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Amazing Amaranth

 
R Ranson
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Amaranth is gorgeous:

A New World plant, it makes an impressive staple crop. Sprout the seeds for microgreens, the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach, the flower are popular with florists and can fetch a pretty penny, they attract beneficial insects and pollinators to your garden, and they produce a grain crop that can be parched like pop corn, cooked into porridge or tabouli style dish, or ground into gluten free flour. Amaranth is the first drought tolerant plant I've come across that actually tolerates our local summer drought.



image from here

There is tall amaranth, short amaranth, amaranth that is best for it's leaves, some that is grown for it's grain, and some that makes the most amazing decoration with cascading flowers like colourful waterfalls.

According to Suzanne Ashworth in Seed to Seed, Amaranth was a sacred food of the Aztecs. She also says that there is a kind of amaranth that has been grown in Asia as a green vegetable since the beginning of recorded history (maybe not such a New World food after all).

Amaranth has deep roots and high mineral content in it's leaves. This makes it a good candidate for a Dynamic Accumulator, and well worth investigating further its role in overall soil development.


How to grow amaranth:

When planing your garden, keep in mind that some amaranth varieties can easily grow 10 foot tall. I had one last year that grew a whopping 22 feet tall!

Amaranth is a warm weather plant (unlike it's playmate quinoa which like's it cool). Most people say amaranth is best when sown about the same time as corn, around here that would be late May or June. The seeds are very fine, and I usually plant them by making a shallow line in the soil, scattering the seeds, and nudging a light layer of soil over top. Later on, I'll thin the young plants (eating the young ones in stir fry or salad) so that the largest plants remain, usually one or two per foot.

I've noticed that amaranth in my garden will germinate and grow without rain or irrigation, so long as it has a happy helping of morning dew.

A more indepth description of how to grow amaranth


image from here

My personal experience with amaranth is a bit different. Amaranth delights at self seeding, so there are plenty of volunteers in the garden. They usually start appearing by the first of May, sometimes earlier, which is definitely colder than the seed catalogues say it will grow. This got me thinking... maybe it might be possible to develop a grain amaranth strain that is frost hardy early in life.

My goal for my farm is to find or create varieties that can grow in the summer without irrigation. The way to do this, I feel, is to find plants that can start growing at the end of our rainy season so that they have strong enough roots to continue through the drought. The rains stop on or just before May 1st (in a normal year) and our last frost date is about 10 days before that. This means, that the soil is still cold while it's raining, and doesn't really heat up for another two weeks after the rains stop.

I've been working with amaranth the last 5 years or so, and each year I'm planting it about a fortnight earlier. Last year, we had a frost after it was sprouting in the ground, and it still grew. I figure with a bit of human augmented natural selection, I should be able to develop a landrace grain amaranth I can plant in the ground the first week of April. It's the dream at least.

Another tool I've been using is to allow Pigweed to grow near the amaranth and contribute it's pollen to the amaranth. I notice that pigweed starts to grow much earlier in the spring than self seeding amaranth. They are close enough relatives that they can contribute pollen and create a cross - or so the seed saving books tell us. Five minutes with google shows me that this plant can germinate starting about 12C, but does best at 20C, which is cooler than the domesticated amaranth, which apparently prefers it to be between 20 and 24 degrees C. This might be the strategy I need to find plants that are willing to germinate outside that range for my early planting as our April temperatures can be unpredictably warm or cool.


Saving seed from amaranth is the same as harvesting grain.


Harvesting grain:

Since the seeds mature unevenly, I usually harvest in two stages. Once the seeds start to come off when I rub them with my hand, I cut the stock and bash them inside a large 5 gallon bucket. This gets a lot of the seed off. I then dry the heads, and thrash them after they dry. On a good weather day with a light breeze, I winnow the seeds. This year, I decided to sift the seeds first, and this cut down the effort and time it took.



There are lots of opinions on the best way to harvest amaranth grain. I would love to hear your experiences.


Amaranth as food:

Although not a true grain, it's easiest to talk about amaranth seed as a grain. It's high protein, gluten free, and tastes amazing toasted. It is also high in Lysine, an amino acid often missing in grain crops. Which basically means, when amaranth is eaten with other grains, it makes a complete protein (aka, our body can use all the protein).

My favourite way to eat amaranth grain is to parch it. A little bit of grain sprinkled onto a dry fry pan, heated on medium-high, and shake the pan. The tiny grains pop like pop corn. This creates a delightful nutty flavour. Only about half of my grains pop, but all of them develop the yummy taste. I then put this popped amaranth in my oat porridge and it tastes amazing. Not only that, the amaranth and the oats compliment each other and make the nutrition easier for the body to absorb.

We can also make a flower from amaranth... I have no idea how. I do know however, that if I use my flower mill with the grinding stones, the oil in the amaranth grain will make my mill unhappy. I've made a wee bit of flower with parched amaranth grains in a mortar and pestle and this tasted yummy.

The leaves of are high in calcium, iron and other trace minerals. Unfortunately they also contain enough oxalic acid to diminish the nutritionally available calcium.

I don't know much about eating and cooking amaranth leaves because there are usually so many greens available at the same time, that I haven't been bothered to try them. I would love to hear you experiences with this. Apparently it's another one of those "use as spinach" vegetables.






Other uses for amaranth:

  • Sell the flowers to the florist
  • Some amaranth makes a red dye for textiles
  • fire starter - dry amaranth stock burn with extreme enthusiasm
  • We can also feed Amaranth to our livestock, both grain and leaves. HOWEVER, amaranth absorbs a lot of nitrogen and if the soil is rich in nitrogen, then the plant can be toxic to livestock. This isn't as much of a problem with organic style gardening, but very much an issue if chemical fertilizers have been applied to the land.



  • I've been wondering how can else can we use amaranth on a permaculture setting? Perhaps as a windbreak near recently transplanted trees? Would it be useful for establishing a food forest? With its deep roots and willingness to grow in marginal areas, would it make a good pioneer crop for breaking up the soil? Since can grow so tall, and it creates such an amazing amount of biomass, would it work in a Fukuoka no-till style field? If so, would we have to chip the stems to help them break down into the soil?

    So many questions.

    Now it's your turn. Let's talk Amaranth.



