OATS, an annual grass which is sown mainly as a cereal in general farming, and in winegrowing is sown as a vineyard cover crop. Oats provide the soil with organic matter but, unlike legumes, oats provide little nitrogen; they do however prevent nitrogen leaching from soil as nitrate via rain. Oats can be sown with nitrogen-fixing legumes, typically beans and vetches which use oats’ erect stems as climbing frames. Oats are sown in autumn, left to grow over winter when the vines are dormant, and are either cut or ploughed in before both vine budburst and the arrival of spring frosts. Oats can handle wet soil conditions and cold weather, but are less tolerant of extreme cold than other cereals like wheat or barley.

DEFINITION | In his English dictionary of 1755 the writer Samuel Johnson (in)famously defined oats as ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’

OTHER NAMES | Avoine (French). | Hafer (German). | Avena (Italian). Avena sativa (botanical).