Sesame: A Perfect Low Maintenance Summer Cover Crop?

spider waiting for unsuspecting bees in a sesame flower

Growing food in Texas during the summer can be a chore. Rather than risk heat stroke or completely drain our water resources some gardeners in Central Texas choose to wait for the heat to go away, letting their plots lie fallow.

However, it is possible to both relax and use this time to improve soil quality through planting a low maintenance cover crop.

Cover Crops

Cover crops act like living protective blankets for the soil. Leaves shade and cool the soil; roots nurture soil organisms. If planted thickly, they can crowd out unwanted weeds. Some even have qualities that help manage pests and disease. Those with flowers and seeds provide food for pollinators and birds at a time when many plants here slow down or go dormant.

But what could possibly survive the intense heat and scarce rainfall of an ATX summer?

Open Your Plot to Sesame

Sesame. Sesame thrives in the heat and once established it actually prefers soil to be on the dry side.

I gave this plant a try this year and I am glad I did. My seed source was a bulk bin at the grocery store. The cost was as you can imagine trivial. (Use raw not roasted seed.)

Growing Needs

Find a spot with plenty of sun. Plant seed shallowly once the soil gets to be at least 70° F (21° C).  I planted mine in mid June after I harvested my pumpkins. The trickiest part was keeping the tiny seed moist until the plants got established. Sprinkling the seed in rows with an eye to eventually thinning to 10-12 inches apart might help with this problem. Sesame could be started in a pot but as they form tap roots transplanting them successfully might prove tricky.

Once they get going water sparingly if at all.

Sesame tolerates a lean soil so it won’t require fertilizer, especially if you grow it in a rotation after beans. If you do choose to add some nutrients do it early before the plant begins to flower.

I haven’t had any trouble with insects or disease.

Days to maturity: 90-120.

Soil Benefits & Green Manure

Sesame is grown by some farmers to manage corn earworm and root-knot nematode populations.

When the plants near their end they can be cut down, chopped and used as a mulch.

Some organic gardeners bury the pieces to rot in the soil. This returns organic material back to where it came from. If you do use sesame like this as a green manure, make sure to give the soil at least two weeks to complete the process before planting your fall crop.

sesame pods filling up with edible seed

What are your tips for beating Austin’s summer heat?