    Resources used to write this post:
    Seed to Seed
    How to grow amaranth and quinoa
    Grain Amaranth thread on permies.com
    Plants for the future, Amaranthus cruentus - L.
     
    Kyrt Ryder
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    R Ranson wrote:The rains stop on or just before May 1st (in a normal year)

    Good grief you have it rough. My rains slow down then but rain still falls semi-frequently in may and infrequently in June. Our true drought is July and August where I'm at.
     
    R Ranson
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    We usually get 1 to three millimeters of rain in June, just after the kids get out of school, and during the last two weeks of August it's virtually guaranteed to shower. But basically May 1st through Oct 13-15th is drought. I've put a picture of our 'rain star' for the closest weather station.

    If it wasn't for the morning dew, we wouldn't be able to grow a thing without irrigation. Most of my staple crops are grown over winter while it rains... but that leaves the garden blank in the summer and what if we get a bad winter? I need a summer back up for grain and such.

    This is why amaranth has been such a great crop for us. An actual staple crop that can grow without rain.
    Torquay_seasonal_precip_special_300_300.png
    [Thumbnail for Torquay_seasonal_precip_special_300_300.png]
     
    R Ranson
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    One thing I've been wondering about amaranth is how would it do in a no-till situation?

    I'm trying to find grain and staple crops that can grow Fukuoka style, only in the summer, with no rain, it's a bit of challenge.

    Is it worth sprinkling Amaranth seed on the patch and covering it with straw mulch?

    Would it grow with friends? I'm thinking some kind of Giant or Fodder Kale, which grows roughly the same height. Maybe with a squash understory. Squash and amaranth finish in the fall, the Kale lasts all winter, and under the kale I can plant fava beans.

    But this all depends on Amaranth's ability to get along well with others.

    Any experience with this?
     
    Kyrt Ryder
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    Right, you mentioned Giant Kale in another post last night. I tried googling it and the only thing that came up is Walking Stick Kale.

    Perchance do you have a link to a seed company's description of Giant Kale?
     
    chad Christopher
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    I have in south west Pennsylvania, successfully planted no till amaranth. I used it in a 3 (more like 10) sister's plot. And it self seeded the following year.
    I am also in the process of seeding forest edge of golden rod stands with amaranth, sunflower, sunchokes, and wild woodland sunflowers. The plan is to turn an otherwise somewhat useless area, into a deer proof, self seeding chicken feed factory. Since the seed will be collected and sprouted, I have no concerns to the anti-nutrient properties of too much raw seed.
     
    R Ranson
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    Kyrt Ryder wrote:Right, you mentioned Giant Kale in another post last night. I tried googling it and the only thing that came up is Walking Stick Kale.

    Perchance do you have a link to a seed company's description of Giant Kale?


    I'll start a thread like this one for Giant Kale (my words for Fodder Kale, or any kale that grows over 6 foot tall), with links and stuff when I get back this evening. If I haven't done it by tomorrow, feel free to send me a PM to remind me. Things are a bit crazy today. But at least I haven't got a 500 pound llama smack to the head this morning, so on the whole it's going better than yesterday.
     
    Rick Valley
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    My favorite sweet treat is Alegria, the Mexican traditional sweet made with popped amaranth. Like a popcorn ball with micropopcorn. You can find it sold by street vendors. I tend to get a bit twitchy when I eat sugar on an empty stomach, but alegria has the protein of amaranth and I do just fine with a treat made from it. For Dia de los Muertos they make cute little Aztec-style skulls and such with alegria if you're ever down there then.
     
    R Ranson
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    Rick Valley wrote:My favorite sweet treat is Alegria, the Mexican traditional sweet made with popped amaranth. Like a popcorn ball with micropopcorn. You can find it sold by street vendors. I tend to get a bit twitchy when I eat sugar on an empty stomach, but alegria has the protein of amaranth and I do just fine with a treat made from it. For Dia de los Muertos they make cute little Aztec-style skulls and such with alegria if you're ever down there then.


    Oh, that sounds amazing.

    I wonder if I could make it with honey or maple syrup. Need to find a recipe.

    I got about two kilo of grain off my tiny amaranth patch last year. It was an excessively droughty year, so no water for the amaranth, so it was a bit smaller than normal. I only harvested about 10% of the total grain it made. I made certain to spill a lot of grain on the ground so I get volunteers next year, and my chickens really like when I toss the seed heads in their yard.

    I really don't eat enough amaranth... that's why I started this thread, to find delicious inspiration.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    R Ranson wrote:I don't know much about eating and cooking amaranth leaves because there are usually so many greens available at the same time, that I haven't been bothered to try them. I would love to hear you experiences with this.


    I took amaranth leaves to the farmer's market this summer and got feedback reports. They were 3:1 in favor. The failure was a lady that overcooked the leaves. By a LOT!!! She offered me a sample, and it was really nasty. So I recommend lightly steaming. Just enough to wilt the leaves, but not much longer.

    I picked by snapping off about the top 6 inches of the plant. Any lower than that, and the stems were starting to get fibrous. I'm not willing to pick individual leaves. So the best picking was of plants that were only 6 inches tall. "Red-root Amaranth" is the variety that I was picking, because it is a prolific weed in my garden, particularly in the corn patch, because it germinates after I have stopped weeding the corn for the season. That's also about two weeks after I plant beans and squash. I usually keep it weeded out of the beans and squash, cause it grows taller and can shade them more than I'd like.

    It grows about 3 to 4 feet tall in my garden in competition with vegetables and if irrigated. It grows anywhere from 6" to a foot tall without irrigation.

     
    Jim Thomas
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    I really liked the amaranth leaves I ate last year. I cooked them in a little bacon grease and added some garlic.

    The variety that I have has tiny leaves, nothing like the large ones pictured above. Maybe Joseph's variety is similar to mine. It was definitely too much labor for the amount of food! I expect them to grow again this year, and if they do I'll certainly try using his method of just cutting the ends of the stems off. If that doesn't work, I'll try growing some of the larger leaved varieties.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    I find Red-Root Amaranth to be annoying after it starts going to seed. The seed pods are scratchy. They irritate, scratch, or raise welts on my legs, and arms. They are poky. They sorta get stuck in my clothing. Almost burr like. The yanked up, dried flowers are painful to sit or kneel on, or brush against while picking vegetables.

