Food and gardening just naturally go hand-in-hand. We need healthy, hopefully delicious food to eat since all of us Green Monsters are out there looking for plant-based nourishment. One of the easiest solutions to this (for both our budget and our health) is to simply grow our own however possible for ultimate sustainable food production. The problem here, is that many of us have no experience with growing our own food, so we have no idea on earth about how to go about doing it. Luckily, that can change in 750 words or less – at least with two foods.
Today we are going to learn to grow two of the world’s most notable spices, known as much for medicinal qualities as for instantly recognizable flavors: garlic and ginger. Like producing your own pineapples or mushrooms, growing your own garlic and ginger only requires normal planting pots and soil, the typical weekly trip to the supermarket, and a bit of interest and patience. Plus, it provides so much more than just food: a sense of accomplishment, a touch of knowledge and another clutch of independence.
How to Grow Ginger
When we buy a hunk of fresh ginger at the store, we have essentially bought the potential to grow more of it. Ginger, though often thought of as a root, is actually a rhizome, which is more like an underground stem, sending roots one way and shoots another. For every little knobby node protruding off a piece of ginger, there is the potential to grow an entirely new plant and ginger rhizome.
First things first, at the supermarket, many think the piece of ginger that is best suited for planting is the one with a little sprout already coming from some of the nodes. In reality, there is no need for full-on sprouts, but rather just the “eyes” from which the plants spring forth. Starting a new plant will require cutting off little pieces with this bit — the eye — on them.
Now, before planting our ginger, it’s worth knowing a little bit about how it grows. Ginger is an easy plant. It doesn’t need gobs of sunlight, like most, and once in motion, it mostly takes care of itself. It likes moist soil with good drainage, so the rhizome doesn’t rot (Be sure to mulch it to keep the moisture from evaporating). It is a tropical plant and enjoys the heat, but in colder climates, it feels right at home in a pot in your home. In fact, it likes the more humid spots, like steamy bathrooms or kitchens. It’s relatively small—A couple of rhizomes will work in a twelve inch pot—and it gets to be around two are three feet tall.
To plant the ginger, simply place the eye facing upward about three inches deep in good soil, something nutrient-rich so as to feed the plants. Don’t let the soil dry out but also don’t drown it. And, then … wait. It’s possible to steal a bit of ginger after four months, but really, protocol — for best flavor and results — is to wait about ten months, when the leaves start to die off. Sure, that seems a long time, but with just a few pots, growing a year’s worth of ginger is possible.
Then, just keep replanting (late winter/early spring) from what you harvest. It’s best to store ginger in your crisper drawer as you use it, which will help prevent it from drying out. You can also wrap it well and freeze it, and just slice off what you need. Then, of course, reap the benefits with all of our ginger recipes.
How to Grow Garlic
Garlic is a little different in that it comes in bulbs rather than as rhizomes, but it is equally as simple to propagate. Really, every time a fresh clove of garlic start sends out a little green sprout, we have—through negligence—started a new plant. For our purpose, it easiest to find the sprouts when garlic comes from a farmer’s market (commercially, they are often treated so as not to sprout).
Now, the down and dirty of garlic is that there are two types: softneck and hardneck. Hardnecks have a sort of core about which cloves grow, and softneck lacks a defined stem, instead having more of a spiral of cloves. Either route, the plant will require a fairly deep pot, over a foot, with a twelve-inch diameter. Like ginger, the soil — a potting mix — needs to drain well, or the garlic will have rotting problems.
Planting garlic, then, is nothing too remarkable. Choose the largest cloves to plant (cook with the others), and put them three inches under the surface of the soil, pointing upwards. Make sure the soil stays moist but drained. And … wait. It’s best to plant garlic around October and expect it to arrive in early summer, when its leaves turn yellow.
To store garlic properly, be sure you keep it in a cool climate, preferably a dark place, which will inhibit mold growth. It will last well up to 4 months. A great place is a low humidity pantry, or a cool, dark place in your pantry. You can continue the growing cycle each season to make sure you have garlic all year.
Now, add some spice to your life and add your homegrown garlic to any of our favorite recipes.
And, just that easy, we can all become spice farmers, right from our own apartments. It’s fun, useful and rewarding. That’s how we grow garlic and ginger.