Wednesday, January 25, 2012


One flip through a seed catalogue reveals the multitude of options for the edible gardener. If you’re a horticulturist at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, you do your research, consult your peers, and consider your options carefully. I wondered about the story behind the Triticale growing in the Edible Garden. Barry Ramsey, Assistant Horticulturist in the Edible Garden was kind enough to tell the Triticale tale below. Working part-time as a chef at Violette, a small French restaurant, Barry was able to put himself through school. He graduated from Chattahoochee Tech in 2009 with a degree in Environmental Horticulture. He joined the Atlanta Botanical Garden during the construction phase of the Edible Garden in March of 2010. Barry spends most of his time deadheading, watering, fertilizing and starting new veggies in the greenhouse. When he’s not working in the garden or in the kitchen, he loves to skate, brew beer, and spend time with his family.

The grassy crop alternating rows with purple cabbage is Triticale, a marvel of not-so-mad scientific labor. Its humble appearance may cause you to wonder why we’d be growing a turf candidate in the Edible Garden.

Triticale (trit-ih-KAH-lee) is a crop species resulting from a plant breeder’s cross between wheat (Triticum) and rye (Secale). Plant breeders originally wanted to include the combination of wheat’s grain quality, productivity, and disease resistance with the vigor and hardiness of rye. Chances are these plants would never meet in nature due to different growing conditions, but are brought together by human intervention to create a desirable crop.

Because triticale has the ability to out-yield wheat at similar or lower nitrogen levels, it has become the number one grain used for bio-fuels. Now starting to show up on the health food shelves, it is used to cook, brew beer, and is flaked in cereals. Triticale kernels are grey-brown, oval shaped, larger than wheat and plumper than rye. In many ways triticale is similar to corn. The grain is sweet and very nutritious. It’s higher in protein than wheat or rye. It has double the lysine as wheat, an essential amino acid which helps the body absorb calcium.

In the Edible Garden, we are using triticale as a cover crop. Simply stated, cover crops utilize existing nutrients in the soil and are later tilled under at the end of the season to release those nutrients back into the garden soil. The primary benefits are to improve soil quality and fertility and to increase nutrient availability to subsequent crops. Cover crops have the added benefit of potentially attracting beneficial insects, reducing weeds, and aiding in erosion control. Farmers who have used triticale as a cover crop claim it tolerates late planting, has good seed vigor, emerges under harsh conditions, has a deep fibrous root system, and is easy to suppress.

Triticale is a viable crop that is quickly gaining popularity in the agricultural world. The versatility it offers as a grain, a forage, for straw and as a cover crop adds to the economic viability that sustains the interest in the crop. As more literature is published about its impressive health benefits triticale is finding its way into all sorts of creative recipes. From bio-fuels to breakfast foods, the uses of triticale are just being explored. Keep an eye out for it in the local health food store or hopefully soon at the gas pump.

The triticale will have to make way for thousands of tulips this sping.  This early riser hints that the Edible Garden will be flooded in dark pink during Atlanta Blooms!