Feature Contributors

Purdue Extension of Fulton County-Adapting Buckwheat Apples




If there was an area of the world I would like to see, it would be on the Asian continent. I would love to learn about places where agriculture started and the transportation system that developed along the silk road. One of those places that attract my interest is Nepal and Tibet.

Sitting on top of the world in the Himalayan Mountain range is this ancient culture that has subsistence agriculture. They only grow enough to survive and make very little selling to others. Livestock, such as sheep, goats, and cattle that feed off the grasses growing in that area is their main source of food.

A magazine article I recently read about a trip to Tibet and Nepal had the author explaining the locals were going into fields of buckwheat and apple orchards. He was in Kali Gandaki River valley located at an elevation of around 8,000 feet above sea level. How perfect. The crops grown in that area are ideal for the inhospitable country they live.

Buckwheat is a fast-growing and maturing plant native to northern Asia. It will produce a seed crop in about two months. Historically, its flexibility and wide adaptation led it to be grown on more than a million acres in the U.S. in late 1800s. Today it is around 70,000 acres.

The number of acres is increasing as buckwheat has also been used widely as a cover crop to smother weeds and improve the soil. The crop seems to improve soil tilth and is reported to make phosphorous more available as a soil nutrient, possible through root-associated mycorrhizae. Buckwheat flowers profusely, making them popular with bee keepers and an attractive crop in the landscape. Buckwheat is also quick to die following a frost, further contributing to its short life. I also have noticed that it seems to reseed itself quickly.

Of all the fruit trees, apples seem to take the cold weather the best. This is one of the coldest hardiest plants in our area. Add to that its native range is also in Asia. They originated in Kazakhstan, in central Asia east of the Caspian Sea. The capital of Kazakhstan, Alma Ata, means “full of apples.” I suspect the apples in Nepal are shorter-season varieties that we would call summer apples because they mature quickly.


Going to a far-off land, or staying home, we can see the same crops. The arable farmlands of Nepal only account for 2% of the region’s total area. Although the main crop for the region is barley, there is also corn, millet, wheat, and canola. We grow them in Indiana, but there has to be something majestic about looking at a buckwheat crop with a snow-capped mountain of 26,000 feet in the background.


Mark Kepler

Purdue Extension Educator, ANR

Fulton County