How I Grow and Harvest Organic Chia Seeds
Why Would You Grow Your Own Chia?
Chia is easy to grow, beautiful to look at, and offers lots of nutritional value. It deserves a place in any garden.
I have been growing chia organically for the past ten years, and in that time I have fine-tuned my growing and harvesting techniques. Chia is one of the easiest plants to grow, and one of the healthiest.
Chia seeds are a very high source of linolenic acid (LNA) and linoleic acid (LA). Both these essential fatty acids attract oxygen and help cell membranes to be flexible and fluid, plus strengthen our immune system to help protect our bodies from viruses, bacteria, and allergies.
Most people's diets are dangerously low in essential fatty acids, which results in tired muscles, fatigue, and a range of health problems. We need to eat EFAs daily because the human body cannot manufacture them. If your diet includes a lot of refined oils and processed foods, you are most at risk.
EFAs, such as those found in chia, can assist with weight loss and removal of toxins from the body.
Enzymes in chia also help with digestion of other foods.
Traditionally, chia has been used to calm nerves and strengthen the memory, but the most high-profile value of chia comes from the seed's ability to give you energy. University research has revealed that one tablespoon of chia seed could reasonably be expected to sustain a person working hard enough to work up a sweat, for 24 hours.
10 Ways to Use Chia Seeds and Leaves
Chia is very convenient and versatile. Here's ten different ways to use chia seeds and leaves.
- Chew Chia Seeds
I chew chia seeds, releasing their nutty taste, as a snack on a busy day. They swell a little as they absorb saliva, making them soft and ready for the journey to your stomach.
- Soak and Drink
Soaking the seeds first in water or fresh juice makes them even easier for your body to digest. Wait long enough for the seeds to swell. Chia seeds have appetite suppressant qualities and are useful for dieters.
- Add Chia to Milkshakes and Smoothies
If you enjoy a summer smoothie or your kids like milkshakes, add some chia seeds for extra energy. You probably won't notice them as you drink, but the goodness will be there!
- Sprinkle Chia Seeds Over Food
Chia seeds can be sprinkled over breakfast cereals, jam on toast, or a nice fresh salad. When I serve my home-made pumpkin soup, I add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle chia seeds over the top of each bowl.
- Eat Chia Sprouts
Sprouting chia seeds increases their vitamin content and makes them even more nutritious. Just like sprouted alfalfa and mung beans, chia sprouts are a great addition to a salad.
- Drink Chia Tea
The leaves, fresh or dried, make a relaxing and therapeutic tea. Chia tea has traditionally been used for fevers and pain relief, to relieve arthritis and respiratory problems, as a gargle for mouth ulcers and sore throats, and to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you want to sweeten your chia tea, use a healthy sweetener like honey or stevia.
- Add Chia to Bread MIx
When baking bread, I sometimes toss a handful of chia seeds in the mix. This is not the healthiest way to eat chia because essential fatty acids are at their best when uncooked, but it makes the bread a little lighter and provides a nice change in texture.
- Use Chia to Feed Birds and Animals
Extra chia leaves I feed to my hens, pigs, or other animals. The animals would eat the seeds too, but I keep most of the seeds for human consumption and planting next year. If I've had a bumper crop, I feed chia seeds to my chickens and other birds.
- Chia as Garden Mulch
If you don't have animals, use the chia leaves as mulch. Remember though, if you have not removed all the seeds they are likely to grow where they fall. To avoid random chia plants growing in your garden, add the leaves and stalks to your compost heap.
- Give the Gift of Chia
Home-grown chia makes a wonderful gift. Package seeds in a jar or bottle for those who like to eat chia, and give one of your small plants to anyone who likes to garden.
Where to Grow Chia
Before you choose where to plant chia seeds or transplant your seedlings, it helps to have a realistic expectation of the size of a mature chia plant. Chia plants grow to the size of a large bush or small tree.
If you grow herbs in small pots or tucked tightly together in an outdoor herb garden, you'll need to find a new spot for chia. Chia grows taller than most herbs and takes up a lot of space, so give thought to where you'll grow it.
Chia is not a ground-hugger like mint, and it will grow much taller than even the biggest parsley, sage, or rosemary plants. You need to provide sufficient space (and head room) for your chia to expand before it flowers.
My organic chia plants grow as tall as an adult. Some reach six feet or more while others settle and flower at about five feet tall. If you intend to grow chia in a pot, it is important to anticipate the size of a mature chia plant when choosing the pot size.
How Big Does a Chia Plant Grow?
How to Grow Organic Chia
Chia seeds are tiny. You don't need to dig a hole to bury them. Lightly ruffle an area of your weed-free garden with a rake or, if you only have a few seeds and are spacing them carefully, simply loosen the earth with your fingers. Sprinkle a few seeds over the soil and rub gently to cover them.
Water the seeds daily, and within about a week you can expect to see chia sprouts.
When planting chia seeds directly in the garden, I create a carpet of chia and then thin the plants as they grow. Some are fed to the hens, some are used as mulch, and some are harvested while young to dry the leaves for chia tea.
Chia seeds can also germinate successfully in pots. If you want to start your chia plants indoors or close to your garden tap, sprinkle the seeds lightly in your pot and water regularly. When the sprouts are about three inches tall, they are ready for transplanting.
Remember to mulch your chia plants as they grow, and water them regularly. They thrive in an organic garden and don't like competing with weeds.
Here's some hints to remember:
- Don't clear existing weeds until you are ready to fill the space.
- When it's time to plant, work gently. Don't dig up or turn all the top soil (thereby exposing a whole new lot of weed seeds).
- Plant your new seeds in the freshly cleared space without inviting unnecessary competition from deeper weed seeds.