    If I were harvesting them for seed, I would definitely want to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and some gloves. I think the trash can harvesting method would work slick as can be.

     
    Hans Quistorff
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    For companion and anti companion recommendations Think back about what has tolerated pigweed pressure and what has not. As you pointed out their base genetics are the same. Visiting a friend in the Willamette valley I asked why he did not pull the pigweed on the sides of his rows but only weeded around the plants he was growing. His answer was that the pigweed protected the plants from early frost. Grow your own row cover!

    Sorry we down south absorb the May/June rain before it gets to you and thank you for absorbing some of the winter cold before it gets to us. The pattern has shifted some so last summer was closer to yours in length of drought.

    What seems to be working for me is to cover the area I want anual greens to grow with grass that I mow from my field in the fall. That causes the grass to die back because it can not feeds its roots during the winter. Then when I rake it off in march the sun starts to warm it up and sprout the annuals. If I do not mow the field it self mulches which favors the tough stiff grasses and woody plants. I can accelerate the mulch/cultivation by worms and moles by covering it with carpet. Have you watched my carpet garden video yet?
     
    Sarah Joubert
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    Hi There!
    Thank you for this thread. I am gathering seed together for when we finally buy our own homestead in South africa and become more self sustaining. Amaranth was one I bought and I am so happy to find such an informative thread. I look forward to many more "permies" chipping in withtheir tips and experiences.
     
    Andras Hajdu
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    After a quick google seaqrch I find a very inconsistent data on the protein content of amaranth grain - from 13% all the way down to measly 3% there is everything. Maybe varies with species/variety? Can anyone confrim the high protein qualities of this grain?
     
    Dave de Basque
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    I thought I would respond specifically on the companion planting aspect of amaranth. And second part is a rant about winnowing and a cry for help.

    The kale was on the opposite end of my garden this season, so I can't opine about that, but amaranth and yellow crookneck squask got along really well. We had mixed seed amaranth, described as mix of yellow, pink and red (accurate) and 60 cm high (ridiculous, grew about 3x as high as that). Leaves were not-baby-but-not-full-size spinach leaf size, not the tiny ones some people seem to get.

    Anyway, I would definitely go ahead with plans to guild up amaranth and squash. The amaranth was so vigorous I can't imagine anything holding it back, I think as far as the amaranth is concerned you could plant it with anything. As far as the other plants in the ployculture go, you might need to be more careful though, I don't know.

    We used the leaves in green juice and really liked them.

    We have heard the Greeks like them in salad (+lemon, cucumber, olive oil) and traditionally pick the leaves until the seed heads start forming and then stop. Also they apparently use the leaves instead of grape leaves for dolma-like things sometimes. We didn't stop harvesting for juice after the seed heads formed, and yeah, perhaps the texture and taste of the leaves is not as nice as earlier in the season, but once you pulverize everything in the juicer that is not really so relevant. I hope we didn't do nasties to our calcium intake, don't think so as we just used a small quantity of the raw leaves, but we liked the effect in the juice and sometimes in a regular green salad too.

    RANT/PLAINTIVE CRY: I have tried harvesting the seed exactly once, and it was enough to make me think perhaps I am only suited to urban life and must abandon my permie fantasies. Or slit my wrists, jump off a bridge or something. OK, so you take a seed head and you rub it between your palms. A ton of eensy weensy seed falls out all over the place mixed in with a much, much bigger quantity of amaranth fuzz and flakey bits. Now don't get me wrong, the amaranth fuzz is amazing -- soft, fluffy yet resilient -- has anyone tried using this for pillow stuffing? But I digress. Let's assume that I actually wanted some amaranth seed I could eat. Or plant next season. Or whatever. So there's the problem that I now have a huge bowl full of combined seeds, flakes and fluff. So I try to find some YouTube videos on what to do next. And I discover that on YouTube there aren't anywhere near enough serious, well-produced videos about what to do with a big bowl of amaranth fluff. [NOTE: BIG OPPORTUNITY for any of you who want to become rock stars of the amaranth-winnowing community.] Anyway, the most convincing of the uninspiring videos I saw was of a guy who plopped a couple of handfuls of the fluff mixture on a paper plate and blew on it. A few good edits made it look like it took one minute instead of ten to separate the seeds from the other stuff. I tried it and blew everything all over the kitchen. I swept it up and tried again, this time very gently, and by constantly rotating the plate and blowing gently for about ten minutes, I got my yield of about a tablespoon of seeds. Great, I thought, all I have to do is repeat this another 150 times, say from now until a week from Monday, and I might have as much as half a kilo of amaranth, which if I'm careful could last me for -- 4 meals? Yippee, after only 10 days of winnowing!

    OK, so you get the idea. I would love to hear from someone who grows it, uses it, loves it, and knows how to deal with it once it's harvested. I would double-triple love it if you would put up a well-done video to show how you deal with the post-harvest fluff and winnowing deftly and efficiently, with a spectacular yield. If you want to throw in how to prepare the leftover fluff to make pillow stuffing, then I'd be willing to buy your book and your set of DVDs. Since it's post-amaranth season in the temperate north, I'm counting on one of you kiwis or ozzies, or perhaps a tropical type, to put up the video!

     
    Larisa Walk
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    We grow amaranth for eating. We cut the tops as soon as seed starts to release, stripping the leaves off and removing the large central stem from the heads, and bring them into our sun porch to finish drying. When dry, we thresh the tops using this device http://www.geopathfinder.com/ThreshingByHand.pdf. There is a link on the document to show it being used to thresh sorghum, but it works the same for the amaranth except we use a smaller screen on it. Next we use a coarse screen to sift off most of the chaff before winnowing it, as pictured here
    . You can download more detailed instructions here webpage. After winnowing we usually finish off the process by sifting a final time with a kitchen strainer. We've produced as much as 20#/year of amaranth for eating using this method.
     
    Joseph Lofthouse
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    I don't have a video of harvesting Amaranth seed. I don't harvest them because they are a self-seeding weed in my garden. But the method I use for other similar species is:

    Harvest the seed heads. If they are not already dry, stack them in a dry place to finish drying. If they are already dry, hit them against the inside of a garbage can or wheelbarrow to release the seeds. Or put them on a tarp and beat them, or walk on them, etc... Dump the seeds and chaff through a screen that is sized so that the seeds fall through and most of the chaff stays behind. Colanders work well, so does window screen, and hardware cloth. Wait for a day when the wind is blowing about 20 MPH and winnow OUTSIDE. Or set up a box fan outside and use that for winnowing.

