Grain and vegetable Amaranth

AlyoshaKMay 9, 2014

I came across the following on a homesteading site about veggie Amaranth:

"I have grown it commercially (vegetable amaranth not grain). It is best transplanted at about 4 leaves, (thinned in cells), roughly on a 12 inch spacing. Plenty of compost or nitrogen. Pull leaves every day or two, the plant will continue to grow. Don't let it seed, you will not get rid of it."

I was hoping for something that wouldn't require transplanting, nor much soil amending or fertilizing, nor leaf-pulling. Since some of you plaint grain amaranth for biomass, but also to attract insects, do the vegetable types have some real virtues that commend them over the grain types? In one post the "Globe" type was recommended for its ability to attract insects, but I cannot figure out if it is a grain type or vegetable type.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Globe amaranth is an ornamental plant, and it is also known as gomphrena. I grow it at the end of our driveway down by the road, so it is roughly 300' from the water faucet. As such, it generally does not get watered and has to survive on whatever rainfall it gets. I did water it in 2011 at least twice, by hooking up the water hoses, dragging them down to the end of the driveway and hooking up the sprinkler. I actually was watering the three vines (trumpet creeper 'Madam Galens', trumpet creeper 'Flava' and American Cross Vine) on an arbor down near the driveway gate and mailbox, and the globe amaranth merely got watered due to its proximity. It needed the water, though, because when I had mowed that area the previous week, the mower blade hit a rock and the spark set the grass near the globe amaranth on fire. I stomped it out quickly, but made a mental note to come back and water that area soon since it was dry enough to ignite. Most years it does fine on no water. It might wilt a little in August, but it survives and keeps flowering. It is not in a bed with improved dirt. I merely scattered seed along the edge of the gravel driveway about a decade ago, and it has grown there and reseeded itself ever since. The specific variety of globe amaranth I have at the end of the driveway is "Strawberry Fields", which has (surprise surprise) red flowers. I also have grown and like Purple Buddy, Fireworks and QIS Mix.

With regards to the vegetable amaranth, also referred to in some cultures as calaloo, it is an acquired taste, Some people like to eat it, some don't. In order to maintain the quality of the leaves in our very hot and very dry climate, you will need to water it some or they get really sad-looking and tough. You also have to harvest the leaves while they are young, smallish and tender. I'll link the vegetable amaranth page from Evergreen Seeds below because they have a nice variety selection. Johnny's Select Seeds also has the green and red-leaved calaloo whose appearance reminds some people of coleus. It may be the same red and green-leaved one shown on the linked page.

I just yanked out a lot of southern red amaranth seedlings 3 or 4 weeks ago because they were growing in a place where I wanted to grow something else.

I grow the grain amaranths for biomass for the compost pile, and also just because I love the way the plants look. Grain-type amaranths in full bloom will stop traffic because of their large size and gigantic flowers. The flowering seedheads make gorgeous autumn decorations. I usually cut a lot of the flowers while they are in full bloom and before they totally go to seed, and stick a bunch of them in an old milk can that sits by the walk-in door to the detached garage, which is designed to look like a big red barn. Sometimes I add the seedheads from broomcorn to the amaranths. All of them are lovely (and cheap) autumn decorations.

I also grow a ton of the closely related celosia family ornamentals like Elephant Head amaranth, love-lies-bleeding and cockscomb.

I've grown both celosias and grain amaranths ever since moving here, and grew the celosias even back in my childhood in the 1960s and had it at our first house in Texas in the 1980s and 1990s. The amaranths and celosias are very drought-tolerant and heat-tolerant, but they do need some water every now and then in order to look their best. My favorite grain type is Golden Giant. I haven't had to buy amaranth or celosia seed in ages because, as noted in the quote in your original post, if you let them go to seed once, you'll have them forever. The fact that they are self-sowing and perpetuate themselves is a bonus as far as I am concerned. I just yank out the seedlings that pop up where I don't want them.

They grow well in my horrible, unimproved red clay but are larger, more beautiful and produce more flowers and seeds when grown in compost-enriched soil.

