Productive Plant – Ginger
by Debbie Bassingthwaighte
Botanical Name: Zingiber officinale
Origin: Tropical Asia and India
Ginger is a tropical perennial root spice that grows as an underground rhizome. The narrow, 30 cm leaves are light green and grow on thick pseudo-stems that develop from a series of tightly overlapping leaves. Plants grow up to 1 m tall with small cone-shaped clusters of cream bracts as insignificant flowers.
Ginger is a tropical and sub-tropical herbaceous perennial that grows best in under-storey or shaded positions in rich, free-draining, moist soil. It needs 1500 mm of annual rainfall so in the Lockyer Valley where we live supplementary watering is required. At the end of autumn, the leaves and stems turn brown and shrivel as the plant becomes dormant over winter. Ginger is both frost and drought tender, but the clump will usually re-shoot in spring after a cold winter. It’s also suitable to grow in a large pot which can be moved to a warmer spot in winter.
Harvesting of the edible rhizomes is best done in late autumn when they are light in colour with soft skins and mild pungency. As the rhizomes age they become darker, hotter and more fibrous. Small tender rhizomes can be “bandicooted” all year round as needed from under the soil at the sides of the plant. This will leave the rest of the clump to continue to grow. Alternatively, the whole plant can be lifted and harvested in late autumn and a few of the healthiest rhizomes can be detached and replanted the following spring.
Ginger grows from small rhizome setts planted 30 cm apart and 10 cm deep in spring. These can easily be divided from an existing clump or purchased from a nursery. Fresh organic Ginger rhizomes can also be purchased from a green grocer and then stored until small eyes or buds start to develop before planting. Large rhizomes can be cut into multiple pieces each with at least one green growing tip. The cut ends of these pieces should be allowed to dry for a couple of days to reduce the possibility of fungus infecting the planting piece.