I wanted to have a go at growing some kind of grain to become more self sufficient and so I grew quinoa for the first time this year. I did not know what a beautiful plant it was. I bought some heirloom seeds from Real Seeds and a variety called ‘Rainbow Quinoa’. This is a variety that grow well in damp conditions which is a good job with the kind of summer that we have had. They cost me £2.66 for 1.5 g which gave me hundreds of seeds. The different flower heads ranged in colours from yellows, oranges, pinks to bright red, but they are green for a while whilst growing.
How did I sow the seeds?
Quinoa does not like frost and so I grow my seedlings in doors and transplanted them outside when the danger of the last frost had gone. The seeds only need to be about 5mm deep. I grew mine in a heated propagator and they took less than a week to germinate. I think that they were about 8 inches tall when I replanted them outside. If you live in a warmer part of the country you could plant the seed straight into the ground. The internet said that they should be planted at least 30cm apart but I did not have that kind of room and grew them a lot closer together. As seedlings they are hard to identify as they look very much like a weed and I nearly pulled them out a couple of times. I would therefore put a marker or label next to them.
What conditions are needed to grow quinoa?
The plant will grow in most soil but they do prefer more loamy soil. They grow quite tall, about 6 feet, and so I had to think about where I planted some. I did not want them to shade other plants. I also had to stake them as they grew taller as the heads became heavy and there is a danger that they will snap or uproot themselves. Quinoa also needs a lot of sunlight. I grew some in pots and some in the ground. They have quite shallow roots and so mine were in pots about the size of a bucket. The quinoa in the pots grew just as well as the ones straight in the ground. I did feed my crop a few time with nettle tea, and watered now and again, but they were easy to grow and did not mind when the pots became dry. I read that they are quite drought tolerant. Quinoa is not really a grain but is lots of seeds. Each plant yields between 50 to 100g of seed per plant. Did you know that it is related to beetroot and spinach? I didn’t.
How did I know when to harvest Quinoa?
My seed heads were green until the middle of June and then they showed their beautiful colours. Later the heads turned brown, and once the leaves fell off this was an indication that they were ready to be harvested. This takes 90 to 120 days, apparently, but I wasn’t counting. I picked a sunny week to harvest the crop when the seed heads were dried out nicely. I harvested on 3 different occasions during September. I had about 16 plants in all. I just harvested 2 to start with so that I would know what I was doing.
How did I harvest Quinoa?
I had the main top seed head and then little ones coming off the stalk and so I cut the stalk near the bottom and placed it straight into a carrier bag so that I would not lose all the seeds. I then dried my seed head some more in my conservatory to make sure that they were well and truly dry. Some people hang them up apparently, but I would have lost a lot of seed if I had done that and so I laid them on silicone mats on my table, and under muslin.
How did I process Quinoa to make it edible?
I have only fully processed two of my plants so far. I took all the seed heads off the plant and rubbed them between my hands into a bowl to get the seeds out and to separate them from the chaff. I wished that I had put something down to catch the seeds, like a table cloth or something as I lost some seeds at this point. I will definitely put one underneath where I am processing the rest on a dry day next week. I also tried to put them through a sieve but that did not work very well. One thing that did work to separate the chaff from the seeds after I had loosened it all was to have two bowls and then pour the seeds from a height into the other bowl. The wind blew the chaff away and the seed fell into the bowl as it was heavier. The table cloth would have been handy at this time too. It was quite time consuming and I needed a lot of patience and it wasn’t really windy enough. I might use a fan next time.
The plant is protected from insects, birds and rodents as it has a coating of saponins which gives it a bitter taste. In order to get rid of this I soaked the seeds over night and then rinsed them about 4 times in cold water. I used muslin to keep my seeds together and so I could give them a bit of a rub to get the coating off. You can do this just before you cook them, but I did mine straight after I had harvested and dried them. I then dried them again. This means that I can just use them when I want to and do not have to plan too much.
Would I grow them again?
Growing quinoa plants was easy, and, except for watering and an odd feed, they looked after themselves. They are also protected from predators (though sometimes the leaves can get a bit of flea beetle which does not harm the plant). The colours were a lovely addition to the garden. Unfortunately the process of drying, winnowing and washing the seeds was quite long and laborious and there were not a lot of seeds for the amount of work involved. You would have to grow a lot of plants to grow enough quinoa to sustain some one. I will grow them again as I have plenty of seeds left, but I do not think I would grow them to be self sustainable unless SHTF. Having said that Quinoa has a very high nutritional value. It is full of protein (over 14%) and has lots of vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus, as well as carbohydrate. I tried my first lot this evening and it was a lovely nutty flavour. I found out too late that you can eat the leaves as well. The seeds need to be stored in an air tight container. I store mine in a jam jar in a dark, cool, cupboard. Are you going to try it?