The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Oats, amaranth, and quinoa

Hull-less oat seedlingsAlthough I can't make them fit into my do-nothing grain experiment, I want to try three other grains for human consumption this year: oats, quinoa, and amaranth.

Oats are a cool season crop, but are unlikely to overwinter successfully here in zone 6.  They require 90 to 120 days to mature, and should be planted "as early as the ground can be worked in the spring."  I really detest this designation, since some winters our ground can be worked every month of the year, while other winters the ground can't be worked until March....

I planted a test plot of hull-less oats combined with red clover on March 8 in an area where the chicken tractors had sat for a month, killing most of the perennial weeds.  I suspect I should have given the grain its own garden bed instead, but I wanted to try the easiest method possible first (and was afraid of planting a perennial like clover in my vegetable garden.)  So far, a few of the oat seeds have sprouted, but so have some of the perennial weeds that the chickens didn't managed to scratch all the way up.  On the off chance this experiment actually works, I'll let you know, but chances are I'll have to try again in a less weedy spot next year.

Amaranth is an easy grain that I posted about previously.  I bought some Manna de Montana Amaranth from Seeds of Change since pale-seeded varieties like this one are supposed to have better flavor than the black-seeded types.  I plan to put our amaranth seeds in the ground on June 1 when the soil is thoroughly warmed up, and I may try it in Amaranth and quinoa seedsmy do-nothing plots in place of buckwheat next year since amaranth matures in a similarly short three months.  Like buckwheat, you can't leave amaranth heads on the plant too long or the seeds will fall to the ground, so harvest when two thirds of the seedhead is mature.  Be sure to cook before eating since the raw grain blocks absorption of nutrients.  Amaranth can be eatend whole, flaked, ground, or popped, and the young leaves can be eaten like spinach.

Quinoa is a cool season crop that is not winter hardy, much like oats.  But you plant quinoa later, in mid April to mid May, and refrain from watering after germination since the plants are adapted to drought conditions.  Harvest in 90 to 120 days, then wash the seeds to remove saponin and grind them into flour.  Or use the seeds as a rice substitute, toasting first to enhance the flavor.  Just like amaranth, quinoa leaves can be eaten like spinach.  If quinoa finds a permanent place in our garden, it will have to be in separate garden beds like oats.

With warm weather on its way, now's the time to get an automatic chicken waterer that keeps your birds hydrated for days.

This post is part of our Homegrown Whole Grains lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I had to do a double take with that seed packet photo. At first I thought someone had named a grain variety after Hanna Montana... ;)
Comment by Eliza Wed Mar 31 15:56:48 2010

I'll eventually plant amaranth and quinoa. My neighbor introduced my to amaranth, and she also wants to try growing goji berries because they can allegedly grow in hot dry climates.

I have been eating a lot of quinoa lately because I'm allergic to almost everything else. I sometimes eat leftover, cold quinoa with soy milk and sugar just like you would eat any other cereal. I also make a quick meal by making boiled quinoa then add some olive oil, green olives, and black olives. If the quinoa splits into pieces or is mushy, then you are overcooking it--just boil it for a few minutes and turn the heat off and leave it for another 5 minutes or so. You can also use quinoa like you would pasta.

Comment by rehoot Wed Mar 31 16:13:43 2010

Eliza --- ha! :-)

Rehoot --- What do you think of the flavor of quinoa? I've never actually eaten it... It does sound versatile!

Comment by anna Wed Mar 31 16:17:14 2010
I should have also said --- we're growing gojiberries because a friend gave me a start of her bush. They're only a couple of years old, though, so I don't know if they're going to be worth our while.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 31 16:50:11 2010
Let me know if you like Quinona. I have had it and did not like it at all.
Comment by Sheila Thu Apr 1 00:16:07 2010
Uh oh! That doesn't bode well. What didn't you like about the flavor?
Comment by anna Thu Apr 1 07:36:46 2010

We did not like it much either. I found that it is bland and strong flavored at the same time, a bit like cardboard. Or as Robert puts it, "it tastes like it is supposed to be healthy for you" It was a bit better when the taste was hidden by cooking with milk, and adding nuts, blueberries and maple syrup but that cardboardy taste still seemed to come through. We have tried two different packages so I don't think it was the quinoa being stale.