In southern OK, if you grow amaranth dryland style, expect it to sometimes show stress, and in turn, to attract lots of spider mites. Does it grow on low water in high heat? Sure it does. However, the price you pay for low irrigation or no irrigation is that it will look just about as stressed as everything else in August. In 2011 some of it died after I stopped irrigating. That year, we had received about 11" of rain for the whole year through the last week or so in August. Most years, even dry ones, we have more rain than that. I'd guess that normal rainfall for us through the end of August would be 20-22", and the amaranth does fine dryland on that kind of rainfall as long as some of that rain falls in June, July and August. From what I remember of 2011, we didn't have any rain in June and July which is why the amaranth was in such bad shape by August.

Hope this helps,


Here is a link that might be useful: Examples of Various Vegetable Amaranth Varieties

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 9:39PM
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Thanks again Dawn. Just what I needed (and more). I'm assuming I can plant amaranth now in May since they're so tough. I'm going to order some grain types from Johnny's. I've been on a biomass research kick ((biomass for the compost pile) and recently ordered and planted some Tithonia diversifolia cuttings. Have to protect them through the colder parts of the winter but they apparently produce compost material that's almost of the quality of fertilizer. Commonly called Mexican Sunflower, but another type, Tithonia rotundifolia, goes by the same name but doesn't have the reputation for fertility.

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 8:44PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

You can plant amaranth now or in June or July or August. As near as I can tell, it seems to germinate just about anywhere anytime.

I grow Tithonia rotundifolia for its sheer beauty and for the butterflies.

With about 10 acres of woodland, I have all the biomass I need, although I only gather it during the winter when the snakes are not out and about. I still like to grow some green manure type crops to rototill into the soil, or to cut and put on the compost pile, or as a living mulch under a taller crop. One of my favorites is Comfrey. My comfrey plants have been in bloom for about a month now, and stood up well to freezing weather even after they were blooming. They are one of the few things I can grow in the back garden's sandy soil that voles won't touch.

A great source for all kinds of compost and green manure crops is Bountiful Gardens. (With no disrespect intended towards Johnnny's at all. I love Johnny's, but I buy from a wide variety of suppliers.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost Crop Seeds at Bountiful Gardens

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 11:35PM
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Thx Dawn. Since I have an daytime job all week I'm often sweating out planting times. Often I just can't get things in before the window has passed. Btw, are you growing the Bocking 4 or 14 variation of Comfrey, or just the common type? Where do you get yours if it's the Bocking type?

I'd like to grow the Bocking variety that's ideal for compost rather than animal fodder. Can't remember which it is at the moment.

Checking out the Compost Crop Seeds now that it's lunchtime.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:57PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

My garden is my full-time job, although at some times of the year, my volunteer work with our Volunteer Fire Department sort of supplants it. When I worked full-time and had a small child in school, my gardening was squeezed into evenings and weekends that never had enough hours of daylight in them. I had a relatively small yard and garden then compared to what I have now. I still don't necessarily get everything planted when I should, often because the winter/spring fire season seriously interferes with planting time, but also because the erratic nature of our weather keeps me guessing some years about what the best time is in any given year.

I just grow the common type of Comfrey. I didn't see any reason to spend the extra money for Bocking when plain old confrey raised from seed does just fine here, and its flowers are prettier than Bocking's anyway. I grow so many things that I try to raise most everything I can from seed just to keep the cost down.

I bought a lot of herb seeds a couple of years ago from Richter's, which is in Canada. I have been incredibly pleased with how well the seeds have performed. All of the types of herbs I grew from Richter's seeds have grown very well despite adverse weather conditions here. The comfrey stayed green all winter despite temperatures as low as about 3 or 4 degrees, and was in bloom on and off in late winter and spring. It did have a little freeze damage on the leaves and flowers a few times, but that is not unexpected here in the winter time.

