Rising Quinoa: Historic Wholesome Seeds

Quinoa is a seed crop native to South America, although it is often categorized as grain. It falls under the goosefoot family (Chenopodium), which includes weeds such as quarter lamb, Swiss chard, and sugar beet. The seeds and leaves of a happily growing quinoa plant are edible. Its seeds are treated like a grain when cooked, and the leaves are used like spinach.

Quinoa plants are showy with a botanical structure like amaranth and can get very tall even in conditions without fertilizer or extensive watering. Many different species provide a range of colors in seed clusters, stems, and leaves. Plants grow from a foot and a half tall to nine feet tall. Quinoa makes a great, colorful addition to your garden as a barrier or shade for ground cover.

It's a wonder we have quinoa today. Conquistadors who landed in South America in the 16th century wiped out almost all of the species in an attempt to eradicate Inca culture. But like its original cultivators, quinoa is strong and has withstood the onslaught high in the mountains of Peru. In the last few decades, quinoa has received the status of a “superfood” due to its high nutritional content. If you pull up an article on quinoa, you will find that it has some healthy value. It's high in protein and B vitamins, gluten-free, and easy to replace. Grains like rice can sometimes be too high in carbohydrates, but that's not a problem for this high-protein seed. Read on and you will find that you can grow quinoa easily!

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Brief instructions for care

Quinoa produces vibrant flowers as it grows and can be beautiful. Source: Chasqui

Common Name (s) Quinoa, Kinwa, Kinuwa, Goosefoot, Pig Cabbage, Inca Wheat
Scientific name Chenopodium quinoa
Days to harvest 90 to 120 days
light Full sun, ideal growth in temperatures between 60 and 90 F.
Water: 10-15 inches per growing season
ground Well-drained, loamy soil
fertilizer Treat the soil with a balanced full-spectrum fertilizer before planting
Pests Rabbits, flea beetles, beet worms, miners, aphids
Diseases Damping, downy mildew, stem rot, leaf spot, bacterial rot

Everything about quinoa

Field of quinoaQuinoa is grown in large quantities in its natural environment. Source: FAOAmericas

In Peru, Bolivia and Chile, where the natural habitats of the quinoa live, the days are short, the temperatures cooler and the soil rough. Quinoa can only grow outdoors in USDA Zones 4-10. It takes a few days for a quinoa seed to germinate, and each plant has a life cycle of around three to four months. The fruit color varies greatly between the varieties. Growing several brightly colored stems will add a lot of color to the place where they are.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is commonly known as Kinwa or Kinuwa among Quechua peoples. Quechua peoples are descendants of the Inca who made contact with conquistadors over 500 years ago, hence the common name Inca wheat. It is also called goosefoot and hogweed. The leaves grow alternately around a tall stem, which can be green to chestnut brown. Trichomes (or small hairs) cover leaves and stems to keep frost and insects away from plant tissue. Some varieties of quinoa are smaller, but make sure you have enough room for a three meter high plant!

Young leaves and seeds from a quinoa harvest are used in food cooking. The leaves are separated from the stems and cooked into dishes such as spinach. The seeds are cooked similar to rice and treated like any other grain. Varieties like Shelly Black Quinoa not only add a touch of dark purple to your garden, they also make your dishes colorful.

Planting quinoa

Either plant quinoa seeds indoors in starting trays or sow them outdoors right after the last spring frost. Both excessively frosty and excessively high heat conditions prevent quinoa seeds from germinating. Quinoa plants prefer to stand in the ground or in a raised bed. Containers can be problematic as they value well-drained soil. However, it is possible to plant quinoa in a planter and get a good yield. When you have enough seeds to experiment with, give it a try.

Plant the seeds sparsely in a thin layer in sandy, loamy soil up to an inch deep and a few inches apart when sowing outdoors. When the seedlings reach three to four inches, thin them down to 18 inches apart or transplant into separate areas in your yard. Within a few months you will have a tall, colorful stem and plenty of seeds to harvest in your garden.


Quinoa in flowerA close-up of the quinoa in full bloom. Source: Allispossible

As long as the growing conditions for quinoa are right, growing this plant is easy. Whether you start with quinoa seeds or quinoa seedlings, preparing it is the best way to ensure your success in the garden.

Sun and temperature

Although quinoa plants like full sun, they naturally prefer shorter days. Grow quinoa in an area with a maximum of 6 hours of sun. This is as much as quinoa can take, and while quinoa plants grow in warmer weather, they cannot handle temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

It's best to start as soon as the last frost has passed in higher-numbered USDA zones. Quinoa also can't handle more than light frost. However, as long as temperatures don't drop below 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the quinoa will continue to grow flawlessly.

