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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.