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Amaranth – My #1 Survival Crop

Just joined yesterday and wanted to contribute.  I’m a long time prepper, living in north Mississippi.  I love to garden.  I live on a 20 acre farmstead where we have 4 horses and 9 dogs.  My orchard has over 150 trees… mostly apples with some peaches.  I also grow blackberries, blueberries & muscadine grapes.  I am by no means self sufficient but most of what I grow is what we like to eat & what I would grow in a crisis, if I did ever have to become self sufficient.

IMO, the #1 survival crop is amaranth. It is easy to grow, as for some it is a weed (Pigweed, Palmer amaranth). It handles drought extremely well & needs little, if any fertilizer.  Farmers struggle to get rid of it. It was a staple food item of the Aztecs & Incas. It is a dual use plant, in that you can eat the leaves & young stems, plus each plant can produce up to a pound of nutritious seed that can be ground into flour or made into porridge. It is considered a super food, as it is absolutely loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals. The plants can grow up to 10′ tall. It loves the hot weather and in my garden, I grow it as a summer green. You can use it in most any recipe for spinach or greens.  IMO, greens are great crops for survival so I grow them the whole growing season.  In cool season I grow collards & kale.  In the summer, I grow amaranth.

But what really makes amaranth shine as a survival food has to do with its reproduction. Each plant can produce hundreds of thousands of seeds. I will say that again… hundreds of thousands of seed. So imagine we are in a SHTF crisis and we needs lots of food fast. What other nutritious plant could produce so much food so fast and which crop could provide enough seed to feed a town within 1 generation? Just one pound of seed contains around a half million seed, so anyone can store this seed for possible use.

Yes, I grow and store all sorts of garden seed. For me, my go to survival garden crop is the three sisters… a native American way of growing corn, pole beans & winter squash. Sister corn provides support for the sister pole bean. Sister pole bean, being a legume, puts nitrogen back into the soil for the corn to use. Sister squash provides ground cover to control grass/weeds & to hold moisture in the soil. But during a crisis, when so many would be starving, I think it would be smart to provide seed for others to grow their own food. I can’t afford to provide corn or other seed for lots of families… but could sure offer amaranth.

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This summer, once my amaranth plants were around 4′ tall, I harvested a bunch of leaves for my callaloo pictured above.  To harvest, I cut off the top half of the plant, where the newest, most tender leaves are located.  I wanted to test that if you cut such a mature plant, that new growth would arise.   And yes, within a week, vigous new growth started replacing what was cut.  In the pic below, you can see where the stalk was cut and see the new shoots.  As I said, it only took a week to get all that new growth.

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  • Comments (23)

    • 5

      Thank you for sharing your experience with Amaranth! I’ve never heard of it before but i’m really interested now. 

      I’m just barely getting into collecting heirloom seeds, and this year I started off small by growing a radish plant. I let the plant get old and it continued to grow tall. It eventually produced little pods. It continued to age and eventually it got brown and died. I still waited for the plant to dry out until the little pods could be shaken and sound like there were dried seeds inside. I broke open the pods and gathered the seeds. This is how many seeds were from one radish plant:

      IMG_20201015_100518_1

      What does seed harvest look like for Amaranth? What steps need to go into collecting them?

      • 6

        Here is a pic of the seed on amaranth.  To harvest you just cut off the top of the plant & let dry.  Amaranth seed comes in all sorts of color.  Red is common too.  If you Google it, you can learn much.  It was a main food of the Aztec empire and is still eaten all over the world.  In the Orient, it is called Chinese spinach.

        Here is a video of a harvest:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uadPFZwAWnY

        Red-Garnet-AmaranthBC4__72245.1547687509

        coppertop

    • 7

      Welcome, what a great first contribution! I’m going to share it through our FB page etc. 

      Why do you think amaranth has been overlooked given the positive qualities you described? eg. do some people hate the taste? 

      Have you turned the seeds into flour/porridge before?

      • 6

        Amaranth, in the US, is normally used as a decorative plant… especially those with red seed heads.  I’d guess the reason most people aren’t familiar with is is due to the fact that since the seed are so small, that processing would be harder than other grain or pseudo grain.  However, that small seed size, for such a huge plant, is an awesome feature for a prepper.  Also, since the amaranth flour is gluten free, by itself it won’t rise much when cooked.  I just don’t think many Americans are accustomed to summer greens.  But go to Jamaica or India and it is very common.  I’d say the taste of the cooked greens is a bit stronger than say collards but I love it.

        I have not cooked the seeds or made porridge.  Since I work a full time job I just don’t have the time to process the seed properly.  And in my case, even in a survival situation, I doubt I’d make flour as I store large amounts of field corn seed (3 sisters garden) and that would be easier to process into flour.  But as I said, this would be something you could give to others that are starving and they would certainly have the time & inclination to process it.  I would certainly collect the seed for replanting & for the porridge.

