Helen Simpson, from the Mushroom Shed, tells you all you need to know about growing ginger and turmeric. She has also written articles about growing basil, brassicas, chilli, coriander, cucurbits, garlic, mint, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes and lesser known herbs.
Ginger and turmeric are both hot weather plants which grow abundantly in tropical climates. Although growing in Melbourne presents a challenge, a moderate harvest can be obtained by mimicking a tropical environment as closely as possible. Essentially this means growing ginger and turmeric over Melbourne’s summer.
To maximise your harvest, create the longest possible growing period by starting your plants as soon as the weather warms up in September. This can be tricky, as cold snaps and frosts still occur, so protection of your plants in the early months is essential – for example, in a greenhouse or house overnight. Because of this, I recommend growing the plants in pots, which can be moved and protected as necessary.
How to start
Ginger and turmeric are both started from rhizomes. These are what you buy to eat, so they are easy to purchase. Select fresh, plump rhizomes. Organic is best, in case the rhizome has been treated to prevent it sprouting. Alternatively, buy them from mail order or other garden suppliers.
Start the rhizomes in a pot filled with potting mix or good garden soil. Your rhizomes may have several knobbly bits on them – these turn into growing shoots – and you can plant them with these bits facing upwards, but the growing tips will find their way upwards even if they are facing sideways. You can also start your rhizomes in individual smaller pots and pot up into a much larger pot, or put several rhizomes into a very large pot and leave them there for their growing life.
About 10–15cm is the right depth for planting. The minimum spacing between rhizomes is 15cm, to leave room for them to spread.
Then be patient – the first sprouts can take many weeks to emerge.
Ginger and turmeric both thrive on heat, moisture, humid conditions and moderate shade. That said, ensure the rhizomes don’t sit in water for any length of time or they will rot.
A slightly shaded part of a humid greenhouse is an excellent position and will produce superior results to a garden, which tends to have insufficient humidity. This generally translates to growing plants in a large pot, rather than planting directly in the garden.
Soil should be rich and you may wish to feed your plants several times throughout the growing season, which is from September to April/May.
In a Melbourne backyard greenhouse, the plants will shoot to about 1 metre, having long, attractive leaves branching off a straight stem.
Plants should remain relatively free of pests and diseases and happily grow until the cool weather returns in April.
In April, keep an eye on plants, as with the cooler weather they will yellow and fall over. As soon as this happens, up end the pot (as your harvest will be under the soil) and cross your fingers for a decent amount. I’d like to say it will be bountiful but a more realistic expectation for Melbourne is that it will be ‘reasonable’. The longer the growing period, the greater your harvest, so the longer you can keep your plants growing without dying the better.
Other plants to consider
If you enjoy growing ginger and turmeric, try galangal and cardamom. Cardamom is a much easier plant to grow; however, I have never seen it produce pods in Melbourne.