A gorgeous plant that produces hugely nutritious grains, quinoa is one of the few crops that can make any home or farm attractive and productive.
But it is not only the looks or tasty seeds that set it apart. Learning how to grow quinoa takes little effort and time that you can place somewhere else. And that’s something you can’t overlook.
Despite being relatively straightforward to grow, it is not an effortless process. We want to make it as easy as possible. For that, we’ve assembled a comprehensive guide so you won’t feel even a little bit overwhelmed in the process.
Once you finish reading this article, you’ll be ready to grow quinoa without a single problem (like a professional quinoa farmer!)
What is Quinoa?
The scientific name of the plant is “Chenopodium quinoa,” part of the Amaranth family. It is a commonly-grown crop in high-altitude with relatively dry environments. The seed is high in protein, and the plant can grow to about 6 feet in height when fully matured.
It’s worth knowing this is an herbaceous plant, an annual that produces seeds. For that reason, it is also considered a grain crop. But in contrast with other grains, it doesn’t belong to the grass family like wheat, barley, and oats.
There’s a lot more that sets it apart from other grains. One is the different colors it has. Some quinoa plants can go from yellow to red, orange, and brown. It often produces purple and red flowers. Its seeds may have similar colors, including white and black.
But if there’s something to love about it is the ability to grow in any nutrient-rich soil even when temperatures vary greatly. It was first discovered in the Andes, and since then, it has traveled the world. Today, it’s mostly cultivated in Andean South America and the US, but you can also find it in Europe.
Types of Quinoa to Consider
Even though the most common type of quinoa in supermarkets is either white or black, you’ll also find many other varieties. For growing at home, you can find these:
Inca Red Quinoa
Probably the most popular of all types of quinoa, mainly found in the Andean part of South America (Bolivia, Chile, and Ecuador.)
The seeds are obviously red to purple (green-white when maturing), while the plant grows with green leaves and a brown stem. This one is super-dense in contrast with other varieties. Despite that, the plant grows between 5 to 7 feet.
This one prefers humid environments and thrives in slightly moist soil. The yields are moderate, not too high, and not too low. It works more as a crop than as an ornamental plant.
Black Seeded Quinoa
Coming from the US, black-seeded quinoa is one of the most popular. The seeds are obviously black (purple or deep red) with green stems and leaves.
What sets it apart is the extraordinary amount of yield it provides, taking over most Andean varieties. More interestingly, this variety can grow to over 7 feet tall.
Another exciting part of the black-seed quinoa is the shrub-like growth. It doesn’t produce bushes or individual stems but a sustainable sturdy shrub. For that reason, it is better as a crop plant than ornamental.
One of the most common quinoa varieties is the Biobio. The seeds are white, and the stems/leaves are often red. This makes it one of the most attractive to plant at homes as ornamental or in farms as a high-yielding crop.
Its Biobio name comes from the region in Chile with the same name, where it’s originated. Either way, it grows quickly, produces an extremely high yield, and the seeds are among the smallest of all varieties.
The Biobio quinoa plants are among the shortest (growing 3 to 5 feet) and develop the fastest in humid areas.
The most common type of white quinoa is the Real variety. It produces some of the largest seeds, and the plant can grow to over 7 feet in size.
It stands out for the green to yellow leaves and brown stems that grow together in a bush-like appearance. The seeds can be yellow and white, sometimes with a bit of brown.
This one may take a bit of time to fully mature and produce seeds. Still, it is decently quick to grow and yields in just a few months. It is a go-to option as a farm crop.
One of the few quinoa varieties that originated in North America is the Redhead. This one is uniquely attractive for an utterly red stem and red-to-brown seeds. On top of that, it doesn’t grow like a bush. In contrast with other varieties, it grows upwards in a single stem.
The plant can reach 5 feet or more in size. It typically germinates fast, which makes it an ideal choice for quick yields.
This one resists a lot of rain and prefers more humid environments than other quinoas. It can also thrive in dry climates.
