Nothing could be simpler than growing ginger in Virginia.
It’s almost true.
Ginger is reasonably ornamental – a reed-like plant with clear green leaves. While it can be grown in the vegetable or herb garden, it is not out of place with ornamental plants – provided you can dig them out easily enough — without damaging bulbs or perennials. Don’t plant them with daffodils!
So yes, it is tropical – but that not necessarily a reason not to grow it. We grow many other plants from the tropics and treat them like annuals. You can do the same with ginger.
I have grown it for years in my garden – small yield but it was mine! Ginger requires a long frost-free growing season — about one year for mature ginger, 8 months for baby ginger. That’s more than our climate allows… except that you can start ginger indoors. farmers do it in high tunnels (aka hoophouses). I start it my greenhouse, but a very sunny window or sun room will work. With a warm early start in late winter, appropriate temperatures at all times, abundant water, and judicious shade, you can grow ginger to a harvestable size.
I just started mine (a trifle late, I know – a month ago would have been better). I buy large plump healthy firm roots from the store. I avoid ginger from China, and scoop up Hawaiian or Jamaican ginger if I do see it – I love their fiber-free roots and their bright sharp flavor. This time, I was able to buy some from Mexico and some from Thailand. The clerk remarked that was a lot of ginger (over 3 pounds at one location, 2 pounds at the other). “A lot” is relative though, isn’t it?
I filled a perforated tray with a damp and very light potting medium (a mix of peat moss, perlite and a little compost — well moistened), set the tray in another solid one. I broke the large rhizomes into smaller pieces, each a few inched long, and arranged them, not touching, on the potting medium. I added more on top of the root to barely cover them – and water well with a fine rose. Then the trays are set on a heating pad in the cool greenhouse and covered with a clear plastic cover. Ginger likes it warm and moist. Now I wait!
In a few weeks, green shoots emerge and white roots form off the rhizomes. Wait till the weather is really warm (for us that’s mid-May) and set out in a light rich humusy soil. The rhizomes should be covered with 1 or 2 inches of soil — like dahlias. Water often while it grows. Afternoon shade is OK.
Now you wait. Until late September/early October. Then you dig with a fork, carefully, or – better - with your hands, harvesting what you need for a meal. Or just pull the clump if you have the ideal soil. The whole thing comes out. Cut off the stems – a little is OK (see the last pix) and trim off the white roots.
Really fresh baby ginger is a treat. It is also not inexpensive if you have to buy it — upward of $15/lb ($1/oz). So growing it yourself could make you feel rich and smug. I am just warning you… Anyway, if you have it, use it liberally and lovingly. Baby ginger has a more delicate flavor than mature ginger, yet bright and sharp; it is much juicer and never stringy. When just harvested it has no skin: use it before the outer layer of the rhizome hardens and starts to dry out. That is after all why we grow it… the bottom parts of teh shoots are also very tender and great sliced in stir-fry.
Baby ginger is wonderful pickled, juiced or infused … or just cooked. Dig the entire clumps before frost, and preserve the extra rhizome by pickling (in vinegar or vodka) or freezing them. You can freeze whole and just grate stiill frozen as needed later – or you can turn it into a paste and freeze small clumps in a mini-muffin pan or ice-cube trays. I prefer the later method. Once the ginger cubes are frozen solid, put them in a freezer bag. Use as needed – no need to thaw.
If you like ginger, you should try to grow some… but hurry and start now and be patient. And don’t let it dry out…
…or you could just buy it at a Farmers’ market near you. Thanks to Virginia Department of Agriculture, farmers have received grants to grow high-value ginger crop. In my area, farms such as Farm at Sunnyside in Washington and Potomac Vegetable Farms in Purcellville. Both sell at several markets in the Washington DC area as well as though their CSA program.