Echoes from our network
Joel Matthews in Niger sent a photo of a pigeon pea he had received from ECHO two years ago. "The short-duration pigeon pea (#89-077) has done quite well. We are continuing to experiment with this variety as an intercrop with millet. The local pigeon peas take too long to mature for use as a rain-fed crop." The picture shows a plant only 3 months old with a lot of flowers and many full pods. Joel planted it in July with no inoculant. Thanks for the good report!
Mike Salomons with the Mennonite Central Committee in Zaire sent us his seed trial report form. The tropical onions (see EDN 39-1) have attracted a lot of interest when two varieties produced good bulbs, but local seed supply is a problem in his area. Of the two sweet corn varieties from ECHO's seedbank ('Buhrow's White Desert Sweet' and 'Hawaiian Supersweet'): "A lot of the corn here is eaten fresh, so the advantages of these types are that they are ready a month or so before the field corn varieties, and they taste sweet. Local people were very surprised by how sweet it is, and lots have asked for seed to grow corn for their kids." [Both these sweet corn varieties are open-pollinated (not hybrids), so you may save and distribute your own seed.]
"Quinoa has attracted a lot of curiosity...'What is that?' People here eat a lot of leaves, so I think it may have potential for that, as well as for the seed. ...they seemed to produce very well. One problem was that quite a few seed heads broke off because of the weight of the seeds. I could use more information on quinoa. When do you harvest it? How do you get rid of the saponins on a small-scale, village level? How do you cook and eat it?"
Let us address two issues he raises. First, the problem of local supply of onion seed. In EDN 39 we asked onion researcher Dr. Lesley Currah, "Under what conditions might a farmer be able to save his/her own onion seed?" She replied that it can be difficult. "You need a variety that will easily bolt (send up a flower stalk) the second year. You do not want any variety that bolts the first year because that trait would create havoc in your harvest. Select bulbs from the best onions and store until the next season. Timing then becomes important. If you plant too soon while daily temperatures are increasing they may go into bulbing mode and split rather than flower. Wait to plant the bulbs until the average daily temperatures have started decreasing. The stalk gets a lot of diseases so, unless it is very dry, you may need to spray a lot."
Now, the questions about quinoa. Saponins are bitter, toxic anti-nutritive substances which must be removed before cooking, or the food may be too bitter to eat. (The laboratory method of testing saponin content is to place 0.5 g quinoa grains in a 16 x 160 mm test tube with 5 ml distilled water. Cap the test tube and shake for 30 seconds. Allow to sit 30 minutes then shake another 30 seconds. Saponins produce a foam on the surface of the water; 'sweet' quinoas will have very little if any foam, while 'bitter' varieties may have up to 8 cm of foam.)
Saponin elimination from traditional varieties involves washing the seedcoats, which contain most of the saponins. Grain can be washed 1:8 in water, sometimes with up to 20 changes of the soapy water. Grains are rubbed on a hard surface (rock, tile, etc.) with much water, but this can damage and lose many grains. Another method is putting grains in a cloth sack and agitating it in running water or placing the sack in a stream. Where available, grains can be put with water in a blender on medium speed, changing the water until the grains are no longer bitter. Mechanical 'dehullers' may also be used, such as barley dehullers or rice polishers.
Quinoa breeding has largely been focused on selecting "sweet" (low saponin) varieties, although these may suffer increased bird damage. ECHO now has seed of the new commercial variety 'Tunkahuán' selected by INIAP for the highlands of Ecuador. The saponin content is so low (0.06%) that seeds need only a light rinse before cooking. It has large leaves, and it is recommended for 2200-3400 m at the equator (lower at higher latitudes), with 600-1200 mm rain/year. Development workers overseas may request a free packet of this variety; $2.50 to others.
According to an INIAP booklet, quinoa must be sown when the soil is very moist and harvested in the dry season when the plant turns yellow and/or loses its leaves and the grain resists pressure of the fingernail. Harvesting in the Andes is usually done manually with sickles, early in the morning (afternoon harvests drop more of the dried grains). If there is no danger of rain and birds are not a problem, the grain can be left in the field to dry, but many seeds may drop if plants are left in the field too long. If there is excess humidity when the grains are mature, they may germinate while still in the seedheads. Threshing is carried out by beating the seedheads, or using modified cereal threshers for very dry grain. After threshing, dry the grains in the sun.
Quinoa is usually cooked in soups or as with other cereals. It contains no gluten, so pure quinoa flour bread is not recommended, although it may be added (10-20%) to bread and other baked goods. A good cookbook of Andean crops with many quinoa recipes is available in Spanish from FAO-Chile (see EDN 47-7/8).
If you have had good success with your quinoa trials so far, Dr. John McCamant (at Sierra Blanca Associates, 2560 S. Jackson, Denver, CO 80210, USA) is a specialist in quinoa breeding and has a big quinoa collection from various regions in the Andes. He will share seed samples if you would like to try a few more varieties. Return to INDEX.
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