Ginger is one of the most commonly used vegetables world-wide. It was one of the first crops exported from Asia. It thrives is hot, humid climates and is primarily grown in China, India, Indonesia, or West Africa. It is used in a variety of ways, i.e., chopped fresh, candied, dried and ground to a fine powder. Ginger is often referred to as a ‘root’, but it is actually a rhizome, a modified underground stem. Baby ginger is different from mature ginger. Mature ginger has a very tough hide and is very potent whereas baby ginger is tender. Mature ginger can be stored for months. Baby ginger can be stored at room temperature for only about two to three weeks after harvest.
Plant Family: Ginger is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, perennial herbs mostly with creeping horizontal or tuberous rhizomes. It’s in the same family as turmeric and cardamom. Ginger can be planted anywhere in your garden.
How to Grow: Like potatoes, ginger has ‘eyes’ on the rhizome that will sprout and develop into shouts above the ground, so look for the largest and fullest pieces available with some sprouting or ‘swollen’ eyes. Plant a piece with at least 3 eyes. If you cut a large piece, use a sanitized knife or shears, and leave the pieces in a dry location for a few days to allow them to heal. Planting a larger piece of ginger with more eyes will produce more growth above ground, providing more photosynthesis and more growth below ground resulting in more harvestable ginger rhizomes, You can purchase ginger rhizomes from some garden centers, several online nurseries or from a variety of grocery stores or health food stores (when possible, choose organic garlic to ensure it has not been treated with a growth inhibitor).
Baby, or young, ginger is different from mature ginger. Mature ginger has a very tough hide and is very potent whereas baby ginger is tender. Mature ginger can be stored for months. Baby ginger can be stored at room temperature for only about two to three weeks after harvest.
Bab, ginger is ready to harvest about four to six months after it has been planted. Mature ginger takes 8-10 months to grow. It is hardy to Zone 8; Ginger loves hot, humid conditions and rich soil with lots of nutrients. Duke Farms in Central NJ is in Zone 6B, so start indoors and move to the garden after the danger of frost as passed. Ginger should be planted about ½ - 1” below the soil. Plants should be kept 12” apart. Keep ginger moist but do not over-water; mulch will help to retain moisture. Ginger thrives in warmth, so consider using a row cover when nights are cool. It benefits from monthly liquid fertilizer.
Container Friendly?: Yes, ginger can be grown in containers. Ginger grows horizontally, so wide containers (at least 12” – 14”) allow for more growth. Use a loose, rich in organic matter potting soil. Larger pots can handle several plants.
Try This: Ginger will go dormant, and perhaps die, if the temperature goes below 55°. Consider growing your ginger in pots so that you can bring it inside if the temperature dips.
How to Harvest: Ginger will stop growing new leaves in late summer when the nights become longer. Wait as long as you can to harvest the rhizomes, but before the nights have freezing temperatures. Shake off the loose soil and rinse with a spray of water. Allow the rhizomes to dry out before storing. Store the dried and cured rhizomes in the freezer and take them out as needed.
Plants grown in pots can be left to dry out and go dormant. Once dormant, the pot can be stored in a cool dry place over the winter. If you prefer to store everything inside and use the rhizomes as needed, you can replant any of the used rhizomes in the spring.
Storage time after harvest is much shorter for young, baby ginger than it is for mature ginger. Baby ginger can be stored at room temperature for only about two to three weeks after harvest. Consider freezing it to maintain its flavor. Freeze in an airtight container either whole, sliced or grated.
Common Varieties: The edible ginger available in grocery stores is Zingiber officinale. There are ornamental ginger plants with attractive foliage (i.e., Butterfly Ginger, Peacock Ginger, Spiral Ginger), often available in warm climates, but these should not be grown for eating.
Recipes: There are hundreds of ginger-using recipes available – everything from teas, marinades, entrees and desserts. Just a sampling can be found here:
Candied or crystallized ginger has many health benefits and is used to treat nausea, reduce stress, boost immunity and as an anti-inflammatory. Candied ginger is often used to control of nausea – consider sucking on a piece if you have this symptom.
Ginger can also be dried and ground into a powder. The simplest way to dry ginger is to place it on a plate next to a window that gets a lot of sun for 3 to 4 days. or in a dehydrator. Once completely dry, grind the dried ginger in a blender or food processor until it becomes a fine powder.