Turmeric is a root crop grown to make a colourful spice. It is well known for its health benefits and has been used for centuries. Turmeric has been a popular topic on my Facebook page over the past months and I have been asked many times how I grow it so I wanted to share how I do it.
It’s not hard to grow if you follow some straight forward steps. It can be grown in large pots or in the garden bed quite easily, I have done both and the garden beds always seem to produce better crops. Turmeric is a plant that grows best in a subtropical environment and if you live below Sydney, it will become harder to grow.
Preparation and Planting
Season: In my climate, I prepare soil in September, plant in October, and harvest in June.
Location: I have a high chance of a number of really hot summer days so I try to find a location that is sheltered from the scorching summer midday sun. I usually cover it with shade cloth throughout summer.
Soil Preparation: I have sandy soil so I add compost if I have a good supply ready. If not available, mushroom compost is great. A handful of blood and bone will help and if you need to adjust the soil pH, add lime. They like a pH of 6.5 so adjust if needed. Dig deeply so that the growing rhizomes can send their roots down easily. 35-45cm is the go.
Sourcing your first rhizomes: Try to get your rhizomes from an organic supplier online, or grab some from the local farmers markets. Each rhizome planted will produce 500g of turmeric. 500g of fresh will become 50g of dry Turmeric powder (see here for how to dry). So you decide how many you will need to plant.
Planting: Into your well prepared soil, dig a shallow hole and lay the rhizome into it, Cover with 3 to 4cm of soil. One rhizome spaced every 40cm in rows 40cm apart. Water them in well and cover the bed with 5cm of sugar cane mulch. This keeps the weeds down and the soil temperature more even. Planting into pots works OK as well, but make sure it’s a decent size.
Watering: The soil needs to stay moist but not wet. Over watering can cause the rhizomes to rot. Well drained soil is a must.
Fertilization: When the plants emerge 4-6 weeks after planting, and the first shoots are 10cm high, start to use a liquid fertilizer on a 4 weekly basis. If they are light in colour you can add a couple of handfuls of Dynamic Lifter under the mulch.
Pests and Diseases: I have not had any trouble with pests or diseases over the two seasons I have been growing Turmeric. Sometimes snails or slugs will have a bite or two of the young shoots, but nothing too serious.
Digging: In May the leaves will start to discolour and turn yellow. The plants have plenty of growing to do still for another 4-6 weeks at this stage but I keep an eye on them closely. As it cools they change colour quite quickly, when they have died back by 50% I start to dig them up, usually in the first weeks of June. There is no hurry to dig because they will fully die back and the rhizomes will remain in the soil quite happily for a couple of months before they start to want to grow again as the season warms up in spring. Using a fork into the soil about 20cm from the plant, gently move the fork backwards and forwards on all sides of the plant to loosen the clump of rhizomes below. When you can see that the plant is loose, dig the fork in deeply and lift.
Cleaning: Gently shake off as much soil as you can and give them a good hosing. Use water pressure to remove the dirt and make it easier by snapping the rhizome ‘branches’ off to get to the difficult spots. Then, with a pair of secateurs, trim off the roots and leaves and snap the tubers into manageable pieces (hand sized). They are ready to go to the kitchen for preparation for storage. If necessary, clean with a nail brush or cloth to get all the soil from hidden crevices.
In the Kitchen: Use it fresh in smoothies, stir fries or make curry paste. I have frozen whole rhizomes and grated them into cooking when needed. Or, dry it in the oven so that you can keep it for months and use it easily in your favourite recipe. (See here how I do this)
Selecting your Next Season Rhizomes
Parent Stock: Separate the biggest, healthiest, and best looking rhizomes when you are cleaning them. These are the parent stock for the next season’s planting. Let them dry for a couple of days out of the sun, then place them in a paper bag in the bottom of the pantry ready to replant the following October.
Varieties: I started to grow Turmeric two years ago and now I grow two different types, a yellow rhizome called ‘Aromatica’ and an orange rhizome called ‘Longa’. From recent reading that I have done, the Longa variety has higher content of the important ingredient ‘Curcurmin’ which is consumed for its health benefits. Next season I will plant mostly Longa.
A good companion to Turmeric is Ginger; I plant them side by side each year and have had great results. It’s a rewarding crop to grow and every veggie gardener should have a go.