Ginger is an exotic, seemingly hard-to-use root which is why it isn’t commonly found in backyard gardens. But if you’re looking to expand your growth potential, it actually isn’t as difficult to grow as first appearances would suggest. For those who have ginger growing in their garden, read on to learn when and how to harvest it.
Not everyone likes the flavor of ginger but those that do will welcome the news you can grow it fairly easily right in your own garden.
When to harvest ginger? After planting in spring, come fall your ginger will be ready. While you can harvest earlier in the season, the underground part, called the rhizome will be small. During the fall, watch the flowers on your ginger plant. After they bloom, die off, and drop, your ginger is definitely ready.
Dig a circle around the ginger stem in search of the long rhizome which grows horizontally to the surface. You can then choose to either remove the entire plant or slice off a part of the rhizome for eating. If you decide to slice just a part of the end off, you can continue to slice off more chunks as needed.
Furthermore, a rhizome that is left in the ground will continue to grow, so your ginger plant will flourish again the next year. However, the taste may be a bit too mild for your liking.
What are rhizomes?
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of harvesting ginger, there’s a specific plant term that needs to be understood first. The ginger plant has a system of rhizomes and even though you may think of them as roots, they are actually quite different.
So often we use the term ginger root when describing this plant, and while it has a nicer ring to it, the better term is a ginger rhizome.
Some plants, such as ginger, have a rhizome component. This is the part that is underground, which is why it is frequently confused with a root.
While a root grows downwards into the soil, a rhizome actually grows horizontally, just below the surface of the soil. Furthermore, it’s categorized as a stem.
Just as stems above ground will produce leaves, rhizomes underground will produce shoots that grow up past the surface of the soil. You may see multiple plants above the surface and think they are individual ones when in actuality they are offshoots of one continuous rhizome under the surface.
So, now you hopefully understand what a rhizome is. We’ll be using the term a lot in this article, so it’s an important distinction to understand.
How do you know when your ginger is ready to harvest?
You should plant ginger in the spring but it won’t be ready for harvest until the fall. Because the root system, or rhizome, needs time to develop, ginger needs a nice, long growing season with plenty of warmth.
If you harvest too early, the rhizome will be small in size and you won’t get a large harvest.
Technically, ginger is ready for harvest after two months, in late spring. However, the rhizome will be very small and you run the risk of removing the entire plant, which then means you won’t be able to harvest any more later in the year.
A large component of when ginger is ready has to do with what is happening below the surface. However, there is one essential sign of readiness that can be seen above ground.
The ginger plant will produce flowers that form on the top of the plants. Wait until these flowers have completed their life cycle.
Ginger flowers will blossom and then die away before falling away from the stem. Eventually, the leaves will die and fall off, too.
Once you see this complete cycle, it’s a good indicator your ginger is ready for harvest.
What happens if you don’t harvest ginger?
The part of the ginger plant that is underground, the rhizome, will continue to grow, even over winter. As a result, if you don’t harvest ginger, your plant will still be alive the following year.
However, the taste will not be as great the following year. Expect a more subtle ginger flavor and a texture that is more fibrous.
It’s best to try leaving your ginger plant for a season to see if you do like the taste. If you do, then this is a convenient way to have ginger without having to re-plant it.
How to harvest ginger?
During fall and the ginger’s flowers have blossomed and died, it is now time to harvest your ginger. Remember that it is what is below ground that is important.
Start by using a small shovel or trowel to trace a circle around one of your ginger plant’s stems. It should be about 3 to 4 inches away from the stem.
Then, gently dig through the circle until you find the rhizome. The reason for the circle digging is that the rhizome could be growing in any direction. It might take a bit of work to find out just where it ended up.
A ginger plant’s rhizome won’t be too deep, however, so you don’t need to dig too much. You should find it about 2 to 4 inches below the surface.
Once you have found your rhizome, an important decision needs to be made. You need to decide if you want to harvest the entire ginger plant or simply part of the rhizome.
Harvest the whole plant
There are many reasons you may want to harvest the whole ginger plant. You may have extra plants, and so don’t need as much ginger in your garden.
You may also want the space in your garden for new crops, or may simply be unsure if you want ginger growing again the following year.
Whatever the case, you can definitely remove the entire plant. Take your shovel and dig around the rhizome.
It’s ok if some of the rhizomes breaks off; just remove it from the ground. Pull gently to break up any roots from the rhizome so that it comes out of the ground easily.
Harvest part of the rhizome
If you are a ginger lover or have a dedicated part of your garden for ginger, then there’s a good case to be made to leave part of the rhizome behind. If you choose this path, the rhizome will actually continue to grow and new ginger shoots will emerge and more can be harvested the following year.
To remove part of the rhizome, first, locate the end of it. This is the part you want to remove, not the part attached to the shoot.
Once you have the end of the rhizome, slice off a piece with your shovel. You want it to be about 2 inches in size.
Should you wash ginger after harvesting?
Ginger comes from the ground and needs thorough washing after you harvest it. The best way to do so is to hold it under your sink faucet.
Let warm water rinse off dirt while you use your hand or a scrub brush to clean it better. There may be a lot of crevices on the ginger, so do your best to get into these areas.
Especially dirty ginger may need a second washing. Simply let it dry for a bit and then repeat the process.
Can you eat ginger immediately after harvesting?
After you wash your ginger, you can then decide to store it or use it immediately. Before you do cook with it, ginger should be peeled first as the skin is too fibrous and won’t taste very well.
Due to the unusual shape of ginger rhizomes, it can be hard to use a peeler. Instead, use a paring knife and gently take the skin off.
If you want to have fresh ginger later in the year, start by cutting your ginger into 1-inch cubes. Keep the skin on for this process as ginger should only be peeled right before consumption.
Place the cubes of ginger in an airtight container and place them in the freezer. Ginger will keep for around four months.
When you want ginger, simply remove as many cubes as you need. Let them thaw, then peel them and use the ginger as you would if it were fresh.
Can you eat ginger shoots?
Most people are only familiar with eating the rhizome part of ginger but you can actually eat the shoots, too. If you decide to harvest the entire plant, don’t let the shoots go to waste.
Instead, dice them as you would green onions. They have a more subtle ginger taste to them and are great as a garnish.
Ginger adds a punch of flavor to any dish and despite its exotic nature, is actually fairly easy to grow in your backyard. In the fall, after the ginger flowers have died off, you can dig underground to find the edible rhizome. Then, either remove the whole plant or slice off the end of the rhizome and allow the plant to keep growing.