Grow Your Own Ginger
Do you love Asian foods, ginger ale and pumpkin pie? It’s the taste of ginger that’s won you over. Zingiber officinale is easy to grow and makes for a great project with kids. And with its attractive foliage, this plant will add beauty to your home and garden, as well. Just pick up a root from your grocery store’s produce section and get growing!
Photo Credit: John Buettner
Photo Credit: John Buettner
Ginger root is sold in a clump that’s often called a “hand.” You’ll want to choose a hand that’s fresh and firm with as many “fingers” as possible. To get as many plants as you can, cut or break the fingers off the main root. Each section with a growing tip will become a plant. Be sure to allow any cut surfaces to dry before planting them in moist soil.
Planting is easy as pie: Simply pick a pot that’s at least twice the diameter as the length of your root section. Fill it ¾ full with standard potting soil, and place the small root sections on the soil surface. Water it well. Your plant will survive dry spells, but to get the most consistent growth, keep it damp at all times. Place your ginger pot in a spot where it’ll stay warm. There’s no need to find a sunny spot on your windowsill. At this stage, your ginger actually grows better without direct sunshine. Before you know it, you’ll see sprouts.
Studies say ginger’s peak flavor arrives at 265 days. (And if you start the ginger inside in late winter, that one root can produce four times that amount by fall!) But you’ll only get this long growing season by starting your ginger indoors as a houseplant early in the year and then transplanting it in your garden in late spring, once the weather’s warmed. When moving your ginger to your garden, choose a spot with rich, loose soil, and be sure to water it regularly. There aren’t many pests or diseases to worry about. And occasionally, you might get a nice surprise: Your ginger plant may produce yellowish flowers at the base of each stem.
With proper care, your ginger can reach 2-4 feet tall. It’ll have narrow, glossy, green leaves that can be up to a foot long. Its roots can be harvested at any time, but you should let the plant grow for at least three to four months before harvesting. You’ll be able to see the ginger roots growing near the surface of the soil. To harvest them, just trim off small sections whenever you need them, while the rest of the plant continues to grow. The new roots that grow from the starter root will have the best flavor and texture. The old starter root should be tossed out at the end of the season.
You can use these flavorful roots in many recipes. One of my favorites is to make crystallized or candied ginger after my final harvest in October. There are many recipes to crystallize ginger, but this is the easiest I’ve found:
Candied GingerPeel and slice your ginger root into small sections. Cover in water, with an inch to spare, then cook on a low boil for one hour. Test the roots for softness by piercing one of the sections with a knife. Once they’re soft, start adding sugar, keeping the pot on the low boil. (Note: The amount of sugar you use should equal the amount of water in the pot.) Allow the roots to boil in the simple syrup for at least an hour, then strain the root pieces and roll them in granulated sugar. Place the sugared roots on wax paper and let them dry overnight. Once they’re completely dry, you can store them in a sealed jar for months, or you can freeze them in plastic bags for up to a year. And don’t throw out the delicious ginger syrup leftovers – it alone is worth the trouble of spending all this time in the kitchen!
There are so many recipes for versatile ginger. Look some up for making ginger snaps or ginger dressing. This wonderful spice is so easy to grow, that you’ll find yourself searching for more ways to use this great root!