How to Plant Teff

by Ellen Douglas

Whether you're growing teff (Eragrostis tef) for feast or forage, the grassy grain has several advantage. As a homegrown flour source, teff is gluten-free, while also higher in protein, iron and calcium than many other starchy crops. It's also useful as hay to feed livestock or simply as a 3-foot grass to grow in a prairie-style garden. Plant it after all danger of frost has passed in your area. You'll likely get two harvests of the quick-growing, nutritious grain in the course of summer and early fall. Plant this warm-season annual crop in late spring or early summer,after all danger of frost has passed in your area.

1 Remove all weeds and debris from a sunny patch of land. Teff is not fussy about pH or other soil conditions, but it needs to be packed firmly to promote seed germination. Compacted soil is better than loose, sandy soil.

2 Work a small amount of nitrogen-rich fertilizer into the area, unless it has recently hosted a nitrogen-fixing plant such as alfalfa, peas or beans. Choose the amount on the package that indicates "light" or "low" applications. Adding 1 pound of high-nitrogen soil amendment such as blood meal or cottonseed meal, for example, is adequate for a teff crop.

3 Pack the soil as firmly as possible before seeding. A lawn roller or the back of sturdy rake (flat side down instead of tine-side down) is ideal for achieving the heavy compaction needed for seed germination. If using a rake, drive the flat part downward into the soil to get as much compaction as possible.

4 Put teff seed in your grass seeder or other broadcasting device. Use about 1/10 pound of teff seed for every 1,000 square feet you will plant, or 5 pounds per acre. If the broadcaster is adjustable, set the seeder to the finest-possible setting.

5 Set the seeder to drop the seeds directly onto the compacted soil surface, if possible. Otherwise, use a depth of 1/8 inch.

6 Roll the seeder along the first planting row so that the seeds are broadcast. Proceed in an east to west direction.

7 Turn at the end of the first planting row. Leave about 2 feet, or roughly the width of the seeder, between this first row and the next planting row.

8 Proceed with your seeder back across the field, so that you are creating a second planting row that is about 2 feet apart from the first one.

9 Continue alternating seeded rows and paths.

10 Scatter a thin layer of top soil over the seeded rows. Complete this step only if your seeder was set for surface broadcasting.

11 Compact the area again for good soil-to-seed contact. Again, a lawn roller or the back of a rake will both work well.

12 Water the rows thoroughly until the top 1/2 inch of soil is moist.

13 Keep the soil consistently moist during the first three weeks to ensure proper root development.

Items you will need

  • Cultivating hoe or other long-handled weeder
  • Nitrogen fertilizer
  • Lawn roller or rake
  • Broadcast seeder
  • Screened topsoil
  • Garden hose, sprinkler or drip irrigation system

Tips

  • A soil test is invaluable for determining if your soil is low on any needed nutrients other than nitrogen. While teff does well in somewhat infertile soils, a better yield can be had with small amounts of phosphorus, potassium or trace nutrients if your region is deficient in them. Again, it's important to use the lower amount of any recommended range to prevent weeds from growing more rapidly than the teff.
  • Harvest teff when seed heads form, about 50 days after planting. Leave at least 3 inches of stem so that the plants can regrow for a second harvest.
  • After mowing or scything your first harvest of teff, scatter an additional 1 pound of nitrogen-rich fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of teff field. Water well to allow the nutrients to sink into the soil.

Warning

  • Keep the teff field moist during the first two to three weeks after seeding, or until roots are established. After this period, teff needs supplemental rainfall only if your area normally receives less than 24 inches of rainfall during its growing season.