I tend to ignore recommended planting times based on calendar dates, and plant both earlier and later than recommended. Guess what? With most things it doesn't matter. Planting late does matter with tomato plants because the high temperatures that impede fruit set can arrive startlingly early some years, so if anything, I push hard to plant them earlier versus later....which explains why we've already harvested 18 regular-sized (as in not bite-sized like cherry, plum or grape tomatoes) tomatoes and have been overdosing on fresh tomatoes in general and on BLT sandwiches in particular. Most everything else you can plant late, depending on the weather, and it really won't matter that much, especially with flowers, herbs and compost crops. I succession sow most edible crops sporadically over the summer because I cannot abide an empty space in the garden. If I leave empty ground after removing a crop that's been harvested, Mother Nature will fill that ground with the plants of her choice, which often means stuff like pigweed, lambs quarters and crab grass. I'd rather fill the space with plants of my choice, even if it means I am sowing the seed of something a month or two or three later than recommended. Break a few rules. You might be surprised how many garden rules you can get away with breaking.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 3:24PM
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GREAT!!! Honestly, I thought my planting was about over until I read this and another post about how "late" planting (southern peas I believe) is fine if they plant can take some heat. I was following a planting schedule way too strictly.

I've bought from Richter's before. Comfrey. 2 years ago, but every single plant suffered a miserable death from the one-two punch of cabbage loopers and grasshoppers. I will try again on the comfrey.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 4:22PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

From looking at the plants in my garden today, it looks like it is another banner year for cabbage loopers and grasshoppers. Too bad the two of them don't eat and kill each other.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 10:30PM
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I'm seeing quite a few baby grasshoppers, but noticed they are almost exclusively in the tall grass. About half the area around the garden is taller grass. No loopers though. Probably bc I planted no cabbage. :) But I do have some chard and seems like they went after them before.

What all do cabbage loopers tend to eat, and is BT the only organic remedy? I still remember going out at night 2 years ago and catching the culprits red-handed (could not figure out what was eating my lettuce and chard and comfrey plants), but frankly, I'm not certain it was what you are calling cabbage loopers. I did use Google to compare pics, but closest I came was some kind of caterpillar looking worm that lived in the mulch and marched up to the tender plants every night.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 10:11AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bt 'kurstaki' is the best organic remedy I have found for any and all kinds of caterpillers, except maybe for cutworms and other caterpillars that spend some time underground as a part of their life cycle or their daily life. (With those, I've found Slug-Go Plus very effective.) If a product with Bt 'kurstaki' is not effective for you, you can step up to one of the other organic pesticides containing pyrethrin or spinosad. The problem with those two pesticides is that they will kill a lot of other insects, including your beneficial insects that help keep your pest insects under control. For that reason, I never spray them on my entire garden, although I might spray them directly on a specific plant or two that has a major insect problem. With any pest, I always start with the least invasive form of control, like hand-picking, and then step up to a narrow-spectrum pesticide that only affects the pest (like Bt 'kurstaki', for example). If the situation cannot be controlled with those, a person can use organic pesticides that cover a wider spectrum of pests, but I don't like using those because I depend a great deal on my beneficial insects to control my garden's pest insects.

I try to garden for the butterflies and plant oodles of plants for them, not just for adult butterflies but also to nourish the caterpillars, so it is a rare occasion that I'll use Bt 'kurstaki' at all, and when I do, I use it only on the specific plants (usually broccoli and cabbage plants) that are being damaged and am extremely careful not to let it drift on to nearby butterfly flowers.

One problem with loopers is that they do like lots of other plants and will devour those too. That includes spinach, lettuce and other leafy greens, potato and tomato plants, and cucumber plants. (I mean regular cucumber---I'm not sure I've ever seen them on Armenian cucumbers, but those are really melons and not cukes.)

I try to control cabbage loopers and imported cabbage worms by handpicking them every day and dropping them into a bowl of soapy water to drown. I used to take them and throw them to the chickens, but our chickens are either lazy or too well-fed, because when I toss caterpillars in their chicken run, they mostly look up at me with an expression that says "I am not gonna eat that" and then they walk away and I have to go into the chicken run and kill the loopers myself----so I save myself the trouble of trying to feed them to the chickens by drowning them. Then, I dump the dead loopers onto the compost pile where they can decompose into compost that someday will feed my garden plants.

