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By: Jackie Carroll
Quinoa is gaining popularity in the United States because of its great taste and nutritional value. So, can you grow quinoa in the garden? Read on for quinoa planting instructions and information.
The Incas held quinoa sacred, calling it chisaya mama, or mother of grains. It was one of the few nutritionally complete crops that could survive the harsh mountain latitudes. This Peruvian native became a staple in the Incan diet, and it has been grown in the Andes Mountains for over 5,000 years.
In Bolivia, where people depend on quinoa to meet their nutritional needs, exporting the crop to North America has led to malnutrition. Bolivians can’t afford to pay what growers can earn in the North American markets, so the people are switching to less expensive and less nutritious processed foods.
Although quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) looks like a grain, it’s actually a tiny seed called a pseudocereal. As a member of the goosefoot family, quinoa is closely related to spinach, beets, and lambsquarter. The plants grow about 6 feet (2 m.) tall and make an attractive addition to the landscape. The seedheads come in a rainbow of colors, including white and shades of red, pink, purple, yellow, and black.
Quinoa plant benefits include high nutritional value and low sodium. It has less sodium and more essential nutrients than wheat, barley, or corn. Although more grocery stores are carrying quinoa each year, it is very expensive compared to grains.
Yes, you can grow quinoa if you live in an area with the right climate and you are willing to devote a large plot to growing the crop. The climate is the main obstacle for most people. Quinoa needs short days with cool night temperatures and daytime temperatures below 95 degrees F. (35 C.). The plants tolerate nighttime temperatures as low as 28 degrees F. (-2 C.), and the quality of the crop increases if the plants get a little frost. These conditions should persist over the entire 130 day growing period.
Here are the steps in planting quinoa:
Quinoa plant care is easy in the right setting. It tolerates drought but grows best when you never allow the soil to dry out. Water lightly and frequently instead of deeply. Fertilize at planting time and side dress four to six weeks later with the same nitrogen fertilizer that you use on your vegetable garden.
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Difficulty– Easy to Moderate
Other Names– Chenopodium quinoa(Scientific Name), Quinua, Quinua, Kiuna Quinhua, Huauzontle, Huauthili and Nuttall’s goosefoot,
Quinoa is an annual plant it is cultivated for grains. Grown for over 5000 years and was part of the staple diet of pre-Columbian civilizations. Today, it is consumed as an alternative to rice.
It is an edible plant acknowledged for its high nutritional value.
A high protein staple green and seed “grain” from the Andean highlands, with thicker and juicier leaves than lambs quarter, its close cousin. Leaves are a nice salad size with salty spinach-like flavor. Thrives in dry periods of summer. Sow 1” apart in rows for cutting 6-8” plants for greens, or space 12-14” apart for picking leaves (which may be followed by grain production). Maturing seed heads are very brightly colored, ornamental, and high yielding.
After decades of obscurity, Quinoa has recently swept to the attention of farmers and gardeners in North America. Washington State University has an extensive testing program ongoing to find South American varieties that will perform well in the Pacific Northwest. Quinoa is largely adapted to cool, dry, upland conditions, and will fail to make seed if temperatures are too hot for pollen tube development. This temperature sensitivity is variable across varieties. The Willamette Valley is too warm some years, and with warmer climates ahead, it is not too early to begin the process of adaptation.
Quinoa Cultivation for Grain:
As a mountain farmer from way back, quinoa has always been a natural crop for my home ground. Quinoa is a mountain peoples' crop, particularly suited to marginal soils, cool nights, and dry conditions. I began growing it in 1983 on a mountain of glacial till near Puget Sound with great success, and never had a failure until recently, while sowing into great soil in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where the nighttime temps are higher and grass seed fields are full of lygus bugs (that suck nutrients from blooming seedheads). Five miles away in the foothills where I live, simultaneous crops were as full as normal. We cannot say exactly why, but we believe this relates to some critical threshold temperature for pollen tube development, a phenomenon well understood in growing seed of spinach, a relative of quinoa.
Kevin Murphy, WSU quinoa researcher in Pullman, WA, tells me that temperature sensitivity and varietal performance are variable in his trials, and are likely dependent on the South American latitude and micro-climate that gave rise to each variety. We have noted that our quinoa feedback has been very positive from western Canada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and other northern mountain States. We would love to hear from others about their quinoa seedcrop experience in other places.
Our best success with quinoa "grain" comes with planting from mid-April through May. Direct seed into 24" rows. Thin to 3-4" apart in the row to produce single-headed plants that mature uniformly for harvesting in a single pass. Maximum seed yield comes from 12" or greater in-row spacing that makes a branched crop. This may require an initial harvest of primary heads, followed in another 7-14 days with a final harvest of whole plants. Harvest when seedheads are still brightly colored, and thresh with a rubbing action of the head (by hand or feet, or belt thresher). Grain is easy to clean with 1/8" and 1/16" hardware mesh, and careful winnowing.
