Rain, autumn and amaranth -- 8-25-14

(This week’s flower is the Swamp Loosestrife, also known as Decodon verticillatus. For an enlarged view, click on the picture.


      Memo to Mother Nature: Enough rain already!

This past Friday and Saturday featured two soaking rainstorms that left lawns too wet to mow and turned many vegetable gardens into bogs, where trimming and harvesting from the plot’s edge seemed the only safe things to do. But you can mulch garden beds if you have dried grass clippings or something like pre-composted cow manure that won’t burn the plants. In that way, if we have a late dry spell, the soil that’s very wet now won’t turn into an impenetrable block of dirt.

If that happens, by the way, it means that your soil needs more organic matter, which you can till in this fall after everything is truly finished. As you do that, consider leaving the garden in a “rough plowed’ state. In that way, more of the soil surface is exposed to weather. More weed seeds will be killed, as will the larvae of overwintering insects. And the water from winter snows or rains will soak in instead of running off.


     Autumn is on the way, however. Hedge bindweed, also known as Calystegia sepium, is in the process of trying to cover the bushes in the black raspberry patch, the pokeberries are sending out the white flowers that precede their purple berries and the small round flowers of the elephant-leaved burdock are getting ready to turn into those “hitchhikers” that get caught in the dog’s coat and on the cuffs of my plants. I am ready to do battle with all three, if only it would stop raining for a day or two.


     In the front yard, the Japanese yews that I have been carefully pruning back into shape for the last two years have put out new growth now after being pruned when new growth first appeared in late June. They are long-lived and sturdy — ours have been in the ground for at least 40 years — but the berries and leaves are toxic to humans. If your child tends to put bright red objects in his or her mouth, this isn’t the landscape plant for you. There have been stories in previous years about cattle that died after a neighbor tossed yew cuttings over the fence as a “snack” for livestock. So let the farmer feed his own stock.


     Between the short yew hedge in our front yard and the single yew at the corner of the house is the walkway to our front porch streps. Two days earlier I placed a broom and a scoop shovel on the steps, so they’d be there when I found the time to sweep the walk. But when I returned, a brown and tan spider which I couldn’t identify had built not one, but two webs, about two feet in diameter, bridging the gap. I could either sweep them away, or postpone the sweeping job. Those who know me will know what I did — or in this case, didn’t do. 

This sort of web-building behavior — building them where more sunlight can get to them — is typical fall behavior. In previous winters I have found spiders in their webs, frozen in place as they tried to cram in a last meal before it got too cold.


    One of our regular readers sent me some questions about golden amaranth last week. The name I knew from a subscription to Organic Gardening I had in the late 1970’s. Robert Rodale, son of the magazine’s founder, J.I. Rodale, touted it as a miracle grain. Paul Hepperly, Rodale Institute research manager, has written that Rodale undertook a breeding program that “was successful in developing grain amaranth with large seeds of excellent nutritional quality that did not shatter prior to harvest.”

However, according to Hepperly, after Rodale was killed in a traffic accident in 1990, the project was shelved and much of the breeding material was given to the USDA’s Germplasm Repository in Fort Collins, Colorado. A breeding program continues in China, according to Hepperly.

So on we go to the following reader’s questions:

    Q. I am raising the golden amaranth this year and they are huge. At least 8 ft tall and big heads.  When is the best time to harvest these and how do I harvest the seeds?  Also how do I prepare them for human consumption? Any suggestions will be appreciated.  Thanks.”

    A. I didn’t find too much university research on this topic, perhaps because, as noted by the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, in an article written for AMRC by Marsha Laux and Shannon Hoyle of Iowa State University, the entire crop can be lost at one time, because of seed shattering. 

But the same article notes that amaranth is worth growing “because it is gluten-free, amaranth is also popular with consumers who have wheat and gluten allergies. This grain is high in lysine, well balanced in other amino acids, has a protein content of around 14 to 17 percent and is high in fiber.”

    For information on harvest and storage, I turned to Horizon Herbs, which sells amaranth seed. (I count on seed sellers to provide good information on how to grow and use their products, because if they don’t, they’ll lose customers.)

    Their instructions for harvest and storage: 

    1. Wait until the seed is completely mature. Rub the seed heads between your hands and if the seed falls out, it’s ready for harvest.

    2. Cut plants, then lay seed heads on tarps to dry, covering them to prevent seeds from being moistened by the dew. Inside a solar greenhouse would be great, Horizon says.

    3. Once thoroughly dry, press the seeds through a screen made of hardware cloth. Use leather gloves as both the seed and the screen can cut your hands.

   4. Wind-winnow the grain on a sheet, allowing the chaff to blow away. You may also use a seed screen to do this, or run the seeds through a colander.

   5. Once clean, store in jars in the kitchen, where it should last for years.


    Horizon Herbs’ recipe to prepare grain for eating:

   1. Place one cup of grain in five cups of water.

   2. Bring to a boil and then turn to “low” for 30 minutes, until the mixture begins to “pop.”

   3. Turn off and let stand for 10 minutes. 

   4. Serve with milk or dried fruit.

   The Horizon Herbs people conclude by saying that the grain, which AMRC noted was high in fiber, will change one’s waste-elimination habits, promoting regularity and other benefits.

   As always, if you don’t feel as if you have the skills to properly grow and prepare amaranth, you might want to buy the grain on amazon.com or target.com. To read the entire Horizon Herbs process, go to www.horizonherbs.com.


    (Did you enjoy this column? If you have suggestions or constructive criticism, please e-mail bobmaginnis@myactv.net.)

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