Q. What is the recommended spacing for growing quinoa?
A. Gardeners and foodies around the globe are catching on to the secret that farmers in the Andes have known for thousands of years: Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is tasty, nutritious, and adapted to growing conditions that challenge conventional grain crops. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization named 2013 the International Year of Quinoa, noting: “Quinoa is an exceptional food for current and future generations due to its high nutritional value. It contains essential amino acids, is rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids, and is gluten free.”
A nongrassy grain, similar to amaranth, quinoa grows best in cool conditions (where temperatures do not exceed 90°F) and moderate to high elevations. Once established, it is reasonably tolerant of dry conditions. Like its relatives spinach and lamb’s-quarter, quinoa produces tasty foliage that may be used in salads or as cooked greens. Dense heads of tiny yellow, green, or pink seeds mature in 90 to 120 days.
Sow quinoa in mid-spring after soil temperatures warm to 60°F in a well-prepared, weed-free seed bed. It may be tempting to broadcast the tiny seed, but planting in rows makes it easier to distinguish quinoa seedlings from weedy cousins like pigweed and lamb’s-quarter. Water, if necessary, during germination; otherwise quinoa needs little attention other than careful weeding. The folks at Territorial Seed Company, which offers the variety ‘Brightest Brilliant Rainbow’, recommend planting seeds 1 inch apart and harvesting the whole plant at 6 to 8 inches tall for greens. For grain production (and occasional greens), they suggest thinning plants to 12 to 14 inches apart.
Unlike conventional grains, quinoa’s tiny seeds are hull-less and thus do not need to be hulled. However, quinoa protects its seeds with a bitter substance called saponin that must be washed off through multiple rinsings before the grain is ready to eat.
Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, December 2013/January 2014
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