Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cumin Harvest

Over the last few months, we've been growing a new crop at the garden: cumin. I have always liked this spice so I decided that it was about time to try and grow it.

We planted the seeds last February in the back quarter of one of our beds. They were a little slow to get started.
I was confused initially because the young plants look and smell like dill. I was worried that I got my seeds mixed up.

Fortunately, after the first month, the cumin patch really took off. Slowly the feathery branches began to form into a dense canopy.
They also started producing many clusters of pink flowers that were a huge relief because they smelled like cumin. From there, the cumin patch just kept producing more and more flowers.
The picture above was taken about a month before harvest. In it, you can see that some of the stems were starting to yellow and many of the flowers were now seeds. At this point, I found that you could harvest green cumin seeds to use fresh and they are delicious.

One issue we had was that these cumin plants had a pretty substantial aphid population. The did not look like they were hurting the plants, but I did not want to have aphids in the garden's cumin container.

I was also worried that the early maturing seeds would fall off the plant too soon, but that certainly did not happen. In fact, I ran into the opposite problem. Threshing was pretty difficult.

When the cumin plants were almost entirely yellow and dry, I decided to pull them and let them hang to continue to dry out (also, the aphids made themselves scarce during this stage). After two days, I put them in a bag and beat the bag against our fence to try and knock the seeds off. This had next to no effect. Therefore, I had to go with the slower method of knocking the seeds off by hand. (Note: I found that the best method was rolling a bundle of cumin plants between your hands as if you were shaping a cylinder of dough.)
The result was pretty stemmy. Therefore, as you can see, I tossed it into a big colander and shook the seeds through.
This worked well, but I then had a lot of small leaves and chaff in with my cumin seeds. I then walked outside on a nice windy day and tried my hand at winnowing seed. This involves dropping the seed from about a foot or two above your container. The lighter leaves and sticks get blown away by the wind, and the more dense seeds drop safely back into your container.

Or at least that is how it is supposed to work. I lost a lot of my undersized cumin seeds this way and this was probably my most wasteful step. However, I happily ended with over 2 cups of cumin seed. I definitely grew more, but lost a lot while threshing and winnowing.

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