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Quinoa Doesn't Just Grow in the Andes

Updated on September 24, 2012
Quinoa Growing in Field
Quinoa Growing in Field | Source

An Excellent Food Staple

Nothing surprises me anymore, including the fact that you can grow things like rhubarb, figs, and quinoa in more than the one place its claim to fame is. Quinoa may have originated in the Andes Mountains and it is a staple grain in Bolivia, Peru, and Chile, but you can’t and won’t tell us that it won’t grow anywhere else, because it sure will. Have you priced it over the past few years when it nearly doubled in cost? It has gone through the roof, like all good things do when supply-and-demand increases.

Quinoa was called the “Mother Grain” by the Incas. It can handle high elevations, cold weather, infertile soil, and drought. Its color also depends on its variety.

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Where to Get Seed

Like I said, forget about the Andes. You can order seed in a variety of places, but you must get the best seed for your climate. Don’t try to plant processed seed, or even that from the health food store, for it is scarified to eliminate the need for long soaking. Abundant Life, Bountiful Gardens, Seeds of Change are just a few of several places that sell it.

New Mexico and Colorado are great places to plant this seed, as it thrives in the 6,000-7,000 foot range in the central Rockies, the interior Northwest, northern California, and northward near the Pacific Ocean. It doesn’t like extreme heat.

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How to Grow

Sow in spring in fertile soil as soon at the soil is warm, April or May. There is a need for proper moisture in soil, which will lead to correct harvest time, when the weather is likely to be dry, and that is essential. Keep the seed damp until germination. It will grow around four feet high. Also keep it weed free, to allocate all the nutrients to the plants. It grows fast with a little fertilizer to six or seven feet. It is best grown like wheat in rows spaced four feet apart, with the seed thinned to eight inches apart in each row.

Harvesting Product

Harvest seed heads when heavy and dead ripe, about mid-summer. Threshing will be easiest if harvested and plants dried inside before flailing. Rain will cause the drying seed to sprout in the heads. If rain should threaten, then cut, bundle and hang to finish drying under cover. When fully dry, spread a tarpaulin, and thresh by walking upon the stalks. Clean by pouring the seeds back and forth between two buckets in a mild breeze.

The seed coat contains saponin, which prevents insect damage and bird predation. It is also bitter and somewhat poisonous, but can be soaked out at home. The commercially grown is ready to eat! Wash only as much as you will eat very soon, as the saponin needs to be on the grain for storage purposes.

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Preparing for Usage

Some seed varieties have harder coats with more saponin than others, and water hardness has a lot to do with its removal. Soak one pint of seed overnight in a half gallon glass jar with a screen cover. Drain and refill, and continue to soak and rinse with cold water two to four times a day. When the water stops foaming when rinsed, the seed is ready to cook, usually no more than 36 hours. If after 72 hours the foaming still has not ceased, bring the seed to a boil for only a moment and pour off the hot, soapy water. Boil rapidly again, and pour off a second time. The seed is ready to cook.

Another way to remove the saponin is by tying the quinoa in a muslin bag, tie it shut, and wash in a series of cold water baths until the foam has finished releasing. You can also use a blender, and blend a half cup of cold water at lowest speed. Rinse and repeat until the foam has released.

Honeyed Vegetables on Quinoa
Honeyed Vegetables on Quinoa | Source

Preparation and a Few Recipes

To cook, add just enough water to cover the soaked grain. Simmer for about twenty minutes. It will keep you feeling full and energetic for quite some time. It can be used in place of rice and has a wonderful, delicate flavor with a little crunch. It has twice the protein of rice, and will expand to four times its original bulk.

I like the cooked grain with a little butter and fresh or frozen green peas. It is also good in any stew, but add it last to your meat and/or veggies, as it will absorb a lot of liquid. You can also add a teaspoon of curry powder after you cook it in chicken or veggie broth.

For breakfast, stir in a cup of rinsed quinoa into two cups boiling water. Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ½ cup raisins or dried currants. Cover and cook on low heat until the water has been absorbed, about 15-20 minutes.

