Growing Amaranth – An Ancient Grain

One of the luxuries I have had over the last couple of years since retiring is the time to garden.  We have been planning (and planning) our new home here on our fledgling homestead for a while now, and we are hoping (and praying) that our local officials will grace us with an approved building permit soon.  But, between all the planning and preparing, one thing that keeps me grounded is my vegetable garden and orchard.

Harvesting Sunflowers

My grandson, Caden, in the garden.

Our homestead is in Northern California, at 3,000 foot in elevation, and in USDA zone 8 or 9 ish, depending on what map you look at. Our growing season is fairly average, with our last frost date around April 1st through 10th.

Growing Amaranth

We got our amaranth seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, one of my favorite seed companies.

Since my husband and I are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, we are trying out new plants in our garden.  Last year our new plants were Fava (broad) beans and Amaranth.  You can read about our Fava bean adventure HERE.

Why Amaranth?  Read this article about the 13 health benefits of Amaranth on the website Sunwarrior HERE.  See?  That’s why.  🙂

I started the Amaranth seedlings in 3 inch peat pots and they were the second plants of all my garden plants (the Favas were first) to germinate.  I was so encouraged!

Once they went into the garden, they took off like wildfire.  I had eight Amaranth plants, four planted on each end of my green beans.  I had no idea what to expect in terms of how tall or wide they would grow, and I thought it might be a good idea to plant them with the beans in case they needed to be tied up.growing amaranth in zone 9

I was surprised at how early I saw the flowers start to appear!  I thought our honeybees would be obsessed with these plants and the amount they were flowering, but I was wrong.  I never saw one honeybee visit the Amaranth.  I did see a few bumblebees and some orchard mason bees, but no honeybees!  Unfortunately, I also saw some yellow jackets and some bald faced hornets, but that’s another story.

amaranth - ancient grain

The flowers start early. This plant isn’t even a full three months old!

The plants grew and grew and grew!

Aren’t these plants beautiful?  Too bad our honeybees didn’t think so!

Luckily the stalks grew thick and sturdy as the plants grew tall, so they were pretty much self-supporting.  I did have to stake one up after a nasty wind blew through, because it almost broke in half, but that trooper survived despite it’s near fatal accident!  I was blown away  😉

growing amaranth

It’s harvest time! These plants did very well, in my opinion. Plus, they are so beautiful that once we have our new house built, I will plant them in my flower borders!

Once it was harvest time, in early October before the rains and when I noticed some of the seeds starting to dislodge from the plants, I cut the heads off and set them upside down in an open paper bag. In no time at all, the seeds started to dry and fall off of the plants.  But quite a few of them actually held on.  I’m not sure if this is usual, or if I may have harvested too soon, but I harvested right before a week of heavy rain, so I think I made a good call regardless.

After a bit of research I found that it was easiest to use garden shears to cut the seed heads from the thick plant stalk, and then with a gloved hand, you can rub the seed heads between your hands to dislodge the seeds and the chaff. Then, to separate the seeds from the chaff, I gently blew on them… the chaff blows away in the wind and the heavier seeds stay put.  Stay upwind of the chaff, however, lest you get a facefull of the chaff… it isn’t pretty.

ancient grains - amaranth

The seed heads have been pulled off the plant stalk and dried. Now to rub between my gloved hands to release all of the seeds.

I have heard that some people blow off the chaff with a fan and, believe me, that’s what I will do next time.

One batch down, three to go.

Also, don’t try rubbing the seeds off the stalk without wearing gloves.  The seed heads have little tiny stickers which poke like minute thorns into your fingers. Even though I put on a pair of gloves after that first batch, my hands were sore for days!

I didn’t get a WHOLE lot of seeds.  In fact, when judging my harvest with the size of the flowering seed heads, I thought I would get a lot more.  But then, seeing the size of the seeds, I realize that I actually got a decent harvest, considering. I guess I will just have to grow more amaranth!

Harvesting amaranth

Out of eight plants I got almost one quart of Amaranth seeds.

So, what did I do with the Amaranth?  I found this really cool method of popping the amaranth seeds, like popcorn!  It’s on this website I found here:  http://www.edibleperspective.com/home/2012/7/23/popped-amaranth-cereal-puffmaranth.html

This was my first attempt at popping amaranth. Let me tell you, that stuff pops! Right out of the pan and onto my kitchen floor!   🙂

I also added the amaranth to some muffins by just adding it into the batter.  The amaranth added quite a crunch to the muffins…  still not sure I like that.  Perhaps I should pre-soften the grains in water first, before adding to the muffin batter, or maybe I should use the popped amaranth. I also found a protein bar recipe I would like to try once I have more amaranth, and I will be doing a lot more research for bread recipes using amaranth.