     
    R Ranson
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    I too feel the pain of harvesting amaranth seed. I'm not very good at it.

    This was one of my main hopes for this topic - that someone here might have perfected the art of cleaning amaranth seed and would be willing to share it with us.

    This is my method, but I'm really not happy with it yet.

    I wait until the little birds tell me it's time to start harvesting the amaranth. Because the seeds ripen slowly, I don't mind letting the birds have their share for a day or two while I wait for a sunny day to harvest my amaranth. Then I cut each flower head off, and shake it vigorously into a big (food safe) bucket. The flowerheads are then lay on a sheet in the sun (away from the little birds) and left to dry a few weeks. I have to bring them in at night because of the dew here that time of year.

    When the flower heads are dry, I put one or two in a big bucket like I had for harvesting before, and with a big stick, bang away at it like a mortar and pestle. About 20 to 40 seconds of vigorous thrashing, and the big bits get tossed to one side (to be used as mulch somewhere I want amaranth to grow next year) and I'm left with a bunch of seed and chaff. I do this for all the seed heads, and then use sieves to sort out the mess from the seed. I use to winnow at this stage, but I lost more seed than I saved.

    I found some fine sives in the Diso shop in Vancouver that look a bit like this:


    image from here

    They fit snug inside each other, so that there is about half inch gap between the scenes. I can put three screens together like this, the biggest one on top, the smallest one on the bottom. The bottom one is too small for the majority of the amaranth seed to go through, but it is small enough for some of the chaff. Put a couple of handfuls of this and shake a bit. The end result is about 90% seed and 10% chaff - which is pretty good compared to the othe other methods I've tried. This is good enough for me to plant for seed. If I want to eat, I winnow the rest in small batches.


    Amaranth keeps on flowering until hit by the first hard frost. Seed will often ripen many weeks before that, usually after about three months. The best way to determine if seed is harvestable is to gently but briskly shake or rub the flower heads between your hands and see if the seeds fall readily. (Numerous small and appreciative birds may give hints as to when to start doing this.) An easy way to gather ripe grain is, in dry weather, to bend the plants over a bucket and rub the seedheads between your hands. My own preferred threshing method is to rub the flowerheads through screening into a wheelbarrow and then to blow away the finer chaff using my air compressor. Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff.


    This is borrowed from Dan Jason's Salt Spring Seed page on growing amaranth and quinoa.


    It looks like I'm not the only one who thought up the fun title of Amazing Amaranth. This is what Mother Earth News has to say about it.

    The author says that separating amaranth seed from the chaff is a "blend of art and science, seed cleaning can be practiced for a lifetime with steady improvement, yet never fully mastered."

    Winnowing is where the “art” part comes in. Try experimenting freely over a clean tarp so you can simply sweep up any “mistakes” and start again. You won’t get every seed, so have fun with it and throw the chaff in a part of your yard where you won’t mind when a carpet of amaranth greens appears in the spring. Winnowing works because seeds are heavier than chaff, so you need to make sure you’ve sifted all the big chunks out, leaving only the pulverized, fluffy flower parts to remove.


    There are some other useful bits about harvesting the grain in that article. Very interesting read.
     
    Kirsten Simmons
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    Dave Forrest wrote:

    RANT/PLAINTIVE CRY: I have tried harvesting the seed exactly once, and it was enough to make me think perhaps I am only suited to urban life and must abandon my permie fantasies. Or slit my wrists, jump off a bridge or something. OK, so you take a seed head and you rub it between your palms. A ton of eensy weensy seed falls out all over the place mixed in with a much, much bigger quantity of amaranth fuzz and flakey bits. Now don't get me wrong, the amaranth fuzz is amazing -- soft, fluffy yet resilient -- has anyone tried using this for pillow stuffing? But I digress. Let's assume that I actually wanted some amaranth seed I could eat. Or plant next season. Or whatever. So there's the problem that I now have a huge bowl full of combined seeds, flakes and fluff. So I try to find some YouTube videos on what to do next. And I discover that on YouTube there aren't anywhere near enough serious, well-produced videos about what to do with a big bowl of amaranth fluff. [NOTE: BIG OPPORTUNITY for any of you who want to become rock stars of the amaranth-winnowing community.] Anyway, the most convincing of the uninspiring videos I saw was of a guy who plopped a couple of handfuls of the fluff mixture on a paper plate and blew on it. A few good edits made it look like it took one minute instead of ten to separate the seeds from the other stuff. I tried it and blew everything all over the kitchen. I swept it up and tried again, this time very gently, and by constantly rotating the plate and blowing gently for about ten minutes, I got my yield of about a tablespoon of seeds. Great, I thought, all I have to do is repeat this another 150 times, say from now until a week from Monday, and I might have as much as half a kilo of amaranth, which if I'm careful could last me for -- 4 meals? Yippee, after only 10 days of winnowing!



    OMG, yes, this times 1000!! Last season was my first growing amaranth, and I blew away more seeds than chaff in my attempts to winnow! I'll have to try out something like what Larisa posted when it comes time to harvest next year.
     
    Hans Quistorff
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    So employing my powers of observation through this thread and multiple videos that pop up after the posted ones and my limited experience [I have only had experience with pig weed] I have concluded that because (1) the seed ripens progressively and not all at the sane time (2) when completely dry the parts of the seed head supporting the seed crumble and become very difficult to separate from the seed: The seed should be progressively harvested from the seed head before it becomes dry enough to shatter. My limited personal experience was tapping pigweed heads into a yogurt container and a satisfying number of nice clean seeds were in the bottom so I cut the heads and left them in the container. When I next came accross the container the seedheads shattered ito the fluffy mess as described so I decided not to try to separate the seeds and try to use them.

