Though they have been around for ages, chia seeds have earned a lot of buzz in recent years for their versatility and the notion that they can be considered a “superfood” in some contexts. These claims come from the nutritional value that chia seeds contain, but did you ever think about growing them at home?
Chia in your garden
Cultivating these beautiful plants can provide great benefits to your vegan-organic garden.
The plant is known for the oil it develops in its leaves and stems that acts as a natural insect and pest repellant. It is also strongly resistant to fungi and various disease-causing bacteria. This production of oil means even natural pesticides can be avoided, causing the seeds to remain nutrient-dense.
Post-harvest, the leftover stems and stalks of the plant can be repurposed to improve soil fertility by chopping them up and reusing them as mulch in your soil. Once you clear out your garden beds, applying the repurposed mulch to the soil (about an inch deep) will help promote plant growth.
In Gentle World, we’ve recently begun using chia plants as a green manure crop, growing it in the garden beds during summer, then digging it in during the winter to feed the soil. Chia also happens to be self-pollinating, which helps to save money in the long run.
How To Grow Chia
For most areas, chia thrives in a sunny location with six to eight hours of direct sunlight. This can vary though, depending on where you’re located and what your climate is like. Being a short-day plant, people growing them in northern environments can cover their plants for at least 12 hours a day in late summer to force occurrence of blooms before the first frost.
Soil should be well-drained, and of light to medium texture. While light needs may vary depending on location, watering and spacing are generally the same.
Plant the seeds by gently patting them into the soil; there’s no need to bury them deeply. Seeds should be placed 12 inches apart if they’re annual plants and spaced 18 to 24 inches apart if they’re perennial plants, as they’ll need more room to grow over the years.
Be sure to water your plants daily until they’re well established. Once the plants mature, they’ll be able to handle dry periods and will only need occasional water if they’re not exposed to rain or if rainfall is low.
Harvesting your Chia
Once your chia plants have flowered and begin to drop their petals, the time to harvest is near! Be sure to watch closely to make sure the petals are dropping, but the spikes of the plant are not yet brown. When that happens, it’s time to remove the seeds!
The key to harvesting is to remove the spikes and dry them out in a paper bag or lay them on a drying rack for a similar effect. Once the spikes dry, the next step is to thresh and winnow them. To “thresh” is to beat or crush the spike on the side of a container to loosen up the seed structure, a process that should be followed by winnowing (or sifting with the use of airflow) to separate the seeds from the encasement.
Chia’s Nutritional Benefits
Proclaimed a ‘superfood’ by many, chia seeds live up to that title with the multitude of nutrients that are packed into such a small vessel! Examples of nutrients found in the seeds include B vitamins, Boron, calcium, omega 3 oils, proteins, magnesium and fibers, all of which are important components of a healthy, balanced diet and have their own specific benefits for a healthy body.
Chia in your Kitchen
Chia is not only highly nutritious, but is considered a magical addition to the vegan kitchen, due to its impressive ability to mimic eggs in baking, and to take their place in other traditionally egg-based dishes such as French Toast.
Chia seeds absorb liquid when soaked, giving them a gel-like texture that’s perfect for thickening and forming the basis for foods like puddings.
Because they’re very mild, the seeds can easily be used with other foods without affecting the flavor.
They are also known to be long lasting, and when stored in cool and dry locations they can last as long as three years without deteriorating—another great benefit of growing and using your own seeds!