Open Sesame

Homegrown Sesame SeedsI have one strip of our yard between our house and the neighbor’s driveway that I use for experiments. Over the years I’ve grown corn, wheat and soybeans (yes – I’m from Illinois), and this year’s experiment was sesame seeds.

Nearly all the information I found about growing sesame was intended for commercial growers, and even tracking down the seeds was a little bit of a challenge. I found them at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I got a variety called Afghani which don’t seem to be listed anymore. What little info I did find said that the seeds were tough to sprout, and to be careful not to let the soil crust over because the seedlings are Homegrown sesame seedsnot strong enough to break through.

My little sprouts came up easily enough, but the first problem I had was some kind of cut worm which took care of any thinning I might have needed to do… The remaining plants were quite nice, and they seem well suited to San Diego.  The first picture shows some of the blossoms and the 2nd shows the narrow plot of sesame plants – it was about 2′ by 8′.

Sesame has a fairly long growing season, 80-125 days to maturity, but it’s a fairly low maintenance crop. It grows quickly enough to shade out most weeds, and is happy with once-weekly watering. The second problem I had was lodging. If I ever grow this again, I’d spend more time setting some stakes and lines to keep it all upright. They seem to get a little top heavy with all the seedpods growing up the stalk.

By the end of October, I could really understand the whole  ‘open sesame’ thing. As the seedpods mature and dry out, they crack open and spill their seeds everywhere. Some of the plants were still blossoming, but some were already cracking open. I decided to harvest part of it, just by picking off the seedpods that were already dry. A few of the stalks had enough dry pods that I cut those out too. For the pods that were still green and wet, I used the high-tech dryer (put them in a paper bag in the back of the car.) They cracked open as they dried and spilled the seeds into the bag.






The seedpods have four lobes, each one containing a stacked row of seeds – picture a sleeve of Ritz crackers or a can of Pringles. As the pods dry, the end cracks and splays open, spilling out the whole sleeve of seeds. I sure didn’t count ’em, but I’d estimate that each pod contained about 100 seeds. Shaking the seeds out of the pods and knocking out the ones that are stuck is a little bit tedious, but they do come out pretty clean. The chaff can be blown out of the bowl easily while the seeds stay put.

The seeds that I harvested at the end of October weren’t mature yet, even though the pods were starting to open. The seeds were still all white and looked much like the ones you see on a burger bun. I harvested the rest a few weeks later – just before Thanksgiving, and those were a dark brown like the original seeds I had planted.

So would I do it again? Not sure yet, it depends on how we wind up using them and if we can really appreciate the flavor difference of homegrown.  We got about 100g of seeds from the little plot.

What about you? Have you ever grown sesame? Do you plant experimental test plots? If so, what have you incorporated into your regular gardening rotation?

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