Friday, February 1, 2013

Notes on Growing Ginger

I have made an interesting observation this season regarding ginger. Back in November, I was excited to find fresh ginger root in the local market. The source was identified as “Mobile, AL.” I grabbed a piece and a couple of days later planted it in a pot. I blogged about it here.

Unfortunately, within about a month that piece of ginger root had rotted in the pot. The holiday season was in full swing, and I did not think about ginger again until January. I bought another piece of root, this time at my local supermarket. My best guess for the source is Hawaii. Unlike the fresh ginger, which has pale yellow skin with deep purple markings (see image at left), this was an older, drier rhizome, with the more familiar brown skin. Nevertheless, I could see several pale green “eyes” telling me it was still very much alive. I planted it in the same pot as the previous specimen, on January 5, 2013. Today I noticed the first green shoot protruding above the soil line.

One would have thought the much fresher specimen from Alabama would have been the better bet, but it occurred to me that ginger typically goes through a dormant period at the end of the growing season, which corresponds to the dry season in its native habitat. The rhizomes need a cool, dry rest period in order to resume growth when water is again available. I should have left the fresh ginger on the shelf for a few weeks before planting. A dry rest would also have allowed the skin to toughen, reducing the likelihood of access to rot-causing bacteria. I’m guessing the Hawaiian product was dug in September and allowed to cure in order to enhance its keeping qualities. 

It is also possible the first batch of ginger was exposed to temperatures too cold for survival. Ginger, like onions, stores best under dry and cool, but not frigid, conditions.

Whatever the reason for my original failure, if you’ve had a similar experience, now is the time to try, try again. We should still be able to get a decent crop before next fall if rhizomes are started indoors now.  But time is, of course, running out.

February Planting Tips
Before we know it, it will be time to plant peas. I absolutely adore sugar snap peas, and typically eat about half of them right off the vine. One planting with good care will produce an abundance of delicious pods for several weeks in late spring. Look for the traditional 'Sugar Snap' for best flavor. The vines grow really tall, so be sure to provide a suitable trellis. Peas climb with tendrils, and like relatively narrow supports, a quarter inch or less in diameter. Trellises made of string or wire work best. A trellis net with 6-inch openings works well. You can find nylon ones at most garden centers, or you can order a jute trellis online from Gardener's Supply. The advantage of the jute is that it can be cut down and composted at the end of the season. The alternative is tediously removing the plants from the nylon trellis without snapping one of the strands. If you are up to that task, however, the nylon will last several seasons.

Mid-February is also the time to plant beets, chard, carrots, onions and brassica transplants in Zone 7. If you live in Zone 6, wait a couple of weeks longer.

Asparagus crowns should also be planted in February. This ancient and delicious crop needs deep, rich, well-drained soil in full sun. Look for an all male variety to avoid seedlings, which can crowd out their parents. Because they invest no energy in seed production, male plants yield a bigger harvest than their female counterparts. Asparagus is hardy and relatively easy to grow in east Tennessee, and I am always surprised that more people don’t try it. I am looking forward to planting our first patch this season. We have not grown asparagus for over a decade, and decided to make room in our latest landscape plan for an asparagus bed. Park Seed Company offers ‘Jersey Knight’, a hybrid, all-male cultivar with multiple disease resistance, and ‘Jersey Supreme’ a similar strain with the added benefit of rapid growth. As a rule, asparagus can be harvested during the third spring from planting. Jersey Supreme can be harvested a year earlier, and so is the best choice for the impatient gardener. Plant this season, harvest in 2014 and thereafter.

You can find a complete vegetable planting schedule for Zones 5 through 8, by yours truly, in the February issue of Tennessee Gardener magazine.

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