Seeds Per Packet: 500
Seeds Per Gram: 714
Seeds Per Ounce: 20,000
This thread is to gather information and chronicle adventures in growing this supergrain. I will be testing this out in my fall/winter 2010 garden here in southeast Houston.
The information that I have gathered so far is that this is a cool weather crop for Houston and germinates well in cooler soils. It likes well drained, rich soil, but is reputed to grow anywhere there is full sun. The plant is very ornamental and the flowers that precede the seeds (which you eat) are very pretty.
I buy organic quinoa from the grocery store, so I'm going to try to sprout that in seed trays here in the house. There are places to order it online, such as Salt Hill Seeds.
Sapphire it looks like a beautiful plant, I am just wondering if it requires much room to grow, I have limited space and that is the problem. Also what store do you buy quinoa from? I might be interested in trying it and maybe growing it as well if I really like the taste.
From the reading that I have been doing, it looks like it is tall, but not bushy. Some of the pictures showed that it needed some support, like a bamboo pole. Apparently the leaves are edible as well, like spinach.
I buy it at H-E-B here in the bulk foods aisle, but any store like Whole Foods, Central Market, etc. should carry it organically. If you're just going to eat it, I have seen it (washed) in a turquiose box in the regular grocery stores near where they keep rice, dried beans, etc. To grow it from the store stuff, I'd probably get the organic, unwashed stuff.
You will also sometimes find it in the cereals aisle. I've cooked it with other grains as a cereal. How do you chose to eat it?
I have used quinoa it by adding a couple tablespoons to a cup of rice and cooking as rice. The pilaf effect.
I do everything from make a pilaf with it, eat it straight (cooked with chicken broth and seasoned), mix it into cornbread dressing and place that on top of summer squash for a casserole, or cook it with cranberries, almonds, onions, bay leaves, and chicken broth (sometimes adding butternut squash) for a one pot meal. Always on the hunt for new recipes. Even made a soup with it once using beef broth.
My husband has high cholesterol and heart failure, so finding sources of lean protein that my meat-and-potatoes husband will eat has been a struggle and this has neatly solved a lot of that. Very versatile.
I've tried cooking Quinoa, but it's always tough. What am I doing wrong? I do rinse it before cooking.
Is this in the same family as Amaranth?
Are you adding enough liquid? I have noticed that it is a water hog and always requires additional water/broth to finish cooking. It is fully cooked when there is no white in the center (should be translucent) and just a thin white band around the outside (the germ).
I love thois stuff - everything from breads to cereal. Add a dollop of butter, a little brown sugar, and fresh almond milk. otally to die for!
And i agree whole-heartedly with saphhi, sound like you are not fully cooking it. The grains will look look opaque and kind of pop in your mouth. Oh, boy!
I'm going to try growing it next season, so I definitely look forward to your being the Guinea Pig. or as my little step-daughter used to say "The Guinea Food Pig"!
I got my seeds from Seeds of Change, unfortunately I ran out of sapce and steam before I got them planted for this season.
how did i know that you would be growing it next seasn. luckily yoyu only have a few plants in the ground so it shouldn't be too much of a strain on you. LOL
i cook it instead of rice and its good in soups.
Honey - not sure if they are in the same family (I think not), but they sure do look similar. I also used the amaranth in bread.
Thanks for the Quinoa cooking tips. I'll have to try again this weekend. I have both the white and red grains here, somewhere!
I like Quinoa, I buy it already cooked from Trader Joe's, but I would prefer to prepare my own.
Who has grown this, and what directions do you give for growing it, as well as to where to purchase the seeds?
As Imentioned above, I gotmy seeds from Seeds of Change, but if you do a search, you will surely find other sources, and they will include growing instructions. (Not sure about harvesting/processing instructions, though.)
The plant looks like amaranth [pigweed] to me. I bet the seeds are tiny like amaranth?
OK, so is quinoa an amaranth? Sorry for all the silly questions.
Its listed in the Baker Seed catalog under grain,and cover crops, amaranth is listed separately.
I found this link about growing Quinoa and Amaranth, plus other info regarding these two
Honeybee- that is an excellent article! Thanks.
And half price seeds, too! (OMG - did I say that. ) HOWEVER, THEY NO LONGER SHIP TO THE US!
They saved me from myself!
This message was edited Jul 16, 2010 11:11 AM
Rareseeds.com has cover crops, quinoa and amaranth some for 5.50 for 1/4lb. I'm haven't gone to their website for a while, due to the fact that I have no self control!
If you go to http://www.jlhudsonseeds.com they have both quinoa and amaranth.
Look under Amaranthus hypochondriacus and Chenopodium quinoa
Territorial or Seeds of Change may too. I have seen them in a catalog
I understand. I have the same problem! When I look for something I just want to get the one item, and then I am told about some special, or the shipping fee for one item. etc
Evelyn-I don't really WANT to get 1 item, but I'll I NEED is 1 item. So the list gets longer and longer. Baker Creek ships whatever you order for 3.00 so I want to get my money's worth :)
This message was edited Aug 18, 2010 10:14 AM
Yes. the list always gets longer.
If anyone missed it, from HoneybeeNCs' excellent link above. Quinoa is probably difficult to grow in the south.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations named 2013 the International Year of the Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). People have grown quinoa, an annual plant, for thousands of years because it's very nutritious and able to withstand tough conditions, including drought. Quinoa seeds are used as a grain. The seeds have a protective coating that keeps birds and pests away, which is beneficial for gardeners and farmers when it's time to harvest. When you grow quinoa at home, you won't end up with large yields unless you're able to plant 1 acre of the crop.
Press a quinoa seed with your thumbnail to determine whether or not the quinoa crop is ready for harvesting. Quinoa seed ready for harvest is hard and difficult to dent with a thumbnail. Look at the quinoa plant for visual cues. Leaves drop off the plant and turn from green to red or yellow when the quinoa seeds are ready for harvesting. Usually, the seeds aren't ready until just after the first frost.
Cut one seed head off a quinoa plant, keeping a few inches of stalk attached to the seed head. Use pruning shears for the task. Repeat the procedure with other seed heads.
Cut a length of twine, and tie it to the stalk on the end of one seed head. Tie the other end of the piece of twine to a wire hanger or hook. Repeat the tasks with the remaining seed heads.
Hang the quinoa seed heads in a dry location, such as a basement, garage or shed. Let the quinoa seeds dry for about one week. The seeds will be ready when a seed head almost crumbles when touched.
Put on a pair of rubber gloves.. Cut one seed head down from its wire hanger or hook, and hold it over a shallow tray or box. Sweep your hand across the seed head, starting at its base and moving upward. Seeds should fall easily from the seed head into the tray or box. Remove seeds from other seed heads by using the same technique.
Take the tray or box of quinoa seeds outdoors. Blow the chaff and other debris away from the seeds by using a hairdryer on its cool setting. The chaff is light enough that the air from the hairdryer should force it away easily.
Pour the quinoa seeds into a fine-mesh strainer. Place the strainer under cold, running water, and rinse away bitter compounds, called saponin, on the seed coats. Keep rinsing the quinoa until bubbles stop forming and the water that runs out of the strainer is clear. Spread the seeds on a flat surface to dry before storing them.
Based in Pennsylvania, Emily Weller has been writing professionally since 2007, when she began writing theater reviews Off-Off Broadway productions. Since then, she has written for TheNest, ModernMom and Rhode Island Home and Design magazine, among others. Weller attended CUNY/Brooklyn college and Temple University.
Mark Macdonald | September 03, 2020
Every fall people ask us how to harvest quinoa. These tall plants produce masses of seeds, each seed resulting from the pollination of a single flower in their beautiful inflorescences (flower clusters). When the seeds are fully ripe and ready for harvest, they will fall out of the seed head easily. If part of the seed head is grasped in hand, the hard little seeds should easily dislodge.
There will be seasons when cold, wet weather, threatens the harvest. If such weather is looming, simply cut the seed stalks about 15cm (6″) below the start of the seed head, and bundle them in groups of eight to twelve. Hang these indoors in a well ventilated room, away from bright sunlight. As the stalks dry, the seeds will become looser, and begin to fall from the seed heads. It’s useful to lay a bed sheet or tarp below the hanging stalks in order to catch any that fall.
Our favourite method for harvesting the seeds is to bash the heads about inside paper yard waste bags. These are the right size to catch all the seeds and chaff as it is separated and freed from the seed heads. If you squeeze and twist the seed heads, you will hear the hard, dense seeds falling into the bag. Process all the dry seed heads this way, and then collect the contents of the bag in a large bowl.
It may be prudent to allow the seeds (and chaff) to continue drying in the bowl. If so, be sure to mix the contents of the bowl regularly so it dries in a uniform way.
Separating seeds from chaff can be a messy affair. It can be done outdoors on a windy day simply by pouring the contents of the bowl into another. The chaff is much lighter and less dense than the seeds, and some of it will blow away each time one bowl is poured into another. This can also be done (we’ve done it!) indoors using a bed sheet and a table fan. Lay out the bed sheet to catch the chaff, and pour the seeds from one bowl to another in front of the fan. After five or six “pours,” the seeds will be quite free from chaff, but the process can be repeated until you are satisfied.
Quinoa seeds are coated with a bitter substance called saponin. They require rinsing prior to cooking to remove the saponin. Rinse quinoa as you would rice, in several bowls of cold water. This will free any remaining particles of chaff as well.