Comment by Rebecca Thu Apr 1 08:09:46 2010
That doesn't sound good. On the other hand, I've discovered I like several things that I thought I hated once I started growing them. My new food rule is to grow something regardless of what I think it tastes like, then decide whether I like it based on homegrown produce. The only thing that hasn't really grabbed me using that rule is eggplant --- I still think it's okay, but nothing to write home about.
Comment by anna Thu Apr 1 11:55:00 2010

When I first tried quinoa, I could not choke it down regardless of my efforts. As I mentioned above, I eat it now because I have many food allergies, and I have few choices. I actually like it now, but I think one of the barriers was not over cooking it and finding something to add to it so that it tastes better. I can eat it plain now, but I typically add other things to it.

Try putting quinoa in something that has lots of flavor from other foods, and then you might have an opportunity to acquire a taste for it. Sometimes when we eat "health food" we avoid adding the things we like: fat, salt, and sugar. Forget that plan because you probably eat junk elsewhere. Using the this reasoning, you could try adding lots of butter and salt to it. If you eat it as a cold cereal with (soy) milk, go ahead and add sugar. Try using it instead of pasta (I can't eat spaghetti sauce or cheese, but you probably can). Once you learn how to use it in cooking, it will seem easier to eat it without all the fat, salt, or sugar. Perhaps make a pasta salad, but use cooked and chilled quinoa instead (don't over-cook it!).

Comment by rehoot Thu Apr 1 13:34:06 2010

Eggplant can be very bitter. The trick to get rid of thet is to cut it in slices and shake some salt over them to draw out the bitter juices. After about 15 min, rinse off with water and you're ready to use it further.

There is a French dish from the Provence with eggplant, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and courgett called ratatouille. It's one of my favorites. Holler if you'd like a recipe.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu Apr 1 15:42:30 2010

Rehoot --- I used to be that kind of healthy cook and eater, but Mark has trained me to use salt and butter and sugar. I figure that making homegrown food delicious is worth adding a bit of "bad" stuff to our diets. That way we eat more of the good stuff!

Roland --- I may ask you for that recipe next year. This year we're not growing eggplants --- they just didn't pass the taste test two years ago when we grew them. (They're also a very troublesome crop around here --- flea beetles literally eat the leaves up unless you cover them in row covers, but if you do that you have to take the row covers off to let them get pollinated. I opt to grow simpler things instead!) Your tip sounds very good, though, and makes me think I should give eggplant another shot.

Comment by anna Thu Apr 1 19:47:00 2010

I'm really surprised by how many people seem to strongly dislike quinoa. To me, it's a neutral tasting alternative to rice that cooks faster. The better comparison might be to couscous, since the little round seeds of quinoa have a similar texture to those most miniature pastas. I usually cook them the way I cook rice, which is to say with a dribble of toasted sesame oil, and sometimes a splash of soy sauce, in with the water. They are as nutritious or moreso than brown rice and cook as quickly as white rice. My wife and two young daughters all like it just fine, same as me. By the way, quinoa and amaranth are closely related plants--cousins to lambs' quarters and Good King Henry, which is a perennial Chenopodium (see Eric Toensmeier's cool book, Perennial Vegetables).

Thanks for posting a photo of the emerging hulless oats. We're trying those out for the first time this year too. After we scattered the seed, a crow took up residence in the patch for a few days and we feared that all our work in clearing the lawn for oats had been wasted. But your photo has helped us see that at least some of what's coming up is probably the oats and not just a return of the lawn. Good luck!

