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He’s Growing Tropical Ginger In Maine
Ginger is a crop that normally grows in the tropics, but Ian Jerolmack harvested 5,500 lbs. of ginger from a 5,700-sq. ft. greenhouse last year in Maine. That equates to more than 20 tons per acre compared to standard worldwide yields of 4 to 10 tons per acre.
“Last year’s crop blew us away with yield and quality,” says Jerolmack. “We had huge stunning plants. I was a nervous wreck about it, afraid we wouldn’t find a market for it all. We would send a crew in to fill a 100-lb. order, and they would get it from 15 ft. of bed.”
Jerolmack found his market. By the end of the year, he had sold every pound. For a northern grower like Jerolmack, selling everything fresh is necessary. It has more flavor, is juicier, and lacks the fiber of store-bought ginger. However, that also means it has a shorter shelf life and his crop can’t handle shipping.
Tropical ginger found in most stores will have matured in the ground over an 8 to 9 mo. growing season. The season in Maine is too short for the ginger to reach full maturity, one reason Jerolmack buys new rhizomes each year to plant.
“We start our ginger in trays in March in heated greenhouses and transplant them to beds in unheated greenhouses the first of June,” he says.
“Typically, we don’t pick until the first of October when the temperatures start to drop,” says Jerolmack. “The closer we get to mid-November, the more there is to harvest. However, this year we had an early freeze.”
The short growing season is only one of the challenges Jerolmack has faced in his 10-year journey to amazing yields.
Jerolmack quickly learned that ginger needed to be grown in the greenhouse for heat, but then it was subject to sunburn. “We had to put shade cloth over it,” he says.
The shade cloth made watering a challenge, as did maintaining humidity. “In 2020 we used misters, but the water went into the soil, and we overwatered,” recalls Jerolmack. “Ginger likes water passing through the soil constantly but standing water will cause it to rot in a week.”
Jerolmack is sloping his beds so the water will drain better. He is also trying drain tiles in some beds.
One big change he made in 2021 was to shut down venting in greenhouses with ginger. In previous years he tried to keep temperatures in the 80 to 90-degree range. At the same time, he shifted misting to on-again and off-again to maintain humidity without overwatering.
“The primary difference last year was that we realized the ginger didn’t care if it was 120 degrees if it was humid,” says Jerolmack.
Fertility was another thing to be fine-tuned. “It needs a lot of nutrition,” says Jerolmack. “It’s like corn. It wants nitrogen if it’s going to grow fast and vigorous.”
Another change in production practices in recent years may have played a role. Jerolmack has switched to no-till and the use of cover crops and heavy mulching.
“Our system means no weeds,” he explains. “We can plant very close and not worry about disturbing fragile and important feeder roots since we don’t cultivate.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Stonecipher Farm, 1186 River Rd., Bowdoinham, Maine 04008 (www.stonecipherfarm.com).

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2022 - Volume #46, Issue #2