Thursday, August 16, 2012

Growing grain: Amaranth

So I decided to try my hand at Amaranth this year.  This picture is the whole crop.  If you look hard you can count five plants.  They are so few in number that I wasn't totally convinced that they were even something I planted.  I had to actually look up online to see what the plants were supposed to look like.  Either way, I hope I can at least harvest enough of the seed to plant more next year and maybe get a better crop.  I may attempt to start some of the seeds indoors.  They are very small seeds and therefore can be easily washed away by rain so it may work out better to try it inside.
What is amaranth anyways?  Amaranth actually has a few different reasons to grow it.  If you get the leaves when they are young and tender they are good for salads.  They are also supposed to be good as a steamed vegetable.  I didn't get to try it this year because I wasn't convinced that the amaranth I planted was actually growing.  The little red plants didn't sprout until long after I planted them.  The beautiful, bright flowers are excellent for attracting bees and butterflies to help pollinate your garden.  Some people use these flowers in bouquets or dry them for other decorations.  I grew amaranth this year as a potential grain source.  The seeds this plant produces can be ground to make a flour that is high in protein, fiber, antioxidants, and iron.  They also contain vitamin E and lysine.  I had tried growing wheat in the past, but the effort to gain potential was too low for me.  Amaranth seems to be less effort for a far richer grain source.
I specifically grew Hopi red dye amaranth.  As you can see, the whole plant is that beautiful red color.  The Hopi indians used this grain to make a ceremonial red cornbread.  The plants brilliant red color can be captured in a red food dye.  There are many other types of amaranth as well, this is just the one that caught my attention.  If this pans out as a good grain source, I will likely try other types.
My plans for this year are just to harvest the seeds from the few plants I got and then to plant them next year.  I will likely start them inside and work a little harder at getting the plants off to a good start.  Hopefully, these plants will be as valuable as I think they may turn out to be.

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