Rye is a small grain closely related to wheat and barley, but with a significantly lower gluten content. It was likely domesticated in what is now Turkey, but it is most widely grown and consumed today in Northern Europe (though it is also grown in North America, Australia, China, Central Asia, and Turkey). It is best known in this country as the main ingredient in pumpernickel and "rye bread" (often called "Jewish rye"), as well as rye whiskey. Rye berries can also be rolled and prepared like rolled oats, or boiled in soups or stews like barley. In Scandinavia, it is commonly made into cracker-like crispbreads. The plant is easy to grow, tolerating poor soils and cold temperatures (it creates its own antifreeze in its leaves), and farmers often grow it as a weed-suppressing winter cover crop with no intention of harvesting the grain. Most rye, including this population, is planted in the fall to be harvested the following summer. Rye has some close perennial relatives (like Secale montanum), and some perennial cereal ryes are occasionally available (including the "Mountaineer Perennial Rye" which we are happy to be selling this year).
'Grand Prairie Composite' is a diverse population that comes to us from Bill Davison of the Savanna Institute. According to Bill, it contains "some of the best rye genetics in the world." While hybrid rye has gained popularity in recent decades, this population contains a wide range of open-pollinated cultivars. A large portion of this population came from German rye breeder Thomas Miedaner, whose original composite contained a variety of German and Polish ryes (including Amilo, Conduct, Danko. D. Diament, Dukato, Inspector, Recrut, and SU Popidol), some of which are composites themselves. Bill added 'Dylan' rye from Steve Zwinger in North Dakota and a few unnamed local varietes from farms in Illinois. If you are interested in breeding your own variety (or varieties) of rye, adapted to your bioregion and growing techniques, this composite population provides an excellent starting point — and be sure to let us know how it goes!