Amaranth is one of the alternative grain crops (the other is quinoa) I am trying this year. Amaranth is easily grown and I have grown varieties of amaranth before such as Mercado, Hopi Red Dye, and Golden Giant. These varieties were tall and needed to be tied to stakes to keep from blowing over. I was able to mature seed crops but the tendency to blow over in strong winds ruined much of the crop. So, for a long time I have looked for short amaranth varieties with heavy stalks. This year I think I may have found one.
The variety of amaranth I am growing this year is called “Fercita”. It is a short plant that is reported to grow between four and five feet. Mine are mostly six feet but a few are shorter. The stems are very thick like corn stalks. The leaves are green or red and faintly speckled. The flower plumes come in shades of yellow, green, or red. Seeds of this variety are white which means they are lower in the tannin compounds that reduce protein digestibility. Maturity is said to be between 75 and 90 days but my plants are almost 90 days old now and just beginning to form seeds. How much this has to do with the mini-drought in July is uncertain.
I planted my Fercita seeds outdoors where the plants were to be grown. In about ten days the first sprouts appeared and more followed over the next several days. Growth was slow until mid-July. Then there was a steady increase in height and leafy shoots. In by mid-August the plants were about five feet tall and the first flowers in the plumes began to open. At this point most of the flowers have bloomed and seeds are forming. I expect to harvest ripe seeds in about two weeks.
Amaranth and quinoa are not true grains (those are grass family species) but can be used like grains or added to grain products to increase the protein quality of wheat or corn flour. They can also be cooked separately and served in place of rice. The yields of grain amaranth and quinoa are high and average about 1,000 and 1,200 pounds per acre, respectively, on soils of moderate fertility. For a small plot of land measuring 100 square feet this can translate into 20 to 30 pounds of high quality protein food.