Harvesting quinoa

Harvesting quinoa

Talk about slow food…..if my life relied upon this crop I would be dead by now!


While not a favourite food of mine, I was beguiled by the suggestions that this crop was easy to grow(it certainly was), I could collect the seed meaning a lifelong supply and as a superfood I felt I couldn’t resist the obligation to grow quinoa. Here’s how it went….

The seeds came from the real seeds company who specialise in heritage seeds with not a hybrid in sight so all the seeds are viable next year(as long as you look after them). Quinoa looks like fat hen when it germinates but goes on to grow about 6feet tall requiring some staking at the end to support the heavy inflorescences in the rain. The variety I chose was called Rainbow and it did look quite pretty during its growing period with bright orange and red stems. The seeds were regular quinoa colour though.

The decision of when to harvest was the first hurdle; when the flowers died back, when the leaves wilted or when the plant keeled over? It was hit and miss in the end and more a function of the weather than anything else.

I collected the whole flower heads and lay them on muslin in the conservatory. This I read later; ‘watch the timing as the seeds are liable to germinate on the plant'(see later).001

After a brief holiday away I came to deal with the ‘bushes’ in the greenhouse. I duly rubbed the seed heads onto the muslin(you don’t need rubber gloves) and surveyed the mountain of stuff I had created. Some of the seeds were reticent about being detached and took some rubbing to remove. I then rubbed the whole lot through a garden sieve to remove the bits of stalks and larger debris. A second, though smaller, mountain appeared. This sat on the kitchen floor over night while I considered my next move. The cat was intrigued.

Winnowing! It looks so easy when small, African children do it. There is a definite knack to getting it right. The things to consider seem to be: wind speed and direction, height of drop, width of container, relative difference between the weight of chaff and the weight of seeds…the list goes on. The mountain I produced from this process was distinctly smaller. But it still wasn’t clean seed.003

I had read that one of the reasons quinoa tends to be a successful crop is that birds don’t eat it because of its bitter saponin coating which has to be soaked off before use. I soaked the seeds and tried to fish the debris out with a tea strainer. As I did so it became evident that many seeds had already developed what looked like a tiny radicle(the part of a seed that sprouts to form a root). They had, indeed, germinated.

As I write this I have small mountains at various stages of processing around the kitchen awaiting my next move. The cat has lost interest. I’m thinking of the calories required to process the next lot and wondering if it’s really worthwhile but having gone this far I have to take it to the final stage-as best as I can.004

A word of warning-many years ago I underwent an allergy test which involved tiny pin pricks of potentially allergic material on my fore arm. The results showed a response to ‘mixed threshings’ among others. I had no idea what that meant at the time. I do now!

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