Barley’s up!

December 3, 2007 | By | Comments (5)

By Lauren Swezey, Sunset special projects editor

Although I can’t speak with authority here (after all, I AM a member of Team Wine)  barley is a very important ingredient in beer brewing, since it’s the main source of sugar during the fermenting process.

Most home brewers make their beer with a store-bought barley malt extract. But for our One-Block Diet feast, we want to do as much as possible right here on campus. So we decided to grow our own barley.


Easier said than done! The first hurdle was trying to figure out what we needed. It turns out we wanted “malting barley”, not cereal barley. Then, I had to find a source that would sell small quantities of seed.

After days of clicking around online, I finally ran across a blog on a beer-making site that sent me to Howe Seeds in South Dakota. Great! All I had to do was go to the site and order the seed. Slam-dunk. But when I got to the page on barley, it said "BARLEY SEED FOR GROWING BARLEY STRAW FOR USE AS A NATURAL ALGAECIDE IN PONDS AND FOUNTAINS". Huh? I had heard that barley straw controls algae in ponds, but what did that have to do with beer?

After emailing the owner, I found out that their pond barley is a six-row variety called ‘Lacey’, which also happens to be a great one for brewing (how efficient: you can brew with the barley seed and then use the straw to clean up your pond!).

In fact, it’s a superior, high-yielding variety that was introduced in 2000 by University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. It has received favorable reviews for its high malt extract, low soluble protein (high protein can cause cloudiness), and high alpha-amylase activity (an enzyme that converts starches into sugars).

The rest was easy. Ryan prepared a 5-foot-wide by 16-foot-long bed in the test garden
and then planted the seed. Within days, it was up and growing.

The seedlings are about 3 inches tall now—only 30 inches to go! We’ll harvest the barley next spring, then Team Beer will have to figure out what to do with it!


  1. Bill Velek

    Very cool blog, and nice pictures; I’ve read through all of them, but decided to post my comment here. There has been some recent interest (posts) in my Grow-Hops group from some members who have never grown barley before; our group is about gardening and growing beer ingredients. Your experience would probably be very useful to them, and in return you might find some of our expertise re growing hops useful. We currently have 2,717 members, some of them commercial hop farmers and people starting new hop farms.
    If interested, please visit


    Bill Velek

    March 6, 2009 at 5:46 am
  2. Lauren

    Rob –
    Thanks for the hops info. I didn’t know they sell rhizomes (they’re not offered on the website right now). I actually spoke with More Beer owner Chris Graham about growing wheat. Great guy! Very knowledgeable. He also has a store on San Antonio Rd. in Los Altos (where we checked out their wine making equipment at the beginning of our project). BTW, I finally found wheat seed (berries) from Purcell Mountain Farms in Idaho ( ). Their site says that the berries are good for sprouting, so I assume that means they haven’t been processed and can be planted in the ground. TBD!

    December 18, 2007 at 6:44 pm
  3. Rob Zazueta

    Wheat AND barley? Man, I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Very exciting.

    Another source for hops, just in case FreshHops doesn;t work our for some reason, is Beer, Beer and More Beer ( in Concord, CA, right around the corner from me. They’re one of the best suppliers for all things brewing and, every March, they get a ton of rhizomes in for various hops varieties. They’re just close enough to Menlo Park to work out if you need an emergency backup. Williams Brewing in San Leandro may also sell rhizomes and have the added benefit of being a bit closer to you.

    I’m not affiliated with either. I just really love brewing beer. 😉 Good luck!

    Rob Z.

    December 14, 2007 at 9:00 pm
  4. Lauren

    Hey Rob –
    We’re winging it right now, but hopefully we planted enough. I’m still trying to find wheat seed! After lots of emailing to various sources, we discovered that we want to grow soft white winter wheat. We’ll plant the hops rhizome in March (I’ve grown these before – one will be enough!). I just found a great hops source in Philomath, OR, called Freshops (www. They offer 16 varieties. I have no idea which one the beermeisters will choose. I’m leaving it up to them.

    December 14, 2007 at 7:03 am
  5. Rob Zazueta

    This is precisely the thing I’ve been thinking about doing in my own backyard! Any word on how much barley you need to grow to get x number of pounds? Depending on the recipe you brew, you’ll need somewhere in the range of four to 10 pounds for a five gallon batch, but it would be nice to have enough left over to make some specialty malt (i.e. roasted malts or even a smoke malt – yum!)

    I’m watching your results with eager anticipation. Will you start growing the hops in March?

    Rob Z.

    December 4, 2007 at 3:24 am

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