Have you ever had a cup of turmeric tea? Added it to a delicious dish? If not, then you’re missing out. This spice has been used for centuries to soothe colds or add some color to homecooked meals. Most of us buy turmeric at the supermarket, but growing it is easy!
The turmeric spice that we know and love comes from the root of the plant. Sometimes you can find these in the produce department at your grocer. But if you want to grow fresh turmeric for your family, here’s how:
Get to Know Turmeric
Turmeric has been cultivated for at least 4,500 years in Asia, India, and Africa. In recent years, the rest of the world has caught on to this fantastic plant. It has become a popular “superfood” ingredient in all kinds of dishes and drinks.
The plant needs warm conditions for a long period to develop, so it’s not a plant for the outdoors in northern climates. In USDA Growing Zones 8-12, you might be able to keep the plant outside year-round. Otherwise, you’ll need to grow it indoors, at least part of the time.
Turmeric is related to ginger and the top of the plants look somewhat similar. Turmeric has wider, lanceolate leaves than ginger, on a short stem. If left to bloom, the plant will develop beautiful white or pink flowers.
Many people consume turmeric for its health benefits, so we need to discuss turmeric and curcumin. Each rhizome of the turmeric plant contains about 3-5% curcumin, and it’s curcumin that scientists believe contains all that healthy magic.
If you’re eating turmeric hoping for the health benefits from curcumin, you’re going to need to eat a lot, however. Alternately, you can buy curcumin and use it, instead. Then, just enjoy turmeric root for the delicious flavor.
Benefits of Curcumin
Curcumin has shown promise in studies for reducing inflammation in the body, which is responsible for all kinds of problems. For instance, a study published in the journal Biotechnol Advances shows that it helps control heart disease.
Early studies indicate it might also help control cancer, while a study in the British Journal of Nutrition indicates that it is neuroprotective, which helps prevent things like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A very small study by the BMC suggested that curcumin might help ease arthritis, and researchers in the journal Front Psychiatry found that it may someday be used (along with other treatments) to ease the impact of depression.
A study published in Phytomedicine also suggested that the compound might be able to help ease chronic pain, like that caused by neuropathy.
Best Cultivars of Turmeric
Most of the time, you will see the deep orange primary species of turmeric, known botanically as Curcuma longa. But there are numerous fantastic cultivars out there.
‘Hawaiian Red’ is one of the most popular types in Hawaii, where this plant is often grown. It has bold orangish-red flesh.
‘Indira Yellow’ has a bolder taste than the parent species and bright yellow flesh.
‘White Mango’ tastes like a green mango with pale yellowish-green flesh.
‘Lakadong’ is prized for its high curcumin ratio and ‘Alleppey’ features a stronger flavor as well as a high curcumin content. This is one of the most sought-after cultivars in the US.
‘Madras’ is the cultivar of choice in India and the UK for its bright yellow coloring.
Also look for ‘Rajapore,’ ‘Sangli,’ ‘Erode,’ and ‘Nizamabad,’ which are popular in India but less common in North America.
To grow turmeric you need to start with some seed rhizomes. You can find these at local retailers or online. Look for untreated rhizomes intended for planting. Often, the rhizomes at the grocery store are treated and won’t sprout.
As this spice normally grows in India and warm regions of the world, you need to plant it in a sunny, warm location. Remember, this plant has a long growing season. Temperatures need to stay consistently within the right growing range for a long time.
Turmeric needs 8-10 months of frost-free conditions and 70°F temperatures and above in order to produce a harvest. If you don’t have that long of a growing season, you’ll need to bring the plant indoors during the cooler weather.
The best time to plant turmeric is in winter, and harvest the next fall and early winter. You can start plants indoors if you have a short growing season. Use heat mats to increase the temperature.
Place the rhizomes in loose, well-draining soil with lots of organic matter or a water-retentive potting soil.
When you’re preparing the soil for turmeric you should make sure it has no large rocks or clumps. That’s why raised beds are ideal for planting turmeric as you can avoid rocks and provide the ideal conditions right off the bat.
