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Growing Gluten-Free Grains in the Garden

4/10/2011 6:05:40 AM

Tags: gluten-free grains, gardening, Wendy Gregory Kaho

 

 

At a recent organic and local food conference I learned about small grain growing and the idea of trying to grow grains in my garden had me searching for advice on the Web. I discovered fellow gluten-free blogger, Linda Simon had not only tried it, she'd shared her experience and photos. I asked Linda to join me here to give other gluten-free gardeners advice on what worked from planting, to harvesting,  to eating her homegrown, gluten-free grains:

   

Do you know anyone else who has grown any gluten free grains in their backyard garden? No? Neither did we.

That didn’t stop us. In 2009 we planted amaranth, sorghum, teff, and flax. There were some successes and some we will not repeat.

Even though we have not planted most of these again, we enjoyed trying them. We knew our grains were organic and they were not contaminated with wheat.

We are in zone 5, on the Rock Prairie in Wisconsin. This is some of the most fertile land on the planet. Our garden has deep, rich, dark soil. My husband composts and improves it even more. Most things grow so well it seems we often have to stand back, to simply get out of the way of the rapidly growing plants.

Weird weather (at least for us) 

Our usual summer high temperatures are 75-95 degrees. But 2009 was one of the coolest summers ever. And July was the coldest ever recorded here, with an average temperature of only 65.7 degrees. 2009 was also the wettest. We sang “Rain, Rain, Go Away," spring, summer, and fall. Some storms dumped 2-4 inches of rain in a day. Some months had more than 6 total inches of rain.

But the grains grew anyway, and we delighted in watching them.

 Amaranth 

Amaranth 

Amaranth is the clear winner here. A small packet of mixed amaranth seeds produced nearly 2 pounds of seeds, harvested over 2 months. We cook the seeds for hot breakfast cereal. And pop them for a tiny version of popcorn.

Early in the season, we also harvest the leaves and stems. The leaves are a sturdier version of spinach. Steamed tender young stems taste just like asparagus! By July, the leaves and stems are too tough to eat.

Amaranth is also worthy of planting in the flower garden. Ours grew 5-8 feet tall, with striking flowers of gold, burgundy, and green. The mixed seeds were tan and black colored. You can purchase single types of amaranth grain if you don’t want black seeds.

We saved some of our amaranth seeds and moved them to a large area on the south side of the house in 2010. It is hot, dry, and gravelly there. And the amaranth took off again. This stuff is very easy to grow. We cut and dried some whole seed heads to put out for the birds last winter. They were not interested. And I fear this seeded new areas that I will curse as I pull out what could be a self seeding invasive plant.

 Flax 

Flax 

I don’t really consider flax a gluten free grain. It turned out to be the same as flax I had grown in the flower garden. It has airy leaves, with pretty little sky blue flowers. The thought of harvesting it hadn’t occurred to me before.

My husband ordered “culinary flax” from Bountiful Gardens, where it was listed with grains. And I often add ground flax seed in gluten free baking, so he thinks of it as a gluten free grain.

We didn’t get much of a harvest, only 3 oz. A ground squirrel was well fed though, he ate more than we did. It is far easier to buy flax seed in the store. And so we do.

 Sorghum 

White Seeded Popping Sorghum 

We love sorghum- flour and syrup. The plant looks just like corn stalks with an exploded ear of corn at the top.

In our cold wet spring, it germinated very poorly. But once it took hold, it was fun to watch. We harvested over 4 pounds of seeds.

 Sorghum Seeds 

We cooked the seeds in a slow cooker. It tastes and smells just like corn. The seeds are smaller, and creamy white. It makes a pleasant grain side dish, like rice or quinoa.

We tried popping the sorghum seeds, without success, and despite the name. We tried several times, and tried several methods. No pops.

They did get toasty tasty though. This could be a crunchy addition to trail mix.

I didn’t try milling the seeds into flour. It might work if you have a super duper blender, or a grain mill. I only have a KitchenAid blender and didn’t think it was up to the task.

And cooking syrup out of the stalks requires special equipment that we don’t have.

So we haven’t grown these again. We buy sorghum flour and syrup in the store. We can live without the seeds. We ended up giving most of our sorghum seed crop to the squirrels, who loved it.

 Teff 

Teff 

The teff harvest was sad. The teff grew well enough. It is short, only 3 feet tall. The leaves are soft and arching.

But the seeds are so tiny I can’t imagine how they are harvested. They just disappear. There are seeds in this picture. Really, there are. They are hard to see even up close.

We threshed the teff and got a whopping 1.2 ounces (1/4 cup) seed. And it is nearly impossible to clean the chaff away. If you blow on it, it goes, and so does the seed.

We buy teff seeds and flour in the store too.

Linda Simon is a retired personal chef, registered dietitian, and recipe developer. She writes about gluten free cooking and gardening at Kitchen Therapy blog.  Try her Teff Date Nut Coffee Quick Bread or Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Teff.

I've been reading Homegrown Whole Grains and Small-Scale Grain Raising while I make my gardens plans.

 



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Post a comment below.

 

Meagan Raindrop McAleese
2/22/2013 1:59:24 AM
I am trying all 4 of these and several more in Canada Zone 3 this year. But I have a greenhouse and a hoophouse and I work in a high rise with floor to ceiling windows to germinate things. And I figure why not. Anyhow I wanted to let you know that when looking up sorghum syrop mills, supposedly manual clothes ringers work well. Lehmans has a good one. I'm going to try squeezing mine when I harvest it!Loved your article. Thanks, Meagan

Melissa, GlutenFreeForGood
4/18/2011 8:57:43 PM
Wow, I loved reading this post. I find farming and gardening incredibly interesting, even though I've pretty much given up on actually growing anything other than a few herbs and tomatoes. FYI, the word "teff" means "lost" in the Amharic language of Ethiopia because the grain is so small (as Linda describes) that it blows away and is lost. Great stuff here at Mother Earth News and I'm thrilled they've added a gluten-free feature to the site. Thanks! Melissa

Cheryl Harris
4/11/2011 11:24:44 PM
Thanks for the introduction to Linda! Love the garden pictures too. I grew a few grains because I was curious. I grew amaranth (hated it, it choked my tomatoes because it was so big!) and I grow buckwheat every year, which I love because it keeps me from mulching. I've tried corn 3X, too, but that doesn't quite count. If we move somewhere big enough I'll try some of the others.

Linda Simon
4/11/2011 10:43:13 PM
Kim and Shirley, *blush* thanks for the kind comments.

Kim (Cook It Allergy Free)
4/11/2011 12:50:14 PM
Wow! This is fascinating. My garden is going wild with all of the vegetables and greens we have planted right now (we have had a perfect spring here), but I have wondered about grains. I am not sure how our dry climate would be for the grains, but I am tempted to give them a go. Thanks for sharing your experiences!!

Shirley @ gfe
4/11/2011 11:48:45 AM
What a nice surprise to see Linda guest posting here today! She's a delight. :-) I love all her photos and the experience she has shared. Wow on her and her husband's growings skills! It's good to know what will or will not work in the home garden. I've always wondered about teff and I chuckled over the ground squirrel getting his fill! Two reasons we can't have a garden--woods and an abundance of squirrels--but I do love reading about others' gardening adventures! Shirley










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