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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      I had no idea quinoa could be grown here! I love quinoa cooked in chicken broth and chopped onion and celery added. It is known as the perfect grain and since I have celiac it's one of the few grains I can eat. Great directions on how to grow and how to harvest.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      PS, you can always try, but I don't think you're high enough above sea level for quinoa to make it. But then again, your leaders in FL refuse to accept climate change...Quinoa is wonderful, I eat it frequently. It gives me loads of energy, but anything organic will tend to do that, as it helps regulate your body.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

      So could I try to grow a few small plants inside my home or in my tiny hot house?

      I have never tried this but have heard rave reviews about it.

      thanks for sharing...

      Angels are on the way to you this afternoon. ps

      Voted up++++ and shared

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I shall try your suggestion with the rice and the greens. I think it will be perfect for me.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 2 years ago

      I like to cook quinoa and rice together to give the rice a bit of extra color, texture, and protein. I soak red quinoa first and change the water at least once then cook it one part quinoa to 3 parts rice. sometimes I throw fresh broccoli, kale, or asparagus on top in the last five minutes for a healthy one pot lunch. I love quinoa but never would have thought about growing it. Great hub!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Abby, you are so welcome!

    • profile image

      Abby 2 years ago

      I waentd to spend a minute to thank you for this.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      newusedcarssacram, you will be glad that you did when you add it to your basic foods. It gives me more energy.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks so much, Peggy W. I discovered it several years ago through a friend that I used to work with. It is wonderful and excellent in so many things.

    • newusedcarssacram profile image

      newusedcarssacram 4 years ago from Sacramento, CA, U.S.A

      This is something new for me. I have never heard of this before so would love try this soon. Voted up...

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Great information about how quinoa is grown. I will link this to my hub titled scrumptious easy quinoa side dish - recipes perfect for picnics or anytime. We purchase our quinoa at Costco and love using it in various ways including adding it to homemade soups. Voted up, useful, interesting and will share.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, shiningirisheyes. I have a number of interests, plus reading what other hubbers write only puts a fire in my soul to learn more.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Any time, Scribenet. It is excellent, and so good for you. The Incas were are hardy stock, as they ate it back then. Too bad they died out...

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      When we go shopping, let's see if it is at the store. If not, I sure know where to find it.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It's wonderful, Mhatter. Maybe you can give it a try to replace white rice with it. It is so much more healthful.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Great stuff, eh, Jen? See if new strains of seed have been developed for other parts of the country, where it might be more realistic to grow it now.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      It is very bland and mild, Nettlemere, so it will not detract from the kinds of foods that you normally eat. Give it a go, and I'm sure that you'll be glad that you did.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Billy, there are SO many good grains out there that are so good for us. White rice has no nutrition whatsoever, just like white bread

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Don't waste your money trying, hyphenbird. It will grow very slowly, UNLESS a new variety has been developed that will grow in a warmer climate. I don't know if that is the case or not, but you should be able to check with one of the sellers of the seed and see.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      Although I've never heard of Quinoa it sounds like its very easy to grow. Something my sister should look into. Her green thumb has always looked a bit pale.

      You are a book with many chapters. Your variety of interests and abilities always astound me.

      Voting this up

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Interesting information on quinoa! I like the simple recipes at the end as well. Thanks.

    • gamby79 profile image

      gamby79 4 years ago

      This was a surprise! Love this. I am not sure I have ever even eaten any quinona but I sure would like to try it according to your preparations, with a bit of curry powder, to see. Always enjoy learning anything new and whenever I visit your hub...you never fail to teach me something. Thanks aviannovice! Rated up!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for the introduction. I have never heard of quinoa before this.

    • jenb0128 profile image

      Jennifer Bridges 4 years ago from Michigan

      I never thought of growing my own quinoa! I doubt it would do well in my neck of the woods, though.

      I love having the stuff for breakfast this time of year, and so does my cockatiel. ;)

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      I've never tried quinoa at all, but I'm a notoriously unadventurous eater. I do quite like the sound of the breakfast option you mentioned at the end, so I might look and see if it's sold locally and try some.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Okay Deb, I admit to being ignorant about a lot of things, and this is one of them. I have never heard of this grain, but now I have, and I live in a pretty good climate for it. You have given me food for thought. Great hub!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 4 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Well I sure learned a lot about this delicious grain. We eat it often and love it. I doubt we could grow it here in the South but I may try anyway. Thanks for the great article. Now i want to eat some and have a bag so that may be for dinner tomorrow.