I probably read too many library books, but in the last two years I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the idea of small-scale grain cultivation. I won’t pretend that I could grow enough wheat to keep my family in pizzas for a year, but I do think it would be nice if we could produce more of our dietary staples. Additionally, we have chickens now. We let them free-range for food and we feed them a Washington-grown, all-natural, locally-milled, mostly organic chicken feed, but I like to think that with a little practice, I could grow some of their food myself. So I decided to practice growing grain.
Back in the day: Baby amaranth seed head.
We live in the city on a big-for-a-city-but-not-a-farm-sized lot, so I started looking for grains that are easy to thresh manually and have a high yield in a small space. Stuck between quinoa & amaranth, I decided on amaranth for our 2011 garden for the following reasons:
1. It makes beautiful flowers.
2. I got more google results for “western washington”+”amaranth cultivation” than quinoa. Yes, I make gardening decisions by the whim of Google’s hive mind. It’s a big experiment anyway.
What do I know about amaranth? Not that much. It’s a gluten-free psuedo-grain, native to the Americas. It’s grown in many cultures for edible seed, stems, leaves & roots as well as ornamental purposes. They sell it at my local food co-op. I don’t know that I have ever cooked with it. That’s the extent of my amaranth knowledge. I like the unknown.
Hartman’s Giant amaranth propped up by a ginormous Jerusalem artichoke plant.
With that settled, I hopped over the Baker Creek to check out their Amaranth collection. (By the way – Baker Creek is awesome. Especially if you’re a plant nerd.) I picked the Golden Giant Amaranth for its alleged heavy yield ( up to 1 lb of white seed per plant) and the Hartman’s Giant Amaranth because it was developed in Oregon. If you decide to grow amaranth, make sure you get a variety that has been cultivated for seed production.
The seeds are unbelievably small. I had a hard time believing they would grow to 7′ or 10′ tall, but they did. I planted a little later than I’d planned due to some complications with the weeds at our community garden plot, but the amaranth seemed to enjoy our summer weather. It has been a delight to have amaranth in our garden. It is an exceptionally lovely plant and brings a lot of joy to my fall garden under the grim, gray PNW autumn. I already decided to grow it again next year. I’ve learned a lot this season: amaranth can withstand a lot of heat and dry weather without much water. I barely watered these plants once they were established because they’re far away from a hose. They are also top heavy once the seeds start developing; about 1/3 of my plants have toppled over. I need to stake them next year. When I thin the plants, the chickens are very happy to annihilate the thinnings for me.
We’ve yet to bring the crop to harvest, but I am tentatively hopeful that we will produce a yield. I’ve read that you should harvest the seed heads after the first frost. I’m not sure if that’s accurate in my climate, but I didn’t find any better information. So, hopefully you’ll see some lovely amaranth recipes here in the coming months.
Do you have experience growing grain or any amaranth recipes you can’t live without? Or do you have any advice about growing quinoa? We’re going to do that next year, too.