Pigweed rehabilitated?

Pigweed growing on trailer

You’ve gotta respect pigweed. It’s resourceful, extremely flexible and adaptable, prolific…it just keeps on coming! It’s managed to grow in tiny dirt deposits, through rust holes in the trailer we use to get things around the field. It’s also run wild in one of the potato sections, where we’ve taken to hand-pulling it in one-hour concentrated weeding missions—it comes out by the trailerload…

Trailorload of pigweed

The strangest development is that, this season, pigweed seems to be turning into a FOOD, a gourmet crop, even. Going down the lambs’ quarters urban trendiness path, I suppose. I started to hear about it from a couple of people, that it was being sold in Toronto (big city) farmers’ markets. There was even a comment here on the blog… Finally, browsing the web site of a farm not so far from here a couple of days ago, I read how they harvest PIGWEED at 12″ (30cm) and sell it as a tasty and nutritious cooking green…and they named it: Amaranthus retroflexus. Wow. Pigweed is the common name for a couple of varieties of amaranth, retroflexus being one of ‘em. I’ve learned a fair bit about amaranth over the last few seasons, and there’s lots to like. There are many varieties and four general classes: vegetable (eat the leaves), decorative (the seed heads make colorful filler for cut flower arrangements), grain (more protein than wheat!), and…the WEED. Yes, I know a weed is only what you make of it, and it’s great to discover that we can EAT a plant rather than destroy it…but after all our hard-fought pigweed battles, this is hard to swallow. I CAN’T IMAGINE harvesting pigweed (that is, the weed varieties of amaranth) as a market crop. I mean, it would take some getting used to. And could I find a wholesale buyer, because I have a lot…? This year, I’m growing a couple of varieties of decorative amaranth in the cut flowers beds, last year, I grew one type of vegetable amaranth as a trial salad green, and a while back, I grew a couple of beds of grain amaranth, all from purchased seed, and all the while, weeding tons of pigweed… Weeding amaranth from amaranth. OK, I’m ranting a little… Maybe I’ll stroll out and gaze upon the mountain of pigweed for a while (that’s last year’s pic, it’s bigger now)—eventually, perhaps, I’ll get to a place where I’m simply wondering about all that wasted harvest… (Guest photo of trailerload of pigweed by Maria)

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16 Responses to “Pigweed rehabilitated?”

  1. Robin @ Seasons Eatings Farm says:

    So I’m thinking that next year I’m going to skip planting vegetables.  I’ll test the soil, add compost and all that happy hoorah. I’ll get dirty and sweaty, get some bug bites and maybe trip over a rake and bruise my shin for good measure.  Then I’ll sit back and let my new cash crops – pigweed and lambs quater – do their thing.  By this time next year I’ll be a rich farmer if the crops are half as good as this year’s!

  2. tech_sam says:

    Our variety of pigweed here (Lamb’s Quarters) is pretty tasty, almost just like spinach.  We have been getting pretty lazy about harvesting it, but we still pull it out any time we find it in the gardens.

  3. Deborah says:

    I have loads of that!  I wonder if creating a market for it would lead to it failing to grow next year – I can but hope :-)

  4. At my local farmer’s market there is a stand that sells huge bunches of ‘Lamb’s Quarters’ for about a quarter of the price of spinach.  I’ve gotten it a couple times, and always had great results!  my favorite way to cook it is in a filo pie : http://www.modernbeet.com/archives/174

  5. Marnie says:

    Like I said, if you manage to harvest the grain amaranth, I’ll be your first buyer, even all the way from Toronto. I’m in love with the locavore/100-mile diet thing, however, that love has been strained by a recent diagnosis of celiac disease. I’m not looking forward to a lifetime of oats and potatoes, no matter how local they are ;-)

    psssst wanna add quinoa while you’re at it? :-)

  6. willing hands organic farm says:

    Pigweed and Lamb’s Quarters are two totally different plants.  I have both in copious amounts. I too have thought about harvesting them, and purslane, which is EVERYWHERE. Not sure if I posted it here…………..but the Mexican men who were helping me actually took home all the above to eat.

