Our farm is an experiment. Each season, we test the land to see what it can produce.
Sea buckthorn has been a success, though it’s taken four years. This year, our three plants, one male and two fruiting females, have given us enough sweet-tart berries to make a few pints of jam. We also successfully grew, after three seasons of trying, a four-by-eight-foot raised bed of oyster leaf. That plant, which thrives between the coasts, tastes of the sea, offering a refreshing new flavor to our landlocked palates. Wasabi is still a work in progress. We put the roots in a pot last year and were able to grow it to the point where it produced very nice leaves. The fall was not kind to that humidity-loving plant, though, and it faded quickly into the darkness of winter.
One of the most rewarding experiments happened a few years ago, when a chef asked us about propagating ginger. We knew ginger was a subtropical plant and could not thrive in our growing zone. What we didn’t consider was growing the plant only to its sweet, mild immature stage and harvesting it in the late summer and early fall, before winter descended.
We knew ginger was a subtropical plant and could not thrive in our growing zone. What we didn’t consider was growing the plant only to its sweet, mild immature stage and harvesting it in the late summer and early fall, before winter descended.
The first year, we bought about twenty mature organic rhizomes from a grocery store and stuck them in a corner of a raised bed. That’s where we keep most of our delicate plants, protected by the main building on the property. The ginger did well, but it didn’t thrive. We needed to learn more about its growing habits.
To grow ginger, all you have to do is put a ginger rhizome, often incorrectly called a root, in a pot with soil. You can get your rhizome from the supermarket, but it should be organic, because conventional ginger could be treated with growth inhibitors and other chemicals to extend its shelf life. To grow it well, we’ve learned, there are a couple of tricks.
First, when selecting a rhizome to plant, look for the largest knob with the most eyes. The eyes are easy to identify for us flyover types, because we know what the eyes on a potato look like. They look more or less the same on a piece of ginger. See how easy this is? The more eyes you find, the more potential for pseudostems. (Ginger doesn’t have stems that shoot out leaves, but rather rolled leaves that look like stems.) The next trick is to give the plants plenty of space. Unlike a taproot, like a carrot, a rhizome will grow horizontally, reaching out around the plant. If there isn’t enough spacing between the ginger plants, new growth will bump into its neighbor’s.
We usually start our ginger outside and let it grow through the hot and humid summer. It’s happy during that season as long as it has enough water. By this time of year, we have harvested almost all of our plants to use fresh, pickle, or freeze. This year, we are going to bring some of the mature plants inside for the winter—to use fresh for special occasions through the holidays. We’re also going to try starting next year’s ginger inside. You should too. We can do it together. Come next spring, our first shoots will be ready to tuck in to some freshly turned soil, offering relief from the seed packets staring back us. It will be the most delayed instant gratification we’ll enjoy all season.
Recipe for a pot of ginger
Makes 1 plant
One pot (at least one gallon), deep or shallow, with a drainage hole
High-quality potting soil
A large organic ginger rhizome
Fill a pot with potting soil and lightly pat down smooth. Dig a shallow trench, no deeper than an inch, and plant the ginger, eyes facing horizontally. Cover the ginger with soil and saturate the soil with water. Place in a warm window with plenty of sun. Enjoy your new plant friend all winter and transplant in the late spring.