        If you watch the video I linked to, you can get an idea of the food potential… especially when you look at the size of the seed.  Even on those mature plants you could still eat the leaves.

    • 5

      I’ve been thinking of ways that I can share my preps with others. Especially during an emergency.

      I don’t want to be the new grocery store where everyone comes to and gets a free handout. I like your idea of giving a handful of these seeds to people and it really can be a self sustaining food source that grows fast. You are helping them, but they are going to have to put in some work. 

      • 5

        Exactly.  I feel that starving neighbors can be our greatest threat.  If you are eating & they are starving, you really think they are gonna just die quietly?  They have a right to be out & about, so they could take you out at any time.

        And you are right.  You could give them a self sustaining food that grows quick & like a weed, will quickly regenerate growth when harvested.  Also, they could have food quickly.  Since the seed is so small, usually you would broadcast the seed as opposed to planting it seed by seed.  As the plants start growing within a week or so, one would start thinning out the plot.  At that growth stage the entire plant is edible and can be eaten raw.

        It is truely self sustaining, in that a tiny little seed can grow a huge plant that is 100% edible at cerain growth stages.  Compare to say corn, which grows to a similar size.  For that big plant, you just get an ear or two of corn.  Even if you don’t eat those two ears and save as seed, that would only give you maybe 500 new plants.  One amaranth plant, with seed saved, could give you at least 200,000 plants.

        I keep enough other seed in storage so that I can give some of that to neighbors, but amaranth would be the main gift.  I would give them some of my 3 sisters seeds, which should keep them happy.  Since garden seed only stores for a couple of years, each year I add new seed to storage.  Just yesterday I put up 25 lbs of field corn, 5 lbs of pole beans & a pound of winter squash… along with 1/2 lb of collard seed.  Small seed like amaranth can be kept in a freezer, so it can last much longer.  A huge number of that seed takes up just a tiny amount of freezer space.

    • 5

      In my upper barn, I do keep a large stack of 72 cell propagation trays.  Having lots of small cells would allow me to plant seed by seed, if I wanted to conserve seed and not broadcast the seed.

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    • 5

      Something else I will add.  Another great feature of Amaranth in a survival situation is that it doesn’t look like “normal” garden crops.  This stealth feature can be very benefitial to protect your crops.  Since it is related to weeds and grows naturally, most would not think of it as food even if grown in plots.  Wild amaranth grows naturally on my property.  Grow a plot of corn & all know what you have.  Grow amaranth & they will just think weeds have taken over.  Since it grows so tall & likes to grow in dense patches, one could even use amaranth as a screen, to hide your other garden plants.

    • 4

      I’ll give some basic economics for amaranth.  I paid $27 for 1/4 lb of green callalloo amaranth seed at Eden Brothers.  That small 1/4 lb which takes up almost no space, contains around 150,000 seeds.  What else could you grow that would provide so much food/nutrition for so little… and take up so little storage space?  And unlike a similar quantity of say corn, you can easily freeze the seed and not worry about the seed going bad.

    • 5

      I know David the Good likes amaranth as a “chop and drop” fertilizer crop. I might plant some in my food forest. Do you need to till the ground or can you just throw seed around?

      • 5

        I normally prepare a bed prior to seeding but I’m sure you can just throw it out.  I would think your germination rate would be lower on untilled ground.  Amaranth in its natural form is a weed that easily spreads naturally.  These commercial varieties have just been selected for certain traits.

        I know most garden plots will reseed all by themselves if you let the seed fully ripen in the field.  Here is a pic of palmer amaranth (pigweed) infesting crops.  It can grow 2-4 inches a day.  I’ve heard some folks call it the king of weeds.  Many are now resistent to even Roundup.   Those same tough traits, that make it a devil of a weed for farmers, makes it a great survival crop.  You almost can’t kill it.

        infestation1

    • 2

      I had eaten amaranth seeds before (mostly puffed up in cereal bars) and they are delicious. Didn’t know the leaves were edible, though! I’d be curious to try and grow some in my suburban backyard. Thanks for the tips!

      • 2

        Not only are the leaves edible, but they are incredibly nutritious.  I think most folk in the US grow them for microgreens.  Speaking of microgreens, I just got done working in the garden.  I have my collards growing in the bed where I had amaranth.  When I went out there today, the whole bed is full of red amaranth shoots… many thousands of them.  I thought I got the amaranth out before the seed heads had matured… but obviously not.  Not only is the bed full of shoots but the garden aisles headed to the compost pile are too.  Here is what the microgreens look like.

        amaranth-microgreens

        Most folks don’t realize amarnth seed can be popped, like a tiny popcorn.  Like you say, the popped amaranth is used in sweet bars or porridge.  The Mexicans make a bar, called Alegrias, where they add honey and sometimes nuts.

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      • 1

        Do you know if any variety of amaranth is ok to grow for food? I was just looking at buying seeds and had not realised that there are so many varieties (example https://www.rareseeds.com/store/vegetables/amaranth). Thanks!

