By the time I was done reading about a food, I would be running to my computer to find a source to grow the plant. However in Amaranth’s case, I saw the plant and it was love at first site. I jumped in with both feet without any knowledge of how to grow it, harvest it or store it. Love will do that to you. (For those of you who just want to know how to cook with it, cut to the chase, and read my cooking article here.)
Now that I have enticed you with the above picture, don’t you want to know how to grow it? I bought the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and waited with bated breath for the little seedling to develop into a plant. (Some I planted inside and others I sowed right into the soil.) From the very beginning, it has tinges of reddish/purple or perhaps deep magenta. As it grew through the season, it formed a plant that resembled a peacock with a beautiful plume on top. My friends would gasp when they saw it. Even its leaves tasted like an earthly spinach. The insect nibbled on it a little but nothing drastic. Drought and heat tolerant. A Garden girl’s dream! I found a plant that was worth its weight in gold.
Some of the stalk grew to about five feet tall while others seem to top out at six feet tall. As they grew, the thick stalks needed support especially as Fall arrived with its gusty winds.
One of the limbs fell off of the plants and I took it inside to dry it out like a herb. I had no idea where were the seeds. In a frantic panic, I googled “how to harvest Amaranth” and found the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, a nonprofit agriculture education and research center in Columbia, Missouri. In addition, they help farmers to grow alternative crops such as Amaranth, Buckwheat, and Canola. After reading their Amaranth page on their website, I knew I was in trouble. I had no idea how I was going to harvest this grain. I did not have a platform grain head, whatever that is. All I had was my two hands…and my husband to unwillingly help me. (My kids seem to disappear whenever they hear I need them for the garden.)
Catherine, a horticulture specialist fom the Jefferson Agricultural Institute told me to harvest the grains a week after a hard frost. (See update below about harvesting.) In my area, October 15 is supposed to be the magical hard frost day. Nothing happened that I was aware of. (Believe me it could have happened and I had no idea. Life works that way.)
A few weeks go by and no hard frost. (So I thought.) I called Catherine again and asked what to do since I did not believe my area had a hard frost yet. The only thing that died was my eggplants. My squashes were still producing. She replied that they had a hard frost in Missouri. And then I realize it. I probably missed it. She then proceeded to explain how I had to thrash the plants to remove the seed and then blow away the chafe. Thresh the seeds? What have I gotten myself into?
I used an old window screen and literally threshed the heads against the screen. The seeds fell into the storage bin. (Threshing is a lot more fun than I thought. Hate your boss. Thresh an Amaranth plant. Husband piss you off, thresh an Amaranth plant… In fact, my friends wanted to line up to thresh the heads for me. )
Did I create a mess? You betcha. The seeds and flowers went all over the room. So, I was sweeping them up and then dumping them through the screen.
I kept the flowers that fell off and put them in the above bowl. I have no idea what I am going to do with them. Another friend suggested scenting them with an essential oil and use them as potpourri or putting them in glass bowls with other metallic balls for a holiday look. Martha, any ideas?
As for the Amaranth that dried, Catherine told me that it would be difficult to extract the seeds once the flowers had dried. I tried rubbing the dried flowers between my hands and yielded some seeds. I fared better when I rubbed the flowers against the screen.
With all this effort, I probably garnered about 3 cups of seeds for ten plants.
What about the plume? They are still beautiful and are in a flower arrangement in my living room. I will see if they drop their blooms overs the winter. My best advice is don’t play with them too much, since they shed all over the place. Arrange them and admire them from afar.
What will I do with my Amaranth? I probably will mill it with a grain attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Maybe make that chocolate cake I mentioned in my amaranth cooking article. (My mouth is already watering…) Who knows.
Will I grow Amaranth again? Absolutely. And next years conquest… Buckwheat too…
Now that you have grown it, how do you cook with it? No fear. Check out my cooking Amaranth post here.
1/6/2009: Catherine emailed me after reading my story to clarify when you should harvest the seed. She wrote,
“I did not advise you correctly about threshing the seeds after the seed head was dried. It is best to thresh the seed heads once you have dried them after harvesting them after a frost. If you harvest them long after the seed heads have dried in the field you run the risk of seed shattering where most of the seeds have already fallen out.”
As I noted above, I left the amaranth plants out in the field too long but was able to thresh the seeds heads. I will take her advice next year.