Ginger and turmeric are two of the top most beneficial herbs you can grow. They’re good for just about anything that ails you.
But it’s difficult to get quality when you’re limited to the grocery store or even health food stores. The great stuff comes from growing your own which is pretty easy to do.
Disadvantages of Store Bought Rhizomes
Most of what you find in stores has been imported and irradiated. And if it’s not organic, who knows what chemicals it’s been subjected to.
If you use it for planting to start your own you take a chance on it harboring diseases such as bacterial wilt, fusarium wilt and/or nematodes. You have no way to see those until one or more shows up in your garden. By then, it’s too late.
Are Supplements as Good as the Real Thing?
These plants have become so popular you’ll see their components such as curcumin, which is considered the active ingredient in turmeric, in supplement form. Only thing is, you’re not getting the entire package in a supplement that nature offers in the plant.
Turmeric or any other plant usually contains a lot more than just one thing. Together they can produce a combined effect greater than the separate effect of just the one compound.
Reasons to Grow
We all know that anything fresh out of your “true” organic garden packs a lot more nutritional punch than anything you get from an unknown source that was harvested weeks or months ago.
That alone is reason enough to want to grow your own ginger or turmeric. As a bonus they’re beautiful plants. Turmeric especially is a real eye catcher.
And both can be grown in pots if necessary.
I may not have perfected my simple technique of growing these tropical plants yet, but I’m pleased with my progress so far. And if I can grow it with my far less than perfect conditions, I’ll bet you can too.
Not All Gingers are Edible. There are many ornamental gingers.
Zingiber officinale is the species that produces the tradition edible ginger. It’s about 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall. And, as you may have already discovered, there are different varieties within the species.
Both plants have a growing season (about 6 months) and then go dormant for the remaining 6 months.
These tropicals need warm soil temperatures to break dormancy and sprout. Unless you live in the tropics, try to pre-sprout. Pre-sprouting gives the plants a longer growing time which means more ginger or turmeric. (If you can’t pre-sprout, don’t worry, you can still grow them. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
How to Pre-sprout
Some time in February place the rhizomes flat in a pot filled with slightly moist grow mix. Cover with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil. And place the pot in a warm place (70 to 80 degrees). They can take a while to sprout; even 4 to 6 weeks. (Ginger may take longer than your turmeric.)
Tip: Your grow mix only needs to be slightly moist. If you over do the water, the rhizome can rot.
No Place Warm Enough to Pre-Sprout?
If you’re like me and don’t have a warm place for pre-sprouting, just wait until soil temperatures reach 55 degrees and plant in the ground (or your pot). When it finally gets warm enough they’ll sprout.
Suggestion about Pre-Sprouting
Unless you just want to experiment, don’t get too caught up in all the complicated procedures you can find online about pre-sprouting ginger. You can keep it simple as I laid out above. Your ginger won’t care.
Season of Growth
Even after sprouting these two plants don’t seem in big hurry to grow. They take their time for a couple of months. As summer was nearing it’s end, my plants had more noticeable growth.
If you live in a colder climate with a shorter growing season (and still grow outside either in the ground or pots) you just won’t get as much growth as you would if you were in the tropics. But in most cases you’ll get enough for your own use.
Insure that you do by growing more than one plant. You’ll find it beneficial to be able to alternate harvest between clumps.
If you’ve followed my “3 keys” and have improved your soil and continued to add organic materials and mulch, then you already have (or are working towards) a soil in which ginger and turmeric will thrive.
No matter what you read (either complicated or simple) about fertilizing with this, that, or the other, all you really need to have great nutritious ginger or turmeric is to have great soil.
Natures principle of renewing the soil each year with a diversity of organic materials like crop residues, leaves, straw, grass clippings etc. will, in almost every case, insure that you have the balance of macro and micro nutrients you need.
Both ginger and turmeric are tropical plants. They like sun. Some of my plants get full sun all day; others have some shade in the afternoon. All are thriving.
It’s worth a mention that for the last few years, this area has not had the long lasting severe heat and drought of years gone by. If that were to return, those plants in full sun may not do as well.
As with most vegetables, heat (above 90ºF) and extreme dryness restricts (limits) growth.
Jack, (friend and reader) who inspired me to grow ginger in the first place, and another friend and neighbor reports that their plants enjoy part shade.
Both ginger and turmeric like “rain in due season”. As with most vegetables and herbs, they don’t like water logged soils and they don’t want to be constantly wet.
Good drainage is imperative.
