All posts by Lisa Dermer

Growing Turmeric and Ginger

 You can pre-order spring-shipped Turmeric plants and rhizomes and Ginger plants from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

By Ann Codrington of Nisani Farm.

Nisani Farm is owned and operated by women of color across three generations. Our Belizean roots flavor the feel of the farm in such a way that you find yourself in the tropics without having to leave Southside Virginia. In this forested 50-acre farmstead there is everything from turmeric and ginger to papayas and moringa trees, from medicinal herbs and mushrooms to cut flowers and purple vegetables, from rain garden plants and orchards to bitter melons and leafy greens, and all grown with Certified Naturally Grown practices.

While we grow and make a number of things – many continuously changing through experience and experimentation – what remains consistent is a focus on growing ginger and turmeric.  Here is a peek into how we grow our turmeric!

Starting Turmeric and Ginger From Rhizomes

By far the hardest part of growing turmeric and ginger is getting rhizomes to sprout early enough in the season for them to put on good growth before late Summer.  It takes good planning, or pre-sprouted plants to get a good crop in the Fall.

Planning for the growing season actually begins on November 1st of the previous year, when we place our order for new organic seed stock from Hawaii.  Although the rhizomes won’t arrive until February, they must be secured in the fall to ensure the best selection. 

In February, while temperatures are still cold in Southside Virginia, the organically grown rhizomes (also called “seed”) arrive and are prepared for planting. We sort and prepare rhizomes in a way that is likely to prevent disease and ensure survival. Then we place the flats onto temperature-controlled heat mats in our propagation room where they will stay until they sprout. 

It can take anywhere from four to six weeks of keeping the rhizomes warm and moist before we begin to see sprouts. Once most of the rhizomes in a flat begin to sprout, we move the sprouts to a warm area in our high tunnels to continue to grow.

By April, all of the rhizomes will have sprouted.  Once the seedlings are a few inches tall, we prepare them for shipping to SESE customers.  We also give lectures to explain how to grow and use turmeric and ginger, and by May we are ready to plant our crop in Southside Virginia.

We recently added blue turmeric to our collection. It is a medicinal rhizome with camphor overtones and known for its anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.  It is mainly used in parts of South and Southeast Asia. We’ve brewed it in teas, dried and powdered it, and put in our bath and body products.

Planting Turmeric and Ginger for the Best Possible Crop

Once the last frost has passed, it’s time to plant your seedlings.  While it is possible to grow turmeric and ginger directly in the ground, here at Nisani Farm we prefer to grow our plants in large pots.  We find that we can manage soil disease better this way by removing any plants that show signs of disease before it spreads. Also, using pots makes it easy to move the plants indoors when the weather turns cold. 

To plant your seedlings, place each one in a large pot (5 gallons or more) containing organic potting mix or compost mixed with wood chips. Cover the roots and rhizome with planting medium and press the soil down to remove air pockets near the roots. Keep moist, but not waterlogged. Although turmeric and ginger are tropical plants, they grow well in part-shade. In cooler climates, you can grow ginger and turmeric in full sun. Fertilize once a month with additional compost or other organic fertilizer. Cover rhizomes when they begin to show above the surface of the soil.

To plant in the ground, dig a hole 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide, add compost to the hole and mix with soil. Place a plant into the hole so that the soil-compost mix covers the roots and rhizome and press the soil down to remove air pockets near the roots. Water the plant but do not keep the soil waterlogged. You can plant multiple plants in trenches set 24 to 36 inches apart to allow space for hilling. Add compost to the trench, mix with soil and space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.  As plants grow, hill with compost to provide additional nutrients and to cover expanding rhizomes. 

Your plants should put on significant growth by September.  Don’t be surprised if they grow as tall as five feet or more!

The shorter days of fall signal the formation of rhizomes.  Start checking your turmeric and ginger to see if there are harvestable rhizomes in October.  You can expose the soil around the stem to see if your crop is ready.  If you have several plants, you can harvest plants over the course of fall to enjoy an extended crop.  The longer you wait to harvest, the larger your harvest will be. Just be sure to harvest your crop before the weather drops below freezing.

Harvest by digging up the plant, cutting roots off and rinsing under a water hose.  You can store your ginger in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it for use all winter.  If you don’t harvest your crop, it will naturally enter a dormancy period in the winter months. During this period, leaves will turn yellow and die. Many people store their potted plants indoors for the winter. The rhizomes that remain covered with soil and protected from freezing will resprout in the spring. Although the dormant rhizomes can survive dry conditions during dormancy, periodic watering (once a month) is recommended if the soil is bone dry.

