Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amaranth harvest

I like to grow a new plant in the garden each season. Last year it was Hartman's Giant Amaranth. I got the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and felt a bit jipped with the small volume of seeds I got in the package. The seeds are tiny, like poppy seeds. I planted them in a row about 6 ft long. I'm still a big Baker Creek fan. The package did grow from a few grams to over a pound of seeds.
You can eat the amaranth greens, like spinach, or wait for the seeds. The bugs, I suspect earwigs, and sparrows were relentless on the early greens, but the plants did amazingly well. These plants seemed slow to take off, but when they did they grew about 7 ft tall with very showy flower heads. The wind and weight of the seeds bent the plants over and staking may be required to keep the plants upright should that be desired. The mix of red flower heads and sunflowers (foreground) made a display that generated accolades from the  neighbors.
Early amaranth seed heads
The taller amaranth in the above picture are about 7 ft tall. They only got slightly higher due to the additional seed head weight bending the plants over. Several of the seed heads coupled with some wind grew heavy enough to break the stalks. I harvested all the seed heads that didn't bite the dust. And placed them in the garage until I could get to them to process the seeds.
As it turns out they just sat in the garage until spring when I needed the plastic tray some of them were in for germinating my current year's seeds. Here is picture of one of the dried seed heads.
Dried amaranth seed head
I used leather gloves and rubbed the seed heads between my hands to separate the seeds from the rest of the plant material.
Since these seeds are known to get weedy growing all over. I just threw away the stalks rather than compost them.
 Here is what I got separated from the seed heads / stalks with leather gloves. There wasn't enough wind to winnow the seeds so I used the box fan to blow away the red flower pedals and remaining twigs. To do this I turned on the fan and repeatedly grabbed and dropped hand fulls in front of the fan.
This was kind of a pain in the you know what. I'm not sure how many thousands of  these tiny seeds are in the lawn. What I found was that getting the last bit of red (flower pedals) out was the hardest. After closely inspecting the red parts still in the container, it turns out that they still contain seeds and are therefore almost the same weight as the black seeds. By rubbing what remains through gloved hands once again I was able to separate (thresh) most of the flower pedals off the seeds.

Here is a close up of what you are dealing with. The plastic container also generated some static which didn't help me out much.
I crushed up some of the what I winnowed out to seed how much seed was being lost in the process. Its hard to see in this picture but there are some seeds that you lose in the process. Lets just say that the bird's share. The rubbermade container show the seeds I kept. I did get a little more of the red bits out by pinching out by hand and shaking the container in front of the fan.
George the french bulldog 7 mos
See, the chickens like it.
This took a couple of hours to get done. I don't see how one could do any serious amount of this by hand to make it worth while. Maybe if you had chickens or hogs you could feed the entire seed head to them without the need to clean the grain off the plants prior to feeding it to them.
I check with Google and found a small scale grain separator: Grain cleaner Maybe that will be a project for the future.

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