The Amazing Amaranth: Chicken Feed, Vegetable, Cereal, and Cut Flower

File this under: “Stupid Stuff I Do So You Don’t Have To.” Growing Amaranth isn’t stupid. It’s a fantastic plant that can be eaten as a micro-green, spinach replacement, cereal grain, chicken feed, landscaping annual and cut flower. If you want to learn more about it’s ancient history, dig in here. However, the 4 ways I went about trying to collect the seeds were all fails! Next year I’ll put entire seed heads into the chicken coop as treats and only harvest 3-4 of the best ones. All the seeds I collect will be put right back into planting next spring….I won’t bother trying to clean and process the seeds for breakfast [but I could].

I didn’t purchase actual Amaranth ‘planting seeds’ for use this summer. We just had some left over organic Amaranth grain cereal which is technically seeds, but could have been completely infertile. You cook it up like Cream of Wheat, but we loved the taste of it even more and it had the same or better high energy morning benefits for us. The fact we liked eating it made me interested in growing it. There was just a little left in the bag, not enough to actually make another pot, so we experimented.

My kids got handfuls of outdated seeds when they wanted to plant around the barn construction site. The builders weren’t done and might trample any new plants, but I wanted the kids to have fun. I wasn’t watching where the kids were tossing the seeds, but a few plants actually sprung up through the clay and heavy foot traffic. The Amaranth grain was organic, so it wouldn’t have been offspring of GMO but I can’t insure that it’s not hybrid.

A few seeds washed down the path and sprouted at the edge of the chicken coop where the curious hens couldn’t reach the sprouting leaves. The big root system of the Amaranth made full use of the chicken coop’s nutrient’s and dripping chicken waterer. By summer’s end it was over 3’ tall which is pretty good for growing out of solid clay so late in the summer.

More and more seeds began to fall out of the maturing seed heads and the hens enjoyed the flavor so much they began to dig a hole at that corner of the coop trying to get every little one.

When the beautiful scarlet started to fade to brown it seemed likely they were as mature as they were going to get. I cut off the ‘flowers’ and put them in paper bags and sat the bags in the green house to dry out. We were sure to leave the bag tops wide open.

This is where collecting the seeds gets interesting. My plan had been to just strip each flower/head between my finger and thumb. It was easy to do out in the field. I don’t know if the process of the flower drying out is what made the stickers become an issue, but I wish I had done it out in the field. The first reason is because Amaranth is an excellent self-seeder and harvesting the seeds in the same area that you intend to plant next year can really give you a head start. The second reason I wish I had collected seeds outside is because Amaranth pop out of the seed heads at random angles with springy velocity. I have seeds shoved down in the cracks of my dining room ‘office’ floor now that will nether become chicken food nor grow into a giant Amaranth. The third reason to do this outside is the dust that now coats everything in my office. I probably need to replace my furnace filter now.

Method #1 Fail. When I went to remove the seeds later using my finger and thumb I discovered little tiny ‘stickers’ in my fingers. So small I couldn’t see them without my camera zoom, but I got them out with careful rubbing. The stickers felt like fiberglass and I couldn’t take it after a while. I don’t find any mention on-line of Amaranth seed pods having stickers, so perhaps growing one from a seed catalog would do away with this problem.

Method #2 Fail. Next I tried using a larger dinner fork and running that down the stem. This simply knocked off large flower plumes and shot tiny seeds all over the dining room ‘office’. The dog loved it though!

Method #3 Fail. Crushing the flower heads in the paper bags I had stored them in seemed to help reduce their volume and I could hear seeds falling to the bottom of the bag. However, the stems poked random holes in the paper letting more seeds spill on the floor. Puffs of dust came out of the top of the bag because some of the seed heads had toppled the plants over into muddy puddles during the heavy fall rains. When I peek inside the bag some of the flowers look like they haven’t been touched.

Method #4 Fail. Pouring the contents of this torn paper bag over a screen of hardware cloth releases more dust into my dining room ‘office’. The dog has seeds and flower stickers on his muzzle now. Everything just sits on top of the screen. Rubbing my hand across the pile doesn’t expose the back of my hand so I get much less of that fiberglass effect. The seed pods do get broken up, but leaves, stems, flower petals and a whole foxtail make it through. The 19 ounce end result is unacceptable if sold on the open market, but should serve my purposes just fine this coming spring as I try to convert the solid clay construction site into a decent garden.

What I should have done was follow the advice on the Internet and used an old pillow case. Fill the pillow case up, beat it against our concrete retaining wall and throw the stems into the coop so the hens could get the last clinging seeds. Below freezing today and flurries…so my dining room ‘office’ seemed a better spot. It wasn’t. It made a mess that created dust throughout the house.

Like I mentioned earlier, my first priority next year will be to cut off an entire seed head and hang it in the coop. The chickens adore the flavor of the high protein seeds and the velocity that the seeds pop out creates entertainment for family and fowl. Planting several on the edge of the coop and chicken yard lets the birds make use of the shade and periodic falling seeds. The Amaranth will again get the extra nutrients and moisture the chickens provide.

This haphazard experiment went so well I intend to plant the entire 19 ounces of seed/stems/petals into the red clay ‘garden’, chicken run and in among the erosion control area grasses. Maybe we can create some summer shade for the greenhouse and barn. Next year I may purchase these Amaranth seeds for comparison, although I’m also excited to see how my saved seeds will fair next year with earlier planting and slightly improved soil.

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