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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!
This year I grew amaranth, a crop I’ve never grown nor seen grown before, in the hopes of planting it from seed and harvesting the seed to plant next year. I’ll let you know how that went in a moment. First…
Why Grow Amaranth
I received the seeds back in the spring, in a beautiful care package from Botanical Interests – they asked me to try out some of their new organic seeds and write about it. This particular variety is Burgandy Amaranth, Amaranthus hypochondriacus. As many of you know, I am incredibly busy starting my new business, so I’m always looking for low-maintenance things to grow and cook. Ah, amaranth, I love you so!
Salad Green: When it’s young, and the leaves are just a few inches long, it adds a wonderful color and flavor to salads.
Cooking Green: When the leaves are more mature, they are a very nutritious spinach, often used in Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, and Thai cuisines. I’ve seen them called “Chinese Spinach” in our farmer’s markets here. The leaves are a good source of including vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Whole Protein Grain: When the plants are allowed to go to seed, the seeds themselves are one of the most complete proteins you can find. And they’re free of gluten. The seeds are 13-18% protein, according to Seeds of Change, with a high level of the amino acid lysine, an essential amino acid that is usually deficient in plant protein. Amaranth is also a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin E, and B vitamins. You prepare it much as you would quinoa.
Popping Grain: According to Botanical Interests, you can also pop the grain like popcorn.
Dye: Apparently the leaves are also a good red dye, used by the Hopi Native Americans.
How To Grow Amaranth
Did I mention it was easy?
Sow the seeds 1/4″ deep, 4-6″ apart in well-aged compost. You can plant them directly in the soil after danger of frost has passed, or plant them indoors 4-6 weeks before your average last day of frost. Germination is best when soil temperatures are 65 to 75 degrees.
The seeds will germinate in as little as 3 days if your soil is warm and moist but not wet. Every single one of my seeds grew, and grew fast!
Plants should be thinned 6-18″ apart eventually, before they start to compete with one another for light. (Eat the thinnings in a salad!)
This particular variety reaches 5-8 feet tall, no kidding. You can interplant small greens or other shade-loving crops beneath them.
Amaranth is drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant, and disease-resistant. You don’t need to water them more than about twice a week, even in high summer heat.
Seeds Forming in July
How To Harvest Amaranth Seed
Each head of amaranth holds tens of thousands of seeds, and will yield anywhere from 1 to 8 ounces of harvested seeds. In warm, dry climates, harvesting amaranth is very easy.
Instructions from Seeds of Change:
Cut the seedheads just before they become dry and brittle. Lay the seedheads on a cloth or place them inside paper or cloth bags with heads down and leave in the shade to finish drying. When the seedheads are dry, the seeds can be removed in several ways: by rubbing gently with your hands, by enclosing the seedheads between two cloths and treading on top without shoes on, by beating the seedheads inside of a bag, or by beating seedheads together over a cloth.
Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:
Amaranth keeps on flowering until hit by the first hard frost. Seed will often ripen many weeks before that, usually after about three months. The best way to determine if seed is harvestable is to gently but briskly shake or rub the flower heads between your hands and see if the seeds fall readily. (Numerous small and appreciative birds may give hints as to when to start doing this.) An easy way to gather ripe grain is, in dry weather, to bend the plants over a bucket and rub the seedheads between your hands.
Unfortunately for me, harvesting in wet climates is not as easy.
According to Salt Spring Seeds, “the best time to harvest amaranth commercially is in dry weather three to seven days after first frost.” Since our amaranth fell over in the wind and rain of a typical Seattle fall, my mother and I harvested the seed long before it was dry, and hung it in the basement to dry. I wish I had read the Salt Spring Seeds article before we did this: “Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff.” Ooops. We can verify that this is true. Apparently until a killing frost, the plants have too high of a moisture content to be able to dry them before they become moldy.
Next year I think we’ll need to stake up the amaranth and continue to let it dry, and then hope for a drier fall!
Fallen Amaranth in November
Threshing The Seeds
The hulls of the seeds are in no way poisonous, and they are a fine source of fiber in your diet, so there is no need to get every last bit of hull out of our seeds. We did save one head of amaranth in the ground, that is still waiting for the killing frost. So there is hope for us yet. Since we haven’t successfully harvested the seeds yet, I’ll thank Seeds of Change and Salt Spring Seeds for providing the following excellent instructions.
Instructions from Seeds of Change:
Once the dry seeds are removed they can be placed into a shallow bowl and swirled around until the large pieces of flowers rise to the top where they are easy to remove. By tipping the bowl you can rake out much of the chaff that is left. Any small particles of flowers, chaff, or dirt that remain can be removed by shaking the seed through a small mess screen about the size of window screen. Winnowing the seed in a light breeze will also remove the flower and chaff effectively. The seeds are very light so it is important to winnow carefully in light breeze only.
Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:
My own preferred threshing method is to rub the flowerheads through screening into a wheelbarrow and then to blow away the finer chaff using my air compressor. Cutting and hanging plants to dry indoors does not work very well: the plants become extremely bristly and it is difficult to separate the seed from the chaff…
Here are two short videos that help show what this looks like:
Storing The Seeds
Instructions from Seeds of Change:
Once the seeds are dried and cleaned, it is a good idea to keep the seeds for several days at the temperature at which they will be stored, before putting them into a storage container. If the seeds do not feel damp and do not stick to each other during this time they are probably dry enough for storage. The length of time to dry seeds varies greatly depending on the air humidity, drying conditions, seed size, and how clean the seeds are. Store quinoa and amaranth as you would any type of cereal or grain in a sealed, airtight container out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat.
Instructions from Salt Spring Seeds:
After harvesting, it is important to further dry your crop to ensure it won’t mold in storage. It can be left on trays in the hot sun or placed near an indoor heat source. Stir occasionally until it is as dry as possible. Store seed in air-tight containers in a cool dry place.
Will I Grow It Again?
Yes! Not only is it low-maintenance, nutritious, and tasty, but it is the best community-builder in the garden! Almost every gardener wants to know what that gorgeous plant is, so it was a great conversation starter in our community garden. Plus the Asian gardeners were excited to see us growing, and told us when to start harvesting the leaves for cooking greens.
Thanks, Botanical Interests, for pushing me to grow this fabulous plant. There are 70 varieties of amaranth, so there are lots of varieties to try!
I have been on the road for a good portion of my life, always learning and growing, and ever wanting to do more and be more than I am. This is something that makes me who I am, and I don’t know what I would do if I weren’t striving to making a bigger impact, working hard and always thinking about ways to make my life have more meaning. At the same time, with increased age and knowledge comes the reminder, I think, that we need pauses to express our gratitude, and to reinvigorate hope within us.
I have struggled for a long time to figure out where I was headed, and I am grateful for having made a significant step forward this year – simply by meeting people will similar goals, and creating a business model around making a difference. This year is the first year I’ve really been able to say “I set out to change the world,” and not feel like nobody knows what I’m talking about, or thinks I’m just naive or young. I am thankful for my business partners giving up their incomes and past pursuits to put our heads together and figure out how to do more as six than we could as one. It’s a very powerful and wonderful feeling.
I am grateful, of course, for my husband who loves me very much and supports me as I traverse the different occupations and worldviews to come up with the answers I seek. He is truly patient and supportive.
I am thankful for being so lucky to have a grandfather who is a century old, through whose eyes I can see history repeating itself, wisdoms nearly forgotten, and enlightenment in timelessness.
Thank you all for being supportive of this endeavor, too, where I have grown so much and learned so much from you all.
I am grateful for a great many things in my life. And with each reflection of gratitude, I find hope. There are so many things I want to change about the world. But as I surround myself with people who care, people who understand, and people who are actively making a difference, I am re-energized with belief that together we are stronger and can do more.
The holidays are my favorite time to eat homemade foods made from sweet local and seasonal ingredients. I’ve posted several recipes here, and thought I’d share them with you now so you have some exciting recipes to try this year!
During the holidays, I generally eat too much. I generally “allow” myself to stop and buy foods or stuff that I don’t normally buy. I generally turn up the heat more than I need to and sometimes I drive that mile to the store instead of walking.
It’s easier to “make exceptions” when it’s cold and you’re busy and you’re stressed out trying to get things done.
But do you ever NOT regret it later? After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret eating too much and gaining those few extra pounds, or feeling awful from having too many unusual foods in your body, or having blemished skin from too much of something or another? After the holidays, do you ever NOT regret just a little bit spending all that money, and now having a big credit card debt to pay off as you enter the new year? And do you ever NOT have a twinge of guilt after driving or turning up the heat?
Extreme cold and grey and wet gets us a little down at times, and makes us want to hibernate. I challenge you to fight that need to hide from the elements, the seasons, the real life outside! I challenge you to embrace the change in temperature, as it pushes our citrus trees to produce luscious fruits, our plums and peaches to sufficiently overwinter, our carrots and greens to sweeten in the cold earth.
And I challenge you to resist the urge to give up for a moment on your values as you pass by something that you really want to buy. Just ask yourself if it’s really perfect, given the environmental, social, and economic impact on you, your family, and the world. Is it? Or should you find an alternative that works better for every stakeholder in that transaction?
Make your holiday season guilt-free, happy, and healthy for you, your family and friends, and the world around you. You deserve it. And we all deserve it.
If you’re looking for some challenges to keep you on top of your values this season, here are a few:
The following recipe was written by my brilliant baker of a husband, Matt. Enjoy!
This is my favorite olive bread. I got the recipe from my instructor in the professional baking class I took at the New School of Cooking in Los Angeles. I’ve never found another olive loaf that is nearly as good, and I’ve tried the olive bread at every single bakery we’ve ever set foot in.
Do you know why it’s so good? Fat. Well, sugar and salt, too, but fat is the real hero of the day. We’ve got fat in the form of olive oil, olives, and egg. And we’ve got a whole tablespoon each of salt and sugar! I wouldn’t recommend skimping on any of the ingredients, but I wouldn’t suggest eating it every day, either. This is a great special occasion bread, perfect for the upcoming holidays.