      • 2

        My understanding is all amaranth, including the wild weed, are edible & healthy.  The commercial varieties are divided into two general classifications… leaf varieties & grain varieties.  The leaf varieties, such as Chinese multicolor spinach in your link, have been bred for their sweet, spinach like leaves.  Many times those plants are shorter.  Grain varieties, such as golden giant, produce huge numbers of seed… like 1 lb per plant.

        But all varieties produce edible leaves and all produce lots of seed.  As I stated above, since I’ll be growing field corn in a survival situation, I personally am not interested in processing that seed into flour so I concentrate on the leaf varieties.  This year I grew Chinese spinach variety from Eden Brothers, and its leaves are solid green.  Next year I’m gonna try that multicolor spinach.  On other sites it is called red leaf.  On the following link, you can get a pound of seed for $35.  That pound of seed is over a half million seeds.  Take a tiny amount out to grow next year and freeze the balance for an emergency.

        https://www.kitazawaseed.com/seed_221-145.html

        A few years back I grew that golden giant variety and they really got big… like 10′ tall.  One issue with really tall plants is they are more susceptible to getting knocked over with high winds in a thunderstorm.  That is not really a huge problem as they will keep growing.  You just might not have pretty, neat, straight rows.

        I’d probably suggest starting with a leaf variety.  The leaves would probably taste better for most.  Me, I like them all but then again, I love collards & some don’t care for them.  The way I see it, in a survival situation, where folks are starving and haven’t been to KFC for lunch, then I think those hungry folk will not be too picky.  Also in a survival scenario, I expect most major meals will either be a soup or stew, where you get all the nutrition from your food.  So one could easily add a bunch of amaranth leaves into the soup and taste wouldn’t be a concern… just nutrition.

        When harvesting the leaves, the younger leaves will be the most tender & sweetest.  They can be eaten raw.  The older leaves will need to be cooked.  I’ve seen videos where Jamaicans will take the stalks & peel the outer, tough layer & add the stalks to the calliloo.  Also, when harvesting, you can simply pick off the individual leaves you want.  As opposed to that, I cut the top half or third of the plant off & brought those inside for cleaning.  That is the beauty of amaranth in that that doesn’t hurt the plant any more than cutting your lawn hurts your grass.  It just puts out new, tender growth.

      • 2

        How long could you keep seeds frozen for, if you wanted to keep them for emergencies?

      • 2

        I’ve read anywhere from 5 times the normal shelf life… to indefinitly.  Amaranth seems to have a normal shelf life of 2 years, so freezing should extend that to 10+ years.  I think the range has more to do with the type of freezer and how dry the seeds are.  The seeds need to be very dry.  One test is to bend the seed.  If dry, it should snap.  Obviously that test wouldn’t work with the tiny, roundish amarath seed.  Commercial seed packs, will probably work much better than seed you save, as they dry their seed properly.  You also want to make sure the seed is airtight so that you don’t deal with condensation.  I have some small mylar pouches that I use for seed.  I’ll add a dessicant and then heat seal the pouch to ensure it is airtight.

        Another option is just to grow some amaranth each year & save the seed heads.  That way you always have a ready supply of seed.  The plants are so decorative, you could just plant them in a regular flower bed.  The video below, with the giant amaranth, shows you how to dry the seed.  In my case, I just chop off the tops of a few plants & hang them in my upper barn.  After a few weeks, if you rub the dried flowers, the seeds just falls off.  If you are just doing this to get the seed, there is no need to clean the seed of chaff.  Just collect it, put in an airtight container & store in a cool spot.

        I built a prepper closet in my upper barn, that is very well insulated and has a wall mounted air conditioner.  That room stays dry & no warmer than 65.  I feel that helps my bulk seed and other items last much longer.  It can get hot here in Mississippi.  But small seed like amaranth goes in the freezer.

      • 1

        Thank you! You’ve been so so helpful!

      • 1

        I posted a reply, but it has disappeared.  I even edited it twice I think.  From the forum home page, it says the last post was 14 hours ago (my post ?), but when I view this discussion, it shows your post as the last, 17 hours ago.  Could it be held up awaiting moderation?

      • 1

        It did look like your post was held in moderation for some reason.

        I just approved it and it should be visible now.

        It was a good post and there is nothing wrong with it. Sorry it got held up for so long.

      • 2

        Here is a video dealing with a giant variety of amaranth.  This guy is a hoot!

      • 2

        Thanks for fixing that & no problem with the delay.  I highly recommend folks look at the video below.  It is very informative.  As preppers, pay attention to how the field of amaranth doesn’t resemble a “normal” garden.  That is what I call the stealth feature of amaranth, which is a big factor in why I think this plant is so valuable.  I don’t think one would have to be concerned with outsiders raiding an amaranth patch, as opposed to a corn patch.