Jul 152014
 
Bird feeding on Amaranthus caudatus. Photo credit: Diane Kennedy of Vegetariat (http://www.vegetariat.com).
Great Green Bush Cricket on Amaranthus caudatus.

Great Green Bush Cricket on Amaranthus caudatus.

Amaranth is an ancient grain. Its family name is Amanthaceae, with nearly 900 species worldwide. This article focuses on the non-native species Amaranthus caudatus, a species grown by the Aztec Indians of Mexico 8000 years ago, and which has naturalized in my area, Northern California. Yes, that the popular amaranth in our garden is not native was a concern to me when considering it as a topic for this blog site. However, I am taking the time to discuss it here because of its generous gift to both humans and wildlife as a food source.

Mature amaranth in the fall surrounds garden seating.   Note the pale color of the seed heads -- time to harvest seed.

Mature amaranth in the fall surrounds garden seating. Note the pale color of the seed heads — time to harvest seed.

Amaranth likes disturbed soils. It gets its common name “pigweed” because it frequently thrives in the disturbed soils of barnyards, especially pig pens. But because there are so many plants commonly referred to as pigweed, I use “amaranth” in this article. Furthermore, I do not use Amaranthus caudatus‘s other common name, “love-lies-bleeding”, because that’s just plain weird! We’ll stick to “amaranth”.

Young volunteer amaranth in the author's garden.

Young volunteer amaranth in the author’s garden.

A curious thing happened in our garden recently. We reclaimed a garden bed that had laid fallow– it was an excellent undisturbed wildlife brush pile creating excellent soil!!! The soil was pushed back off off walkway slates and churned into a planting mound. It was disturbed, first time in a couple of years. Up came amaranth, all along the borders of the bed, some on the mound. Yes, there’s cucumber in there somewhere.

Young amaranth in the author's garden competes with dock and rhubarb.

Young amaranth in the author’s garden competes with dock and rhubarb.

The young amaranth leaves have been a delicious salad addition. Tastes a little like soil to me, but I appreciate the not-iceberg-lettuce! hearty flavor.

These amaranth (foreground), by fall, will have been thinned, will grow to over 6 feet tall, and will drape luscious tassel-like, seed-rich flowers.

These amaranth (foreground), by fall, will have been thinned, will grow to over 6 feet tall, and will drape luscious tassel-like, seed-rich flowers.

Amaranth is considered an insectary plant, and that’s no wonder considering how many zillions (don’t quote me) of flowerlets there are, with each needing to be pollinated before becoming a seed.

Amaranth stalks are filled with pith, a welcoming overwintering habitat for insects.

Amaranth stalks are filled with pith, a welcoming overwintering habitat for insects.

The substantial sturdy stems of amaranth can become so ridged and thick that an adult’s hand just reaches around it. Inside is a porous pith — perfect burrowing material for insects. At harvest time, don’t forget to leave some stalks in the garden to encourage wildlife to overwinter in your garden. Besides, you will never get the last seed from the Medusa of flowers, but hungry songbirds might. So leave harvested stalks in your garden. One person’s “debris” could be a whole ecosystem’s habitat.

Birds feeding on Amaranthus caudatus. Photo credit: Diane Kennedy of Vegetariat (http://www.vegetariat.com).

Birds feeding on Amaranthus caudatus. Photo credit: Diane Kennedy of Vegetariat (http://www.vegetariat.com).

Bird feeding on Amaranthus caudatus. Photo credit: Diane Kennedy of Vegetariat (http://www.vegetariat.com).

Bird feeding on Amaranthus caudatus. Photo credit: Diane Kennedy of Vegetariat (http://www.vegetariat.com).

The advantages for including amaranth in my edible garden, which is within our “habitat food forest”, keep adding up. Buckwheat and amaranth pancakes for us, pollen and leafage for insects and small critters, seed for birds, a soil builder, and an overwintering material for insects and soil critters.

Enjoy your wildlife habitat garden!

Tony

Some Extra Photos:

 

Amaranth caudatus growing alongside Bird Bath Beach in the author's garden. Note rocks in the bath -- steps to the deep end for wasps, bees, butterflies, and birds.  Also note the driftwood perches to allow birds to check for safety before committing to the water.

Amaranth caudatus growing alongside Bird Bath Beach in the author’s garden. Note rocks in the bath — steps to the deep end for wasps, bees, butterflies, and birds. Also note the driftwood perches to allow birds to check for safety before committing to the water.

 

The red pigment in amaranth was used by the Native American Hopi tribe to dye cloth.

The red pigment in amaranth was used by the Native American Hopi tribe to dye cloth.

Amaranth seedlings (purple, back right) are tiny in relation to a sunflower seedling (green, with seed still attached).

Amaranth seedlings (purple, back right) are tiny in relation to a sunflower seedling (green, with seed still attached).

 

Drying stand for amaranth. The flower clusters will be "milked" so that the seed will drop onto the sheet for easy collection.

Drying stand for amaranth. The flower clusters will be “milked” so that the seed will drop onto the sheet for easy collection.

