Monday, August 31, 2009

Supergrains harvest time go!!!

Over at the Botanical Gardens "secret" garden site, we are harvesting the quinoa we started from seed in May. No one on the Cultivating Community team has experience with harvesting quinoa so we delved the internet for answers. When the quinoa plant leaves are dried and the plant itself looks dead the quinoa should be ready. The seeds are mature when you can no longer make an indent on the kernels with your fingernail.

The quinoa stalk in the above photo is ready to harvest. In fact, we were late on collecting the seed because many of them started to germinate while on the plant!

We collected the seed by rubbing up the stalk and angling the seed head into a bowl we used to store the quinoa. The collection process left us with a bowl full of quinoa seed and the dried "chaff". We used a technique called wind winnowing to remove some of the "chaff" from the quinoa. Wind winnowing is a simple method of grain processing that has been used for thousands of years.

Many cultures developed simple contraptions to accomplish winnowing. We are substantially lower tech at this garden plot, so we simply would wait for a light breeze and take handfuls of the mixture and drop it back into the bowl. The wind would blow away the unwanted plant parts because they were so light while the seeds fell right back into the container. We also did this for amaranth seed. A photo of those plants can be seen below.

Both of these grains have their roots in the Andean region of South America. The Incans cultivated these plants to fuel their empire. After the Conquest several indigenous groups kept the strains alive despite Spanish government prohibitions. The Rodale Institute considers them "supergrains" because of their high protein, fiber, and iron content. Quinoa contains all twenty essential amino acids for human nutrition. North Americans grew Amaranth for years, mainly for its asethetic appeal, but now it is gaining popularity as a food crop. There are detailed Wikipedia articles on both plants if you want to know more about these wonder foods.


Hope everyone is ready for school to begin! Be sure to check out the Cultivating Community table at Festifall and at Northfest!

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