Quick freezes tend to occur quickly. If frost is forecast for your area outside of the frost date range, try covering it with a frost cloth. If frost cloth is not an option, a natural fiber board will do. Remember to remove the leaf when the sun rises the next day to ensure quinoa plants are not cooked by excessive heat. If your quinoa plants take a little frost damage, they can still produce. Wait a few days to see how much frost damage has occurred.

Water and moisture

Of course, quinoa plants grow in mountain areas with little irrigation. Most varieties of quinoa grow with only 10-15 inches of rainfall in a year. Wait until the quinoa seedlings have some leaves in their second vegetative state before watering. If you do this, just water until the soil is damp. A watering can or a smoothly running hose are sufficient here. However, if you have drinker hoses, these are always a good choice. Avoid watering if your quinoa plant is turning into seeds, as this can lead to seeds sprouting.

Always water before the sun has time to rise and heat the soil around your quinoa plant. Water at dusk when you can't in the morning. Since quinoa is exposed to mold, make sure you water at the base of the plant (never over or on the leaves). Quinoa is drought tolerant and doesn't need high humidity to grow well. The Andes, their native habitat, are very dry and arid after the morning mist clears.


Quinoa grows best in sandy, loamy soils with a little addition of well-hardened organic compost. Make sure your soil drains well and has a pH of 6 to 8.5. Measure the soil with a pH tester if necessary. The soil should also have a moderate salinity. If you want to make sure the soil is suitable for growing quinoa, test it with your local agricultural advisory office. With good soil, you ensure a successful harvest.


Ripe quinoaWhen the flowers fade, quinoa is usually almost ready to be harvested. Source: oranges in the sea

Quinoa plants don't need fertilizer to thrive, but you can add a little nitrogen-rich fertilizer to the soil before planting to help germinate the seed roots later. About four to six weeks after plant growth begins, a balanced slow release fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 will help strengthen root formation. Do not fertilize regularly as too much nitrogen will reduce crop yields.

Pruning / training

Because quinoa can grow very large, full seed heads will cause the stem to become top heavy and fall over, making it easier for ripe seeds to germinate, especially in heavy rain. Put in your quinoa. You will also enjoy the benefit of being able to harvest all of your seeds instead of succumbing to rabbits or squirrels who might enjoy snacking on them when bent to their level.

No bets? No problem. Replace it with a sturdy stick or by piling dirt around the base of the plant for extra support. Start when there is a few feet of growth before seed heads form.

Quinoa blooms until the first frost. Since it is prone to self-seeding, it is possible to grow quinoa in your garden year after year without going into much effort beyond building it. Many quinoa growers recommend sowing a variety with purple leaves to help you distinguish your quinoa plants from weeds like lamb. The two plants look very similar.


When you're ready to allow your quinoa to sow, it will sow itself and come back next year. However, seeds that remain for too long can blow away and end up elsewhere in your garden. If this is not what you want, try collecting all of the seeds. This is the easiest way to maintain a steady yield of quinoa, as it takes at least 10 plants to get a pound of seeds to cook with.

When starting from scratch, try using a damp paper towel in a plastic bag to sprout the seeds you bought, or try germinating the seeds from the grocery store. Then pour into starter pots or directly outside. Some recommend starting quinoa seeds and seedlings indoors early to harden them before transplanting them outdoors. Seedlings are notoriously limp at first, but they perk up over time.

Harvesting and storing

Dried quinoaAfter drying, quinoa seeds can be easily separated from the seed head. Source: Bioversity International

Treat the edible quinoa seeds like any grain in the amaranth family. Store quinoa for grocery years after your harvest.


Quinoa greens are a great addition to your favorite protein. You are ready to harvest once the stem is approximately 10 inches. Don't take too many leaves, but a few leaves here and there won't cause irreparable damage. Harvesting leaves prevents the plant from producing too much seeds and tipping over.

When it is time to harvest, you will find that all of the leaves have fallen. Shake the seed head to see if any seeds fall off. Then test a fallen seed to make sure it's hard enough. If so, gently scrape the seed head with a gloved hand and collect the seeds. Do this when the conditions are dry. Seeds sprout or go moldy on the head when conditions are too humid, making them inedible.

If you live in a humid climate, cut off the seed heads and dry them upside down in a cool, dark place in your house with a tray underneath to catch any falling seeds. These can be collected and sprouted over the next year or stored like a grain for food.

After the seeds are washed in water, lay them out to dry. Dehydrate them in direct sunlight or near a dry heat source. Drying it ensures that the seeds don't get moldy. Remove seeds from the chaff by placing a fan in front of you with a tray underneath to catch quinoa seeds. Using two gloved hands, rub seeds and chaff between your hands. As the lighter husks separate from the seeds, the air from the fan pushes them away from where the seeds fall. It is best to do this outdoors or in an area where cleanup is not a major problem. If you do this inside, you will clean up the chaff for ages.