 

Nov 142012
 
Food For Thought, Sonoma County Aids Food Bank, Forestville, California

Day 4 in this 3-day series of videos (BONUS video!!!) depicting amaranth seed collecting.  Today’s video is a field trip to Food For Thought, the Sonoma County Aids Food Bank, in Forestville, California.

First a video  re “Amaranth Plants at Food For Thought”,  then some amaranth pics (below the video):

Amaranth Plants at Food For Thought:

 


 

Amaranth in Food For Thought’s Garden (pics):

 

Amaranth (red and green) along a fence.

Amaranth (red and green) along a fence. 8 feet high!

 

Close-up view of red and green amaranth varieties.

Close-up view of red and green amaranth varieties. Swayin’ in the wind, waiting for harvest.

 

Elephant head amaranth (Amaranthus gangeticus).

Elephant head amaranth (Amaranthus gangeticus). This species grows 2-3 feet.

 

Close-up of elephant head amaranth.

Close-up of elephant head amaranth in the Food For Thought garden.

 

Massive red amaranth with green stalk.

Massive red amaranth with green stalk leans over. A shrub! Note the stalk's ridges which give it girder-like support. Also note the small offshoots that display the red flowers.

 

Amaranth with golden stalk and flowers.

Amaranth with golden stalk and flowers.

 

Garden at Food For Thought

Relaxing, restoring, rejoicing with amaranth, sunflower, and garden love.

 

 

Food For Thought, Sonoma County Aids Food Bank, Forestville, California

Food For Thought, Sonoma County Aids Food Bank, Forestville, California. Food bank for the community, with a lush food-rich and critter-happy garden. http://fftfoodbank.org/

 

 

 

 

Want to learn about Food For Thought?  Go to:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy amaranth and see you tomorrow.

Tony

 

Nov 132012
 
Great Green Bush Cricket on amaranth leaf.

 

 

You have landed on Day 2 in this 3-day series of videos depicting  amaranth seed collecting.  Enjoy!

 

First a video  re “Amaranth Seed Collecting”.   Today’s video is part 2 of 3 (1/day) for the series!   THEN some amaranth pics (below the video):

 

Amaranth Seed Collecting 2 of 3 videos

Amaranth in Tony’s Garden (pics):

 

Amaranth growing on Dragon Spine Ridge.

Amaranth growing on Dragon Spine Ridge. Note how the vibrant red-purple stands out in an otherwise green landscape. Note the "edge effect" provided by the amaranth plant -- it fills in the shrubbery between the overhead pine tree and the lower vegetation.

 

Great Green Bush Cricket on amaranth leaf.

Great Green Bush Cricket on amaranth leaf. Be careful -- look closely enough and YOU may go cross-eyed, too.

 

Amaranth growing next to Birdbath Beach.

Amaranth growing next to Birdbath Beach. Birds eat amaranth's ripe seeds. Note the wood perches that allow the birds a look-see before hopping down into Birdbath Beach. The rock and slate shard in the birdbath allow insects and birds to find their own "shallow end" to the pool.

 

Amaranth on the web:

I like the page “Growing Amaranth and Quinoa” at:

http://www.seedsanctuary.com/articles/growing-power-foods.cfm

Seed and Plant Sanctuary for Canada

                                                                                                      For chicken lovers: “Feeding the Flock from the Homestead’s Own Resources: Part Two”

http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Growing-Poultry-Feeds-2.html

Feeding the flock

 

 

 

 

 

Happy seed collecting and see you tomorrow.

Tony

 

Nov 122012
 
Collected and dried amaranth seed.

 

 

You have landed on Day 1 in this 3-day series of videos depicting  amaranth seed collecting.  Enjoy!

 

First a video  re “Amaranth Seed Collecting”.   Today’s video is part 1 of 3 (1/day) for the series!   THEN some amaranth pics (below the video):

 

Amaranth Seed Collecting 1 of 3 videos

Amaranth in Tony’s Garden (pics):

 

Amaranth plant (Amaranthus sp. L.)

Amaranth plant (Amaranthus sp. L.) can grow to 8 feet tall. A stunning plant in the garden, adding color and critter habitat AND a food source for the gardener.

 

Collecting seed AND giving insects/spiders time to escape.

Collecting seed AND giving insects/spiders time to escape.

 

Collected and dried amaranth seed.

Collected and dried amaranth seed with dried flowers and leaves. The seeds are yet to be separated out of the dried plant.

 

Amaranth on the web:

Found this site, for some concise info: http://www.vurv.cz/altercrop/amaranth.html

amaranth from http://www.vurv.cz/altercrop/amaranth.html

 

 

 

 

 

Amaranth leaves and grain can be eaten; see The Dinner Garden for cooking instructions: http://www.dinnergarden.org/summerProduce.html

Amaranth plant by The Dinner Garden, http://www.dinnergarden.org/summerProduce.html

 

 

 

 

 

Happy seed collecting and see you tomorrow.

Tony