Rosemary Olive Bread
3 cups bread flour (13.5oz)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
6 oz warm water (100F)
2 oz olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 cup pitted olives
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
Combine beaten egg, olive oil, sugar, rosemary and olives and add the yeast/water mixture.
Add flour and knead for 5 minutes.
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Add salt and knead for another 5 minutes.
Place dough in bowl greased with olive oil. Cover. Let rise for one hour in a warm spot (90F).
Remove the dough. Knead it a bit. Form it into a ball and place on parchment paper.
Loosely cover with a towel and place it in a warm spot (90F) for 30 min.
Pre-heat the oven for one hour at 400F.
Slash the top of the loaf before baking. Bake for 45 minutes or so on a pizza stone or in a cloche until the loaf registers 180F in the center.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for two hours or so before eating.
The baker’s best friends are the scale, the thermometer, and the timer. I really don’t know how to bake without them anymore. For example, everyone’s “cup” of flour is very different. The only way to maintain consistency is to do almost everything (but especially flour and water) by weight.
I use kosher salt. Specifically, Diamond Crystal kosher salt. It’s the industry standard in the restaurant world. Personally, I think there is no other salt that makes food taste better. However, if you are using table salt, use a little less than a tablespoon (the grains are smaller) and if you are using sea salt, use a little more than a tablespoon (the grains are bigger).
The period of rest between the two kneadings is called autolyse. It allows the gluten to begin to form before the dough has to deal with the stress of further mixing. Try it, it really works! And the best part is that it requires no effort!
I always add the salt in after the autolyse and allow to to incorporate into the dough during the second mixing. Salt tends to tighten the gluten (making it hard to knead) and can kill yeast, so it’s best to give things a little time to get started.
The first rise for this dough is a higher temperature than normally given in recipes. This is due to the fact that it is a very heavy dough. The yeast needs to be very warm so they can be very active and make a lot of gas to raise the loaf. It’s not a problem, but you have to keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t over-proof.
The slash on the top of the bread allows the bread to expand during baking without ripping (which destroys the form). Even worse, if there is no slash, sometimes the surface tension on the dough is too great, the bread doesn’t spring in the oven, and you get a brick. Good for the birds, not so much for people. Even dogs don’t really like it. We use a razor blade, but you can use a sharp knife or whatever is handy.
My favorite thing in the world is the cloche. It replicates a real baker’s oven at a fraction of the cost. Not only does it provide radiant heat all around the bread from the stone, but it allows a high level of humidity around the baking loaf for the first few minutes. This is important because it keeps the surface of the loaf supple and allows it to spring to it’s final size during the first few minutes of baking. Below, you’ll see our cloche on top of the baking stone in the oven. The jagged nubs on the top are from me breaking the handle off the very first time I put it in the oven!
Well it has been a long time since we’ve checked in on some of the challenges here! I would love everyone’s feedback on these challenges: are they helping you? Are you following them? Are you sticking to them? Should I keep running them? And how are they working for you?
The 10,000 Steps Challenge – Challenges each of us to work up to 10,000 steps per day, in order to get a good amount of exercise in our lives, and to possibly eliminate some of the short-distance driving we do.
The Buy Sustainably Challenge – Challenges us to really think about impact before making a choice to buy something, instead of doing it impulsively: do you really need it? If you do, try to buy it locally, fair trade, green, and high quality enough that it will last.
The Green Your Insides Challenge – Challenges us to use healthy products in our homes and on our selves. While there are so many products out there that are bad for us and bad for the environment, we have a choice to change what is normal and use things that are often cheaper and definitely better for our families.
In every case our mission is to work toward these goals – we can’t all go cold turkey on this stuff, and that’s ok – but we can start and work toward them, making a bit of progress each day! If you haven’t signed up but would like to, leave your name in the comments here, or visit the page for the challenge(s) you’re interested in.
Thoughts and Updates!
So are you participating, formally or informally? How are you doing? Do you enjoy these challenges? What else would you like a challenge about?
As many of you know, I’ve been thinking about creating a forum here at One Green Generation. Unfortunately, I am already trying to do too many things at the moment – some of you pointed out how much work maintaining a forum can be, and I agree. So, I think I may have found a solution…
Yesterday I spent several hours creating a Facebook Page for One Green Generation. There, we can each post photographs, recipes, questions, ideas, and even local meetups. If you have an event you’d like to let everyone know about, you can post a link there. If you have a new resource with fabulous information, you can post a discussion about it. And if you have a burning question, please ask there!
I am thinking of the Facebook page as an extension of our discussions here – a place where we can allow our sustainability ideas to move into our personal lives just a bit, and use one another as better resources for finding information and learning new things.
So please come be a fan, and help create our Facebook community! Don’t be shy – post questions today if you have time. Let’s get the ball rolling on starting this new space!
Thanks so much for reading everyone. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions about this blog and it’s new extension at Facebook. See you in both places!