    So my plan of action is to plant selected varieties that have large heads. When the heads start releasing seed to tap them into a bucket every few days until wet weather threatens then bring them into the barn and continue to tap them every few days until the heads begin to shatter. That may sound labor intensive but total time may be much less than the sifting and winnowing out the shattered chaff. On an industrial scale with automated equipment is different than homestead scale where progressive harvest can be combined with other daily chores taking only some fore thought but small amounts of time and effort.
     
    Jamie Chevalier
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    A few amaranth observations:
    (After posting this I saw that someone posted some of the same opinions while I was writing--you gotta love those permies)
    I had great luck with amaranth in polycultures. I had a vining winter squash, okra, walking onions, tulsi, some other annual herbs, and the amaranth. (Following a vetch for winter cover, so there had been a nitro fixer) As the squash started to ripen at the end of the season, I stuck in kale and collard transplants, which expanded as the squash vines started to wither. It worked really well. I had a couple of sunflowers in there too, but they were more or less the same niche as the amaranth, so I couldn't have had full density of both. Each section of bed was one or the other. I grew several varieties, and the highest yielders were the grain varieties from Bountiful Gardens--especially Golden Giant. Fercita is lower and would be my choice for a shorter-season area rather than trying to bring in pigweed. The pigweed was selected over thousands of years of weeding to go to seed quickly, producing a few black hard, somewhat nasty-tasting seeds that shed immediately and germinate irregularly. They have hard coats and mostly go straight through you unchanged. The grain varieties were bred over thousands of years by indigenous farmers to mature big yields of good-tasting, digestible grain that mostly stays in the head until harvest. It also sprouts when planted rather than lying dormant for years. It would be far better to start with the available landrace varieties (try Native Seed Search--they have varieties from varous pueblos that are adapted to various conditions. While not as high-yielding as Golden Giant or Fercita--and often not as palatable or digestible--they at least have all of the really difficult weediness bred out)

    A place I could see for using pigweed might be as a breeding parent for the leaf varieties. It is in fact used extensively by Native and Mexican cooks as a seasonal cooking green, and as hay. The leaf varieties all come from Asia--The family exists on both continents but was developed as a leaf crop in Asia and a grain crop in the Americas. The same appears to be true of the quinoa tribe. The USDA germplasm repository has a plant from Taiwan that appears to be a leaf quinoa. Leaf amaranths are available commercially--Bountiful Gardens carries 2, one all red and one with bigger green leaves marked with a burgundy center, like coleus. They are easy to grow and love heat. Like all the wild amaranths, they have small, black, hard, seeds.

    The biggest issue for people seems to be threshing. Try bending the heads over a big bucket( one of those rubber totes is perfect.) and shaking or striking to bring out the seeds that want to fall on their own This will get you seed that is largely separate from the bracts because they are still alive and hydrated, still attached to the plant, while the mature seed has pulled loose... It will also give you the best seed for replanting, since it is by definition mature seed, or it wouldn't have been so ready to fall. Then when more seed is ripened, you can do the same thing, every week or so. When frost threatens, cut the whole top, hang it upside down over a sheet indoors, and gather the next batch from that. Finally, you can take the dry stalks, hold them upside-down over the tote, and hit them against the sides until them are not yielding any more. At that point, you can do that gloved-hand rub or stomp on the heads on a tarp. Myseelf I'd rather use my feet in clean shoes. I know someone who uses a chipper/shredder--just urn on the motor and feed those babys in the maw. It makes a hell of a lot of chaff, but she gets all the grain, and lives on the stuff. at this point you could also give the chickens the heads, or lay them on the ground over the area where you want plants next year.

    It is actually easier to have a lot of grain to do than a little: Shake your grain in a big bowl, tote, or other deep container. You want a container that is as close as possible to a cone shape--deep bowl, or a square container you hold with a corner down to trap the seed in one corner. If you shake the container with a small, regular motion like a shimmy or circle(think gold panning here) the grain will settle and the chaff will accumulate on top. When all the grain is at the bottom, you can carefullly remove the chaff with your fingers by skimming or plucking it off the top. There will be a tiny bit of grain in the chaff you lift, but it can be seed or chicken food or whatever. You should be left with a bunch of grain and some chaff sitting at the low point in your tote, or the bottom of a bowl, if you use that. Now it is a manageable proposition to winnow with wind.

    If you don't have a steady wind, use a fan for winnowing. Put down a sheet, the largest you can get. You don't want to be losing the seed while you figure out your wind and pour rate, etc. Once you get good at winnowing, it is not that onerous--I watched a friend from Senegal do it in a couple of minutes, with just a shallow basket and some adroit hand motion. It is a good idea to put a few containers out, so that the seed of different weights and proportions of chaff is saved separately. Start with the fan on low, at a distance. You can always re-winnow chaffy seed, but if it all gets blasted 20 yards, you wont get to take it over. It is useful to put the fan in a box aimed at your work area, so the airstream is focused. once you have the fan blowing in a gentle steady stream past you and over you sheet, put a big bowl, tote, or other receptacle down and pour the grain into it through the stream of air. Pour a small even stream of grain into the receptacle. You can vary the fan distance, the edge or middle of the breeze, the height and volume of pour, and the distance downwind that you set additional containers. Also, you can float off the remaining chaff at the time of cooking, in the rinse water.

    Eating: amaranth grain is a bit gummy, which makes a perfect breakfast porridge. But many people are put off by that as a rice substitute. Try cooking it pilaf-style: saute it in the cooking pot (maybe with some onions and garlic) before you add the cooking water or broth. If you do the saute step, the result is really good. And if you also use meat or mushroom broth, the result is fantastic--I'm ashamed to say how much I've wolfed down at a sitting.
     
    Dave de Basque
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    @Larisa, thank you, thank you! And thank permies! I posted my rant/cry figuring that no one would really be able to help me out until next season, so I didn't check back quickly, but you had my problem solved within minutes. I really appreciate the generosity of preparing the PDFs you made available, and the video you posted here and also the other one linked to in the PDF. Between all that, I have a really good idea of what it takes to do this in a sane and efficient way.

    Bottom line, I think this is too much for urban apartment living. But I do think we could think about such a setup in our community gardens -- much better as 70 families can use the equipment instead of just my own!

    I can't believe you scored those beautiful stainless steel trays for cheap! Great find. Those things don't usually happen here but I will start to keep my eyes peeled!

