I first heard about growing sesame from a gardener in a cool climate. She said sesame is a warm-season crop that does best with hot summers. Those words were music to my ears – surely, if she could grow sesame successfully in Minnesota, I could learn how to grow sesame seeds in my hot-summer climate of Arizona.
My suspicions were correct; growing sesame was simple. Sesame thrived, even during our triple-digit heat. Learn how to grow sesame seeds with these tips and add them to your garden no matter where you live.
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A little bit about sesame seeds
You may be familiar with sesame seeds as a topping on your hamburger bun, but sesame seeds have been eaten and used for oil for centuries. There is evidence of sesame as a crop on ancient Assyrian tablets and in the writings of Marco Polo.
Sesame seed is one of the oldest oilseed crops and is believed to have been domesticated over 3,000 years ago.
Sesame (Sesamum indicium) is a tall plant native to India and Africa. The sesame seeds form inside pods that develop after tubular flowers are pollinated.
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of healthy fats and are high in fiber, vitamin B1, and other minerals. Beyond that, the flavor of homegrown sesame seeds is spectacular. The taste is reason enough to add them to your planting list.
Sesame planting information
Although you may be able to plant sesame from seeds in your cupboard, you will probably have the best luck with fresh seeds. Sesame seeds for planting are available from True Leaf Market in black and white/tan varieties. Black types have a stronger flavor.
In most climates, start sesame seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last spring frost date. Harden off seedlings and then plant sesame seedlings outdoors 2-3 weeks after your last frost date. Sesame prefers warm soil.
Sesame also grows well in containers. Choose a container that holds at least 5 gallons of soil.
Soil: Sesame is tolerant of difficult soil and conditions, but the highest yields result from fertile, well-drained soil and adequate sunlight. I grew sesame in my raised beds with raised bed mix from Arizona Worm Farm, and the sesame thrived.
Sunlight: Sesame needs at least six hours of sun to grow well. Sesame received full sun in my low desert Arizona garden throughout the growing season. If you live in a cooler climate, choose an area with reflected sunlight to give sesame plants the warmth they need.
Size and spacing details for sesame plants
Give sesame room to grow as plants grow 3-4 feet (about 1 m) tall and 1-2 feet (90-120cm) wide. I plant one sesame plant per square foot in my square foot garden.
Sesame seed growing tips
Sesame grows well in hot, dry conditions. Water when the top inch of soil is dry. Avoid overwatering.
I pinched back the sesame plants to encourage branching when they were 10-12 inches tall. This step is optional but produces more stems and sesame seeds per plant.
Blooms develop, followed by pods. Enjoy the beautiful flowers and the many pollinators they attract.
Sesame plants may need additional support as the pods can weigh down branches and may break during windy weather.
The pods on my sesame got heaviest just as monsoon wind and rains peaked. I used bamboo poles to help support the sesame plant.
Sesame seed harvesting tips
Sesame pods ripen at the bottom of the stalk first. Keep an eye on those pods; they will tell you when the rest are nearing harvest time. You can harvest individual pods or the entire stem.
Harvest as the pods begin to dry out, but before they split and spill seeds. I stored harvested pods in a large paper sack to dry.
Once the pods are completely dry, the seeds fall out easily. Gather the seeds from the bottom of the paper sack and shake out the pods to remove the remaining seeds.
Use a colander to sift any plant material out of the harvested seeds.
A note about amounts: 1 plant yields approximately 1/3 cup (28 grams) of sesame seeds.
How to store and use sesame seeds
Allow the seeds to dry before storing them, and then store them in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place. I use glass jars with these lids.
- Use whole seeds raw in salads, to top bread, or in sushi.
- Toast sesame seeds before using them to enhance flavor.
- Make tahini by grinding the seeds with a small amount of oil.
- This sesame chicken recipe is our favorite way to use fresh sesame seeds.
Source for history and nutrition information about sesame:
Grow Something Different To Eat, by Matthew Biggs