Reasons Why You Should Grow Buckwheat in Your Garden
Learn why you should grow buckwheat in your garden. Buckwheat is an amazing living mulch (aka green mulch) option for your garden in the summer. There are so many benefits to adding buckwheat to your vegetable garden including: it attracts good insects, deters bad pests, helps with weed control, conditions the soil by adding nutrients, and it’s edible.
Reasons Why You Should Grow Buckwheat in Your Garden
I LOVE growing buckwheat in my garden. Buckwheat does so many amazing things for your vegetable garden.
Seriously, every time people ask me for tips with their garden these days, one of the first things out of my mouth is “Are you growing buckwheat?” or “Have you tried using buckwheat to help you?”
I’ve been growing buckwheat in my veggie garden for about 8 years now, and my love-affair with it has only grown over the years. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t written about it before, since I keep referencing it when I’m helping people with their vegetable garden questions.
Looking for good-quality buckwheat seeds? I’ve fallen in love with True Leaf Market, a wonderful website with TONS of garden seed selections. Their seeds have always done really well for me and their shipping is fantastic!
So here is my list of reasons why everyone should be growing buckwheat in their garden. If I missed any big reasons, please let me know in the comments below!
Reason #1: Buckwheat is a SUMMER Cover Crop and Living Mulch
Not only do I have an obsession with growing buckwheat, I also have an obsession with growing cover crops. I wrote more details on cover crops in this article here; basically cover crops help protect the garden soil from losing nutrients and also from gaining weeds over the winter.
Cover crops also (depending on which ones you grow…see my article for more on that) help add nutrients naturally to the soil. It’s a super easy way to naturally amend the soil for next year’s garden (did you know that I LOVE soil amendments? Check out my Organic Soil Amendment ebook here to learn tons of details on them).
The only issue with most cover crops is that they usually prefer cold temperatures. This makes sense since you sow the cover crop seeds on the garden beds right before winter.
Buckwheat, however, is the opposite type of cover crop: Buckwheat LOVES the heat. This makes buckwheat a special and rare cover crop that you can grow in the summer.
Why would you want to grow a cover crop in the summer instead of vegetables? If you live in a super hot climate, you might actually take summers off from gardening. In that case, buckwheat is a great choice for keeping that soil covered, since bare soil deals with erosion, loss of nutrients, and is a temptation for weeds.
I don’t live in a super hot climate (I’m in garden zone 8a), so I don’t use ONLY buckwheat in my garden beds. However, I love using buckwheat as a living mulch (aka green mulch). A living mulch is simply a cover crop that is interplanted or undersown with main crops in the garden beds.
Mulch is one of the best ways to manage weeds in the garden (learn more natural weed control tips here), but I hate how expensive mulches can be. Also, I don’t like leaving the house often and we have a small car, so bringing home a bale of hay or straw or even wood chips for a mulch option is expensive and also a huge hassle.
Here are some of the reasons why I love using buckwheat as a mulch:
- Buckwheat grows quickly: it starts peeking through the soil in about 4 days and shoots to its’ height of 2.5-ish feet very quickly, and it quickly becomes a thick mat of plants if you sowed them thickly. This makes it an amazing weed control option because it doesn’t let the soil stay bare/vulnerable for very long.
- Buckwheat grows easily: I simply scatter the seeds over the garden beds after I have planted my tomatoes and peppers (those are the plants that I will ALWAYS use for growing buckwheat (see the other reasons mentioned below for more on that). The seeds pretty much all germinate and I don’t have to till them into the soil or do anything besides randomly scatter them in the garden.
- Buckwheat grows happily: I don’t have to do anything to the buckwheat. Seriously, most of the buckwheat doesn’t even get water, because I use drip irrigation with holes that are only next to my actual vegetable plants. They don’t get sickly or anything. They just thrive happily without my attention. I love that!
- Buckwheat self-seeds: Buckwheat is ready to harvest in 40 days. If you eat it (more on that below in Reason #6), you would harvest it by then. But I don’t eat it. I just let it develop seed heads, which then drop down on the soil and sprout the next batch of buckwheat. I only scatter seeds in the spring. After that, I ignore buckwheat completely and it just keeps self-seeding and growing all the way until the first frost.
