Last year I experimented with growing oats by planting a single 100 square foot bed of nude oats (avena nuda). I expected to get roughly 4 pounds of oats from that space. Unfortunately the grasshoppers more or less ate the entire crop. All I had left was enough for a single bowl of oatmeal. Needless to say I won't be tying up 100 square feet of my garden with oats again until this current plague of grasshoppers (it's now lasted two seasons) is at least a year or two behind us. I have to wonder if traditional oats would have withstood the little green monsters better? Nude oats are hulless, making it easier for us to get to the seed, but it also makes it easier for every other critter too.
But even though I had a miserable experience growing oats, I would highly recommend others give it a try. It's a great introduction to growing grains and very easy to grow. Plus, you not only get a crop of oats, but you're left with a big heap of oat straw which can be put to use in many ways. There are the obvious uses--as mulch and animal bedding--but oat straw is also a very useful medicinal herb. To harvest for medicinal purposes you should cut it when it's still in the green or "milk" stage. If I had known that last year, I would have cut part of my crop at that point. Then I would have gotten something useful out of the crop. When I do get around to growing oats again, I will set aside part of the crop to harvest as medicinal straw, and part to harvest for the grain.
I have to admit, I've never been that crazy about oats. I'm just starting to appreciate them, mainly because I've finally learned how to prepare them properly. Oats are very hard to digest unless they've been soaked in an acidic medium. They contain high levels of phytates which interfere with digestion and keep many of the nutrients bound up and unavailable. Whenever I ate oats that hadn't been soaked, they always sat like a lump in my stomach and I would feel miserable. At some point, I began soaking them overnight in water. The following morning they would cook up nicely and have a much better texture, but they still did not sit well with me. Because I hadn't added an acidic medium, I hadn't broken down any of the phytates.
So just recently I began adding either a little bit of yogurt or a little bit of yogurt whey to the oats when I soaked them. What a world of difference! The texture is fabulous, the flavor is amazing, and they don't sit like a rock in my stomach. I actually love oatmeal now.
I use Sally Fallon's recipe from Nourishing Traditions, except I use less yogurt or whey than she recommends. In the afternoon I put a cup of oats in a bowl and add a cup of warm water and either a half-tablespoon or a tablespoon of whey or yogurt. I cover it and let it sit on the counter until the next morning. Then in a pan on the stove I mix the oats with an additional cup of water and a half-teaspoon of salt. It cooks up in less than five minutes. I like to serve it with a pat of butter, some fruit, and a bit of brown sugar. Lately I've been adding cranberries. I put them in to cook with the oats, so they have time to burst and spread their tartness around. I haven't tried bananas yet, but the texture of the oatmeal is so similar to mashed bananas, it seems like it would be a perfect combination. And I suspect the texture is something little kids would love. So if you've got toddlers who hate oatmeal, try it this way and see if it makes a difference. I think it will.