What Is Quinoa: Learn About Quinoa Plant Benefits And Care

Multicolored Quinoa Plants
(Image credit: ErnestoG)

Quinoa is gaining popularity in the United States because of its great taste and nutritional value. So, can you grow quinoa in the garden? Read on for quinoa planting instructions and information. The Incas held quinoa sacred, calling it chisaya mama, or mother of grains. It was one of the few nutritionally complete crops that could survive the harsh mountain latitudes. This Peruvian native became a staple in the Incan diet, and it has been grown in the Andes Mountains for over 5,000 years. In Bolivia, where people depend on quinoa to meet their nutritional needs, exporting the crop to North America has led to malnutrition. Bolivians can't afford to pay what growers can earn in the North American markets, so the people are switching to less expensive and less nutritious processed foods.

What is Quinoa?

Although quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) looks like a grain, it's actually a tiny seed called a pseudocereal. As a member of the goosefoot family, quinoa is closely related to spinach, beets, and lambsquarter. The plants grow about 6 feet (2 m.) tall and make an attractive addition to the landscape. The seedheads come in a rainbow of colors, including white and shades of red, pink, purple, yellow, and black. Quinoa plant benefits include high nutritional value and low sodium. It has less sodium and more essential nutrients than wheat, barley, or corn. Although more grocery stores are carrying quinoa each year, it is very expensive compared to grains.

Can You Grow Quinoa?

Yes, you can grow quinoa if you live in an area with the right climate and you are willing to devote a large plot to growing the crop. The climate is the main obstacle for most people. Quinoa needs short days with cool night temperatures and daytime temperatures below 95 degrees F. (35 C.). The plants tolerate nighttime temperatures as low as 28 degrees F. (-2 C.), and the quality of the crop increases if the plants get a little frost. These conditions should persist over the entire 130 day growing period. Here are the steps in planting quinoa:

  • Till the soil thoroughly, working in a complete fertilizer or a layer of compost.
  • Form rows about 3 feet (1 m.) wide and 18 inches (46 cm.) apart.
  • Plant the seeds 1/2 to 1 inch (1-2.5 cm.) deep. An easy way to do this is to make two or three shallow trenches down each row with the corner of a hoe or cultivating tool.
  • Place the seeds in the trench and then fill in the trench with soil.
  • Water lightly. The seeds rot if they are kept too wet.

Quinoa plant care is easy in the right setting. It tolerates drought but grows best when you never allow the soil to dry out. Water lightly and frequently instead of deeply. Fertilize at planting time and side dress four to six weeks later with the same nitrogen fertilizer that you use on your vegetable garden.

Jackie Carroll

Jackie Carroll has written over 500 articles for Gardening Know How on a wide range of topics.