Planting and Growing Quinoa

Ordering Quinoa Seed: Abundant Life offers 12 varieties of quinoa, including the low-saponin Dulce Saj. Bountiful Gardens has three; Ecology Action, Hudson, Irish Eyes/Garden City, Seeds of Change, Territorial, and Bountiful Gardens also offer it. I learned a lot of what I know about quinoa from Steve Solomon's books. He wrote, "Quinoa from the health-food store won't sprout, because it's scarified to remove most of the saponins and eliminate the need for long soaking." Variety matters. Get the best for your particular climate. Quinoa seed stays viable 4 years or more.

climate: Colorado and New Mexico are good places to grow quinoa. It thrives in the 6,000-7,000-foot zone in the central Rocky Mountain area, in northern California and northward near the Pacific Ocean, and in the interior Northwest as well. Extremely hot weather actually holds back the seed setting process of this crop. According to Steve Solomon, "Its seeds sprout in chilly soil, and its frost-hardy seedlings may tolerate night temperatures in the low 20s."

planting: Sow in spring in fertile soil as soon as the soil is warm (April or May). Steve Solomon again: "Quinoa must be sown early while there remains adequate soil moisture . . . early sowing—leading to the earliest possible harvest when weather is most likely to be dry—is essential. . . One organic farmer in the dry highlands of eastern Washington's Cascade foothills grows quinoa like wheat, because when crowded and under competition, the plants don't branch, but instead concentrate the harvest into a single seed head that can be harvested with a combine like wheat. I think the gardener will do better planting in rows about four feet apart, the seed sprinkled thinly in the row and gradually thinned to about eight inches in the row . . . Far less than an ounce of seed will sow 100 row feet, yielding 25 to 50 pounds of seed."

Keep the seedbed damp until it has germinated. You can eat the young greens you get from thinning the plants; they're nutritious and tasty. Quinoa will grow about 4 feet high. Steve Solomon wrote, "Keep quinoa well-weeded to allocate all soil moisture to the crop. With only a little fertilizer, quinoa grows fast to a magnificent six or seven feet tall, with numerous bushy side shoots."

Continue reading here: Harvesting and Using Quinoa

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