Can Ginger be harvested early? and will the plant live?

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spring ginger root

You can harvest sections of rhizome from young ginger plants before the plant reaches maturity. The available ginger root size will be determined by how long the plant has been growing, and we recommend waiting for five months minimum to make the venture worthwhile.

The culinary qualities of young ginger are milder than mature rhizomes, allowing for different styles of cooking, making use of the softer spicy attributes.

Having several ginger plants will allow you to take from one early, leaving others to grow to maturity for a full harvest.

We have several spots in our yard where we can take young ginger as needed without disturbing the soil where the main ginger cropping zones are. We prefer to leave most plants to grow to maturity as we find the harvest is larger and more worthwhile.

mature ginger rhizome
This mature ginger root weighed in at 740grams or 1.6 lb

Leaving the plants in the soil for as long as possible also helps condition the soil in that area, as earthworms are very active around our rhizomes.

Presumably, this is why it is said that ginger and turmeric are soil conditioners. Our experience tells us it is likely. Using an appropriate mulch with ginger can also make a huge difference to your harvest. This article explains why.

Why harvest young ginger?

Sometimes, a milder ginger flavor is called for without the fibrous texture of mature rhizomes. There can be less preparation with young ginger as it is known to be used raw in salads and such.

There is a range of spicy flavors to be tried that is decided by when you harvest the roots, starting at three months and continuing to maturity. All ages will give different tones and strengths.

How do you harvest baby ginger?

Taking young ginger from a plant is easy and can be achieved in one of two ways. You can lift the entire plant out of the ground and remove the desired piece of rhizome, replanting the remaining root and stem.

red base of baby ginger plants
Red base of a young ginger plant.

The other method is to take a sharp knife and cut the rhizome from the plant as it rests in the soil. This harvest method is less stressful for the plant and can allow the ginger to continue growing until the end-of-season harvest.

We have used both methods and prefer to lift the complete plant and rhizome. This allows us to wash the rhizome and choose where to cut it.

Leaving the rhizome in the ground can be a bit hit-and-miss, as you never quite know what you are dealing with until you remove the cut section. Hopefully, you get enough rhizome to fill your needs the first time.

Are any special tools required to harvest ginger?

We use nothing more than a small gardening hand digger to lift the ginger from the garden. Your backyard might have hard soil and may require a garden fork to lift the ginger.

As long as you can dig around the rhizomes without harming them, the tool type can be anything, even an old screwdriver.

We do have some harder ground in some gardens in the backyard where we are not active, so we will use larger tools to break up the soil as required.

We try to be smart gardeners and look to get the best harvest from as little work as possible, and these harder areas are largely ignored, however we can still obtain a good ginger harvest if we want to dig it up..

Will harvesting ginger early kill the plant?

Taking the rhizome from the immature plant will be stressful no matter the method you use to harvest early ginger, and in some circumstances can kill the plant.

How you treat the plant after removing the rhizome will determine your success, but with care, you can help the original plant recover.

Harvesting spring ginger will likely stop extra rhizome growth on the mother plant for the rest of the season, but if large enough, the remaining ginger rhizome should set new shoots the following year.

baby ginger also called spring ginger
This baby ginger is about 2 weeks old and is too small to harvest.

We grow a lot of ginger here where we live and have had good success replanting the remaining root system with some rhizomes still attached.

We have found placing some good compost around the replant and applying mulch to protect the compost is the best way to help the mother plant recover. We rarely lose a plant now.

We recommend regular watering after replanting to aid recovery, as dry conditions are likely to kill the plant.

Does baby ginger need to be peeled before cooking?

Spring ginger needs to be washed after harvest in clean water before use and can be processed and consumed without peeling. The older the ginger rhizome is, the thicker the skin becomes.

Leaving the young ginger with the skin does not alter the flavor or texture, allowing us all the benefits of eating fresh young ginger root.

We have a strong recommendation to make here. If you buy spring ginger from a store, there will be potential for chemical contamination on the rhizome surface, so peeling is suggested.

Self-grown ginger is able to be used with the skin intact if you use organic growing techniques, or similar.

A cautionary note: There is also a risk of heavy metal buildup in the rhizomes if manufactured fertilizers are consistently applied, so again, we recommend organic growing methods. To find more on this topic, this article explains compost versus fertilizer, and the problems that can rise with extended use.

Don’t know where to start? We have a lot of information on site about how to go about growing ginger naturally, including soil conditions, climatic challenges, mulch types, and composting practices. We recommend starting with this article here.

Will baby ginger re-grow a new rhizome if planted back in the garden?

It is possible that the rhizomes can sprout next season, however this is more unlikely the earlier the root was harvested. Baby ginger rhizomes don’t have the harder protective skin or the fibrous flesh to help keep over the winter, so the young roots are susceptible to decay.

To be sure of a following ginger crop the next year, leave several complete rhizomes either in the ground in warmer climates, or lift then store in cold climates (there are climatic limits here).

A warm dry environment is a must for ginger rhizomes in cold climates as it is a totally different climate to the natural setting it belongs. The following season then allows us to break the rhizomes into pieces and to plant them where desired.

In Summary.

Taking baby ginger from the garden is worthwhile for the different flavor it offers in the kitchen. Keep in mind that it is preferable to have several clumps of ginger growing so as to allow an early harvest without cleaning out your ginger plant supply in one go.

Growing and keeping rhizomes as planting seed-stock for following years is the key to self-sufficiency in ginger. This is how we have achieved a stable supply, and if we can grow it, anyone can.

Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.