Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Can Straw Mulch and a High Tunnel Be Used to Better Grow Ginger in the Midwest?

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant Recipient FNC07-650
Kansas City, KS – Pov Huns

Objective: To determine whether ginger production can be improved on an urban Kansas City acreage through use of straw mulch, a high tunnel, and other practices that would allow producers to forgo the usual 10-year crop rotation system.
Results: With my wife, Chaxamone Lor, I grew specialty vegetables and herbs for years in Fresno, CA, but we have moved to Kansas City, KS, where we continue to grow produce on a 3.95-acre urban site. We serve a diverse customer base including immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and Asia, as well as locals interested in healthy eating.  Our produce is sold at the City Market in Kansas City, MO.
We want to meet growing demand by altering production practices to extend the growing season. 
Ginger does not grow well in the Midwest because of the short growing season. We set out to see whether straw mulch and a high tunnel could be used to extend the season by increasing early spring temperatures. I also wanted to grow ginger without the commonly used 10-year crop rotation, which prevents the development of nematodes and rot before the ginger matures.

Because ginger grows slowly, has a limited root system, and is subject to nematode damage, I sterilized the ginger seed pieces with a bleach solution, dried them, and planted them in plastic bags filled with peat moss to conserve moisture.  To achieve sprouting, I placed the bags in a 75 to 80 degree environment.

After sprouting and gardening, the rhizomes were transplanted into raised beds made of cinder blocks and filled with peat soil and covered with straw. There, they grew to maturity and were harvested.

I found that plants grown on the outer edges of the raised beds were susceptible to excessive moisture and fluctuating temperatures, resulting in smaller roots.  However, even in the outer bed, results were within expectations, with every 0.1 pound of rhizomes planted producing a half pound to 2 pounds during the second year of production. 

In the inner bed, results were much better: Every 0.1 pound of rhizomes produced 1.5 to 5 pounds in Year 2.  Nematodes were not a problem.

One challenge we ran into: Other local farmers adopted our production methods, but as supply increased, prices plummeted, making it difficult to meet expenses.

Still, our project showed that these methods could help local specialty farmers meet increasing demand for their produce.   

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