Quinoa is really rich in protein, vitamins and minerals and it’s also really easy to grow and harvest as we have found out at Taste of Self Sufficiency. Read this article and you could be growing it yourself next year and enjoying the beauty and nourishment it brings to your life.
Quinoa is one of the richest foods in the plant kingdom. According to the US Department of Agriculture website it contains 14.12% protein (compared to beef at 21%), 64.16% carbohydrate, and is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6.
Quinoa grows really easily and well in the UK climate and yields around 80-100 gm per plant. We sow our seeds in seed trays around in mid April and plant out as soon as the plants and about 10 cm tall. We harvest around mid September. It’s also easy to harvest and good fun too.
We space the rows 60cm apart and the plants are set 30cm apart in the rows. This gives plenty of room to hoe with damaging the plants when they are fully grown. Whilst they are young they look a lot like the weed fat hen, so make sure you know where you planted them! Once established in the soil the plants grow really quickly to a height of about 1.5 metres and have huge bunches of tight green flower heads. These flowers will turn coloured late in August or early September and this is an indication that the seed heads are maturing. I allow them to dry out completely (brown and dry) before cutting them and extracting the seeds. This makes the processing of the heads much easier and less messy, although a few seeds may be lost in the process.
When I harvest the seeds I cut the plants near the base, just below a leaf node, and hang them upside down, using the leaf node as a kind of hook, for a day in a dry environment so that any residual moisture is dissipated.
Then I take my highly technical equipment (an old rubber car mat, a Croc, a old sheet and a plastic mesh) and get to work.
It’s best to spread a big sheet out to catch any seeds that fall to the ground whilst processing and to work on this. Strip the seed clusters from the stem and lay them on the rubber car mat. Then rub the Croc over the seed clusters and against the mat.
The seeds will come away and fall onto the mat.
Here I am removing the worst of the chaff by hand from the top of the seed.
Place a mesh which is about 4-5 mm over a big bucket and filter the whole lot through and most of the chaff will now be left on the mesh and the seeds will have fallen through and can be collected.
Once you have all the seed in the bucket then it is time to winnow. Winnowing is basically using the wind to blow the remaining chaff away from the seed. For this you need 2 buckets, a steady hand and a lot of patience. In my experience the wind needs to be above 5 mph and it usually gusts making it difficult to judge. Basically you need to pour the whole lot from one bucket to the other and back again, repeatedly, whilst allowing the chaff (which is lighter) to be blown outside the bucket whilst the seed (which is heavier) falls into the other bucket. Continue until you are happy that your seed is clean.
Package your seed and enjoy! Oh, and keep some for next year!