Each rhizome needs to be planted about four inches deep with about six inches between them. The spacing of the crop is essential as if there isn’t enough room between the seeds, the crop will grow on top of each other.&
As turmeric rhizomes are delicate, you should gently place them into the soil by digging a small hole, putting the end into the soil, and covering them up. As long as the nubs are facing upwards the sprouts will grow in the correct direction.
Use a large container when planting turmeric. Since this is a root crop, it needs a large space to develop those large rhizomes that you want.
Some people use empty wine barrels for growing turmeric. You can start several plants in one half barrel. Whatever you use, it should be at least five gallons and have a foot width of surface area. It also must have good drainage.
The best combination of soil for turmeric is 70-80% organic potting mix and 20-30% well-rotted compost. This mixture creates a healthy environment for turmeric to grow.
Indoors, place them in a sunny location by the window or under grow lights. Before bringing the plants outside, be sure to harden them off for a bit.
Caring for Your Turmeric
Of course, you’ll have to look after your turmeric crop once it’s been planted. Luckily, turmeric only requires basic maintenance such as watering and occasional fertilizer. The soil needs to remain mildly damp but should never be drenched when growing.
It’s a good idea to poke your finger into the soil every few days to test the moisture level. If the soil feels like a well-wrung-out sponge, perfect! If it feels drier, add water.
During the warmer months of the year like summer and spring, you will need to water more than usual. When winter comes around you can decrease your watering schedule as the temperatures won’t be as high and there’s less evaporation.
When you water, keep an eye on any pests and diseases that might be affecting your crop.
As well as watering your turmeric crop, apply fertilizer regularly during the growing stage. Any fertilizer targeted at veggies will do, such as Miracle-Gro’s & Shake ‘N Feed Tomato, Fruit and Vegetable Fertilizer. Apply every eight weeks.
Turmeric Pests and Diseases
If you do encounter problems when growing turmeric then it is most likely rhizome fly or rhizome rot. Both of these pests and diseases are common with turmeric crops and are important to learn about if you want to grow this spice at home.
This pest (Mimegralla coeruleifrons) is a small black, winged insect that feeds on turmeric plants. It’s easy to detect the damage to your crop because they leave holes in the shoots. Often, this pest attacks sickly plants.
There are a few precautions you can take to keep your turmeric free from rhizome flies. Here is a list of the best methods of clearing this pest:
- Buy rhizomes from high-quality sellers. Poor quality rhizomes are more susceptible.
- Remove infected parts of the plant.
- Use an organic pesticide that contains pyrethrin.
If you notice that your plant is suddenly wilting or the leaves are turning brown, then you might have rhizome rot. As the crop matures, there’s less risk of this disease appearing on your crop. That’s why you must be extra careful at the beginning of the turmeric growing process.
It’s caused by the fungi Pythium graminicolum and P. aphaniderrnatum.
You can avoid rhizome rot by watering carefully, which involves being sure that you aren’t overwatering, and checking the crop for any signs of wilting or soggy stems. If you notice either of these, it’s important to act quickly.
Bonide’s Infuse is perfect for treating this disease. Follow the directions as soon as you notice any problems. You can also treat the rhizomes before you plant to avoid this problem in the first place.
How to Harvest and Use Turmeric
After months of looking after your turmeric, you’ll be excited when the day finally arrives when you can harvest all your efforts. Isn’t that the best part of gardening?
The first sign that your turmeric is ready to be picked is when the majority of the leaves turn yellow or brown. As soon as it starts looking like this you can pull them from the ground. Turmeric is easy to harvest with a trowel or rake and a gentle pull.
It’s important to be careful when harvesting turmeric as you don’t want to snap the stalk when you’re pulling it out of the soil. When you have the rhizomes, you can wash them with water and remove the extra dirt.
Many people think that turmeric is only good as a colorant or a health supplement, but it’s so much more versatile than that. Sure, you can sprinkle it over roasted vegetables, add it to a soup, or even bake it into a cake, but like ginger, feel free to be creative.
How about Honey Turmeric Chicken? Or, of course, make a fantastic tea. Use it to make breakfast oats or savory Pork Chops.