Buckwheat is also pretty cheap to purchase. You can get a 5 pound bag of buckwheat seeds from True Leaf Market for less than 20 dollars, and that’s more than enough seeds for a typical garden. According to True Leaf Market, 2-3 pounds of buckwheat seeds will cover 1000 sq. ft of garden space. And since you only sow the seeds around your vegetables (and I only sow them around my tomatoes and peppers to save even more money), you can easily get 1-3 years out of one 5 pound bag of buckwheat seeds.
Reason #2: Buckwheat Attracts Beneficial Insects & Pollinators
Another nice feature of buckwheat is that it has beautiful white flowers on it that attract many types of beneficial insects and pollinators. I’ve talked about beneficial insects and pollinator-friendly plants before so if you would like some more tips on what to add to your vegetable garden to get the good-guy bugs to visit, check out these posts:
- Learn the Top 10 Plants to Grow in Your Garden to Attract Beneficial Bugs
- Learn the Best Edible Flowers to Add to Your Garden to Attract Beneficial Bugs
Buckwheat’s pretty white flowers attract bees and other native pollinators. Bees love buckwheat so much, you can actually find ‘buckwheat honey’ being sold in stores. Beekeepers love keeping buckwheat around for their bees and honey.
This is one of the reasons why I grow buckwheat with my tomatoes and peppers: those plants can be notorious for having issues attracting pollinators. By growing buckwheat as a living mulch around my tomatoes and peppers, I help attract pollinators to them, which gives me bigger tomato and pepper harvests.
Buckwheat flowers also attract beneficial insects, including: hover flies, lady beetles, tachinid flies, minute pirate bugs, and predatory wasps. These particular insects do a variety of things for your garden. Most of them are predator insects that help keep nasty and awful bugs like aphids and hornworms from taking over your garden. I wanted to give special attention to how buckwheat helps especially with hornworm issues, so I made it Reason #3 below.
Reason #3: Buckwheat Deters Hornworms & Other Bad Pests From Your Garden
One way that Buckwheat is awesome for bad pests in the vegetable garden is that it can work as a trap crop. A trap crop is a crop that does two things: (1) it attracts the bad pests so they leave your vegetables alone; and (2) it also attracts the predator/beneficial insects that eat those particular bad pests.
Buckwheat is a good trap crop for thrips and it is also a good trap crop for stink bugs. So if you have issues with either of these pests, you might want to start growing buckwheat.
As mentioned in Reason #2, buckwheat flowers attract tons of beneficial insects, many of which are predatory insects. They are drawn to your garden due to the buckwheat flowers and then they stick around and kill bad pests in your garden before those pests can become an invasion that destroys your garden harvest.
Now for the BEST reason to grow buckwheat around your tomatoes and peppers: buckwheat can deter hornworm populations from decimating your tomato and pepper harvests.
Here’s how buckwheat helps with hornworm problems:
- Buckwheat attracts predatory wasps including the parasitic wasp that kills hornworms.
- Buckwheat’s height and thickness makes it difficult for the hornworm moth (aka hawk moth or sphinx moth) to land to lay eggs on the underside of tomato and pepper leaves.
The parasitic wasps are drawn to the buckwheat flowers, and while there, if they see hornworms nearby, they do their crazy natural thing. In case you don’t know how parasitic wasps work with hornworms, basically, the female wasp lay eggs under the skin of a hornworm. When the eggs hatch, the larvae actually feed on the insides of the hornworm. The larvae eat their way out of the caterpillar and spin the white cocoons that you can see on the hornworms.
Eventually, adult parasitic wasps emerge from the cocoons and the hornworm dies. So if you see a hornworm in your tomato and pepper plants with white oval-egg things on it (image below), leave it alone. That hornworm is in the process of dying while also hatching more beneficial wasps that will hunt down more hornworms in your garden.
When the hornworms have those white oval-eggs on them, I have found that they don’t do much damage to the tomatoes and peppers anymore. At that point, they are unable to move much because they are slowly dying. So just leave them along and be happy that nature (and buckwheat) is taking care of the hornworms for you.
