Aug 29th 2014
Other names: Mchicha in Kiswahili
Amaranth is an herbaceous annual belonging to the family Amaranthaceae. The plant has green or red leaves and branched flower stalks (heads) bearing small seeds, variable in colour from cream to gold and pink to shiny black. There are about 60 species of Amaranthus, however, only a limited number are of the cultivated types, while most are considered weedy species and hence rarely preserved. It is wide spread in tropical and subtropical regions of the world and widely distributed in humid to sub humid areas in Kenya mainly as a weed.
Amaranth can be used as a high-protein grain or as a leafy vegetable. The seeds are eaten as a cereal grain. They are ground into flour, popped or cooked into porridge.
The leaves are cooked alone or combined with other local vegetables such as spider plant and pumpkins. Amaranth leaves are highly nutritious with its high protein, iron, carotenoids, calcium, antioxidants, and Vitamin C content, making it the most nutritious leafy vegetables.
There are several recipes involving cooking amaranth with onions, tomatoes and cooking oil. The cooking time should not exceed 35 minutes.
It can grow in altitude 900-2600 m above sea level and is common in middle altitudes and highlands (1400-2400m)
Amaranth is grown during both wet and dry seasons, though irrigation is normally required for dry season crops since the rate of transpiration by the leaves is fairly high.
Amaranth is adaptable to different soils- sandy, loamy, alkaline or saline types but prefers soil pH of between 6.0 and 7.5
Amaranth is divided into 4 classes:-Grain, Vegetable, Ornamental, and weed.
There are several types of amaranth which can be recognized by the leaf and plant size as well as by leaf colour. Some varieties have spines and purple, pink or red stems, leaves and flower heads. Choosing a variety to grow will depend on local taste as all amaranth varieties grow well in a range of cool, warm, humid or dry environments. All varieties can be used in either short or long-term production. All species are grown in a similar manner.
Amaranthus species commonly grown as a vegetable are as follows:
This is widely grown in western Kenya. It has relatively small leaves, with a notch at the tip. It often has a dark spot in the middle and there are also varieties that have completely red leaves. The species is appreciated for the soft taste.
Amaranth cruentus (hybridus)
It is the most commonly cultivated. It has long leaves whose colour may range from green to reddish purple and it has a large flower head.
It is common in Western Kenya but is commonly grown in commercial scale at the Coast. Its leaves are almost triangular with a flat base.
All Amaranth varieties can be grown throughout the year if water is available. The seeds should be mixed with sand at a ratio of 1:20 to make them easier to spread evenly. They are then sown at a depth of 0.5-1cm in rows 20-30cm apart or by broadcasting onto the bed. The seeds are then covered with a thin layer of soil.
For short-term plants harvested by uprooting:-
Broadcast seeds. This is quickest and easiest way to grow amaranth. Land should be well prepared and mixed with compost, cattle or chicken manure at a rate of 2 kg/m2. Sunken beds can be used where water is scarce while raised beds are used during heavy raining seasons. A well spaced plot should have plants at least 5cm apart.
For long term crops in rows harvested by regular leaf plucking:-
Seed is best sown in nursery bed and plants later transplanted into the field. This ensures a high and even plant population and good plant vigour but delays the first leaf harvest. Direct sowing gives a similar total leaf yield but a more uneven plant stand will result plus more weed problems. Soil should be well prepared and mixed with compost, cattle or chicken manure at a rate of 2-5kg/m2.
This is done when the seedlings have 4-7 leaves, 3-5 weeks after sowing. They should be transplanted into 1m wide beds containing six rows 15cm apart, with 20 cm spacing between plants. Alternatively 0.5 – 0.6 cm wide raised ridges (30cm high) with same plant spacing can be used.
This is critical as the plants suffer heavily from competition. First weeding should be done within the first week after emergence and there after as often as necessary.
Pests and Diseases
No pests and diseases of economic importance have been reported. However, Alternaria leaf spot is the most severe foliar attack and damping off in young seedlings can be a problem in poorly drained soils. Aphids and mites can also be a problem in old established crops. Where necessary, control using appropriate insecticides is advised.
Amaranth grows fast and whole plants can be uprooted and harvested within a month after sowing or young tender leaves can be harvested continuously from established plants over several months.
• First harvest is at a plant height of 30 cm, about 6 weeks after transplanting. Plants may be harvested at once or leaves and tender shoots maybe harvested several times.
• One single harvesting is adapted for short maturing and quick growing varieties. Whole plants are pulled from soil with roots, washed and tied in bundles.
• With multiple harvests, young leaves and tender shoots are picked at 2-3 weeks intervals.
• Eventually, the plants begin to flower and develop fewer leaves.
• Frequent harvesting of leaves and shoots delays the onset of flowering and thus prolongs the harvest period.
• Amaranth and other leafy vegetables have a large surface and loose water rapidly. To reduce water loss, harvest during the cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon.