Friday, August 12, 2016

Amaranth


A weed, cereal grain, leafy vegetable, and ornamental describe species of the family amaranthaceae. Most gardeners are probably already growing the weed species, much to their dismay, which is commonly called pigweed.  If you have trou


ble with this summer annual weed then maybe you should look at growing a species with a purpose.  Amaranth is cultivated for a leafy veggie or for seed used as a grain cereal. 



Unfamiliar with amaranth?  At first glance it looks like bird seed but prepared right it is delicious and nutritious. Anciently amaranth was grown by the Aztec and considered sacred. Amaranth is an ancient grain but new to a lot of people. In Asia, Amaranth tricolor has been grown throughout history as a leafy green.  Leaves from all amaranth considered healthy.  They are high in calcium and iron but have high amount of oxalic acid which can make the calcium less available to the body. 

Probably a reason amaranth is of interest to the health conscience consumer is because it is a valuable protein source.  The seeds of amaranth have the amino acid lysine that is absent in many grains. If amaranth is combined with other grains, it makes a complete protein and therefore a great option for the home gardener to grow.  Recipes are becoming more popular for the small seed grain.  So give it a try.  It can be used in edible landscape or grown in the food garden.

Grain amaranths are a beautiful plant.  They can grow from 6-9 feet tall and 3 feet wide.  The flowering seed heads are colorful and beautiful with golden, orange and burgundy colors.  They deserve consideration in a flower bed as well as in the vegetable garden.  The arananth grown for a leafy green is shorter reaching a height of 3 feet.


Both grain and leaf amaranth are tender plants that will not tolerate frost. The seeds germinating in warm soils of 70-75 degrees.  The seeds are very small and must be direct seeded in a sunny spot. The seeds do not need to be covered but can be lightly covered.  You can plant like corn in rows to avoid the need to thin or broadcast the seed then thin the plants to one per 18 to 24 ".  Amaranth needs good fertile soil rich in organic matter with a dry organic fertilizer mixed in.  It appreciates an occasional feeding of fish emulsion for needed nitrogen.  I have found that grasshoppers like the leaves.  You can protect them with row covers as seedlings.  The deer also like amaranth.

The seeds mature at different times on the flower head starting at the bottom of the flower head and working up.  Since the seed is small you can cut the flower when the majority of seeds have matured.  Place the seed head out of the sun on a tray to finish drying.  When removing the seeds gloves are helpful because the flowers are somewhat spikey.  Rub the seed head allowing the grain to fall into a bowl or tray.  You can also rub seeds off into a bucket as they ripen if you prefer to no harvest the whole flower head.


Once the seeds are in a bowl you need to remove the chaff and flower heads.  Try swirling the seeds in the bowl.  The seeds are light and tend to move to the bottom and flower parts move to the top and can be picked out.



Amaranth seed is becoming easier to find.  I have listed a few places you can purchase seed:

  • Bountiful Gardens
  • Seeds of Change
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
Varieties of Amaranth
  • Burgundy Grain Amaranth- white seeds
  • Golden Giant Amaranth- white seeds
  • Elana's Rojo Amaranth- grain seed
  • Hopi Red Dye- red seeds used as dye and  young leaves used as greens, beautiful ornamental
  • AGreen Calaloo Amaranth- used as a green
  • Love Lies Bleeding- ornamental flower


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