LTM's extensive organic gardens feature fruit trees, vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, grapes, and berries.
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 it's one of the healthiest.
Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds
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 they 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 the digestion of other foods.
These Tiny Seeds Are Big Energy-Boosters
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.
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.
How Big Does a Chia Plant Grow?
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.
Time-Lapse Sequence of Chia Seeds Sprouting
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.
Can You Germinate Them in Containers?
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 are 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.
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.
Harvesting Is So Easy That 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.
My children conduct science experiments with chia, exploring different ways to separate the seed. Below is the fastest method they've come up with.
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.
- Shake the heads into a bag. 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.
- Cut the heads off into a bag. 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.
- Wait for most of the petals to fall off. 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.
10 Ways to Use Chia Seeds and Leaves
Chia is very convenient and versatile. Here are 10 different ways to use chia seeds and leaves.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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.