Friday, August 13, 2010

Growing Awapuhi Pake - Culinary Ginger

3 Ginger Seed Pieces Growing in a SmartPot
at 4 Months

One of the fond memories I have of living in Kona in the mid 80's was the fresh culinary ginger that some of the local Japanese families grew in their gardens in Holualoa.The young ginger was so tender and such a treat. We sliced it paper thin, marinated it in rice vinegar and ate it with ahi sashimi. Life on the Big Island isn't as quiet as it was then and I've often wondered if anyone still grows culinary ginger in Holualoa.

Last year I bought the book "Container Gardening in Hawaii" written by Janice Crowl. Janice is a Big Island resident and her book has lots of info for growing landscape plants, hydroponic lettuce and container edibles. I was so excited when I saw the pages with instructions for growing culinary ginger.

I had no idea that culinary ginger was grown just like potatoes, using small seed pieces of ginger that are hilled as the ginger shoots grow taller. According to the book, the ideal time to plant the seed ginger is in March or April and the mature roots are harvested in December or January.

3 Ginger Seed Pieces Just Starting to Grow
 at 6 Weeks

In April, I planted 3 pieces of organic ginger in a 15 gallon SmartPot. I filled 1/3rd of the pot with an organic potting soil amended with green sand and an organic all purpose fertilizer. It took about 6 weeks for the ginger to sprout and emerge above the soil.

Gradually, I added more soil and as the ginger grew taller and by August, the soil was up to the top of the pot. The ginger needed daily water during the summer and monthly applications of an organic or natural fertilizer. It wasn't bothered by any pests and grew well in the hot summer sun.

New Ginger Rhizomes
Harvested at the Autumn Equinox

At just over 5 months from planting, the ginger stalks had grown exponentially and were about 30 inches tall. The general recommendation is to harvest new ginger at 5 months. 

The pot was full of rhizomes - I was amazed when I dug down with my hand into the potting soil - ginger is more prolific than I realized. If you live in a 4 season climate, you should be able to plant seed ginger indoors in March or April, move the pots outdoors in the warmer weather and harvest new ginger in September.

A vegetable peeler worked great to slice the new ginger. I marinated the slices in rice vinegar but they can easily be pickled in the traditional way with rice vinegar, umeboshi plum and sugar.

Gingers are tropical plants that grow year round in Hawaii so there should be flexibility around the planting months that Janice noted in her book. Organic culinary ginger for planting can be purchased at Mana Foods, Whole Foods and sometimes Down to Earth has organic ginger. I bought a small piece with 3 distinct sections that I broke apart.

The ginger rhizomes didn't produce any flowers in the fall and that didn't seem to have any negative affect on the final outcome. The stalks began to die back in December and I stopped watering the pot in January.

Mature Ginger Rhizomes
Harvested in February at 10 Months

Even though I harvested about 50% of the rhizomes as new ginger, the pot was full of mature ginger in February. The mature rhizomes were more tedious to harvest than potatoes but much easier than harvesting horseradish roots.

Like just harvested potatoes, just harvested ginger isn't ready to sprout. Both go through a few months of dormancy before they'll sprout and grow again. In March of 2011, I planted pieces from the February ginger harvest shown in the above photo and they didn't show any signs of growth until the end of June. 

On Maui, organic ginger rhizomes sell for $8/lb at the market. Growing culinary ginger is easy, low maintenance and inexpensive.

Just Beginning to Flower at 7 Months

In February of 2012 I planted ginger 2 months earlier than I did in 2010. The plants grew taller than previous years and began to flower in September at 7 months. Other than planting earlier, the only other thing I did differently was to add Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend once a month. The plants began dying back in November and I harvested the rhizomes in December. When culinary ginger produces flowers they look somewhat similar to shampoo ginger. However, culinary ginger flowers are smaller and don't turn red and fill with gel.

How to Grow Ginger
How to Peel, Chop and Grate Ginger

Ginger, Hibiscus & Watermelon Ice Pops



  1. Thank you for this timely post. I'm growing ginger in a pot, it's obvious now that my pot is not deep enough, I didn't know you have to "hill up" as in growing potatoes. It's too late to change pot now, does it mean I won't get any ginger roots? When would it form ginger roots? After it flowers as in potatoes? If it takes that long to get the roots that means I have to move the pot indoor in our area?

  2. Hi Mac! The book says you can grow 1 piece in a 5 gallon container. It says you don't have to hill it but hilling increases the yield. It says you can harvest young ginger (the rhizomes) in about 5 months. After 10 months the plant matures and flowers. At this point stop watering and let it dry for 3 weeks. Then cut off the wilted tops and allow to dry for 3 more weeks. Then harvest the roots and cure them in a dry area

  3. Janice C. is a Master Gardener and came to speak with our 2010 Master Gardener (Hilo)class about Hawaiian Native plants. And I too have her container book! Great reference and inspiration book!

    Good luck with the ginger. I am off to the mainland shortly for an extended visit, but I think I will try ginger in a container when I return!

  4. I should order Janice's book even it's not pertaining to our climate, I love tropical plants and herbs, it would be great if I can make some of them to grow in the summer.

  5. Hi Susan! Janice seems so knowledgable about our unique climate - I bet it was a great program! Have a wonderful time on the Mainland!

    Hi Mac! You should be able to harvest your ginger as young ginger. I searched online yesterday and it seems like 5 months is long enough for young ginger to form. I'll probably harvest 2 of my plants as young ginger this fall and then let the last plant grow out all the way.

  6. I didn't realize how highly ornamental that edible ginger is - I plan to build some SWC's, with ginger definitely on the list. Just need to add more mix as they grow, I think. Thanks so much for this post!

  7. Hi Pomaika'i! So far ginger has been easy. Janice Crowl recommends hilling it for the best yields but it doesn't have to be hilled. It's so ornamental I was thinking of planting some in my front yard.

  8. I would love to grow ginger, but I'm not sure our growing year is long enough to get anything. Maybe someday I'll try anyway. I can always bring the pot in when it gets cold, but I'm guessing that I won't have enough heat to make it happy.

  9. Hi Daphne! You will have to check with Mac in the fall and see how her ginger turned out since she lives in a 4 season climate too. My ginger didn't sprout above the soil for about 6 weeks. If you plant in late March or early April and kept the container warm indoors, then at 6 weeks it might be warm enough outside to set it out in the sun. Then you should have young ginger in September.

  10. Hi, I am growing a white ornemental ginger and from the pictures above it seems to grow roots the same as the culinary. I keep it in a pot outdoors in the summer and inside in the winter and it fills a 15 inch pot with rhizomes every year.We get fragrent white blooms on five foot stocks. I have started many shoots and have given lots away. I live on the 50 parallel in Canada. I would think this means you can container garden ginger almost anywhere.

  11. Hi Bruce! I'm amazed how well ginger will grow for you in Canada! It's more adaptable than I realized. Culinary ginger is wonderful at the new ginger stage (around 5 months). Right now my mature roots are drying. It was so easy to grow I'll start another pot next month.

  12. SOOOO doing this... I'm pregnant, horrid morning sickness, and the only thing that really helps is ginger-root tea! Sliced thin (with a veggie peeler!) and boiled, it does wonders!

    1. That's wonderful that ginger works for morning sickness! It's anti-inflamatory and has a lot other healing properties too.