Again, if you’ve followed the “3 keys” your soil will in all probability retain enough (and the right amount of) moisture to keep these plants happy.
If you feel you have to water do so wisely. Don’t get carried away.
When Jack first planted ginger he kept 2 jugs of water close by the ginger for dry spells. In spite of being prepared, things got busy and he wasn’t very mindful of keeping them wet as he intended. They still did well.
As temperatures start to fall again in late autumn, leaves start to yellow and die back as plants go dormant. You’ll know this when leaves and stalks are 100% dried and no longer yellow or green.
IMPORTANT: If you water your plants, whether in the ground or in pots, stop when they show signs of going dormant. Otherwise, water may hamper the natural process. (Rain is ok.)
There are numerous approaches to harvesting ginger and turmeric depending on what you want or need to do.
Harvest after the Plant is Dormant
The traditional time to harvest is after the plant is fully dormant. Rhizomes can be harvested anytime until growth starts again, which about 6 months.
Harvest Before Dormancy
When you’re growing ginger or turmeric, especially for the first time, it’s gonna be hard not to dig around and see what’s going on under there and break a piece off.
And of course, there’s that delectable “baby ginger” and “baby turmeric” that comes earlier in the season. More tender and mild, and no need to peel as it is without the tough skin found on rhizomes harvested after the plant goes dormant.
The Advantage of Harvest After the Plant is Fully Dormant
When you allow the plant to totally die back it transfers all the energy to the roots (rhizomes). They’ll have a stronger taste and store better because of it. It gives them time to develop the tough skin that “baby” ginger and turmeric lack. That skin is what helps the rhizomes to store better.
Harvest Anytime After Growth Starts
One of the great advantages in growing numerous plants, is being able to harvest anytime after growth starts without depleting your supply.
And yes, of course, pieces will be small. But at this early stage your objective will be to get a piece of high quality, fresh, tender and delicious ginger that you can’t get any other way.
How to Preserve roots for Immediate Use
Store at Room Temperature
Fresh ginger or turmeric rhizomes (especially those from your garden) can be rinsed and dried and stored nicely at air temperature for a couple of weeks or possibly even a month before they start to shrivel and get soft.
(You can still preserve them at this point by pureeing and freezing for cooking and flavoring.)
Store in the Crisper of Refrigerator
Some folks wrap the rhizomes in a paper towel (which absorbs the moisture) and place them in plastic bag in the refrigerator. Keeps it nice for several weeks. Eventually it starts to shrivel and soften.
How to Preserve the Roots (Rhizomes) for Planting Next Year
Plants in the Ground
Plants grown in the ground are easy to keep if you can prevent freezing with a thick layer of mulch. That’s all you need do until next growing season. You can harvest pieces anytime before the next growing season.
Plants in Pots
If you grow in pots, move them under protection when you see signs of dormancy, let them dry, and store as is in cool dry place over winter. You can harvest as needed.
My friend harvested from the pots of dormant plants this winter. She told me recently that they’ve really enjoyed this. Remaining rhizomes will be used to start the new season.
Plants fully dormant, Lifted, Washed, Dried and Stored ??
I’ve seen this advice in several places. I’m not sure it works. If you see it and take the advice, might be a good idea to plan for back up in case you fail.
I’m not saying you can’t be successful with this. I’m saying I’ve not experienced it yet.
Here are two examples of what didn’t work.
#1 Jack’s example
This first example involves baby ginger that has not developed the tough skin that is said to help it store. So that is obviously one reason the attempt to store it was unsuccessful.
Jack sent me this picture of this beautiful 9 oz piece of baby ginger he harvested in October or November of 2013. I’ll let Jack’s words, written in April of 2014, give you the sad ending:
I tried saving an entire root (the one I sent you a picture of) down in the Crawlspace in a 4 gallon pot. Tonight, I went down to bring it up to repot it into fresh soil, but when i dug it up, I found it shriveled up – next to nothing. What a waste!
#2 Theresa’s example
Just before that severe cold hit in December of last year, I dug one of my most beautiful ginger plants. To attempt to keep it fresh until after the cold, I put it in the the middle of a 3 gallon pot filled with grow mix. Left it inside the garage. Dismissed it from memory.
Checked it again at the beginning of February and it had softened and started to shrivel.
Maybe my rhizomes should have air dried more and should have been stored without the grow mix in a cool dry place.
I just don’t know for sure. So if you give it a try, I’d suggest planning for back up until you get it right.
Both of the examples above obviously show flawed procedures. (In other words – what NOT to do.)
