Turmeric should be harvested before the onset of cold weather, mainly if you live in an area that is in zones eight and lower. It takes 8-10 months from planting to be ready for harvest.
Turmeric is a seasonal plant, and while it is in the growth stage, it looks lovely with spectacular flowers and broad green leaves. When the growing season is over and the plant is ready to begin the dormant phase of its life, the plant can be mistaken for sick.
The leaves wither and die; if you didn’t know better, you could easily assume that the plant is no good and that growing it was a waste of time. Nothing could be further from the truth because the rhizomes below the surface are waiting for you to come and get them.
The leaves dying are your signal on when turmeric should be harvested. So grab your garden fork and go dig them up.
How do you know when turmeric is ready to harvest?
The best turmeric maturity indicator is when all of the above-ground vegetation withers and dies off. The leaves or fronds are very useful when leaving the rhizomes in the ground (and not harvesting) because it forms a natural layer of mulch that protects the rhizomes during the dry season.
When I say dry season, I am talking about how the plant grows and where it grows natively. It is a tropical plant that has to contend with torrential rains in the summer wet seasons, followed by sometimes extended dry seasons where little rain is the norm.
The withered leaf litter is a great natural mulch barrier that helps protect the rhizomes, and this natural mulching process is something we can model in our gardens.
The image above is what turmeric looks like at the close of the growing season.
The rhizomes, or roots as some call them, will be able to be harvested when the leaves are dry and crunchy. You can harvest the roots as the plants start to wither, which is fine, but there is a line of thinking that the longer you can leave them in the ground, the better the flavor of the turmeric.
To get an idea on the time frames required to get a good crop, “how long does it take to grow turmeric?” might be of use.
Can you harvest turmeric early?
From about six months into the growing season, turmeric can be harvested early. The rhizomes get bigger and more intense as the season progresses, so the harvest time should depend on what you want to use the rhizomes for.
If you want the most robust flavor and the most return, leave the plants alone until it dies back entirely and dig them up. If you have several plants, you can have the best of both worlds, pick some early, and leave the rest for later.
This is how we deal with it mainly. We have a lot of turmeric in the yard and even have patches that have not been lifted for three years. It keeps coming back and has shown no signs of being in trouble. We really should lift this patch and refresh the soil for it again.
Getting back to the question at hand and harvesting early, here is a thought for you to consider. The turmeric plant leaves are edible and are at their best when the flower is still living.
If you cut the flower and use it as a cut flower arrangement, the leaves can be harvested as a separate crop and then powdered to be used as a vegetable seasoning sprinkle.
The beehive ginger leaf has a mild citrus scent and flavor when treated this way, and turmeric also has its taste. This allows you to get the most from your plant, and almost nothing goes to waste.
Can I leave turmeric in the ground?
Yep, you sure can. However, there is a big disclaimer attached to this statement. For you to be able to leave turmeric, or edible ginger for that matter, in the ground during the dormant stage, it is an absolute fact that the weather cannot be freezing, or else the rhizomes will be killed off.
Both ginger and turmeric are tropical plants that require warm, humid conditions to grow and then slightly less warm but also dry conditions during the dormant stage to be safely left in the ground.
If you have a wet winter as typical weather, then we advise you to lift the turmeric as soon as it has died back and then select some roots to store away for the following years planting.
Can turmeric be left in a pot over winter?
Yes, it can be, but if the typical winter where you live is cold, you should at least bring the pot indoors out of the most frigid weather. The critical point to remember is never to allow the roots to freeze. This is sure to kill them.
We recommend you pull the roots from the soil, even if the pot is indoors, and store the turmeric rhizomes in a dark, dry place until the first of the following spring season, where you can allow them some light and wait for them to reshoot.
We have an article dedicated to growing gingers and turmeric in balcony herb gardens that might be useful to you. It is titled “6 gingers to suit a balcony herb garden“. It is geared towards anyone wanting to be more self-sufficient in gingers and turmeric.
Does turmeric come back each year?
This is a common question and is easy to answer. If you leave some turmeric roots in the ground over winter and live in zone 9 and higher, your turmeric should regrow if soil conditions are appropriate for the plant. This includes moisture and warm temperatures.
As we mentioned above, we have a few patches of turmeric that are several years old and continue to come back year after year. There will be a limit on how long this can go on because the ground will be full of rhizomes, and there is an elevated risk of plant health issues moving forward if we leave it to its own devices.
There are several ways to approach turmeric at harvest time, and no hard rule must be followed. We recommend you dehydrate a few leaves and test the flavor for use in your cooking style.
The rhizomes can be picked through the growing season, and the plants are replanted to continue. The older rhizomes can have a more intense flavor, while the young roots have their own uses.
It is an easy plant to deal with and delivers plenty of benefits to many people worldwide. We hope you have success growing yours and that you explore the many ways this wonderful plant can be used.
Article by Tim Blanch for TheTropicalHomestead.com. He is a qualified Permaculture designer.