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Caraway
(Carum carvi)


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Because we believe, for the reasons set forth on the main Herbs directory page, that growing spice plants for seed is not wise gardening, we will not be updating this page--but, for those who disagree, the information here should suffice.

About Caraway

Caraway plant

Caraway is a true biennial, so to grow it for its seed--which is what we want--we need either to dedicate a patch of ground for two years or to grow it in a pot. (But note that it is possible, and not uncommon, to use all parts of the plant for food, from cooking the root, much like a parsnip or turnip-rooted chervil, to using the leaves when young in salads and when older as a potherb.)

(There are annual varities of caraway, but their productivity and--more important to the home gardener--their seed quality are decidedly inferior to the true biennial types.)

Caraway likes warm weather to grow in, but it is said that the farther north it is grown, the better (that is, most flavorsome) the seed quality.

Note that occasional references to caraway in eastern (especially Indian) recipes are almost certain to be erroneous translations, and cumin to be the spice actually wanted. Caraway's main use is in numerous central-European dishes, usually with few or no other spices, as it is a dominating flavor. (Also note that "caraway thyme" is a thyme, not a caraway.)


Cultivars

There are at least several named cultivars. The variety Arterner is marketed as high-yielding of seeds with good aromatic-oil concentrations; all other caraways we could find in home-garden catalogues were, as is too often the case, generic unnamed types.


Planting

Timing

It can be sown either in fairly early spring or in late summer to early autumn; it will not set seed till its second year of growth, so the exact initial planting-out date is not crucial. In Sasketchewan, well north of us, the recommendation is to sow in June; we might go for mid-May here.


The Bed

The general rule for herb and spice plants is that their soil needs are not demanding, save that the soil must be very well-drained: few herb or spice plants can stand "wet feet". The soil should not be particularly rich, most especially not for flavoring plants we grow for their seed (or fruit), common mis-advice to the contrary notwithstanding: a rich soil will lower the concentration of the "aromatic oils" that give the seed its characteristic flavor, which is the very thing we are growing them for. Plants that are slightly nutrient-stressed (which doesn't mean starved) give better-tasting seed.

Caraway generally fits that pattern, with full sun being especially important for best flavor. But if--because it's a biennial--you plan to grow it in pots, be aware that it tends to a long taproot. Because of that taproot (which is beneficial to the soil, breaking it up deep and bringing up nutrients from well below the surface), it is probably better to grow caraway in-ground, in a place where you can spare the ground. Though it is a biennial, it reportedly self-seeds easily, so a dedicated patch--possibly with both one- and two-year plants growing--is quite possible.

As with most plants and especially any Umbellifrae, it should not be planted anywhere near fennel.


Planting Out

Caraway takes 2 to 3 weeks to emerge. Because it does not compete with weeds well, it needs to be grown on well-cleared land. Growing it with a companion crop the first year will often help--coriander is a good companion plants (don't try to use a heavy vegetative crop as a companion).

Spacing at 12 inches will certainly work, and 8 inches (mentioned by some sources) will probably work OK. Plant seed ¼ to ½ inch deep.

Caraway is slow to emerge (typically two to three weeks), so cultivate very carefully both before and after emergence.


Growing

If the first-year winter provides little snow cover and is very dry, some plants may be lost.

The presence of honey bees will usually increase yields.

In its second year, caraway is typically ready for harvest near the end of July in our climate. Seed quality is improved if watering is stopped when flowers appear.

Note that you can, if you take care not to outright denude the plant, lightly harvest leaves throughout the growing season: they make good additions to salads. After seed harvest, you can pull the plant and cook the root like any root vegetable (that is true for most Umbellifrae, which family includes many spice-seed plants).

It has all the usual problems with premature shattering, and the standard precautions apply; loosely tying a permeable bag of some sort (cheesecloth or old row cover) around the seed heads as harvest time approaches is one such.

The standard spice-seed drying and threshing advice also applies--caraway seed must be thoroughly dried before storage.


Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful.





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