    Edit:

    Oh wow, and Jamie, thank you too for another really detailed method, described visually enough that I can see doing it. You must have been posting while I was posting and I didn't see your contribution.
     
    Jamie Chevalier
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    I realize that I made Fercita sound like a lower-yielding variety when actually it is lower in height--shorter,more compact, earlier, but quite heavy cropping. With a shorter plant you don't get as much carbon for compost, fodder, mulch, or whatever you use the stems for, but in a short-season area, or in a small garden where you need to get another crop in, or where tall ones blow over, or where you don't want it to cast shade, Fercita is a real breakthrough. It was bred by Elle Bartholomew of the Golden Rule Commune in California, and is the only variety I'm aware of with short stature, big seedheads, and top-quality grain. Bountiful Gardens is the only source. The landrace varieties from Native Seed search might provide genetics for a short-season or cool-soil adapted mountain variety that could be bred with Fercita to select for a cooler climate. This is a really promising area, and if anyone out there is interested, I'd contact the Rodale Research center, which did a lot with amaranth in the seventies, and collected varieeties from all over the place.

    Of course, there is a cold-soil-loving amaranth out there now--it's called Quinoa. In the Andes where they are both grown it can be hard to tell one from the other. If you have cool spring soil and cool nights all summer, quinoa is a great crop. It has trouble with hot nights, which keep the pollen tubes from developing. Again, Bountiful Gardens has the best selection, including a shorter one with the largest seeds available in non-tropical varieties. Frank Morton, the lettuce wizard, has done some work with quinoa, selecting for rain-resistance. (rain makes the grain sprout in the heads)They can be found at Wild Garden Seeds. The great news with quinoa is that it has a soapy coating to protect it rather than a husk, so it is easy to thresh. The saponin washes off with water.

    If I were going to use pigweed to try and add cool-soil adaptation, I would grow a couple of crops in some area I could watch like a hawk for signs of flowering and cull all that flowered first, saving the seed from the last-flowering few plants. The seeds saved from those grown in the same way, for a few generations to breed for longer vegetative stage--more leaves, fewer of those prickly, nasty flowers. Then you could cross with the tropical leaf amaranths. Just sowing the seeds of that cross in your garden and saving seed would automatically select for the best emergence in your soil temperatures. However, in my opinion, if your weather is too cool for amaranth it is probably perfect for chard, so why bother. Chard is extremely drought-resistant--the deepest-rooted vegetable I know. Why it is not touted as a dynamic accumulator, I can't imagine....
     
    Sarah Joubert
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    To Larissa& Jamie,
    Thanks guys! Definitely what we were all hoping to get out of this thread I think! Some real, practical, DIY stuff we can all utilise with a bit of effort. I can't wait to grow mine but that will only be Sept '16 in the southern hemisphere I believe. I will definitely post my plants,contraptions and yields here.
     
    Erica Wisner
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    The threshing tips are awesome, thanks everyone.

    R Ranson wrote:One thing I've been wondering about amaranth is how would it do in a no-till situation?

    I'm trying to find grain and staple crops that can grow Fukuoka style, only in the summer, with no rain, it's a bit of challenge.

    Is it worth sprinkling Amaranth seed on the patch and covering it with straw mulch?

    Would it grow with friends? I'm thinking some kind of Giant or Fodder Kale, which grows roughly the same height. Maybe with a squash understory. Squash and amaranth finish in the fall, the Kale lasts all winter, and under the kale I can plant fava beans.

    But this all depends on Amaranth's ability to get along well with others.

    Any experience with this?


    We have amaranth self-seed on irrigated farmland in the Okanogan Valley (friend's farm), pretty challenging climate, but he's a very attentive farmer so it is not a great test of hardiness. It grows between the rows as well as in the drip-line areas. We also had massively successful plantings on the farmer's first attempt at a hugel bed, sort of a compost-stalks-pile-with-dirt. However, he is something of a florist, and loves amaranth. He went ahead and stuck sprinklers on the berm at low level, under the flowers, to keep the stalks growing enormously for his floral work. They were well over my head, even the ones on the lower part of the berm. We cut side branches for "big flourishes." Would have needed a state occasion to use the main plumes in floral arrangements.

    I have seen amaranth relatives as weeds in a lot of gardens, and I would say it's a good candidate for no-till and self-seeding experiments.

    It's a bit prickly if you are trying to grow intact tender greens, or floral plants. But it doesn't seem to actively (chemically) kill adjacent plants as long as they physically have enough room, or are tough enough to grow past each other (like, squashes on the same berm or in the same rows seem to do fine). I think I've seen it companionable with corn, sunflower, tomatoes, herbs. It can be a big plant, so we usually weed it out of rows where crowding around the drip lines would be an issue.

    I've seen it come up in our garden at home in the spring rains, but it's not as tough as lamb's quarters to hang on right through the 3-month dry summer. Does fine in areas that get sprinkler attention.
    I would bet it could do well in hugel or under mulch; I have not targeted it yet, but will try it in the hugel area this year. Lamb's quarters has done well there, and some kinds of mustards.


    A note about oxalic acid in plants: Juicing older leaves seems like a bad idea to me.
    Lamb's quarters, amaranth greens, spinach, kale, sorrel, dock, etc are known to have relatively high oxalic acid. (Even raw broccoli has some amount.)
    This can be a problem if eaten raw in large amounts, or for an extended time (kidney and gut issues).

    There is a simple remedy: Cook it. Just until it wilts slightly: pour boiling water over it in a Mason jar, watch the vegetables' color turn more vibrant, and discard the water. You don't need to cook it into a grey mush. You can get rid of a lot of the oxalic acid, but still juice it with a good fresh taste. The author of the link below also suggests eating with very large amounts of calcium, like yoghurt or sour cream, to bind up oxalic acid. But I suspect the crystals may still irritate the gut for some people.

    These plants were mostly eaten as spring greens, traditionally, not expected to remain edible throughout the year. If you like the taste and want to keep eating it for a longer season, you'd want to pick back the flowers like basil to keep it vegetative, use only the tender shoots, or plant a second crop. Or dry or freeze it. The older plants, and once in flower or seed, will have more of the nasty. I think eating leaves off a flowering stalk could be OK once in a while if you cook it, but it would be better to stick with the pre-flowering young plants if it is a dietary staple.