Comment by JonathanTE Tue May 25 11:08:30 2010

I have high hopes I'll like it as much as you do...if I can ever get it to come up! I had to replant it because only one of my seeds germinated. Not quite sure what's going on here. I've got Eric Toensmeier's book on request from the library --- I'm really looking forward to it!

I'm glad to hear that you're also giving hullless oats a shot. Seed predation does seem to be one of the major troubles with growing grain on a small scale. Please check back in and let us know how your experiment does!

Comment by anna Tue May 25 15:14:59 2010
I think quinoa tastes great, I'm surprised to hear it described as bland. Think of it as rice or pasta - you don't eat it by itself. It's meant to have stir fry served on it, or tomato sauce, or sauteed vegetables, or all of these things!
Comment by Anonymous Wed Sep 1 14:38:24 2010
I agree with you --- bland is a selling point for me in a grain. I like being able to top them with interesting sauces or throw them in soups without worrying too much about the grain's original flavor.
Comment by anna Wed Sep 1 15:50:31 2010

Can chicken tractors clear enough ground to grow enough grain for themselves? I doubt it. I have also found chicken tractors inneffective at dealing with perennial weeds. Also If you feed them any whole grains, expect to see these grains growing where the chickens have been after you move the chickens on. Sometimes a good thing.

I have experimented a little with Fukuoka's methods, but still can't bring myself to take the plunge. In Korea, I found no rice farmers using the Fukuoka method, but several who said they had tried it and later abandoned it. It wold be instructive to survey people who have tried it, and try to figure out whyt it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. I have used seedballs to reseed land, and the method works on land that has lost its natural vegetation due to disturbance, fire, ploughing, solarisation, smothering with cardboard etc., but seedballing into established grass, weeds etc. is futile. Fukuoka began with a ploughed field.

I have been growing wheat, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, rye, millet, maize sorghum on small scales for a number of years. Winter cereals are especially useful here as ground cover. I live in an area with cold wet winters, but the biggest problem is summer drought, so winter crops are refreshingly low maintainence. Not sure how young buckwheat plants would cope when you trample on them and cut down the winter crop in the fukuoka system. The straw is very useful for bedding animals and composting their muck. Not sure if I want to return it all straight back to the field.

Quinoa did well the first zear but was very disappointing the second year. Maybe there is hybrid seed in circulation?

I allow white clover to grow freely in my vegetable gardens, only weed it or smother it when it is stopping me dealing with other weeds. I have only once seen it harm any vegetables. Most of the time it is a benign symbiote, and it is a natural partner to grains.

Comment by Ian Sat Jan 15 04:59:43 2011

Ian --- thank you so much for your first hand data! This is precisely what I spent the last year figuring out for myself. :-) As you guessed, the chicken tractors weren't sufficient to rough up the ground enough to start a do-nothing rotation, although I had better luck by fencing the chickens into an area for a couple of months and then planting there. I concluded, much like you did, that Fukuoka's method only works when there aren't lots of weeds for the grains to compete with, so I suspect starting with a chicken pasture, a plowed field, or a kill mulch is the way to go.

I've also come to the same conclusion you did about not wanting to put all of the straw back on the fields. We've started using deep bedding in the chicken coop, and that seems to be a great winter method. I also really enjoy mulching the vegetable garden with straw. In fact, my priorities changed this year from wanting to grow grains for the seeds to wanting to grow grains for the straw!

Thanks again for all of that great data!!!

Comment by anna Sat Jan 15 09:39:21 2011
In the articale it states that amaranth should be cooked prior to eating because it will block nutrient absorption when raw. Is this true with quinoa too? Would it be healthful to flake quinoa in an oat flaker and eat it raw?
Comment by Sam Mon Dec 26 12:04:02 2011
Hmm, I'm not sure if you need to cook quinoa. But I have read about people sprouting quinoa --- you might try that for the most nutrients.
Comment by anna Mon Dec 26 17:22:31 2011

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