Brightest Brilliant Quinoa
The most attractive type of quinoa is the Brightest Brilliant. As the name says, this one boasts a uniquely bright and colorful set of stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds. It can be red, pink, orange, yellow, white, and green, all at the same time. The colors are typically very intense.
While the seeds are edible, they have a milder taste than other varieties. The protein quantity is the same.
On top of all that, it doesn’t grow more than 4 or 5 feet. And the plant is not too dense, producing small shrubs with 5 to 10 stems that grow few leaves. That makes it an ideal ornamental option.
What Does Quinoa Need to Grow?
Regardless of the variety, you’ll have to ensure certain factors for the quinoa to thrive. Here we explain more about them:
Space & Container
There’s no way to grow quinoa in pots. Even if you’re using the smallest of varieties, the plant grows to no less than 3 feet. For that reason, growing it in containers can be extremely difficult to impossible.
That’s why we recommend growing in a garden or farm area instead. In gardens, it’s worth leaving 20 to 30 inches of space between the quinoa and other plants (especially if others are crops too.)
Soil & Fertilizer
Quinoa thrives anywhere with highly nutritious soil that drains well. As long as you can ensure high-nitrogen soil that doesn’t get soggy, you won’t have any problem with it.
Having said that, it does well with mulch. While it doesn’t feed on the mulch, it helps prevent weeds’ growth, affecting the plant’s growth.
As for fertilizer or manure, you won’t need any. If you’re planting in low-nutrient soil, then a liquid fertilizer with a slow-release mechanism will suffice. You can also find companion plants like potatoes or grains for added nitrogen.
Water & Humidity
The plant doesn’t need soggy soils or extremely humid environments. However, it will require consistent watering to thrive, especially in the germinating period.
It’s advisable to water once a day, maintaining the soil moist from the moment the seeds are planted to when the first seedlings appear. After that, the plant can pretty much survive with regular watering twice a week.
You can water once the soil gets dry, and that should also work. But once the plant starts growing, it can survive dry environments without problems. In fact, it will produce better yields when it’s not overwatered.
Light & Air
As a pseudo-grain, the quinoa plant demands a lot of sun exposure. You will have to ensure no less than 6 hours a day for the plant to thrive. But if you can get it under the sun for 8 hours or more, it should thrive.
As for wind or air, it doesn’t need much. But it’s still worth growing it outside, where it can receive much more humidity from the wind.
Temperature & Environment
Quinoa doesn’t like cold environments. Even though it was originated in the Andes, where temperatures can go lower than 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the plant thrives when they stay above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Having said that, quinoa can survive in temperatures as low as 25 degrees and as high as 95 degrees. As long as the soil is sufficiently nutritious and moist, it shouldn’t have any problem.
On top of that, quinoa withstands light frosts. In places where fall comes with frosts, you won’t have to worry about the quinoa. But it can still die if exposed for too much – so be careful.
Either way, it prefers outdoor environments. Growing quinoa indoors is difficult to impossible.
How to Grow Quinoa Like a Pro in 7 Steps
So, already know everything it takes to grow quinoa? Now it’s time to put all that knowledge to work. Below, we explain how to grow quinoa like a pro farmer in just 7 steps:
1. Start in the Right Season
Quinoa prefers warm environments with no frosts. That’s why you should start germinating the seeds in the spring, preferably mid-spring or late spring.
Either way, make sure it is warm (no less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit) for the seeds to germinate more quickly.
2. Prepare the Soil
If you’re in the right season already, there’s no time to waste. Start preparing the soil right away.
Here, we recommend loosened soil. You should make sure the soil is sufficiently soft for the seeds to germinate without any resistance. Otherwise, the plants may not grow quick enough or not grow at all.
One great thing to do is to prepare rows of soil. Use a bit of manure and water to soften it up. Mix the soil and let it rest for a few hours before planting. It should be loose and moist.
NOTE: Preparing the soil is also about removing weeds around. The Lamb’s Quarter is a common weed that looks almost precisely like quinoa. Get it off from the area before planting.
3. Plant the Seeds
With the rows of soil ready, you should start planting those seeds. It is recommended to space them at about 1 to 2 feet apart from each other (or at least 20 inches.)
