Growing Organic Ginger in Clintonville

By Michael Hayes, Photography by Carole Topalian

“Let food be thy medicine.” The statement can apply to many of the “super” foods, but those words from Hippocrates are what led our family to grow ginger in Ohio. Once our family made the decision to get rid of most processed foods in our lives, we began a quest to find out about the most healthful foods and how to eat them. We wanted to incorporate foods that were nutritionally dense into our everyday routine.  Ginger was on most every list of notable super foods and as a family with a long history of gardening, we thought, “why not give it a try?”

Our research showed that all ginger that’s imported into the U.S. is irradiated to protect us from harm, but that ionizing radiation happens to kill all the beneficial enzymes for which ginger is known. We use organic, non-irradiated, ginger seed from Biker Dude Organics in Hawaii, a truly laid-back operation that has the best ginger we’ve found in the U.S. 

The spot available for growing ginger in our small Clintonville backyard had been used for 20 years as the site of our girls’ swing set, but my daughter confirmed the swing set could go and we were left with a partly sunny 12’x24’ plot of mostly heavily compacted clay. Instead of trying to plant in that soil, knowing the work it would take to be successful, we bailed (at least for this year) and found some large plastic pots, from 12” to 20” diameter.  The pots allowed us to optimize the conditions and grow the ginger in a soil mixture that’s softer and more resilient than clay, thus allowing the rhizome (which is the ginger root crop) to expand unhindered and increasing the ultimate size of the yield. 

We added coconut coir and promix with a bit of our own compost to the soil for their beneficial microorganisms. The other important addition to the soil matrix is mycorrhizal fungi; we get ours from and inoculate the soil with it during our mix.  This establishes a beneficial fungi network, which allows a greater uptake of nutrition for the plant. We add the fungi in all our raised beds and planting areas.  We create uniformity in the soil mix by tumbling the different mediums together with an old concrete mixer, perfect for the task.  

We begin the process in early spring by pre-sprouting the root in moist (not wet) 100% coir in shallow flats. This accelerates the growing process so when we plant in pots, all the rhizomes are sprouted and ready to grow. In mid to late May we fill the pots about 1/3 full then place the pre-sprouted ginger “seeds” and fill another 1/3 full and water well (use rainwater if possible).  Then over subsequent months, when fertilizing, we gradually add more soil. This gives the ginger rhizome more real estate in which to expand.  Every month we use an organic 5-4-5 fertilizer and kelp meal available from the Columbus Agrarian Society, a local non-profit. 

Ginger is a tropical plant and likes lots of water, lots of sun, and loves to be fed.  Even though our backyard plot has overhanging trees, our crop has been great this year, so it seems like a versatile warm-weather crop we’ll grow year after year.  

We use the young ginger in green shakes, cooking, and teas.  It’s also perfect for trading with neighbors for other local veggies and eggs. This year we’ll experiment with pickling and freezing the ginger. The frozen ginger in a zip-lock can be removed, grated, and put back ready for the next use in sauces or shakes. 

Everyone used to have a garden at home and it’s sad that so much knowledge has been lost in the last generation. Our goal is that the next generation will learn by doing and pass this vital knowledge along.