If hand-picking them is not an option and you'd rather not spray pesticides in the garden, your next best bet is to buy trichogramma wasps and release them in your garden. This is a good option only if you do not spray pesticides in your garden. There's not point in releasing beneficial insects if you're going to turn around and kill them.

There are many other kinds of loopers, so it could be you have one of those and not that cabbage loopers. I'm pretty sure the loopers I have found devouring my cleome plants were cabbage loopers, but it could be they are just some other looper than looks similar.

One of my favorite early-season ways to control them actually involves controlling the moths. When I first start seeing their moths, which in recent years has been in March or even in February, I put a few yellow Tidy Cat litter buckets filled with alfalfa tea in the garden and also near any lights that remain on all night long. You make alfalfa tea the same way you make compost tea only by soaking some alfalfa (instead of compost), like rabbit feed pellets made of compressed alfalfa, for example, in water for a few hours. Those moths flock to those buckets of alfalfa tea (and so do the June bugs which normally are April bugs here), and I have a lot of dead looper moths floating on the surface of the alfalfa tea every morning. I scoop them out so their dead bodies won't be some sort of warning to other looper moths, and have more floating in there the next day. This is not something I use long-term. I just use it for a few days when the moths first appear. If I leave it out later on as the weather warms up more, I tend to find bees and other beneficials in there, which just horrifies me. Then, I call it a year and pour the alfalfa tea on some plants that need a good feeding.

Keeping tall grass mowed short helps keep the hopper population down right now. I try to keep the grass outside the garden mowed pretty short, but there's nothing I can do about adjacent pastures that do not belong to us. Later on, in July and August when huge hordes of hoppers migrate into the still-green areas from dried out pastures and grasslands, mowing isn't that effective. Grasshoppers are so mobile that no matter what you do, more just keep moving in. I got a huge education in grasshopper behavior and grasshopper control our first few years here when we had drought and the population was huge.

Grasshopper control is difficult at best, but most easily done when they are young and small. Once they are big, you're only going to have luck with vacuuming them up. Been there. Done that. Hate doing it. I hate grasshoppers more, though.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 11:37AM
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Thanks for that tip on the moths. I really had incredible damage 2 years ago. If I'd known how they were related to moths, which appeared everywhere early that year, and how to deal with them I'm sure I'd have had a better year, uh oops, that was the year the grasshoppers came in a cleaned out about everything that survived the caterpillars. Grrrrrr.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 3:28PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I cannot say they are linked, but to me it seems that the grasshoppers levels are at their worst in the same years that the caterpillars are at their worst.

Today I considered all my grasshopper options and ordered 5 lbs of Semaspore. I have used it in my veggie garden at least once in the last 4 or 5 years, but haven't spread it over a larger portion of the property in quite some time. With so many little hoppers hatching, I thought I'd see what I could do to combat them now. That will buy the garden some time before the huge hordes of them start flying in daily from elsewhere. Usually, once you get the Nosema locuste disease established in your local hopper population on your property, it becomes somewhat self-perpetuating. The hoppers that ingest it die, but the protozoa remains active in their body for some time. Then, since hoppers are often cannibalistic, some other hoppers will feed on the dead hoppers, inadvertently ingesting the Nosema locuste as they do so. In that way, using Semaspore once often pays off in reduced hopper populations for several years. When we first moved here in 1999, I had to use it almost every year for a while....until probably at least 2006, We have had some bad hopper years since then, but nothing like what I remember from 1999-2000, 2003 and 2005-06. The numbers of young hoppers I'm seeing now are huge compared to what I've seen in recent springs, and that worries me. While grasshoppers are a problem to some degree every summer, when they are as heavy in spring as they are now, then they usually are an enormous problem in summer.

We need some big flooding rains like we had in 2007 to come flood them out, wash them away, etc.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2014 at 5:24PM
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