More About Plants Wintering Over in the Ground
The weather this past December turned so quickly, I literally had only one day to prepare for the unexpected cold. (If you’re a regular reader you know that I move like turtle, so nothing is done quickly around here.) When I finally got the plastic on the 8 beds of lettuces it was just about dark. I was just able to haul enough straw to the ginger and turmeric plants to top them with a foot or more.
Before writing this post, I checked several plants to see how they’d fared during the uncommonly cold temperatures we had back in December and January. I didn’t uncover much. Just enough to feel and make sure the rhizomes were still hard, which they were. It seems the mulch was enough to do the job.
When I see sprouts from the plants, which more than likely will be in late May or the first of June, I’ll dig some of the bigger plants to divide and replant. Looking forward to this as it will be a first for me.
If I had a place warm enough to pre-sprout, I could dig some now, divide, and pre-sprout in pots.
Without reading one word about it, anyone can look at ginger and see the “natural” breaks. In almost every case, each of those piece will have one or more growing buds. Growing buds should be obvious once the plant has sprouted.
With turmeric it’s also easy. Just break off little fingers of turmeric to replant.
Push into the soil 1/2 to 1 inch. Then mulch.
Soil can be moist, but (if you’re a waterer) don’t do any additional watering (except rainfall) until they get going. (That’s a precaution to prevent rot.)
Where to Get Starts – My Experiences
Many have written to me asking where to get starts. Here’s my reply.
*I’ve already mentioned my reasons for not wanting store bought ginger or turmeric root for starts.
*Also, I’ve ordered ginger from no less than Baker Creek which is a great company for most seeds. I was surprised at what I received. Small ginger pieces had been placed in two small pots. They never sprouted even when the weather warmed.
Cheaper cost but in the long run more expensive. Two puny pieces that didn’t do anything for $10.
The good stuff is anywhere from $16 to $19 a pound and worth it if you can fit it into the budget.
*Finding HawaiianOrganicGinger.com (They’re certified organic.)
Hugh Johnson (aka Biker Dude, the founder) has been growing organic ginger for export since 1992 – longer than any other grower out there according to the website.
They seem to sell out quickly every year. Up until this year their minimum was 5 pounds. A lot for an average gardener. When I visited the site this year, I noticed they’ve changed to a one pound minimum. But add $20 for small box shipping.
At this point in time you have to make reservations for ginger (instructions on their site) and they’ll let you know in late March if they can fill your order. They still had enough turmeric when I visited last, to give you a firm commitment right away.
The advantage of buying their ginger is that they start with tissue culture material which is free from pathogens.
After learning about this type of pathogen free start for commercial growers of potatoes from Jim Gerritsen, one of the foremost potato growers in the US, this was an appealing benefit.
It takes 5 years from tissue culture material to get the seed-quality rhizomes HawaiinOrganicGinger sells as seed. It’s beautiful stuff .
It was a little disappointing to learn that although they grow outside, they grow in large beds well above ground with new growing media every year. They’re not specific about their fertilizers but it smacks at hydroponics.
I don’t know enough to be sure. But in the long run that won’t matter because I used theirs to grow mine which will be “real” organic and filled with nutrients. See my post here for more information on this.
Even though I had to order too much, it was worth it. Made a huge difference in plant performance over what I had previously.
How I Preserved my Excess from HawaiianOrganicGinger.com
I minced the excess ginger and then turmeric. Put each in a sterile glass quart jar. Poured organic vinegar containing the “mother” over each to the brim. Replaced the tops and refrigerated. Lasts at least a year. Great for daily use and saves me time especially since its already chopped.
I also froze some pieces. Grated frozen pieces taste close to fresh. Then I rewrap and return to the freezer.
*I’ve recently come across Windcrest Farm (windcrestorganic.com). I couldn’t determine from the website exactly how it’s raised but I don’t think they use tissue culture to insure pathogen free. However, it looked good. And ordering shouldn’t be a hassle.
I emailed them because I couldn’t find what I needed on the site. Mary Roberts, the owner, responded the next day with the information I wanted.
They’re in the process of updating their website. You may want to email Mary at email@example.com and ask her for the links to order ginger and turmeric seed.
Please mention that you got her name from “Theresa Martz who writes a gardening blog.” I didn’t mention TMG to her when I first corresponded with her, but I’d like for her to know that’s where you heard of her.
A special thank you to Jack and Lisa and her husband for taking pictures and allowing me to share with you.
Hope this discussion answers a lot of your questions.
If you’re not already growing ginger or turmeric, why not give it a try.
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