Have you ever wondered what really fresh ginger tastes like or how ginger grows? Did you know there is an alternative to the ginger we find at the grocery store? Enter baby ginger – it grows and looks like this under the soil:
Charlotte Fresh was delighted to participate in a baby ginger harvest this week on Windcrest Farm in Monroe, NC. For those of you unfamiliar with Windcrest Farm, it is a 14-acre organically certified farm, and their wonderful produce, seedling transplants and products can be found at the Matthews Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Find the baby ginger and other products like shiitake mushroom powder, lemongrass, malabar spinach and ginger tea at Windcrest’s stand this Saturday. You absolutely must give it a try. Grab it quickly before supply runs out!
Here’s a stalk I bought to cook with at home – it spans the entire diagonal of my kitchen island. I looked very funny walking around with it sticking out the top of my purse:
Baby ginger has a coloring almost like a breakfast radish. Conventional ginger, sometimes called “root ginger,” is the rhizome of Zingiber officinale. The ginger that you find in the store looks like knobby brown fingers. Store ginger is actually hot water treated (almost parboiled) to kill the growing points of the rhizome so it doesn’t sprout in the store or when you take it home. This hot water treatment kills off a good 1-2 centimeters of the piece of rhizome forcing you to use the inner section. Regular grocery store ginger can also harbor diseases if you attempt to plant it.
With baby ginger grown on a local farm and delivered at harvest, you get an amazing product with fresh ginger taste and aroma. Not only the rhizome, but the stalk and leaves can be used. Try the root in dishes (someone suggested pumpkin ginger soup) or candied. The stalk is great for stir fry dishes (remove before serving as it could be woody to eat), and the leaves (fresh or dried) can be steeped as a tea. Preserve fresh ginger if you don’t use it quickly by steeping it in dry sherry in the fridge like my mother-in-law does.
Ginger is a tropical plant which makes it challenging to grow in NC. Mary Roberts from Windcrest and her intern Jane Tanner worked with Susan Anderson of East Branch Ginger in Pittsboro to bring high quality certified organic and certified disease-free ginger seed to the farm for the first time. The team started the trial at Windcrest in March 2011 with 15 lbs. of seed. They had to use buckets with heating elements and greenhouse trays to nurture the plantlets for 4-5 weeks, creating the necessary high humidity, long days with sun and proper heat conditions for ginger to thrive. A greenhouse would make the perfect conditions for the harvest to grow and last longer in our zone.
Ginger doesn’t like a lot of water (it slows growth), but with the proper climate conditions and feeding (it’s a heavy feeder of average pH but tolerates swings in nutrients) it grows well in most soils. It also doesn’t compete with other plants, so weeding must be done. The piece that is planted into the ground is called the “mother piece” from which the plant grows. A home gardener can plant the mother piece in a trench or in a container, but make sure the container is a disposable one because the plant will burst the pot as it spreads out. As the ginger grows, it needs to be hilled with soil (like potato plants are hilled) up to about 14 inches. Here’s a look at what you get at harvest time: