growing fancy: quinoa

It’s not something I ever would have thought of growing myself. But when Emmett and I were wwoofing on a small family farm in New Zealand, our hosts had a few quinoa plants going. They were healthy, bushy, beautiful things, and their grains were just starting to dry.

So, when we were on our online seed-spending spree a few months ago, we thought ‘why not?’ and ordered some Temuco Quinoa. It sounds fancy — and I went most of my life never having heard of quinoa — but it’s pretty practical stuff. It’s one of the few plant-based complete proteins — a protein that has all 8 amino acids. As such, it’s especially useful for a mostly-vegetarian like myself. (Other sources of complete protein include: spirulina, amaranth, soy, buckwheat, and hempseed, but I’m really not too sure how to serve some of those guys, besides blending them into some disgusting protein shake.) Quinoa’s also really pretty when cooked. The little hard seeds, once boiled/simmered sufficiently, burst open into tiny white spirals. They’re a pretty and healthy addition to soup–just throw ‘em in 15 minutes or so before your soup’s done–and can make a nice side salad on their own, with some seasoning and veggies thrown in.

But back to the growing side of things. So far, so good: the plants have proved quite hardy. Sure, the cucumber beetles munched the leaves a bit, but let me tell you these plants looked absolutely wretched when we transplanted them. They were victims of our seed disaster–stunted, tiny things with only a couple of leaves apiece–and it was only Emmett’s deep-rooted sense of optimism that led us to put them in the ground at all. Good thing we did! They’re now hip-high bushes, vigorous and a pretty shade of grey-blue-green, and they’re starting to form buds. We’ve barely had to weed them–once they got going, they quickly shaded the weeds out–and water them about once a day. They haven’t minded our slightly soggy clay soil one bit. My only complaint: the stalks are on the brittle side, and break easily. But really it’s our fault for planting them too close to the chard row, which we harvest a lot (which means I sometimes back into the quinoa while trying to snip chard leaves and avoid stepping on the chard’s floating row cover, which we take off and put on the ground).

I’m excited for a quinoa harvest. If it’s successful, this might be something I plant in bulk in future years. It’s not too often you see grains at the farmer’s market, and I’m guessing people might be excited at something unusual like locally-grown quinoa. (I also have a hunch it might make an awesome protein supplement for chickens, but I’ll have to try that out first.) It’s a good storage crop; we’ve kept store-bought quinoa for close to a year without any sort of problem. Since most of our sales right now are in salad and chard, I can’t wait for something that doesn’t have to be harvested day-of-market!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “growing fancy: quinoa

  1. Richard Rebel

    Hello,

    I have been sprouting quinoa for a long time at home. I have decided to go further and try growing them hydroponically in order to harvest their greens, not for the seeds.

    I cannot find anything about the cultivation and harvesting of quinoa greens. Nor information on pruning to promote more greens vs height/seeds.

    Could you shed some light on this topic? Thanks!

    FYI, my plants sprouted leaves in less than 18 hours in my hydroponic unit. I suspect they will be fast growers.

  2. Marguerite

    Hi,
    I have just checked this morning and my Quinoa seeds have sprouted! Just like that, overnight. I need to propogate my own as it is one of the proteins I’m feeding my dogs as part of their BARF diet. I’m still in the experimental stages, but last summer I had a whole garden full of Amaranth, and hopefully this summer I will have a blend of both Amaranth and Quinoa. I have clay soil, and am glad to find that the Amaranth did not mind it in the least, except for the stalks which do break easily, but that is not a problem since they grow so prolifically!

  3. Hagianu

    I want information on the cultivation of quinoa .

    Thanks

    • Try starting seeds in flats, then transplanting into rows, spacing the plants 8-12 inches apart. Grows well in warm summer climates. Grow for the summer season, watering generously at first but then cutting back once the large seed clusters have formed and begun to dry. After they’ve dried down as much as possible (since you’ve been giving them zero water), cut the stalks at the base and bring them inside to dry before your first fall rain. Let them dry until they fall off the stalk when you shake them… then they’re ready to thresh, winnow and rinse. (You have to rinse off the bitter coating)

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