Sunday, January 25, 2009

Quinoa in the PNW?

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm interested in Western Hemisphere food plants. I've worked in horticulture for a significant part of my adult life before going back to school to become a librarian. My interest in food plants has never left me and I approach part of my garden space as a place to test new plant ideas out.

Last summer I planted 4 quinoa varieties in my garden, all from Seeds of Change. The varieties included Dave (Four-O-Seven), Brightest Brilliant, Temuco Traditional, and Faro Traditional. I planted twice, first planting at the end of May, the second 2 weeks later. Quinoa seeds are small and the packets had few seeds. I didn't count how many I planted each time to see what kind of germination I got but it seemed as though it was not very high. Although the second planting seemed to be more successful than the first. I wasn't sure how to plant them so they were planted shallowly in rows and thinned (where that was necessary) to about 2 inches apart, the rows about a foot apart in raised beds. I will try planting a little differently based on what I've learned. I have no data to report because it seems that quinoa is a favorite food of chickens, liked even more than amaranth or kale. They left stalks only in my garden by mid-summer. I plan to try growing quinoa again next summer and will attempt to contain the birds or protect the garden.

My friend, Deborah, works at the Oregon State University Vegetable Research Farm and we often talk about trying new crops. She also planted quinoa this past year at the farm and sent me an informal report of her observations:

"So here is what we know about quinoa from this summer. We grew 2 varieties: Cherry Vanilla from Nichols, and Brightest Brilliant from Seeds of Change, plus a relative, Red Aztec Spinach (Huanzontle) from Nichols (usually used as a vegetable--leaves are eaten--rather than a grain). They all grew very tall (6 ft or more) and all lodged to some extent, with lower branches breaking off from the weight of the seed. Brightest Brilliant was the worst for lodging--it was all on the ground after the first fall rain. We did get ripe seed, but it would have been hard to harvest good grain from the plants in the mud. We planted late (June 23), though, so I think if you planted in spring you might get a good crop before the fall rains. We did not harvest any... "

I'm rethinking the whole concept of trying to grow quinoa the way that a vegetable crop in the PNW might be grown. Our wet climate and high-nutrient soils may contribute to the lodging problem, and it is, perhaps, not a good idea to plant them in rows. I've looked at pictures of fields of quinoa and it looks like a wheat field (only much taller) and that the climate may be drier. The seed tops look heavy (high yield) and the plants may do better holding each other upright if planted closer, without wide rows between them. I may even try staking them just to see what I am able to harvest. I also think that finding varieties that mature before the rains start will be important for production of seed for eating or planting.

I plan to try again, hopefully this summer. I'll replant the same varieties as last year, will try to find some others, and will also be trying the Nichols' variety, Cherry Vanilla.

So why bother? I think about the types of food plants that we grow in our gardens and they tend to be low-protein and non-storage types. I think about local food security and it motivates me to try to grow plants that are higher in protein or more grain-like, with storage potential.

I did find a website, Quinoa Corporation, with pictures of quinoa growing in South America. They sell the grain and prepared foods made from it and have some recipes for using it. There are at least 2 recipes for 'tabouli' which is how I use quinoa, to make tabouli-like salads.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I have received an email announcing the Organic Seed Alliance's 2009 conference, Organicology, in Portland, February 26-28. Guest speakers include Vendana Shiva, Paul Roberts, and Claire Hope Cummings. Here's the url (sorry, haven't figured out how to make it a hotlink) :