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What Is Ginger?
Although often referred to as ginger root, ginger actually comes from the rhizome (underground stem) of Zingiber officinale, a tropical flowering plant from the same family as cardamom and turmeric. The sharp bite of raw fresh ginger comes from gingerol, an aromatic compound that transforms into the sweeter zingerone when heated or dried, making ginger an especially versatile ingredient.
Ginger is a popular ingredient in many different cuisines, particularly in various kinds of Asian cuisine—including Japanese, Chinese, and Thai cuisine. For the fullest flavor, fresh ginger is the best to cook with and can be minced, diced, shredded. You can also cook with dried or powdered ginger.
When to Plant Ginger
Early spring is the best time to plant your ginger. Ginger is a tropical plant that will grow year-round if you’re in a warm climate. In cooler climates, ginger should be planted in a planter that can be brought inside during the cold months. Wait until after the first frost has passed to plant your ginger. The plant will take eight to ten months to mature, and it is best harvested in the winter when the plant's leaves begin to fall.
When to Harvest Ginger
Allow your plant to reach full maturity before you harvest it, which will take about eight to ten months. This means that if you plant it in the spring, it should be ready to harvest by winter. Allow the flowering plant that grows out of your ginger root to become dry before you harvest it. This should take about two months. The longer you wait to harvest your ginger root, the stronger it will taste.
How to Grow Ginger
Follow these simple steps for planting and growing your own ginger.
- Buy ginger root. To grow the most common variety of ginger—which is Zingiber officinale—you can simply buy ginger root from your local grocery store. When choosing a ginger root to plant, look for roots that are plump and young. Any growth buds on the tips of the root—called the eyes—are a plus, as they are already beginning to grow.
- Cut your ginger. You can plant an entire ginger root for one plant or cut it up to plant multiple. Simply cut your ginger into fragments, and allow it to sit out for a day to become dry and form a callus. Make sure that each piece you plant has an eye—which are the nodes at the ends of the plant—so that it will sprout properly.
- Prepare your soil. Combine potting soil with compost mulch for your ginger. You want to plant your ginger in well-draining soil to prevent rot. Mildly acidic soil is best for ginger, so make sure that your soil or potting mix has a pH of six to six-and-a-half.
- Choose a location. Ginger thrives in partial shade with only about two to five hours of sun a day. Take that into account if you’re planting your ginger outdoors. If you are planting your ginger in a pot, use a plastic pot at least 12 inches deep. If you’re in a warm climate, you’ll be able to grow your ginger year-round. If you’re in a cold climate with harsh winters, plant it in a pot so that you can move the ginger indoors in the winter.
- Plant your ginger. Bury your ginger roots two to four inches below the soil at least eight inches apart. If you’re planting ginger in a pot, plant only one piece of ginger because it will need plenty of space. If any of the roots are sprouting, plant so that the buds are pointing upwards.
- Water your ginger. Water your ginger directly after you plant it. Continue to keep your soil moist but not saturated, watering it until just before the soil dries out. In the late summer or fall, the stems of the ginger plant will start to die. When the stems die, stop watering the plant completely.
How to Harvest Ginger
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When your ginger stems start to die back—which should take eight to ten months—your ginger is fully matured and ready to harvest. Here is a guide to harvesting ginger.
- Trim your stems. When your stems begin to turn yellow, your ginger root is nearing maturity and will soon be ready to harvest. Wait until your ginger plant stems have died and the soil has dried out before you harvest. Trim the top of the ginger plant stems two to three weeks before you plan to dig it up.
- Dig up the entire plant. Using your hands or a small trowel, Gently remove the ginger root from the soil and clip it free from the rest of the ginger plant. You can use your hands or a small trowel to do this.
- Wash and prepare your ginger. Wash and scrub your ginger roots under running water, being careful to get rid of as much dirt as you can. Your ginger is now ready to be cooked, pickled, dried, or prepared in any way that you like. You can save some pieces of ginger to replant the following season.
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