Buckwheat: Pollinator Friend and More

buckwheat flowers with a pollinators
Buckwheat flowers.

Where I grew up, we did not have a county fair, but instead a “Buckwheat Festival” which celebrated buckwheat pancakes. I’ve often heard stories about “old timers” planting buckwheat because it could thrive in poor soils. Buckwheat is not as well known or common as it was several years ago; however, it does have the potential to be a great addition to your landscape and would be a wonderful summer cover crop, which is just one way to help improve soils for a more climate- resilient garden.

Positives about buckwheat include that it matures quickly, is easily seeded by broadcasting, is relatively inexpensive to purchase by seed, is not “fussy” about where it grows, and germinates quickly. It does not mind low-pH soils and can even out-compete weeds! It has shallow roots and is easily terminated — so planting a new crop after it is no problem — or, if it is still growing in the fall of the year, a frost will kill it. Lastly, it is a wonderful nectar and pollen source for a wide variety of insects. 

buckwheat planted along a row of pumpkins
Buckwheat along the edge of pumpkins.

Despite challenging spring weather patterns in the last few years, I’ve still managed to plant buckwheat in my small vegetable garden. I’ve used it as an experiment for interplanting between rows to keep weeds down, to attract pollinators, as a companion plant, and also to use it as a filler in flower bouquets. However, I never dreamed that the insects would absolutely LOVE it. It is always covered and buzzing with all kinds of critters including honey bees, wasps, syrphid and common house flies, native bees, ants, and lightning bugs. This journal article from BioOne shares many details on insects that visit buckwheat. Have you ever heard of buckwheat honey? When bees visit buckwheat their honey is a dark color and many beekeepers can recognize what flowers their hives are pollinating based on the color, scent, and flavor of the honey that is harvested. 

As with all plants, there are some negative points too. Be careful with the timing when you plant buckwheat as it can take over or outcompete your desired crops. (I had this happen with dry soil conditions in 2022 when it outcompeted my sweet corn. This year, it took over my pumpkins which fell victim to cucumber beetles.) It can also reseed itself (which could be a good or bad thing depending on your personal gardening goals), as the first flowers appear low on the stalk and as it gets taller more flowers grow. That means that the spent flowers turn into seeds while you are still enjoying the flowers as the plant gets taller. It matures within 5-8  weeks of planting, so it’s a plant that rewards you quickly with flowers and mature grains. 

This blog article shares information about other ideas for improving your soil.

You can purchase buckwheat seeds at many online seed stores. Check your favorite place to buy seeds. Many local feed/farm stores sell it in bulk by the pound too.  

If you would like to learn more about buckwheat and planting it, see the links below. 

Buckwheat Makes a Good Summer Cover Crop for Gardens |Oregon State University

Buckwheat Plant Guide (PDF) | USDA NRCS

Improving Pest Management and Pollination with Farmscaping | Virginia Cooperative Extension

Buckwheat | Piedmont Master Gardeners

a collection of photos showing buckwheat planted as a cover crop on a vegetable farm
Buckwheat planted in the pollinator strip at the Garrett County Master Gardener Vegetable Demonstration Garden, 2023.

I hope that your gardening season has been rewarding so far this summer and that you have a bountiful harvest! 

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland. Read more posts by Ashley.

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