Growing Grain Amaranth

varieties: Basically, the amaranths come in 3 main divisions: the "grain amaranths," grown for seeds; the "vegetable amaranths," grown for their stems and green leaves (which are harvested and cooked like the related plants Swiss chard and spinach); and the weedy amaranths such as pigweed. (For information on vegetable amaranths, see also "Leafy Greens" in Chapter 4.) The amaranth seedhead colors are wonderful: red, orange, golden, or "burgundy" purple. Depending on the variety, seeds are cream-colored, golden, pink, or white. (Wild weedy amaranths all have black seeds.)

The preferred grain amaranths are Amanthus hypochon-driacus and A. cruentus (both from Mexico and Guatemala) and A. caudatus (native to the Peruvian Andes). A. caudatus is the best variety to grow at altitudes above 7,000 feet and is the most resistant to chilling. A. hypochondriacus and A. cruentus are not frost-hardy. On the other hand, A. cruentus is the one dual-purpose species of grain amaranth, supplying both greens and grain. You may get as much as 1 lb. seed per amaranth plant. The seeds are tiny, barely bigger than the proverbial mustard seed, 1,000-3,000 seeds per gram. But each plant produces them in huge numbers, as many or more than 50,000 to a plant. Harvests vary widely depending on variety and conditions—and how well that particular variety is suited to those growing conditions. In Pennsylvania experiments, Rodale got 1,600 lb ./acre. California growers have doubled that. climate: There are distinct varieties adapted to almost any latitude, but you definitely need the correct one, because many of the amaranths are responsive to length of day—and length of day depends on your latitude and your season. The tropics have days of even length, uniformly short. Temperate latitudes alternate short days in winter with long days in summer. Thus certain Mexican amaranths will mature and set seed only in a Pennsylvania greenhouse in winter because only then are the days short enough! If you buy from a local seed company, they will already have figured out what variety is right for your region.

Both the grain and vegetable amaranths love heat, but grain amaranth is also extraordinarily drought-resistant. Native to the Americas, grain amaranth was nearly as important as corn and beans to pre-Columbian agriculture. It has been grown without irrigation in regions with as little as 7-8 inches of annual rainfall. Grain amaranth once grew wild in Arizona and southern Utah, and is still grown widely in rural Mexico. Amaranth is now a staple crop for hill tribes of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and China as well. You can plant grain amaranth if you live in a somewhat dry area or on tropical highlands, or plant it as a dry-season crop if you live in a monsoon area. planting: The amaranth grain available in health food stores will generally grow fine when planted. Or you can order seed from Abundant Life (five varieties), Gurney, Johnny's, Salt Spring Seeds, Seeds of Change, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Bountiful Gardens, and Nu-World Foods (above).

Grain amaranths can thrive in any well-drained, neutral or basic (pH above 6) soil. (Some varieties will tolerate alkaline, acidic, or even slightly saline soils, but they're hard to find.) The patch or field should be fairly level and well cultivated—no clods to smother these tiny seeds! And make it fairly level, because these seeds are so very small. Plant after all danger of frost is over, in full sun, no more than V3—V2 inch deep. Amaranth is planted densely: 130,000 plants per acre for grain amaranth. Water and Weeding: Since it is slow-maturing, get it in early. To get started, both grain and vegetable amaranths need their soil kept damp. After that, grain amaranths do well in a dry, warm climate, but vegetable amaranths need frequent watering right to the end of their growing season. Amaranth planted in rows can be weeded by hand or machine during the early stages. You want to avoid weeds that might get their seeds mixed with the amaranth grain harvest, because the tiny amaranth seeds are extremely difficult to separate out. Once they get well established, the plants are sufficiently luxuriant in foliage that they tend to shade out the competition and don't need to be weeded any more.

Continue reading here: Harvest and

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