How to Grow Ginger

I love ginger, and I've wanted to grow my own for years. So much of it in the stores is grown in countries which I don't trust, and if I could grow my own organically it would be great. One year I potted up some healthy USA-grown organic ginger roots from the supermarket and set the pot outdoors in our hot humid summer weather; I barely ended up with more than I had planted. Then I learned about a plant related to the variety of ginger we commonly eat, called "galangal"  (pronounced guh-lang-guh). Used in Thai cooking and in curry seasoning blends, some argue that it tastes different from common ginger, while others use it interchangeably with ginger. Reading that it was successfully grown by home gardeners, I felt it was worth a try. A source I found online seemed to be sold out as soon as they listed some for sale in late winter. But last year I got lucky and here is how it worked for me....

I found an Etsy shop called Magical Mystery Herbs selling fresh live galangal root, grown near me in Athens, Georgia. I ordered 12 ounces last January (I see they are selling it again now; likely it's a seasonal offering). They sell 4 oz. for $9.95. Plump big rhizomes arrived quickly. I set the galangal chunks in water until I had a chance to pot them. Then I cut them into smaller pieces, each with a growth bud or two, buried them in soil, and set the small pots by a sunny indoor window in my dining area. Be forewarned - it takes a lo-o-o-o-ng time before any little green sprouts begin to emerge from the soil (3 months for me). Be patient and keep them watered and warm. Mother Nature understands the proper timing.
Once the plants started to develop green leaves I carefully transplanted them into very large pots, allowing plenty of room for new rhizomes to grow. I tried planting some directly into the soil of my cold frame too. We were past our last average frost date, so I put the pots outdoors. I also decided to bury one large pot in the vegetable garden, with the rim at the soil line. This way, there was less likelihood for the soil to dry out during hot weather.

During our hot, humid, rainy summer, each pot grew more and more stems and long green leaves, about 12-18" tall. The plant buried in the garden showed the best growth… I had to keep pulling away the Seminole pumpkin and sweet potato vines from nearby garden rows!

Before our first fall frost (our average date is Oct. 15), I decided to uproot each galangal pot and see how the roots had multiplied. I was delighted with my harvest! The plant submerged in the garden had grown the best, and the photos of my harvest are from that pot. The roots I planted directly in the garden soil didn't fair as well, but still grew big rhizomes from the small pieces I had started with. And the flavor is so much like common ginger that I don't notice any difference.

I had too much ginger to use all at once, so I kept some growing in their big pots and brought them into my south-facing basement window to continue to grow. I also shared some of the small sprouts with friends to grow their own. I'll separate my potted plants to start the cycle of summer growth again this year, burying each big pot in my garden soil for the best results. I hope to have more and more each year.

The galangal I didn't use fresh immediately was washed clean and frozen in zipper bags. The frozen chunks have all the flavor of fresh, and can be cut or grated easily. Fresh ginger tea is wonderful in winter and even makes a refreshing cold summer drink. The galangal has been delicious in my favorite gingerbread, gingerbread biscotti (where I substituted 1 T fresh grated ginger in place of 1 t of dried gingerroot powder), in sweet breakfast breads, and in stir-fries. I added a small amount of grated fresh gingerroot to my homemade holiday cranberry-orange sauce and one of my guests said it was the best cranberry sauce he had ever eaten. It would be possible to dehydrate thin slices of galangal root too, using the slices chopped finely or making some into dried gingerroot powder in a coffee grinder.

If you too love ginger, don't settle for store-bought any more. Grow your own!