The height and thickness of buckwheat also helps deter hornworm issues. The moths that produce hornworms like to come at night time and lay their eggs on the bottoms of lower leaves of plants, preferably tomatoes and peppers (so that their babies aka hornworms hatch and immediately have a food source).
Since buckwheat moves with the wind and is tall and thick, the moths have a more difficult time landing on the lower leaves to place their eggs. It’s not foolproof, but it does seem to significantly reduce the amount of hornworms I have in my garden, and since hornworms can destroy plants quickly, anything that helps lower the hornworm population is worth trying.
Reason #4: Buckwheat Enriches The Soil
While many cover crops have deep roots that can help break up the soil (an example of this is using daikon radish as a cover crop), buckwheat is a very shallow rooted plant that actually helps pull nutrients closer to the top of the soil.
This is another reason why buckwheat grows so well with peppers and tomatoes. Both of those plants are in the nightshade family and they are heavy-feeders, which means that they are always hungry for nutrients and do not want competition for those nutrients (see my Crop Rotation Guide for more details).
Like other cover crops (read more on cover crops here), buckwheat adds organic matter to your to your garden beds. It decomposes quickly when you chop it down or pull it up, so it helps create an enriched biomass to your garden beds within days.
Buckwheat also draws phosphorus from the soil and pulls it up closer to its’ roots. Phosphorus is an important nutrient for healthy tomatoes and peppers, so having it drawn to their roots by buckwheat is super beneficial. I talk in more detail about Phosphorus and other important soil nutrients in my Organic Soil Amendments book.
At the end of the gardening season, when the fall nights get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the buckwheat (a warm-weather loving crop) starts to die. I simply leave it to die right in the garden beds, and now, for the last few weeks of my tomato and peppers harvests, I have a different type of mulch for my crops. It is longer a living mulch, but the buckwheat is now decomposing and adding tons of helpful nutrients and biomass to the top of my garden soil.
When my tomatoes and peppers are done for the year, I usually let the tomato/pepper roots stay in the ground over the winter and simply sow fall/winter cover crop seeds on top of the beds. So even at the end of the season, I don’t have to do anything to the buckwheat. I love that buckwheat is such a hassle-free plant for my garden.
Reason #5: Buckwheat is Edible (for Livestock & People)
Besides buckwheat honey from the bees, you can also eat buckwheat yourself. Buckwheat pancakes, for example, is a pretty popular recipe. I have not personally eaten buckwheat from my garden, as I want it to self-seed over and over again through the summer season.
Even though I don’t have expertise on eating my garden buckwheat, I still think it’s a great reason to grow it. It’s kinda a 2-for-1 deal: buckwheat is good for your plants AND it is edible. I love the fact that in a worst-case-scenario situation, one in which we are hungry and need food, I can eat the buckwheat from my garden.
Buckwheat is also edible for many livestock. Chickens, cattle, rabbits, and other livestock love to eat buckwheat. I like to occasionally treat my meat rabbits to some handfuls of buckwheat and it’s a favorite of theirs. If feeding buckwheat to your livestock sounds interesting to you, just make sure you do more research on your particular livestock before you grow buckwheat as food for your animals.
Final Thoughts on Growing Buckwheat in My Garden…
I’ll always grow buckwheat in my tomato and pepper beds. I just love using buckwheat as an affordable (and pretty) living mulch that helps as natural weed control. I also love that it helps give my plants nutrients. Most importantly, I LOVE that buckwheat can help keep hornworm populations from completely decimating my tomato and pepper plants.
It’s not too late to try growing buckwheat in your vegetable garden. Since it only takes 4 days to start producing sprouts and it grows super fast, you can order buckwheat seeds anytime to start sowing in your garden (since it is a summer crop, the soil just needs to be above 60 degrees Fahrenheit for growing success). You can buy buckwheat seeds from True Leaf Market or many other good-quality seed companies (here’s a list of good-quality seed companies for inspiration).
I hope you give them a try! I’d love to hear how growing buckwheat in your garden goes for you in the comments below.
More Gardening Tips:
- How to Keep Deer Out of Your Garden
- How to Find Joy in Your Garden in the Summer
- The Benefits of Gardening: A Gardener’s Reflection
- How to Prevent Weeds From Stealing Your Gardening Joy
Grow Buckwheat in Your