28 November 2012

Salvia Hispanica

Salvia hispanica is a flowering plant in the mint family, native to southern Mexico and Guatemala.  It was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times and thought to be almost as important as maize.  The seeds are still used today, as they are extremely nutritious...but this isn't why I wanted to write about this plant.

S. hispanica is also know as chia, as in Chia Pets.  We're getting to that time of year when you start seeing them pop up in stores as a last-minute holiday gift ideas.  I don't know anyone who have taken these seriously - I'm sure I know some MGs that did - but when we planned to give one as a gag gift a few years ago, the temptation was too much and I had to buy one for myself.

If you follow the instructions, the seeds will almost form a paste that you can spread onto the clay figure and stick there.  I thought they must have treated them or coated them with something, but I was browsing their site and it seems that Chia seeds form a gelatinous coat when soaked in water.  The Chia Pet website recommends other seeds you could use when your supply of chia seeds runs out, but they contradict themselves on another page by recommending against some of those same seeds because they don't germinate quickly enough.  More research may be required on this subject.

I was really excited to try this, but my little experiment didn't turn out so well, and I suspect that most of the people that get this for Christmas don't fair any better.  Our biggest problem is that we get very little sunlight in our house.  When I first "planted" the chia, the seeds germinated fine, but it was when they needed light that was the issue.  I put them near a window, but then all the seedlings were stretching towards the light.  It was very strange-looking - I had a photo, but I can't find it anymore.  (I found them)  The second time I tried it, it was at least spring, so I put it outside and it did well at first, but clay containers dry out fast in our area and I'm not the best person to take care of potted plants.  I know I made sure it was watered in the beginning, but I either gave up or forgot...or stopped caring.  I felt like I had tried the Chia experiment and failed and I was moving on with my life.

Recommendations if you really want to grow these:
1.  Follow the instructions - Water seeps out of the planter constantly.  You will need to dump the water from the collection tray every day and top off the planter.

2.  Chia is a flowering herb, so it needs a lot of sunlight.  Make sure you have a good place for it.

3.  Expectations - Like anything you buy from toys to food, it's not going to look as good as what's on the box.

If you're ok with everything I just mentioned, then I wish you luck.  After writing all of this, I think I might have to try it again, but I'll be waiting until spring.

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