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Growing Ginger In A Container
This series “GIY”, encourages readers to become aware of and educated about the possibilities of growing some crops at home…and saving money in these tough economic times. T&T’s food import bill is estimated at TT$5 billion annually and “growing”.
Parents and children can indulge in an activity that can be an exciting and rewarding activity and a good introduction into growing some of your own food.
When you’re faced with the high cost of ginger, especially during Christmas time, you might consider growing your own pot. This is not as difficult as it may seem, just be prepared to wait 8-10 months after planting before the ginger can be harvested but your patience will be well worth it.
Having a ready source of fresh ginger is a privilege; just cut off a 2 inch piece for seasoning meats, making ginger tea, preparing a garlic ginger paste for curry or baking ginger cookies.
What we use in the kitchen as ginger is the underground stem or rhizome; the green fragrant tops are really the leaves. So the ginger we use is not really a root but a stem. The ginger rhizomes have “eyes” or buds which sprout to produce the above ground part of the plant.
Step 1: Planting Material
The easiest way to get started is to get a few fresh ginger rhizomes from your market. Select fat and plump rhizomes and look for pieces with well developed “eyes” or growth buds. (The buds are swollen outgrowths with little horns at the end).
Step 2: Location
Ginger is an understory crop, that is, it prefers to grow as a companion to taller plants that provide shade; it therefore requires a sheltered spot, filtered sunlight and rich and moist soil. If your limited space is very sunny, then place your ginger container in the shade of a taller plant.
What ginger can’t stand is too much direct sun, strong winds and soggy, waterlogged soil.
Step 3: Container Size
Growing ginger doesn’t take up much room at all. Every rhizome you plant will first only grow a few leaves, in the one spot. Over time it will become a dense clump and very slowly get bigger, but only if it isn’t harvested.
The underground rhizomes also don’t seem to mind if they become a bit crowded. Ginger only grows to about two to three feet in height above ground and to a depth of 4-6 inches. Regular planting troughs are recommended.
Step 4: Planting
1. Break up (or cut) the ginger rhizomes in little pieces with a couple of growing buds each. Or just plant the whole thing.
Plant your ginger rhizome five to ten cm (2-3 inches) deep, with the growing buds facing up. Space the individual pieces 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) apart.
Since ginger is a long-term crop, it is recommended to plant 2 troughs; one that you will allow to grow for the 8-10 months and the other from which you can take pieces of ginger rhizomes whenever required.
2. The soil mixture for growing ginger needs to be rich enough to feed your ginger; it also needs to hold enough moisture so it doesn’t dry out, but it needs to be free draining so the ginger roots don’t become water logged. It is recommended that a mixture of equal parts of sharp sand, well-rotted manure and soil be used.
3. Ginger needs a lot of moisture while actively growing and the growing medium should not dry out.
Don’t overwater, though, because the water that drains away will take nutrients with it.
Step 5: Caring For Your Ginger
As the underground rhizomes grow, new buds will emerge into leaves.
After about 3 months, using a knife, remove soil away from the leaf base and you will see the young plump growing rhizome. This will have a pale cream colour with pink tips.
For the first 3-4 months, growth of the underground rhizome may be limited but continue caring for your plant.
By month 6, the entire trough will be filled with fragrant leaves and you will notice that the rhizomes begin to emerge above the soil level.
A foliar fertilizer can be used once every month e.g. 20:20:20 at a rate of 5g (1 tsp) to 4 litres (1 gal) of water.
Apply this mixture (or water it) into the ginger leaves and root area of each planting trough.
Step 6: Harvesting Ginger
The best time to harvest ginger is any time after the leaves have died down which will occur between eight to ten months after planting.
You can now dig up the entire plant. Or you can just empty the entire trough onto your lawn; the entire trough will be filled with clumps of densely packed ginger rhizomes.
Gently shake of the adhering soil, remove the roots and carefully wash the soil away from the rhizomes.
Allow ginger rhizomes to air dry away of the sun. You will notice that the colour of the outer covering darkens with age.
This series is written in collaboration with Cynthra Persad, retired Director of Research, Ministry of Agriculture.
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