    Julie

  7. Mike (tfb) says:

    What exactly IS pigweed? It can get confusing, but a good weed book helps. First, there’s lambs’-quarters (Chenopodium album), also known as pigweed and wild spinach, among several other common names. Then there’s MY PIGWEED, which is mainly, at least around here, a couple of the over 900 known varieties of amaranth. There’s redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus), our main garden nemesis, and green amaranth aka slender or smooth pigweed (Amaranthus hybridus), which we also have, and can cross with retroflexus to create…hybrids. So everybody’s right! I call the weed amaranths just plain “pigweed”, and lambs’-quarters just that…and I have a lot of it, too, the longer stuff in the trailerload photo above is LQ!

    Now, for a nice plate of…weeds! :)

  8. Steve Reed says:

    Deviating slightly, but on the subject of weeds – I have a 4 1/2 acre property in NSW Australia, perched 1000m above sea level – -beautiful summers with -9 deg C winter nights, rainfall approx 800 mm p.a. I am looking to move into some small scale food production (I already grow some of my own). I have a real problem with couch grass here – it’s a pain to get rid of. How did you begin the cultivation of your fields, I assume over existing pasture, and did you have perrenial weed issues. I’m well aware of the use of sheet mulching (on smaller areas), and don’t really want to mulch with plastic for a year or more. Just wondering if you had any words of wisdom on the subject, or were you blessed in your pasture grass makeup?

    Cheers, love the blog – -really fantastic

  9. Ben says:

    How does one harvest the seeds of Pigweed and Lamb’s Quarters by hand for use as a grain?

  10. Bruce Bodecker says:

    Where does a farmer sell amarath grain after harvest? Who are the buyers.

  11. Mellifera says:

    Spinach, amaranths, lambs-quarter, and quinoa are all in the Chenopodaceae family… could explain why their greens all taste similar.
     
    Ben- I’m not convinced that harvesting seeds from weed-type pigweeds and such would work very well.  Wild plants are most interested in just getting their seeds out there, so they fall off into the dirt as soon as they’re ripe.  Most plants need a little bit of domestication to where they can hang onto their seeds after becoming ripe, in order to really be worth the effort of harvesting.  Then there are the other issues with edibility, like small seeds,  small number, weird taste, defense compounds that can actually be toxic if not cooked right- quinoa, a relative of pigweeds and lambsquarters, definitely has these)- so weed greens aside, there are pretty good reasons wild plants aren’t generally used for grain.
     
    Go ahead and give it a try though!   I just wouldn’t try and drum up too much of a market before you find out how it goes.  ; )

  12. Nikola says:

    “Weeds guardian of the soil”  was the book that interests me in some other way to manage weeds so i collect some info from web and put in small pdf file:
    http://rapidshare.com/files/348140279/_TIR.pdf
    Its mixed serbian and english.
     

  13. Vakees says:

    The Carribbeans call it Kalaloo.  There is a huge demand for it in the GTA area.
    People are growing it in GTA area to supply the market instead of importing it.

  14. Athenis Trakis says:

    Pigweed or Vlita as the Greeks know it, has been a vegetable staple as far as i can remember. My grandfather taught me what it looks like and how to cook it. I know for a fact, if I grew this weed as a crop and sold it to produce stores in Greek neighborhoods like Atoria, Queens, Ny, I would sell out by the end of the day. They are delicate and delicious especially sauteed with olive oil, garlic, sea salt and cracked pepper. Known as scourge to most farmers but a blessing to Mediterranean folk.

  15. BSteele says:

    I grew some amaranth and figured out how to use the seed to make flour. Redroot Pigweed is wild around here so I tried some of the pigweed for flour and it worked great. Flour is a purple black in color but smells very nice and makes a good thickener as a replacement for wheat flour. Amaranth winnows very easily and 1:30 minutes on a plate in the microwave toasts it. A small electric coffee grinder works nicely to turn it into a flour. Amaranth ( pigweed ) can handle heat and drought and amaranth oil is expensive and extremely healthy …well I hear it is but I haven’t tried making oil yet.

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