Teff, Eragrostis tef
, is a warm season annual grass in the family Poaceae grown for its grain which can be ground into flour. The teff plant characteristically possesses a large crown and many tillers (lateral offshoots originating from the base of the stem). The plant is fine stemmed and grows in tufts. It produces a panicle (a branched flower cluster) with spikelets that hold the grain. The panicle can possess 190 to 1410 spikelets and can be either compact or loose in form. The teff grain ranges in colour from white to brown or reddish purple and is very small in size (1.0-1.7 mm in length). The plant produces 2-12 white or dark brown flowers on the spikelets. Teff is an annual plant, harvested after one growing season and it can grow 25-135 cm in height depending on the cultivar. Teff may also be referred to as Tef, Xaafii, lovegrass, annual bunch grass or warm season annual bunch grass and it originates from Ethiopia.
Teff field in Ethiopia
Teff is grown predominantly as a cereal crop in Ethiopia. The grain can be used to make flour or porridge or can be fermented and made into type of flatbread called injera
, which is eaten widely in Ethiopia. Grain can also be used to brew alcoholic beverages or grown as a forage for livestock or for use in building construction. As the grain lacks gluten, it can be used to produce gluten-free specialty products for people with allergies to gluten.
Teff is a warm season annual and can can be grown in a wide range of climates and soil as it will tolerate both drought conditions and and waterlogging. If the soil is waterlogged it is generally preferred to grow the crop on a raised seed bed to help drainage. The crop can be grown at temperatures ranging from 10°C to 27°C in areas with an average annual rainfall of 450–550 mm, requiring 450–550 mm during the growing season. Teff plants are sensitive to daylength and optimal flowering is reached with a daylength of 12 hours.
Teff is grown directly from seed in a prepared seed bed. The field is prepared for planting by plowing several times and, in areas where drainage is poor, furrows or raised beds are created to aid drainage. In moisture-stressed fields, the seedbeds are tightly packed prior to sowing seed to help prevent the soil surface drying too quickly and minimize the effect of low moisture on germination Teff seeds are usually sown on the soil surface and left uncovered or are covered lightly with tree branches. Seeding rates vary by region but generally, 15–55 kg of seeds are sown per hectare of land. If seeds are sown mechanically with a broadcaster or seed drill, lower seeding rates can be used. Higher seeding rates are required when hand sowing teff seed due to the small size of the seeds making it difficult to broadcast evenly.
General care and maintenance
Teff should be grown in a weed-free field for best results. Preparing the bed by plowing prior to planting the seeds will help to destroy existing weeds. If weeds begin to grow during the growing season the field may be hand weeded 25–30 days after teff emergence, when the plants reach the early tillering stage. If weeds continue to be a problem then a second hand weeding can be carried out when teff reaches the stem elongation stage. Weeding after heading is not recommended. Teff can be fertilized to promote good production. Fertilizer can be safely applied at the same time as seed is sown without adversely affecting germination. Addition of nitrogen to the soil promotes vegetative growth of teff, while phosphorus applications will promote grain, production. potassium has been found to be of little importance for the growth of teff.
Teff is ready for harvest between 60 and 120 days after planting when the leaves of the plants turn from green to yellow in color. Prompt harvest before the plants dry out completely helps to prevent the seedheads from shattering, reducing losses. At harvest, care must be taken to ensure that the grain does not get mixed with soil as the small grain size makes it impossible to separate back out. The seed is separated from the chaff by trampling or threshing.
Ruskin, F. R. (ed.) (1996.) Lost Crops of Africa Volume I. Board on Science and Technology for International Development. Available at: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=2305&page=R5. [Accessed 20 April 15]. Free to access
Ketema, S. (1997). Tef. Eragrostis tef (Zucc.) Trotter. The International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI). Available at: http://www.bioversityinternational.org/uploads/tx_news/Tef_Eragrostis_tef__Zucc.__Trotter_279.pdf. [Accessed 20 April 15]. Free to access
Stallknecht, G. F. (1997). Teff. Purdue University Center for New Crops and Crop Products. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/cropfactsheets/teff.html#Origin. [Accessed 20 April 15]. Free to access
Stallknecht, G. F., Gilbertson, K. M. & Eckhoff, J. J. (1993). Teff: Food Crop for Humans and Animals. pp. 231-234. In: Janick, J. and Simon, J. E. (eds.), New Crops. Wiley, New York. Available at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1993/V2-231.html. [Accessed 20 April 15]. Free to access