Quinoa: Not only nutritious and easy to grow, but beautiful!

growing quinoa in a backyard vegetable garden

One of the crops that I grow in my garden that seems to surprise people the most is quinoa. Many think of it as an “exotic” food – but that does not mean it needs a tropical climate. It is actually native to the high country of the Andes, so it tends to do very well in temperate climates such as here in Canada.

Here are some tips for growing quinoa in your garden:

Sow the seed in late spring. For me here in Canada, that means around early May. Although you may be able to grow quinoa plants from seed from regular supermarket quinoa, it probably won’t be adapted to your particular climate and you won’t likely get much of a harvest. Try to find quinoa seed for growing that is locally sourced.

growing quinoa in a backyard vegetable garden

Quinoa is a super-nutritious food: unlike grains such as corn and rice and wheat, the quinoa seed contains a high amount of protein, too.

And did you know that you can eat the leaves, too? I always plant my quinoa a bit more densely than how I want the final plants to grow. I leave the tallest and strongest plants for seed, and we eat the greens of the thinnings like spinach.

If I treat my quinoa well, the plants will grow taller than me! I only have a small backyard garden, so my quinoa patch is always small – like around 2 by 3 feet (or half a square metre). But I often get up to several pounds (a kilo or more) of quinoa from that tiny area: very good food value for time spent.

growing quinoa in a backyard vegetable garden

One trick that took me a while to learn for growing quinoa was figuring out when to harvest. There is no obvious quinoa “flower,” so it is not always obvious when the seeds are ready.

Once the seeds start going off-green, they are full size. (You can also tell by pinching off a few tips and rubbing them between your fingers. If it’s ready, the quinoa seeds will come out).

However, it is best to leave the seeds on the plants until they have changed colour – like on the photo at the very top of this post. Depending upon the quinoa variety, those colours may range from yellow to golden to orange to fuschia to red. So beautiful!

The exception to this, however, is if you have rain in the forecast. My quinoa is usually ready to harvest around mid to late August – about three and a half months after I seeded it. But if a rain falls when the seed is full-size on the head, like it is in the photo above, the seeds will actually sprout on the plant! So if the forecast is for rain, I cut the stalks and bring them in to finish ripening indoors (keeping them well aerated, either hanging or on racks, so they don’t mould).

Another trick I learned over the years is how to clean the quinoa. I used to let the stalks dry fully, then remove the quinoa by rubbing it between my hands. The problem with this is that you end up with all sorts of dry fragments of leaf and stem mixed in with the seed. So now I clean it while the stalks are still moist and flexible. The moist leaves just roll up and remain on the stem, and the seed comes away fine. Here’s a demo:

I don’t have greenhouses or an “acreage” – but I still am able to provide a lot of food for my household from my backyard gardens here in town. If you would like to learn how you can become self-sufficient and grow your own food, too, then sign up for the Food Garden Club! It’s free – and I promise I will never spam you or share your private contact info.

Published by Jacqueline Windh

I'm a writer, photographer, and radio broadcaster who is concerned about our planet and how we live our lives - hoping my work helps people to find new ways of thinking about issues such as personal health, wilderness, the environment, food security, thinking about the future. These things are all connected, you know...

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