If you want to separate them after the seedlings appear, that’s also possible. Either way, make sure the seeds are not too deep into the soil. Generally, a 0.25-inch of depth should be enough for the seeds to germinate more easily.
Once you’ve planted, water once again for the soil to compact a bit. Then let the seeds germinate.
4. Cover the Seeds
While the seeds germinate within 4 days to a week, you should cover them in a bit of compost. There’s no need to add too much – 0.25-inch of compost is enough.
This should be done as soon as you sow the plant seeds to grow through the compost more quickly. Otherwise, it will struggle.
Keep watering the seeds daily until the seedlings appear.
5. Water & Fertilize
Now the seeds are growing. Once the first seedling has appeared, you will need to water less consistently.
The soil should be evenly moist. Soggy soil is not ideal. For that, water consistently once a day. You can reduce it to as much as once or twice per week. But this could affect its growth over time.
Don’t forget about fertilizing the soil. It appreciates a mild nitrogen fertilizer, even though it doesn’t need any. Keep fertilizing from the moment seedlings appear to the moment seeds start to fall. Do this once every month for sustained growth (if you apply too much fertilizer, the plant will get stunted.)
6. Transplant the Seedlings (Optional)
If the seedlings are too close to each other, we recommend separating them to at least 20 inches apart. For bushy species, 1 foot or 2 feet of distance between quinoa and other plants would be a better choice.
Remember that they can grow to 7 feet or even more. If you don’t plant them with sufficient space, they may eventually affect other plants’ growth or not grow as they should.
7. Harvest Quinoa
After 3 or 4 months of germinating the seeds, the quinoa will produce tasty seeds. You can harvest them almost right away (unless they look green or unripe.)
Harvesting quinoa is a piece of cake. You just need to either shake the flowerhead where the seeds grow (they’ll fall automatically) or cut the stem below the seed head and put it in a bag.
These seeds are pretty resistant, so you can store them almost anywhere. But we still recommend enclosed areas with warm to cold temperatures. Anything too hot or cold can affect the seeds.
For better results, store in an airtight environment inside a kitchen cabinet.
Before consuming the quinoa, remember to wash them. The saponin that covers the seed could be mildly toxic or just not tasty at all.
How to Care for a Quinoa Plant
While planting and letting the quinoa grow should be enough with the steps above, you should still consider the tips below. If you want the quinoa to keep producing harvestable seeds for years to come, here’s how to make it happen:
Weed Out its Surroundings
The quinoa plant is one of the sturdiest. It typically doesn’t get any pests or diseases to worry about. But it will get affected by weeds.
Overcrowded environments by weed can affect the plant’s growth. That’s why it is critical to weed out the area before planting, after planting, and during its growth (especially as a seedling.)
Once the quinoa plant reaches about a foot of height, it becomes sturdy enough to withstand weeds growing around. But even then, keep weeding every single sign of unwanted vegetation to keep it thriving.
Use Mulch for Weeds & Moisture
Because the plant requires consistently moist soils and doesn’t like weeds, you can always use mulch to ensure a proper environment.
Mulch will absorb more water than the soil will, adding a bit of a moisturizing effect. And sure enough, it prevents new weeds from growing – so you won’t have to weed out the area so much. On top of all that, it keeps the soil temperature cool for quinoa to thrive (especially in sunny areas.)
There’s no better way to keep a quinoa plant growing consistently than ensuring proper humidity. This often means watering once a day in relatively dry areas and as little as once a week in humid places.
For the best results, use nutrient-rich rainwater and don’t let the plant go more than a week without water. Otherwise, its growth will slow down or simply die.
There’s no need to be an expert gardener or farmer to produce edible quinoa seeds at home. As long as you follow our guide on how to grow quinoa, you’ll have an easy and quick growing process.
Whether you want it for merely ornamental purposes or because you genuinely like the taste and nutrients it offers, following our guide is the way to go.
Don’t hesitate to put every step and tip into work, and you’ll get your quinoa plant ready for harvesting in just a few months. If not, it will at least make your garden look fantastic with its uniquely attractive colors.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your quinoa growing today!