When someone asks me what I’m growing in my garden this year, I take a deep breath and start to run down the list. Without fail, as soon as I mention quinoa, the conversation quickly shifts. The responses usually fall into one of two categories: Quin-what? or Really? I didn’t know that you could grow quinoa here.
If you fell into the first category, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is an ancient grain that is native to the Andes Mountains.
If you’re in the second category, the answer is a little less straight forward. Quinoa has had mixed results here in Minnesota. It’s a relative to the spinach, beets, and chard that are commonly found in Minnesota gardens, as well as the weed, lamb’s quarters (of which we have no short supply, either), but many of the quinoa trials that have been done in Minnesota have failed to produce the grain because quinoa is a very heat sensitive crop. When the weather is too hot (95 degrees seems to be the magic number cited in every article on growing quinoa) at the critical time when the flowers are being formed, the plants will either go dormant or sterile, preventing the plant from setting seed.
So why bother at all? For one, I’m always up for a garden adventure and I like a good challenge (and who knows, maybe Mother Nature will favor quinoa this year). Also, successfully growing and saving the seeds from this grain might, over time, produce a cultivar that grows better in Minnesota.
This year will be a “try and see” year. The Cherry Vanilla Quinoa seeds were direct sown in to the community garden a couple of weeks ago, and the seedlings are off to a healthy start – they seem to really like the sandier soil! If I get enough quinoa to make a batch of my favorite pancakes, I’ll consider it a success! If not, I’m paying close attention to how long it takes the plants to set buds and bloom in hopes that I might get a sense of whether or not there is a better planting time, method, etc. Stay tuned for the updates on how the experiment goes!