Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah” is a very popular high-protein food source for many people, and its popularity seems to be growing at exponential rates. Did you know you can grow your own quinoa?
Quinoa needs full sun and well-drained and fertile soil. It’s a slow grower and takes around 90-120 days to harvest. Quinoa is quite easy to grow, but it shouldn’t be grown in containers. The crop is too large and will produce a tiny harvest in a container, so it just isn’t worth the effort. Quinoa prefers cooler weather, ideally less than 90 degrees, making it an excellent choice for northern gardeners.
A great benefit of growing quinoa are the beautiful deep red and purple flowers it produces before going to seed. When you harvest quinoa, you are going for the seeds. The seeds can be used like most other grains. You can cook them alone or incorporate them into your recipes. You can also eat the leaves of the plant. They taste delicious in salads!
Quinoa Growing Basics
Quinoa is typically started directly in the soil. You should plant your quinoa crop when the soil has warmed to approximately 60 degrees, usually in very early spring.
Clear your beds and remove all weeds. Plant your quinoa seeds in rows, only about one-fourth of an inch deep. Thin the seeds after they sprout and space the plants approximately 10 inches apart. Quinoa can be mistaken for weeds as they start to grow, so be careful not to pull up the quinoa and leave the weeds. They look very similar to lamb’s quarter, a common garden weed.
Your quinoa will be slow to grow at the start. It’s okay. Just be patient. Once it reaches about a foot in height, it will begin to grow much faster.
Quinoa likes dry soil; so don’t water it unless your area is exceptionally dry. It will actually thrive with minimal water conditions.
Harvest and Storage
Your quinoa is ready to harvest when all the leaves drop off. Your plants will be only seed heads on a stalk. Quinoa can survive light frosts, but not a heavy freeze, so harvest accordingly.
Check your seeds to make sure they are completely dry. This is done by pushing your fingernail into the seed. If you can push a slight dent in the seed, your seeds are not dry enough. If you need to harvest before the seeds are completely dried out, you can let them finish drying indoors.
Shake the seed heads to release the seeds. This should release them quite easily. Sift out pieces of dirt, then wash your seeds. Then let the seeds dry completely before storing them. Store your seeds in a tight container in a cool location away from light. They will easily store for up to six months or more.
You can expect approximately one pound of grain per 10 quinoa plants.