that receive plenty of rain.
Prepare the site by removing any sod or weeds. Oats need good drainage, but otherwise tolerate different soil varieties. Do not plant oats in a location where other cereal crops have grown recently.
Select oat seeds. If you are growing oats for livestock feed, choose fodder oats, which are cheaper. Home gardeners growing oats for human consumption should look for hull-less oats, also called naked oats, which are easier to process. Any type of oat may be grown for a cover crop. Natural food stores sometimes sell whole oats groats, but these have often been hulled and may not germinate. Seeds are usually available at feed stores or garden centers.
Dig a shallow trench with a hoe and sow the oats so that there are about 20 seeds per foot. The rows should be 1 to 2 feet apart. Bury the oat seeds with 1 to 3 inches of soil. If you are planting oats as a cover crop, loosen the soil and broadcast the seeds so that the plot is evenly covered, with about two seeds per square inch. Rake the seeds into the ground with a metal garden rake. Plant oats you plan to harvest in the early spring, as soon as the ground is workable. Plant cover crop oats in the late fall, after the harvest, or in the very early spring, before you plant other crops.
Water the site gently but thoroughly at the time of planting, and keep the site evenly moist throughout the growing season. Working some compost into the soil at the time of planting will help retain moisture, especially if you live in a drier climate.
Harvest the oats when the seed heads turn creamy-white, about 45 days after planting. Use a scythe or sickle to cut the stalks near the base, then allow them to dry in the field for several days. Gather the oats into manageable handfuls and tie the bundles with twine.
Thresh the oats by beating the bundles inside a metal garbage can so that the seeds are released. Winnow the grain by pouring it back and forth between two bowls or buckets while standing in front of an electric fan; the seed will fall into the lower bowl, while the breeze from the fan will blow away the chaff. Fodder oats may be fed to livestock as is, without threshing or winnowing.
Till under cover crop oats a week or two before you plan to plant your primary crops. Fall-sown cover crops may be left in the field over the winter.