Sesame seed experiment hinges on foiling squirrels


Every year we try something new in our garden. Some years it’s a new flower; others a new vegetable. This year we’re tasting edibles — sesame and English cucumbers.

Sesame is one of the oldest cultivated crops. Wild plants are native to sub-Saharan Africa east through India. Sesame remains in both India and the Middle East have been dated to 3,000 B.C. The plant’s tiny seeds are richer in oil than any other seed or nut — the name sesame is actually derived from a word for oil.

I spotted my sesame in a seed catalog and couldn’t resist ordering some. I started two dozen seeds in late March and produced 20 little plants. They languished in the starter cells while we tended to more important gardening matters. By the time I planted them, I was down to 12 healthy plants.

Sesame plants are between 18 and 30 inches tall and have tubular flowers that resemble foxglove blooms. The seeds develop in capsules that spontaneously burst open when they ripen.

I’m down to 10 plants now thanks to the local squirrels. They find the sesame plot the most interesting for exploration and digging. They’ve unearthed several plants, killing some that had begun to flower.

If they persist, countermeasures may have to be employed.

My remaining sesame plants are loaded with light mauve flowers, and there are plenty of pollinators in the yard that should be attracted to them. So far no seed pods have formed but I keep checking, and there’s certainly time for them to develop. Depending on the cultivar, sesame seeds ripen between 90 and one 120 days after sowing, so the plants have time to develop.

My cucumber experiment is much farther along. Despite loving the thin-skinned ‘Diva’ cucumbers we’ve grown for years, I decided to try sweet English cucumbers. I’ve seen them in the produce section encased in plastic wrap. English cucumbers are reputed to be thin-skinned and almost seedless, unlike the cheaper slicing cucumbers that are waxed.

I started four seeds and ended up with two plants, both of which I kept even though I trade vegetable seedlings with one of our neighbors. There’s no point in giving friends plants until you know if they’re worth growing.

I quickly discovered the plants’ worth. Within days of putting the cucumbers in large pots, fruits were forming. At that point ‘Diva’ hadn’t even produced a flower. Since the beginning of June we’ve been swamped with long, slender and tasty cucumbers. There hasn’t been a trace of bitterness in any of them, even a couple that were over a foot long.

I’m anxious to compare these super producers to ‘Diva,’ which is finally starting to fruit. In my memory, ‘Diva’ has thinner skin than the English cucumbers and it’s shorter and chunkier. It looks like a run-of-the-mill slicing cucumber.

The tasty crop of cucumbers indicates half of this year’s plant experiment is a success. Now to foil the squirrels and see if I can harvest at least a thimble full of sesame seeds. Sometimes gardening success depends more on critter defense techniques than the seeds we plant or how we cultivate them.


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