The last frost is just a few weeks away, and before you know it, you’ll be wanting to plant your ginger and/or turmeric patch.  If you haven’t already started sprouting your ginger, we have the pre-sprouted plants you need to get growing!

April Garden Tips from Ira Wallace

April Garden Tips from our own Ira Wallace, author of The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast

(also published in the VABF newsletter)

April is the month to start your succession plantings of beets, lettuce and carrots every 2 weeks. These small succession plantings let you have a steady supply of vegetables fresh for the table all season. Early in April is a good time to harden off your cabbages, broccoli and other brassicas started in March; then transplant them by mid-month. They thrive with compost, a good organic mulch, and row cover against the frost.

Hill your early potatoes when plants are eight inches high, and again two weeks later. Watch out for potato beetles – handpick. Don’t forget to buy more seed potatoes for a second June planting, while you can. Store them in a cool dark place until you are ready to plant them. This late planting often yields less than your tradition St Patrick’s Day planting, but they will store better for winter eating.

When the weather is warm enough (soil temp is over 65°) then sow corn and transplant a few early tomatoes such as Glacier or Stupice under row cover. There is still time to start more tomatoes from seed. You can also start watermelons, cucumber, and cantaloupe in soil blocks or paper pots to get a jump on the warm weather crops.

If you ever wonder how to polish concrete to make your garden even better,  just follow the link.

We are still eating sweet potatoes from last summer’s crop. They are really an amazing crop that can be stored at room temperature for almost a year. So don’t forget to order some slips now so you will have them in time for planting when May rolls around. We start our slips in the greenhouse from the best of last year’s crop. We grow a dozen varieties, from All Purple to white-fleshed O’Henry, Sweet dry white fleshed red skinned Japanese Red, and traditional orange-fleshed Beauregard or Bush Porto Rico. I love them all. If you haven’t grown sweet potatoes before, Southern Exposure’s Sweet Potato Growing guide will tell you how.

Harvest greens, enjoy abundant salad greens, savor asparagus, and prepare to weed.

Cornbread, Black-Eyed Peas and Collard Greens for New Year’s Good Luck

by Ira Wallace

A pot of southern peas (black-eyed peas are only one kind), some greens simmering on the stove and fresh ground cornbread in the oven always takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen. We always ate collards on New Year’s Day along with some black-eyed peas and freshly baked cornbread for good luck in the coming year.

Updated Collards: Young & Tender, Briefly Cooked

As an heirloom gardener I strive to keep up old fashioned food traditions while updating them to be more sustainable and healthy for our lifestyle. Check out all of our collards online. I prefer my collard greens young, tender and quick cooked with garlic or onions and a little vinegar or hot sauce for added zing.

Fresh from the garden is always best as shown the last few years when our heirloom Alabama Blue Collards, closely followed by Carolina heirloom Yellow Cabbage Collard and Shiny Green Glaze Collards are competing with the ever popular kale varieties.

Home-Grown Corn: Fresh Ground Cornmeal for Incredible Flavor

All winter but especially during the holiday season I feel so blessed to live with great cooks who use our homegrown dent, flint and flour corn to make fresh cornbread, grits, tortillas or polenta almost every day throughout the winter.

The only problem is which do I enjoy most – Floriani Red Flint, old fashioned Tennessee Red Cob, Texas Gourdseed, Blue Clarage or Kentucky Rainbow (aka Daymon Morgan’s)? I think of it like having a dozen children, you love them equally for different reasons.

If you are new to growing and using your own home ground dent and flint corn check out Jordan’s blog post Processing Flour Corn at Home and look for more about growing and using corn for as a staple and for special meals soon.

Black-Eyed Peas for New Year’s Luck

Check out my earlier blog post for a little more about why we eat Black-eyed Peas at New Years and look for a delicious Hot Pot recipe before New Year’s Eve.

Until then here is my recipe for quick vegetarian New Year’s Collards if you want to add some good luck to dinner tonight! (This is also good the way my grandma made them, slow-cooked with bacon grease and served with bacon bits on top).

Quick Southern Style Collards

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 sweet onion, diced

1 to 2 bunches tender collard greens, well washed, stems removed and chopped

1/2 cup rich savory broth or ¼ cup vinegar 
(optional 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Coat the bottom of a large cast iron skillet with the olive oil then add the onion and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chopped collards to the pan along with the broth or vinegar, optional red pepper flakes and some salt and pepper and cook until tender, but still bright green, 4 to 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serve with bottled hot sauce and vinegar at the table.