To save leaves for later, julienne them and store them in a freezer bag for up to a month. Keep the leaves in the refrigerator for a few days. Seeds are stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to three years. They are a great addition to any gluten-free dish. Check out an item online with a recipe to learn how to cook it.


Foliage but no quinoa flowersQuinoa leaves are often harvested and eaten like spinach. Source: John and Anni

Because quinoa's natural habitat is so specific, those growing in areas with very different climates could have problems. Here are some of the things that can affect your quinoa harvest.

Growing problems

Too much water too soon seeds rot before they can germinate. It is important to wait until your quinoa plant is a couple of inches tall to water. Since quinoa is drought tolerant, if the fruit gets too wet, it will sprout on the stem, making it inedible.

When quinoa plants get too hot or too cold they yield less. It is best to wait until the last spring frost has passed to plant quinoa in the garden. Quinoa gets too warm with too much light. In this case, try some shade cloth to keep seed production at normal levels. Staking out is essential with certain cultivars as some grow up to 9 feet tall. Unmarked quinoa can harbor pests.


Rabbits and Birds Nibble on early quinoa seeds in your garden. If leaves and seed heads are eaten en masse, try placing a small cage around the plants to keep this source of protein to yourself. Check your quinoa plants to make sure there aren't any rabbits trying to build a nest there. If you find them there, plant them elsewhere or get a dog or barn cat to keep the rabbits out.

Flea beetle eat the leaves and seeds of quinoa plants. For these, try a sticky trap to catch them while jumping. An organic insecticide will do if it doesn't solve the problem. Diatomite on the floor keeps hard-shelled insects away.

Beet army worms (or Spodoptera exigua) are small caterpillars that feed on quinoa plants in preparation for pupation. They eventually grow into moths that continue the cycle. Neem oil keeps beet worm away from your plants. Leaf miners are another larval insect that gets between the skin of a leaf and its interior to eat the plant matter, leaving small unpredictable tracks. Spinosad kills miners when they consume plant material that you sprayed with a solution.

Aphids are small colonies of mites that can cause leaf collapse if left to their own devices. Ladybugs are their natural predators. Try letting go of a colony of ladybugs on your quinoa when aphids try to take them over, or spray your plants with a commercially available organic insecticidal soap. Row cover is an option for quinoa protection from all of the above pests.


Many of the diseases quinoa deals with are due to overly moist conditions. Attenuation off is one that specifically affects quinoa seedlings. Stem lesions appear and kill seedlings before new growth can take place. When sowing seeds, try to use a hygienic medium to avoid attenuation. Seedlings that succumb to dampening should be discarded. Avoid composting discarded plants to prevent the spread of one of the many pathogens that cause dampening.

Wrong mildew indicates when the leaves of your plant have discolored, gray spots. To avoid this powdery mildew, pour your quinoa at the base and don't pour too much. Early treatment with a copper-based fungicide can help control. If downy mildew is causing the leaves to collapse, pull out the entire plant and discard it.

When it is late in the growing season and conditions are too cool and wet Stem rot can start. This disease is caused by the Phoma exigua var fungus. Foveata and appears as a brown shiny abrasion on the stem of quinoa plants. Good hygiene and drainage are crucial here, as dirt on the soil surface can absorb excess moisture and too much water in the soil can encourage fungal growth. Treatment with a plant fungicide such as liquid copper or a biofungicide such as Serenade Garden Disease Control should reduce symptoms for a short period of time, but removing and disposing of infected plants will reduce the likelihood of spread.

Passalora dubia or Passalora leaf spot of quinoa (a mushroom) and Bacterial rot are other pests that settle on plants when the soil temperatures are too cool and the soil contents too moist. These are also common when watering is from above and too often. Spray plants affected by leaf spots with fungicides containing sulfur or octanate copper to prevent the spread of infection. Again, overly affected plants must be removed and discarded before replanting.

frequently asked Questions

Quinoa seedsQuinoa seeds can be as pale or red, brown or even black. Source: Кулинарно

Q: is quinoa easy to grow?

A: Yes. Given the right conditions, quinoa is very easy to grow and enjoy year after year.

Q: How long does it take to grow quinoa?

A: Quinoa seeds sprout in a few days, and seed heads can be harvested between 90 and 120 days after germination.

Q: Can you grow quinoa in the US?

A: Yes. Quinoa will grow in the United States (in zones 4-10), but some zones have weather that makes the window for growing smaller than other areas. Sow seeds in the right place at the right time and you're done!

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