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52 Weeks Fresh: Quinoa and Amaranth (Hard to Pronounce, Fun to Grow)

My garden isn’t just for greens. A few years ago, when I was trying to figure out how it could yield more flavors, I started rummaging through my kitchen shelves and two boxes stood out: quinoa and amaranth. So I decided to grow them alongside my usual garden vegetables to make more-interesting salads.

A few years on with amaranth (quinoa is a newer addition), both are outstanding. They’re attractive as well as useful, both for the grainlike fruit and for the leaves.

And they are a gift that keeps on giving — young leaves from quinoa and amaranth are highly nutritious and a fun addition to summer and fall salads. They also make great focal points in flower bouquets, and a good addition to winter bird food.

If you’re wondering how many to plant, 12 amaranth plants will yield plenty of leaves for eating as well as flowers for cutting and bird food. The plants branch out quite a bit and produce nicely. I have about 25 quinoa plants in the garden this season and am hoping for ample salad leaves and a few summer sides. The plants are small now and some new seeds just went in, but we’ll follow them as the season moves along.

No shrinking violets, quinoa and amaranth both grow to over six feet tall, making them ideal for those with minimal ground space. In the shaded middle ground space beneath them, try growing more-delicate summer lettuce.

PRODUCE REPORT: Tomato plants should be getting stronger with the June heat. Place stakes next to the plants now before the roots expand too much. Add some new basil plants or seeds periodically to keep flavors going until the first frost. And sow more lettuce seeds every few weeks!

EAT WITH THE SEASON: Don’t forget to eat your peas. Fresh peas freeze so well, you can shell them now and freeze them (without washing) for a Thanksgiving recipe!


Comments (24)

  1. Bobbi Ludel posted 06/13/2014

    Hi Michael, do they both come back every year or do you have to plant new seedlings every year? You are giving me a great education! Thank you. Keep up the good work!

    • Michael posted 06/16/2014

      The plants are self-seeding. I find small amaranth plants all over my garden in the spring and move them into rows. I also save some seed heads in the fall for spring sowing. I started with one amaranth plant over four seasons ago and now give seedlings away. There are more than I can count!

  2. darrell lorentzen posted 06/14/2014

    I would have never thought of growing quinoa and amaranth. What a great idea. Thank you MIchael! It sounds like it has a lot of uses and is pretty too.

    • Michael posted 06/16/2014

      Really amazing flower arrangements come from the garden– both fresh and dried! Oftentimes unexpected and always beautiful. I find it's a great way to take stock of what's growing.

  3. fred posted 06/14/2014

    hello Michael. if you remove too many of the leaves on the quinoa plant do you risk loosing yield from the grain?

    Love the photographs – i certainly have garden envy!

    • Michael posted 06/16/2014

      Removing too many leaves will handicap the plant. I selectively remove small, tender leaves while paying attention to leave enough behind so the plant can grow. When harvesting leaves, my goal is too add a little flavor to my lettuce salad.

  4. orly posted 06/14/2014

    Hi Michael,
    Great entry! Thank you!

  5. Russell posted 06/14/2014

    I always learn something new from your blog! Never knew you could eat the leaves of quinoa and amaranth plants. Great idea. How do you get the grain from the plants? When do you harvest? Do individual plants keep growing or once the yield do they die?

    • Michael posted 06/16/2014

      Harvesting is an autumn activity. While both plants have long growing seasons, I harvest amaranth a little early while the flowers with seeds are still red. I look for the grain/fruit to come off easily in my hand with a gentle rub. Then I hang it to dry for a few weeks in my garage. Quinoa dries more on the stalk. Then, I take the stalks and thresh them in a bed sheet. What is left on the stalk goes out for the birds in winter. Once yield is harvested, winter is soon to come and the plant is over except perhaps for some young leaves that can be used in salad.

  6. Linda posted 06/14/2014

    Dear Garden Guru,
    I am so impressed that you can grow quinoa in small batches. I thought you would need a field full to get the proper cross germination. I"m wondering if you have any suggestions for the summer travelers as to management of tomato plants when not around to water? Thanks Michael:)

    • Michael posted 06/16/2014

      Summer travel and gardens don't always go together! Fortunately, tomatoes like the heat. I suggest mulching heavily around your plants, perhaps up to 1" in depth with at least an 8" radius. Then water heavily before traveling. The mulch helps keep moisture in the soil.

  7. Nancy posted 06/14/2014

    I'd love to see answers to the previous questions!

  8. Me & Me posted 06/15/2014

    Hi Michael, we love you and your blog. Signed Andrew & Ben

  9. Sandra posted 06/16/2014

    Such great information and so jealous. My garden and I are living vicariously through you and your garden. I have a question not pertaining to the above… can you please advise as to how and when I should prune my tomato plants to yield the best tomatoes? They always grow so out of control making my garden look like a jungle and difficult to pick. Thank you so much.

    • Michael posted 06/18/2014

      I'm a big fan of pruning tomatoes. Before pruning, it's critical to identify if your tomatoes varieties are either determinate (fruit ripens at about the same time) or indeterminate (fruit ripens over a period of weeks). Determinate plants do not get pruned. They grow shorter and oftentimes do not need staking. For pruning indeterminate plants, pay attention to two things: snipping off leaves touching the ground and removing 'suckers' which emerge from the crotch of the main stem and a side branch. The goal is to direct energy to the fruit (not to leaf production) and improve airflow (to decrease risk of plant health issues). Pruned plants will grow taller than unpruned so be prepared to use tall stakes (at least 6 feet). Pruning can begin when the plants are still young. I start just before staking when the plant is about 2 feet tall.

      • sandra posted 07/01/2014

        thank you for the detail. here's to great tomatoes this summer.

  10. Michelle posted 06/16/2014

    Never heard of these plants great to learn about new plants. Are they easy to maintain at our Condo? We're going to be getting rid of a Pricker Bush. And I want you to come help me build an inexpensive little garden. Come Visit me soon

    • Michael posted 06/18/2014

      Amaranth is quite hearty and can work in a potted garden if the pots are deep. For a condo garden with at least 6 hours of daily sun, I'd suggest herbs and some tomatoes. Both love to be potted and can grow nicely together. Fresh herbs will be great additions to your meals and fresh tomatoes taste like summer!

  11. Liana posted 06/17/2014

    I love the idea of growing Quinoa and Amaranth. So nutritious, and they look beautiful in the garden!

    • Michael posted 06/18/2014

      My garden is essentially in the front yard so I always want it to look good each season. I even leave the dead sunflower stalks standing for winter interest.

  12. Dawn posted 06/20/2014

    Hello Michael,
    I am trying to email the June 13th blog to a friend.
    But the email is not working.
    Am i the only one that's having this problem?

  13. Don Denne posted 06/23/2014

    Wow, Michael! I'm now wondering if I can grow these ancient grains in California? I would love to see these beauties in my yard. Is there a tutorial on how to harvest the quinoa?

  14. Rachel posted 07/27/2014

    Hey Michael, finally have some time to get caught up (sort of) on your great blogs…. and, for the readers that have to leave their plants while they are on the road, my cousin has a lot of containers on her deck, and to keep them alive while they're away (which is often), she soaks diapers in water and wraps them around the base – not sure if she uses cotton or commercial, but I would bet that the ones with the plastic outside liner would hold more water, and not dry out as quickly. Not pretty, but it works! Thanks for all the great information!

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