Will I grow amaranth again?  You Betcha!

It was easy to grow, I love the popped amaranth, and the plant itself is quite beautiful.  In fact, this could easily be a statement piece in a flower garden and most people wouldn’t be aware that it is actually a food crop.  You should try it!

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23 thoughts on “Growing Amaranth – An Ancient Grain

  1. I have to say, I get all excited when I receive a new email from you! There’s always something new I can learn from your experiences. Thank you!

  2. Wow that’s awesome! I have always heard that amaranth and quinoa were easy to grow but never tried it. After seeing how much you got from just eight plants I think I’ll have to try some this year. Thanks for the tip about the gloves too!

    • Oh yes, those gloves are a MUST! I hope you do try to grow some amaranth this year. I just started my plants this past week and hope that I will have just as much success this year as I did last year. Here’s to a great gardening year!

  3. Hi, Vickie! I basically didn’t know anything about amaranthe until now so thank you. I may have to try it. I’m happy you are finding ways to continue to move forward while forever waiting and wading through red tape. On a side note, I love the way you have designed your herb garden. I was looking for ways to aesthetically incorporate them into my gardens and will be using your garden stone layout design. I love it! And jumping back to red tape, I am currently in Northern California and was quite happy when I was able to successfully make it through the agricultural check point without losing my fresh fruits and veggies. A few years back they made me hand over my Oregon Bing cherries. I was not happy! 😡

    • Good morning, Sharon! If someone took my Oregon cherries, I would be incensed! Glad you made it through the check point this year. We are hoping and praying that our permit will come through sometime real soon, or we are going to lose yet another contractor. Right now we are getting ready for our third review, and the hold-up is our Architect and Engineer. We have been working with them for two years now and realize that contracting with them was a big mistake. Lessons learned. I hope you try growing Amaranth. It didn’t seem to have any pests or disease issues, which was great since I am trying to be as organic as possible in my garden. Have a great day!

  4. Hey, what a coincidence – a friend just gave me a few packets of seeds from that same seed company – including the very same Amaranth! I was kind of on the fence about planting it, but not now – this post couldn’t have come at a better time, my friend!!

  5. Oh how I long for my own garden!! This is so inspiring and I definitely hope to try it some day, so thanks for sharing? We’ll just have to see if my husband and I ever settle down somewhere long enough for me to have a garden… =)

    • Lets hope that some day you can set down some roots! 😉 I hope you will try Amaranth. It is truly beautiful… and tastes good too!

  6. You’re right – I’ve grown Amaranth for its’ beauty & never known it could be eaten. Thanks for teaching me something I didn’t know!
    I came to visit from the AIM link party; please feel welcome to stop on by the 4Shoes & let me know you’ve been. 🙂

    • Haha – I had a friend who didn’t know you could eat it either! Of course, I got the variety that makes lots of seeds. Some amaranth plants are cultivated just for their beauty and others just for their yummy leaves. Glad to have had the opportunity to teach you something today!

  7. Always look forward to your posts! They’re not the same old decorating, gardening topics. Looking forward to seeing the progress on your home! Yall are true pioneers!!!

    • Good afternoon, Linda. We are looking forward to seeing progress on our home, also (chuckle, chuckle). Thank you for letting me know you enjoy reading my blog, as it certainly makes my day!

    • Hello, Carol. It’s nice to meet you! I am so pleased you enjoyed the post about Amaranth, and pinned it too. I already slipped over to your blog and enjoyed it… I am a new subscriber! Have a great day.

  8. Hi Vickie! Did you try grinding the seeds into flour? And what does it taste like popped? I’ve been interested in amaranth for a while, but have never had the opportunity to grow it.

    • Good morning, Maridy – good to hear from you. I haven’t tried grinding the seeds to flour yet, but with this year’s harvest, I plan to! What does it taste like popped? To me it is a combination of oatmeal, popcorn and sunflower seeds – earthy but with a slight toasted flavor. How are the plans going for your new home… have you started building yet?

      • Yes, we did! Just this week! It’s so exciting to see the forms for the footings going up! I’ll have a blog post up soon hopefully. Or you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more instantaneous news. 😉

  9. Wow, I learned a lot about Amaranth tonight that I didn’t know. Crazy that it pops! My friend gave me some seeds she called, “Over the Garden Gate”. It looks a lot like this. I’m thinking it might be in the same family. I sprinkled them and they are coming up. Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

    • Over the Garden Gate? I don’t know if it’s in the same family or not, but it certainly sounds like a great flower! I hope you write a post with lots of pictures when the plants bloom. Have a great day!

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