Cumin is considered the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper. Known best for the flavor it adds to many Mexican and Indian dishes, this versatile spice makes a wonderful addition to any herb garden and does wonders in the kitchen. Cumin is native to Egypt, but can be grown all over the world, including most of North America. Here’s how to grow cumin in the home garden.
WHERE TO GROW
Cumin can be grown as a summer annual in USDA Hardiness zones 5 to 10. You may be able to grow it in cooler climates but you must start it indoors several weeks early in order to allow enough time for seeds to mature prior to the first fall frost.
Cumin grows well in full sun. Excellent drainage is a must, so container growing or raised beds are preferred but a garden bed with good soil should work fine. Expect your plants to reach up to 20 inches high under ideal conditions, but likely won’t grow much more than a foot in most of the U.S.
Cumin can also grows in pots at least 6 inches across and 4 inches deep. You can keep them indoors if you have a bright enough window.
WHEN TO PLANT
Start cumin indoors about four weeks prior to the last frost in the spring if you live in a region with a short growing season. Direct sow seeds or transplant seedlings outside once temperatures regularly reach 60° F.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING CUMIN
Plant cumin in fertile soil that drains fast and easy. Amend garden soil with plenty of mature compost to improve fertility and drainage. Cumin can tolerate a soil pH of 4.5 – 8.0 but it’s best at 6.0 – 7.0.
Cumin grows best from seed. Cumin seeds should be sown very shallow, only about ¼ inch deep. Moisten the soil regularly with a spray bottle until germination. Seedlings should emerge in 7 to 14 days when soil temperatures are 65° F. Once the seedlings reach about an inch tall, thin them out so there is only plant every four inches or so.
Give your young seedlings plenty of light so they don’t grow too leggy and weak. Harden off indoor plants before setting them outside. White or pink blooms should appear around mid summer.
WATERING & CARE
Cumin can handle some drought but it’s best to water them moderately. Give them a good long soak at least once per week when it’s not raining. Try not to let the soil completely dry out between each watering but cumin can’t stand wet feet either, so do not ever leave the soil saturated. Water container crops more often because they will dry out fast.
Avoid feeding with high nitrogen fertilizer but a compost tea should do well throughout the growing season.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
You may need to protect your developing cumin pods from birds and other seed-eating pests. Otherwise, the cumin plant is not particularly susceptible to disease or insects if it is well taken care of.
Allow at least 120 days from planting until harvest. Harvest cumin seeds once the pods ripen and turn brown sometime in the fall. Cut off the entire stems before they crumble and your seeds fall out. Hang them upside down in a paper bag or over a bag that will collect any seeds that fall out as they dry. You can also rub the pods between your fingers as they dry to separate them from the seeds.
Winnow your seeds to separate them from their chaff. This can be done by laying them out on a screen with a light fan circulating air over them.
OTHER TIPS & ADVICE
Cumin is a member of the parsley family, Umbelliferae.
Harvest cumin leaves to add a tangy flavor to your salad.
Direct sow cumin seeds outside whenever possible, because these plants do not transplant as easily as most other herbs. Use biodegradable planting pots when starting cumin indoors to limit the risk of transplant shock.
Do you have questions or tips on how to grow cumin? Let us know in the comment section below.