On a whim, while browsing Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I came upon Job’s Tears. Job’s Tears is a grain grass native to Southeast Asia. Job’s Tears are used in Chinese medicine, as a grinding grain for flours and breads and in soups. It is also used for beads. I searched for information on harvesting Job’s tears, but found it to be scarce. Times like these, I’m glad I’m a librarian with mad skills.
Here’s what I needed to know most, but had trouble finding, about growing Job’s tears.
I am in growing zone 6 and planted the seeds after all risk of frost. Then I waited… and waited… and nothing happened. So I popped a few more seeds into the ground. I waited some more. Shit. Nothing. Just when I was about to give up and plant something else there, the first sprout popped up. Oh, did I mention? Job’s Tears is considered a tropical plant. Unless you’re in a tropical zone or sprout these babies indoors, it’ll probably be late May before you see the first sprout. Which is actually fine for this plant. Unlike my cotton, which had to be started inside in March to get a crop, Job’s Tears doesn’t take that long to produce grains.
Once these things sprouted, they required no special care. They grew well and resembled my corn, somewhat. I placed a cage around my small crop, in case it needed additional support, but really, it didn’t need any help.
I found conflicting information on when and how to harvest. That said, most sources suggested that, when harvesting for beads, harvest early, while they are mostly still green.
What I found in practice was that if the grain was ready to come off, whether fully ripe or mostly green, they were easy to pull right off the plant. If the grain was still too green, it wouldn’t come off easily. I was able to start harvesting in late July.
Job’s Tears can also continue to be harvested until the end of the season, close to the first frost. Around this time, the plant can be pulled up by the root and brought inside to let the remaining grains dry out. As a tropical plant, this plant won’t overwinter in the Midwest, so just save a few seeds to plant next year.
Drying and Use
As they dry, the Job’s Tears begin to turn white or grey-ish. It takes a week or so for them to fully dry and be ready for use. Once they are dry, there’s one more step in preparing them for use as a bead.
Job’s Tears have a nifty hollow center. The male reproductive organs grow up through the center to create the tassley bit on the plant. This part has to be removed. It is as simple as poking it out with a small awl, really. To a certain extent, you can poke it out with a needle while you’re threading the beads, but I think removing them ahead of time is actually easier and produces a cleaner looking finished product.
When I get the chance to make something with my beads, I’ll post an update. Cheers!