- Add mulch and compost and anything you like to make your garden healthier as your plants grow, but put it on top and let it feed the soil from above.
Plant and Eat Chia Seeds!
In the average garden you only need to sprinkle a few seeds. Even in very large gardens like mine, you're unlikely to want to grow more than a dozen chia plants. Thin the plants as they start to grow. While waiting for your own harvest, enjoy eating the rest of the chia seeds in the pack!
Time Lapse Sequence of Chia Seeds Sprouting
Harvesting Chia Seeds
The size of your harvest will determine how many days are required to separate the seeds, but if I don't have time, I store dried flower heads in a large calico bag until I have time for my next seed separating session.
Successful collection of chia seeds without waste has a lot to do with timing. When growing chia at home, it is possible to pick individual flower heads when they look ready instead of doing a mass harvesting like they do in a commercial growing environment.
If you wait until the flower head browns, you risk losing the seeds.
- Begin harvesting your chia as soon as most of the petals have fallen off the flower.
- Give the heads time to dry in paper bags or on a drying rack. Expect at least some of the chia seeds will break free in the process.
- Do not hang the plants upside down in your shed.
Ready for Harvest
Harvesting Chia: So Easy a Child Can Do It!
Harvesting chia is great fun for children.
Because I insist on growing everything organically, there are no pesticides or chemicals to fear at harvest time. Together, the children and I pick the flower heads, put them in paper bags left open so the air can circulate, and wait for them to dry.
Children love to crush the flower heads and loosen the seeds. Chia is one of those lovely plants that doesn't have sharp or prickly parts. Even when dry, they still feel relatively soft on your hands. I set the children up with their own work area and they can busy themselves for a full day.
Meanwhile, I work separately.
Separating the Chia Seed from the Flower Head
Crushing Chia Flower Heads
Other Ways to Harvest Chia
If you turn your back as your chia matures, and you find it is really too late to pick your flower heads without losing too many seeds, there's a more effective way of collecting the seeds than thrashing the plant.
Simply hold a bag underneath and shake one flower head at a time. This will be a slow and arduous process if you are growing a lot of chia plants, but the seeds will fall freely.
If your seed heads are very dry and the seed is difficult to catch, try cutting the whole head off with scissors. The falling seeds will land in the bag. When you get back to your kitchen, separating the remaining seeds may be as simple as shaking, instead of rolling, the individual seed heads.
In my experience, the simplest, easiest, and most effective way to harvest your chia is to wait for most of the flowers to fall and pick when there are only a small number of petals remaining. Nature will help the seeds dry and become firm if you allow plenty of fresh air to circulate around your plants.
Growing more chia is easy. Toss some of your harvested chia seeds in your garden in the spring and enjoy the benefits of homegrown organic chia for years.
This Video Made Me Laugh...
There is no need to slap the plant the way the people in the video do. I don't actually see a chia plant in their garden, but perhaps it is a different variety from the one most of us are familiar with.
If I put in as much effort as they did, I would want to see a much bigger bag of chia seeds for my effort. :)
Collecting chia seeds in my organic garden is much more pleasant and a lot less work.
Nutritional Value of Black, White, and Brown Chia Seeds: Which Color Is Best?
Chia seeds come in various shades of brown, gray, black, and white. In fact, the accepted definition of "black chia" includes gray and brown chia seeds. Yes, it has always been the case with chia that brown is black. (In name, at least.) Black chia has traditionally been the name given to any chia seed that isn't white (which, incidentally isn't really white, either).
I was warned that since commercial cloning has resulted in the production of darker seeds, PR teams were generating controversy around the "superior nutrition" of black chia, making the darker seeds seem more valuable and (hopefully) undermining the status of natural chia. So if you ever hear anyone claim that black chia is better, think again.
It came as no surprise to me that when I googled the subject of black and white chia seeds being the only ones suitable for consumption, dismissing the value of brown seeds, the one and only company making that claim about brown chia seeds is — you guessed it — the very same chia company I'd been warned about.
It seems the word of doubt is starting to spread, but don't believe what they tell you — the brown seeds are in no way inferior (and, in fact, their brown color may be a sign that they're natural!). Folks who simply repeat what they read on the internet will fall for the PR stunt but those who know about chia, through research and personal experience, will always know it is a load of hogwash.
People can – and will – grow chia in their yards, with varying levels of success. Whether they plant black, white, or brown chia seeds from whichever packet of chia they have in their cupboards makes no real difference.
Stalk of a Chia Plant
World Shortage of Chia!
Have you seen news of a world shortage of chia? Lately, there have been sporadic shortages during which chia seeds were hard to obtain. At one point, all chia wholesale companies in Europe were sold out. Undoubtedly, as word spreads of chia's healthy properties, demand for the seeds will continue to increase.
All it takes is one bad season in a major chia growing area for seeds to become more difficult and more expensive to buy. To my way of thinking, that's even more reason to plant and harvest your own chia.
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Questions & Answers
How long does it take for a chia plant to mature and what garden zone can they grow in?
Chia needs a ‘long’ growing season so apply that concept to wherever you live.
Is it better to grow chia is shade or sun?
Chia certainly needs sun, but relentless hot sun wilts leaves, so you need to water them often. I found a good spot in my garden giving morning and midday sun, with shade provided by trees during the afternoon. The first year you grow chia, toss some seeds in different places and see where you get the best results. That’s the spot for the future.
Is chia a perennial plant?
Chia dies down at the end of the season, so it is an annual. It generally self-seeds easily if you don't collect all of the seeds.
Do they need to be planted in a sunny or shaded area?
Depends on your climate. If you have relentless sun, provide shade for part of the day.
© 2013 LongTimeMother