Rye is grass-grown extensively as a grain, a cover crop and a forage crop. It is a member of the wheat tribe and is closely related to both wheat and barley.
Rye is a cereal grain and should not be confused with ryegrass, which is used for lawns, pasture and hay for livestock.
History of rye
Rye is one of a number of species that grow wild in central and eastern Turkey and in adjacent areas. Domesticated rye grew in small quantities at a number of Neolithic sites in Asia Minor (Anatolia, now Turkey). It is likely that rye traveled west from Asia Minor as a minor admixture in wheat, and was only later cultivated in its own right.
Since the Middle Ages, people have cultivated rye widely in Central and Eastern Europe. Rye serves as the main bread cereal in most areas east of the France–Germany border and north of Hungary.
Winter rye is any breed of rye planted in the fall to provide ground cover for the winter. Winter rye grows during warmer days of the winter when sunlight temporarily warms the plant above freezing, even while there is general snow cover. Winter rye can be used to prevent the growth of winter-hardy weeds and can be either harvested as a bonus crop or tilled directly into the ground in spring to provide more organic matter for the next summer’s crop. Winter rye is seldomly used in winter gardens and is a common nurse crop.
Why farmers like to grow rye
Rye grows better than any other cereal on heavy clay, and light, sandy and infertile or drought-affected soils. It can tolerate a pH of between 4.5 and 8.0, but soils having pH 5.0 to 7.0 are best suited for rye cultivation. Rye grows best on fertile, well-drained loam or clay-loam soils.
Harvesting rye is similar to harvesting wheat. It is usually done with combine harvesters, which cut the plants, thresh and winnow the grain, and release the straw to the field, where it is later pressed into bales or left as soil amendment. The resultant grain is stored in local silos or transported to regional grain elevators and combined with other lots for storage and distant shipment.
Before the era of mechanised agriculture, rye harvesting was a manual task performed with scythes or sickles. The cut rye was often shocked for drying or storage, and the threshing was done by manually beating the seed heads against a floor or other objects.
Rye grain is refined into a flour. Rye flour is high in gliadin but low in glutenin; it has a lower gluten content than wheat flour. Rye flour also contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber. Rye bread, including pumpernickel, is made using rye flour and it is a widely-eaten food in Northern and Eastern Europe. Rye is also used to make crisp bread.
Rye grain is also used to make alcoholic drinks, such as rye whiskey and rye beer. Other uses of rye grain include kvass and an herbal medicine known as rye extract. Rye straw is used as livestock bedding, as a cover crop and green manure for soil amendment, and even to make crafts such as corn dollies.