    If you eat a lot of it raw, you may no longer be able to enjoy it at all. Oxalic acid intolerance seems to be cumulative. I have at least two friends who used to eat lots of wild greens and foraged salads, and now cannot tolerate the same plants even when they're well cooked. One of them reports he gets bloody stool if he eats kale. Seems a shame to develop a taste for something and ruin it for yourself in the process.

    Here's a more detailed look at it from a wild foraging book: http://www.eatthatweed.com/oxalic-acid/



    -Erica
     
    Larisa Walk
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    The idea of harvesting grain amaranth in stages by shaking seeds off as they ripen sounds plausible in theory, but I think you'll find in practice that higher yield will be obtained if the heads are clipped, carefully placed in large tubs, and brought under cover to finish maturing. The stalks of our variety are much too stiff to bend easily over a container without breaking. In our area, the birds start to hit the crop at the time of first ripening, which is a good indicator to check the plants as mentioned. In the process of eating a small amount of grain, the birds knock more on the ground and poop on the heads as they feed. Then there is the threat of rain and/or wind to contend with. We dry the seed heads on cloth "hammocks", shelves made from shear curtain-type fabric that lets air circulate but doesn't let the seed through. The hammocks have EMT (electrical metal tubing) on either side to stiffen them and are hung by chains in our sun porch. We use this same setup for drying sorghum and can be used for corn and beans if needed. In areas with a longer growing season, you could possible get a second cutting from the amaranth stalks that are left standing. Once the main head is removed, the plants will make new flower heads on the stalk next to each leaf junction. If there is enough time before frost, they will eventually flower and mature seeds also. We almost had that this year, even in Minnesota. Should be possible in other locales.
     
    Meghan Orbek
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    I'm so glad to read about amaranth winnowing. Thanks everyone!

    Anyway I am using amaranth as a mini windbreak/dynamic accumulator on the north side of my nursery bed. The baby trees are small, and a couple feet away the amaranth row seemed to create a nice little vegetative wall for sunlight and moisture to bounce against. Delicata grew happily amongst the amaranth, so there will be more of that this year.

    It's also noteworthy how handsome the red toned amaranth looked in an otherwise comely garden, with sunflowers and pumpkins behind it to the east of the tree saplings.
     
    R Ranson
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    Meghan Orbek wrote:

    ... I am using amaranth as a mini windbreak/dynamic accumulator on the north side of my nursery bed. The baby trees are small, and a couple feet away the amaranth row seemed to create a nice little vegetative wall for sunlight and moisture to bounce against.


    I was wondering if large plants like Amaranth had a roll in starting forests and orchards. Young trees seem to like protection.

    Let us know how your amaranth and trees get on. I think that's a smashing good idea.
     
    Meghan Orbek
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    Thanks, R.
    I like amaranth working as a grass suppressor/windbreak/DA in the nursery bed, but I wouldn't want it to get too close to the trees. Some are so small they would get lost and shaded out. Also my place is vole/field mouse heaven, so I wonder if the amaranth stalks up against trees would create a cozy habitat from which those creatures might happily chew away the cambium of delicate saplings (this happens with grass without fail). That is the greatest danger to my young trees. There are lots of methods for preventing it, but all require time and attention. I sheet mulch around my trees and sow white Dutch clover which doesn't seem to harbor mice.

    Doubtless the amaranth will be more robust each season as seed falls... I will report back about whether amaranth continues to help me strike a balance between not too much/enough protection.

    I will re-emphasize here that an amaranth backdrop makes non-permie visitors impressed by an otherwise humble bed (and in my case, constantly strewn with ugly cardboard). There really is something to be said for that. In terms of engaging people with the landscape, I think amaranth by small trees is a win.
     
    Dylan Mulder
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    Amaranth, is there a more handsome plant than this? I do not think so.

    I wanted to share, with all of you, an unfortunate and painful learning experience I had so that you do not suffer the same fate.

    I've grown grain amaranth for just a few years now, and trial a new variety each year in pursuit of the best for my climate. Last year, I grew the variety 'Hopi red dye' with the intent of harvesting and eating the grain. Now, this variety has a trait different from every other grain amaranth I've grown and eaten - it has shiny black seeds.

    Much to my misfortune, these black seeds wound up being totally inedible. After cooking and eating a bowl of this exotic looking black amaranth porridge, I experienced a slight intestinal discomfort, but it was nothing compared to what would follow. There is no polite way to say this, so I'll be blunt. I had not digested them at all, so I 'passed' the entire quantity of seed. It was incredibly painful, like a million tiny ball bearings shredding me from inside.

    I suspect that the typical white and cream colored grain amaranths are lacking this shiny black seed coat, which is why we are able to safely eat them. If you encounter black seeded amaranth, proceed with caution! I suspect the 'Hopi red dye' variety I grew was only meant to be used as a leaf vegetable or as a source of dye.

    Even after my mishap, I continue to eat grain amaranth. My favorite way to eat it as a grits substitute, with bits of spicy sausage mixed in. In my experience, amaranth has been the easiest grain to thresh and process with a minimum of inexpensive equipment. Only corn comes close to being so easy.

    I'm curious, has anyone here tried brewing with amaranth grain?
     
    R Ranson
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    Thanks for letting us know about that type of amaranth. I was going to try it this year... now maybe not. Or if I do, I'll just use it as a dye plant and let the birds have the seed.

    I'm curious, has anyone here tried brewing with amaranth grain?


    I'm curious about the brewing too. I've seen amaranth beer for sale, and remember something about it in a book I read... but I have no idea how to go about it. Does it need to be malted first, or maybe there is a mold like koji used in sake that helps convert the sugars? Looking forward to seeing what people have to say about it.
     
    Lydia Feltman
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    Amaranth is gorgeous alright. Hopi Red Amaranth is the variety i grow. It may get 6 feet tall with a "trunk" 2" diameter. Deep green to purple red leaves and deep red seed heads. It comes up as a volunteer every year since I planted it from seed obtained at the Permaculture seed and scion exchange in Boonville, Mendocino Co. CA Another volunteer, Granpa Ott's Morning Glory, twined up around a stalk of Hopi Red one time and the combo of red Amaranth and purple Morning Glory flowers was startlingly beautiful. I also had a wild one come up in the melon patch and I didn't have the heart to pull it up. It thrived on the water for the melons, but the melons may have suffered. Being related to pigweed, I can see why it could be considered invasive, but after all, if you pull it up where you don't want it, just eat it.

