The Grocery Store Gardener: Ginger
I get a real kick out of finding new plants to grow while shopping in a grocery store. I have a chance to grow common or exotic plants I would normally not consider. While the prices being charged by the store as a food item may seem high it is only a fraction of the price for some of these plants if you buy them from a regular horticultural nursery outlet. I grow many plants from food I find while doing my weekly shopping.
Ginger is a really cool house plant. It is easy to grow. It takes little effort and requires no special skills. I am not sure why more don’t grow this. It rarely has any pest problem. One doesn’t have to worry about being genetically modified either. It is a common plant that originated from Southern mainland Chinese habitats. It quickly spread with man’s movement to other Southeast Pacific Islands, India, Nepal, West Africa and other places. In 1585 the first harvest of ginger grown in Jamaica went to Europe as a cash crop from the new world. It was the first non native spice to be grown and then shipped to the rest of Europe.
Ginger is an old and common spice ingredient. Did you know that ginger is related to Turmeric? It is considered to be safe in small or medium amounts. There are considerable folklore remedies with ginger as an ingredient. Claims about these and other modern medical beliefs have little substantiating evidence. Some claims and disorders attributed to ginger are often contradictory. There are claims that ginger causes bloating and upsets ulcers that are in direct opposition to many that claim ginger has a calming effect on bloating and discomfort due to ulcers. There are some that claim this spice arrests developing tumors. Studies have inconclusive support for this. I think what we can take from all of this is that ginger is safe with moderate consumption and should be included (just in case) with other medicinal treatments for health problems. Sometimes if you think something is a benefit, it is. Just be careful and stop using if discomfort or in some people a rare reaction such as a rash develops.
Many tropical and sub tropical homes are landscaped with ginger. It has a nice upright growth habit. It reminds me of bamboo. The height of this plant is about 3 feet tall or a bit more(about a meter). It produces beautiful yellow flowers on the top of some special stalks. The outer flower bracts that protect the flower are white or pink in color. A fully opened flower is quite lovely. I have had my plants throw up flower stalks but they never quite seem to develop for me. I think I was growing these in too little light. Ginger grows well in all light conditions. I have grown it in shade and full sun. I have found that those that grow in full sun are healthier and more productive than those grown in less light.
I plant my tubers in large containers. I choose containers so that there is at least 6 inches of soil surface around a center of the planted tuber. Choose a well draining organic compost blend soil. They seem to like moderate to heavy feeding during the growing season. The compost soil provides the continuous mild feeding between regular feedings these plants like. The depth of the container you choose doesn’t need to be more than a foot deep. The true roots that come off of the tubers do not penetrate that far below the surface of the soil.
The diameter of the growing surface is more important. These plants grow just like an Iris. In fact, the tubers push themselves up and above the soil surface just like an Iris. The growing tip will often grow out and away below the soil surface. Older tubers from previous years are raised up above the soil line by the new tubers below the surface. Most of the active plants come from these places. You will have some sprout from a tuber on top of the soil; just not that many.
Here comes the best reason to grow Ginger. This plant goes dormant. Usually about the middle or end of November my plants begin to turn brown. In just a few days that dead stalk withers away. It can be gently removed from the rest. Usually when I notice some of the stalks begin to die I decrease watering. I cut way back but not completely stop watering. Remember this is a root. The tuber can and will shrivel up if it gets too dry. I treat these slumbering tubers the same way as I do a Potato or Dahlia or Sweet Potato or any of the other roots and tubers I grow. Once these have gone dormant the pot can be stored in the basement or a closet. I bring it back out and begin watering again about the middle of April which is about a month before I can set it outside permanently.
A dormant tuber can be used as a spice. That is how and when they are imported to your local grocer. Find a firm tuber when choosing one to grow. Don’t choose it if it appears to be dehydrated. Choose your victim from grocers that don’t store their stock in coolers that are really cold. These don’t need to be refrigerated. I know there are those that store unused pieces in their own refrigerator or even freezer. Remember this is a tropical plant. It doesn’t get cold in nature.
Even if you choose your tubers from your local food coop that displays the spice at room temperature you may find that your tuber will not sprout. This can be the result of how tubers were processed in the field for shipping. Some farmers will wash the tubers in hot water or scrape the skins to remove dirt. The hot water and the scrubbing of the skins can kill the tuber. This is yet another reason to look for fleshy plump tubers. Look for a tuber that has naturally broken away from the rest. If you are using one that has been cut be sure to let it air dries thoroughly. Only one end grows. Cutting off a growing tip means the rest of the tuber will not sprout. The sprouting end has a little projection that sort of looks like a dog’s toenail.
Remember those stalks that turn brown and gently come off of the tuber when it is going to sleep? The scar left by this stalk is a circle with a fairly large darker center on the skin. This mark doesn’t seem to go away even on older parts of the tuber that push up above the surface of the soil. This is your clue which side is up. It doesn’t really matter. Choose as best as you can. Just plant the tuber so that about an inch of soil is on top of it. The ginger will still sprout if it is upside down. Keep the soil moist but not too wet until the new plant begins.
Also keep in mind that these don’t usually begin starting to grow again until it is just about time to put outside in the spring. These are dormant all winter. This means the root you bought in November for Thanksgiving probably won’t sprout until spring. Over or under watering at this time of the year are the leading causes of failure. Starting with a piece late mid spring will give better results.
This has been one of the best grocery storehouse plants I have yet found. It is so easy to grow. It did take a couple of seasons to get large enough for me to consider harvesting. Now I am thinking it may make a winter’s farmer’s market item. I may wait until next year before trying this.