Secale cereale Winter annual grass. Up to 5'. Extremely frost hardy, adaptable and competitive. Native to Turkey and widely cultivated in central and eastern Europe since the Middle Ages. Thrives on well-drained loam soils but will do well in heavy clays or sandy soils. Tolerates pH from 5.0–8.0. Best planted in early September to give good growth before winter dormancy, but may be planted at higher seeding rates as late as mid-October. For cover crop, seed at 100–200#/acre, 3–5#/1000 sq ft. For grain, seed in late September or early October at 100–125#/acre, 3#/1000 sq ft.
As cover crop: The most popular winter cover in the Northeast. Deep extensive roots help prevent compaction and improve soil tilth. Turn under early in spring before it gets out of hand. Decomposed residue exudes allelopathic compounds that inhibit weed growth; may also inhibit germination and growth of subsequent crops, so incorporate into soil at least 3 weeks before planting. Direct-seeded crops with small seeds are more susceptible to rye’s effects than large-seeded crops and transplants.
As food grain: Threshes easily and produces a flour suitable for blending with wheat in breads. Matures earlier than winter wheat. Susceptible to ergot contamination, so exercise caution and have grain tested before consuming: Hallucinations from ergot poisoning are believed to have resulted in the Salem witch trials.