Chia seeds are nutritional powerhouses and have a huge range of versatility in the kitchen. They are my very favorite seed to use in the kitchen. But what about chia plants? In this article, we’re going to look at how to grow these awesome little plants that are easy to grow and beautiful to look at.
Chia plants are the flowering plants grown from chia seeds. A member of the mint family, these plants (Salvia hispanica) are easily grown from seed and can sprout as quickly as two days. In fact, it happens all the time in my kitchen when chia seeds get stuck to the dish sponge or hide on the countertop!
Despite their tiny seed size, chia plants can grow quite big: upwards of about 6 feet! They require quite a bit of space in the garden and would do best in a garden bed rather than a pot. They will need as much space as a large bush or small tree would. These plants, with their large flower stalks of purple flowers, will attract bees and butterflies to your garden.
How To Grow A Chia Plant
To direct seed chia, weed out the garden in your selected spot. You’ll want to choose a location that has well-drained soil and gets plenty of sun. Loosen the topsoil and layer in the chia seeds. Chia seeds are always sold raw, and you can plant the same ones you’d use in the kitchen. Thin out the chia sprouts after they are a few inches tall, leaving about 12-18 inches of spacing on each side. This ensures that the chia plant can grow in all directions.
During the growth phase, keep the soil moist. Once established, chia plants can handle drier conditions, as its desert-based Meso-American roots imply. The plant will flower after about 12 weeks of growth. Chia plants will need to flower in order for you to harvest seeds. If your plant doesn’t flower, you can use the leaves as a tea; although I think that might be a bummer consolation prize to the expected seed harvest!
Chia Plant Growing Conditions
Chia plants are grown as an annual in USDA Zones 8-12, covering most of the southeastern United States. Frost will stop the growth of flowers, and thus, seeds in colder regions. Some reports show that chia plants can grow in cooler regions, but the shorter season might mean fewer seeds; and since they are so tiny, it might not be worth the effort.
If you live in a cooler climate but still want to practice growing these plants, chia sprouts can be eaten. Sprinkle some seeds into a pot of moist soil or a growing tray, and harvest them when they are about 2 inches tall. Rinse well and enjoy in salads or on sandwiches.
Chia plants are easy to grow organically, and natural compounds in the leaves prevent most bugs. Although, they can be susceptible to whiteflies. As sprouting chia plants are quite delicate, herbicides are not recommended—instead, manually weed out any chia sprouts that are not thriving along with any other weeds in the garden bed to ensure that the chia is off to a good start.
Harvesting Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are easy to harvest from slightly dried flower heads. As the pretty purple flowers of the chia flower stalk start to dry, they will lose their petals. This is the ideal time to harvest. Don’t wait until the flower browns, as this will compromise the harvest.
Cut the stalk from the plant and layer it onto a drying rack. Alternatively, you can store your stalks in a paper or cotton bag so that it dries fully. What’s considered an amount of “fully dry” time will depend on your climate. Once they are fully dried, they can be crushed and separated. DenGarden has a few tricks for harvesting chia seeds and how to get the most seeds from your harvest.
Once harvested, store your chia seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place (like in a mason jar). These seeds can be used the same way that packaged chia seeds would, or you can save and sow the seeds next season. If you do not harvest your chia seeds, they will self-sow for the next season.
A Brief History Of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have a long history with Native people of the southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America, and have been a staple crop since the time of the Incas, where they were used for food, ritual, and medicine. Despite this long history, they were not really used in the U.S. until the 1980s when we had a Chia Pet craze. Luckily, chia has now found a solid place in the health food scene, with really good reason.
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are huge in nutrition, offering healthy fats, fiber, vegan protein, calcium, and iron. I eat chia seeds nearly every day in my daily decadent chia pudding bowls (see above). Their unique texture is similar to tapioca but is whole-foods and wholesome. You can also mix these healthy seeds into smoothies, drinks, oatmeal, sprinkle atop salads, or use as an egg replacer in vegan cookies.