    We are in Potter Valley, not very far from the Bountiful Gardens which is across the hills from us. It is very hot in the summer here, often in the 100's, and Amaranth survives without water although it will not grow as large. It's seeds are black. I'm not sure how they compare to the golden kind that we have in the health food store, as I have not gotten enough seed to really eat. I winnow the seed in a large stainless salad bowl by blowing on it , shaking the pan to make the seed settle under the chaff. A bit of wind helps. I just save the seed to replant or share.

    I have eaten Amaranth Flakes (dry cereal) and Amaranth crackers that were pretty good. I think making a flour out of the seeds, if you had enough, with a Vita Mix, and then using it for crackers would be a good way to use it. Bob's Red Mill has Amaranth flour if one wanted to experiment before deciding to grow a lot for seed.

    ~Lydia


     
    Steve Oh
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    I have to respectfully disagree. This might t be a reasonable grain crop in specific areas but here it is a waste of space and effort. Amaranth harvesting has been challenging and the results are about the worst we've had from any crop we've attempted. Filled with bugs, inconsistent, and require a lot of space for the very meager return on investment. Not a crop I would recommend at all. There were more things crawling than there was grain. The amount of space required was rather large for a very meager harvest, corn was a far more productive in the same space.

    Pretty, for sure, amaranth is quite an attractive plant. But at least here in SW Ohio, it isn't worth the space or the effort. I agree that it's tasty, but not worth the space to grow it, here.

    I don't mean to be contrary, just to present a factual alternative view of the plant in our climate.
     
    R Ranson
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    Bugs eh? That would be horrible. I know Amaranth is suppose to be high in protein and all... but maybe it tastes better without the creepy crawlies. No wonder it's not the crop for you.

    How did the leaves taste Steve? Does it have any uses as a sacrificial plant to draw the bugs away?


    I don't know if this is a 'good' harvest or not, but for no water, no rain, nothing but the morning dew, and the second driest year since they started keeping records, I got just over a kilogram of seed from a 8x10 foot section. I lost about half the seed in the processing, as I'm still trying to get the hang of it. I think it was in Seed to Seed that I read, one kilogram of amaranth seed is enough to plant 2.5 acres. So definitely a worth while crop here.

    I'm still eating last year's harvest, so I'm not sure what to do with all this grain. I desperately need more recipes.
     
    Steve Oh
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    R Ranson wrote:Bugs eh? That would be horrible. I know Amaranth is suppose to be high in protein and all... but maybe it tastes better without the creepy crawlies. No wonder it's not the crop for you.

    How did the leaves taste Steve? Does it have any uses as a sacrificial plant to draw the bugs away?


    I don't know if this is a 'good' harvest or not, but for no water, no rain, nothing but the morning dew, and the second driest year since they started keeping records, I got just over a kilogram of seed from a 8x10 foot section. I lost about half the seed in the processing, as I'm still trying to get the hang of it. I think it was in Seed to Seed that I read, one kilogram of amaranth seed is enough to plant 2.5 acres. So definitely a worth while crop here.

    I'm still eating last year's harvest, so I'm not sure what to do with all this grain. I desperately need more recipes.


    I actually love the grain, but as a crop, it's a total failure here. Leaves were OK, but I have other leafy greens that produce far better. TBH, the last thing we need is more leafy greens, we have plenty of weeds that fill that category. Your grain harvest definitely sounds far better than mine. Perhaps it's a better dry climate crop? I honestly had more bugs than grain. I agree that the processing is a challenge, but that is probably resolvable with knowledge and effort. For me the extremely low yield was the problem. it just can't compete with other crops we grow here.
     
    Mick Fisch
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    I've not grown grain amaranth, but I can vouch for the flavor of it's cousin, pigweed, a wild amaranth. There are a lot of types of pigweed, some are better than others for eating. They are one of the best spring greens you can find. Lightly steamed, salted with maybe a bit of butter, maybe a bit of lemon, AMAZING!!! I have purposedly not weeded it all out of my garden because I like it better than any of my domestic greens except, maybe, beet greens. Later in the season it gets a bit stronger flavored, but if you can stay with the young leaves, it's still good.

    There are several varieties of domesticated amaranth grown mainly for greens. What I've seen of them is that they are good also. Thing is, the weeds are already here and take no work (take work to get rid of them), so I hit them hard every year.
     
    John Weiland
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    Yeah, tons of pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) in our garden as well. Have not tried it as a spring green but based on comments here, plan to do so. They don't call it pigweed for nothing: Our pigs free-range and there isn't a speck of pigweed to be found. Only in the garden, which is fenced, is the stuff luxuriously evident.

    On a side note, I prepped some amaranth seed into hot cereal this past weekend. Rather than eating whole prepared seed, I ground it first in a coffee grinder, then made "faux farina" out of it. The freshly made hot cereal was really impressive! But.......... then I let the cooled remains set on the stove for the remainder of the day. When I re-heated some later in the day, it had developed a rather bitter taste. I've seen mention of old/rancid amaranth seed being bitter, but is there some reason that my fresh batch would have tasted good and then developed bitterness over the day?
     
    Mick Fisch
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    Maybe your amaranth porridge was starting to go, not exactly bad but growing enough nasties to effect the flavor. Different things go bad at very different rates, also different locations and temps effect that too.

    I make an herb tea out of Hawthorne (for high blood pressure), nettle (for general tonic + some for high blood pressure), spearmint (for general tonic + good flavor), and a little sugar (it doesn't matter if it's good for me if I won't drink it) for my high blood pressure. When I leave it out, at about a day or so, it starts to taste off. I could leave a higher acid drink out for days and it would be ok.
     
    William Bronson
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    Larisa Walk wrote: We dry the seed heads on cloth "hammocks", shelves made from shear curtain-type fabric that lets air circulate but doesn't let the seed through. The hammocks have EMT (electrical metal tubing) on either side to stiffen them and are hung by chains in our sun porch. We use this same setup for drying sorghum and can be used for corn and beans if needed.


    Sounds like set up worth copying, any chance you have pictures to share?
     
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