Growing ginger, from planting to harvest
By George Michaels Mbakahya
| February 6th 2016
Did you know you can grow ginger or tangawizi on your own? Or you can use part of the root and it will continue to grow? In today’s article, I will take a closer look at this versatile exotic plant with a fascinating history.
Tangawizi is versatile and is used in products ranging from spicy cakes to drinks (ginger ale) and sweets. Ginger is especially prized for its healing properties, which makes it a valuable crop. It contains active substances that can have a beneficial effect on the human body. It is a painkiller, a relaxant, a breath-freshener, a decongestant and an anti-septic.
The many benefits: It is also a remedy for flu, colds, fatigue, headaches, migraine, menstrual pain and impotence. The intensity of the flavour varies according to when the ginger is harvested. The older the plant, the hotter the root will taste. Young ginger roots are softer and more succulent, and have a milder flavour. These young tubers can be eaten fresh or preserved in vinegar, sugary water. Young ginger is also perfectly suited for making ginger tea. Just add sugar and lemon to taste!
The juice of older tubers, by contrast, has a strong flavour and is the one often used to flavour oriental recipes. The hotter varieties of the ginger root can be indispensable kitchen ingredient. Tangawizi may seem like a mysterious herb to grow but planting ginger is easy as pie: simply find the suitable ginger cultivar that meet the target market requirements.
The most common cultivar is Jamaican which has an off-white colour. It is most preferred due to its superior quality. In Kenya, regions in western and around Lake Victoria presents more suitable growing conditions but, ginger thrives well in most parts of the country.
Planting: Ginger is propagated from the rhizome (root). To grow ginger, choose a healthy, plump looking ginger root that is about 4 to 5 inches long with at least a few “fingers” and well developed growth buds. Make sure the initial ginger root looks nice and firm, not dried or shriveled.
The next step is breaking the root into pieces (setts) 1 to 2 inches at least with a growth bud on each piece. Dip the setts in a fungicide to minimise fungal infection. This is followed by soaking the setts overnight in warm water to eliminate nematodes. Plant the setts about 2 and 5cm deep making sure the eye buds are pointing upward.
Ginger requires fertile well drained loamy soils. Planting the crop in heavy clay restricts development of bold smooth rhizomes and in this case drainage is a must. It is advisable to add lots of compost or rotten manure in the garden. Plant one ginger plant per square foot. You will need 1.5 to 1.7 tonnes of ginger root to plant one hectare. This depends on when the crop will be harvested, higher rates are applicable if the crop is to be harvested early. 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.
Once the ginger root is planted, water it thoroughly. The soil should never dry out. In a week or two you’ll see the leaves of the ginger plant emerge. Once the leaves emerge, water sparingly, but when you water the ginger root plant, water it deeply. If you are growing ginger in the ground mulch it thickly. It helps to keep the ground moist also feeds the ginger as the mulch breaks down, and it keeps down weeds.
Weeding: Weeding is critical given the extended growing time, slow initial growth and poor early ground cover. Manual weed control should be done with minimal disturbance to avoid crop damage. Perennial grasses must be eliminated before planting. Old banana fields are not suitable due to the risk of nematode infestation.
With proper care, your ginger can reach 2-4 feet tall.
It will have narrow, glossy, green leaves that can be up to a foot long. Its roots can be harvested at any time, but you should let the plant grow for at least three to four months before harvesting. You’ll be able to see the ginger roots growing near the surface of the soil. To harvest them, just trim off small sections whenever you need them, while the rest of the plant continues to grow. The new roots that grow from the starter root will have the best flavour and texture. The old starter root should be tossed out at the end of the season. You may notice as your ginger plant grows that the root pushes back up through the top of the soil. This is normal.
Harvesting: Full maturity is attained at seven to 10 months when leaves turn yellow and start to lodge. You can start harvesting when plants are fully matured but depending on the market, harvesting can be done before full maturity. If you are growing ginger root in the garden you can start stealing little bits of it once it is about four months old.
Just dig carefully at the side of a clump.(This “green ginger” does have a lot less flavour than the mature stuff, though). As plant matures volatile oil content decreases and fiber contents increase. Ginger rhizomes for preservation are harvested at seven months when fibre content and pungency is still low.
Ginger for fresh and dried products is harvested when volatile oil content is at maximum, at 9 to 10 months. When harvesting, lift the ginger plant gently from the soil. If you’d like to continue to grow ginger root, break off a part of the ginger root that has foliage and carefully replant it. The rest of the ginger root can be used as your harvest.
Storage: For fresh ginger, the rhizomes are washed immediately after harvest and air dried in shade for one to two days to partially heal wounds prior to packaging and storage. Fully matured ginger are sun-dried for longer preservation.
The rhizomes are stored in slatted or wire sided boxes under cool conditions. The packaging should be designed to allow moisture to evaporate. Rhizomes can be stored for up to 6 months as rhizomes are adaptable and easily stores in cupboards or in refrigerators. Dried and powdered ginger is stored airtight containers.
The writer is an expert/consultant on sustainable agriculture and agricultural innovations
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