Friday, November 9, 2012

Start Ginger Now for Next Year

Ginger is in season. Three Rivers Market has a pile of it in the produce case, sourced from Mobile, AL. Lots of green shoots and eyes are present on the rhizomes. Now is the time to plant for a ginger crop next year. I mentioned growing ginger briefly in an earlier post. Here are more details on growing it in the Tennessee Valley.
Select a healthy looking piece at the market. It should have at least two green eyes showing. Mine cost less than $2. If you find a piece with green shoots, use them as a guideline for planting depth. Try to find organic ginger that looks and smells fresh. I have seen ginger in the supermarket that looks so dried out that it is unlikely to sprout. I have also read about possible chemical treatments to inhibit sprouting.
Put the piece of rhizome in a large pot. The roots need plenty of room to expand. Use any good potting soil that would be suitable for houseplants. Mix in some Osmocote, or an appropriate amount of balanced organic fertilizer. If using Osmocote, you need about a tablespoon per gallon of growing mix. Ginger is a tropical plant and a heavy feeder. Water well and place in a warm, sunny spot with your other tropical houseplants.
Ginger normally goes dormant during the dry winter season, so it may take a month or more for new shoots to appear. Do not allow the soil to become bone dry, but don’t keep it soggy, either. One approach at this stage is to let the pot drain overnight, then enclose it in a trash bag to maintain high humidity. Check periodically for new green shoots and remove the bag as soon as they appear.
Once it sprouts, treat the pot of ginger like your most prized tropical houseplant, with plenty of sunshine, regular watering and additional fertilizer if it begins to show any sign of yellowing. Protect it from cold drafts and keep it in a warm spot. Around next Memorial Day, when the night temperature will reliably remain above 50 degrees, transplant the plant to a sheltered spot with full sunshine, in soil that would be suitable for tomatoes. Ginger does not like cold, winds, drought or soggy soil. Take care not to disturb the roots too much when transplanting, to keep it growing steadily. Irrigate if rainfall is insufficient, and feed regularly. Ginger's requirements in this regard are much like those of the squash family, another group of tropical plants that need heat, water and fertilizer to produce well.
Ginger is unlikely to be attacked by pests other that slugs. Use your favorite method to control them.
By the end of October or thereabouts, the plants will start to yellow. This is a sign they are ready to enter dormancy, and that you are ready to dig. You should easily get two or three pounds of roots from the pot you started in November. Replant some, then peel and freeze the remainder.
For those with limited space, you can transplant the ginger to a larger pot on the patio or balcony in late spring. Choose a broad, relatively shallow container that will allow for maximum root spread. Container plants may require daily watering during the hottest summer days. With all the irrigation, you will need to fertilize frequently to keep them growing.
We continue to learn how to make the best use of our 6 foot x 8 foot plastic greenhouses. By way of review, we were disappointed that the failure rate is 100% on the interior tie-downs that secure the plastic cover to the steel frame. The tie downs supplied with the greenhouse (manufacturer specs here) are made with a white stretch cord that turns to powder after a few months in the sun. We will have to replace them with UV-resistant zip ties. This seems like a problem that could have been easily avoided without adding to the cost of manufacturing. We installed them almost exactly one year ago.
Even an unheated greenhouse can extend your growing season considerably, we are learning. We still have pepper plants untouched by the recent frosts, even though the temperature in the greenhouse has reached a low of 30 degrees F. Frost forms when solid surfaces are cooled below the dew point of the surrounding air, and below the freezing point. Many plants can tolerate temperatures below freezing, as long as frost does not form on their leaves. The reason is that the ice crystals physically damage the plants, which would otherwise weather the cold and resume growth when the temperature rises.
A greenhouse, coldframe or cloche provides some protection from falling temperatures during the daytime, owing to the greenhouse effect, but without added heat or a means of storing heat, the greenhouse can drop to freezing at night. Frost, nevertheless, will not form unless the temperature reaches the dew point. As the absolute humidity increases toward 100% saturation, the dew point approaches the ambient temperature. For example, at 35 degrees and 40 percent humidity, the dew point is 13.2 degrees. At 100 percent humidity, it is 35 degrees. You can find a dew point calculator for any given temperature, relative humidity here.
In a greenhouse, where the humidity is higher than the outside air, dew will form on plant surfaces at a higher temperature than it does outside. The presence of liquid water on the leaves then in turn protects the leaves from reaching the freezing point, where frost could form.

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