Although turmeric is native to Southeast Asia, lately it seems to have spread its color across the globe.
This herb, which hails from the ginger family, is used by holistic health providers as well as conventional doctors for its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also a great herb to have on hand for cooking, especially if you enjoy Indian dishes made with curry.
While you can easily buy turmeric at health food stores, specialty grocery stores or any Indian or Asian market, growing it yourself has a charm of its own.
Growing turmeric in your kitchen garden ensures a never-ending supply of organic turmeric – raw as well as powdered forms. If you’re short on garden space, you can even grow turmeric in a pot.
- Basic Growing Requirements for Turmeric
- Diseases and Pests Affecting Turmeric
- Preparing a Turmeric Rhizome for Planting
- Steps to Grow Turmeric at Home
- Processing the Rhizomes and Saving Seeds
Basic Growing Requirements for Turmeric
- Being a tropical plant, turmeric thrives in temperatures between 68° F to 104° F. The plant goes dormant below 68° F. Any temperature drop below 50° F will cause the plant to suffer.
- Its growth period spans 7 to 10 months, depending on the climate. You can grow it from the onset of spring to late fall.
- Turmeric goes dormant in winters. Plants intended for overwintering should be brought indoors, as turmeric is frost intolerant.
- Turmeric is not very fussy about the soil, but well-draining soil is an essential requirement. Waterlogging can easily lead to rhizome rot.
- Remove all the stones, weeds, stubbles and roots from the soil before planting, as they may hinder the development of the rhizomes.
- A half-and-half combination of soil and compost can do wonders. Alternatively, you can amend the soil with manure 1 or 2 months prior to planting.
- Turmeric tolerates slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil, between pH levels 6.0 and 7.8. You can test the pH level of your soil at home before planting turmeric in the pot.
Diseases and Pests Affecting Turmeric
Fortunately, you don’t have much to worry about regarding this aspect of growing turmeric. This herb is seldom affected by pests and diseases. The few that you need to watch out for are listed below.
- You may have to deal with red spider mites and scales. Clean the plant with a mild solution of soapy water to banish the spider mites.
- A waterlogged soil bed can lead to rhizome rot. Steer clear of this issue by keeping the soil well-drained.
- Leaf spot is another issue you may face. It is characterized by irregular-shaped brown spots on the leaves of the plant. Since the disease is soil-borne, do not use the same soil for subsequent plantings.
Preparing a Turmeric Rhizome for Planting
There are two ways to start your turmeric – propagation using rhizomes or buying a plant. Here, we’ll be focusing on propagation using rhizomes.
The turmeric rhizome consists of the ‘mother’ and the ‘fingers’. The mother is the main rhizome, from which the fingers develop. While the fingers can sometimes be used for growing turmeric, the mother rhizome usually serves as the seed.
You can buy turmeric rhizomes from any gardening or seed store when growing turmeric in an outdoor planting bed.
- Before you get to planting, soak the rhizome in a small container filled with water in order for it to sprout buds.
- If you live in one of the more humid climates, spritz the rhizome with some water every other day instead of submerging it in water. This will prevent the root from developing a fungus.
- Depending on its level of dormancy, the rhizome may take 1 to 3 months to sprout buds.
- For growing in a pot, you can pick your rhizomes from the exotic produce aisle of any grocery store. Look for rhizomes that already have buds emerging from them to shorten the germination time.
Steps to Grow Turmeric at Home
While turmeric is fairly easy to grow, it definitely requires a certain amount of patience – especially if you grow it from rhizomes. For quicker results, you may buy turmeric plants from a local gardening store or online.
Things you’ll need:
- Turmeric sprouts
- Fertile garden soil
- Organic compost
- A pot and a few stones
- Garden pressure spray pump
- Gardening gloves
- Garden sign for labeling the pot
Step 1. Prepare the planting soil
- Mix equal parts of your garden soil and compost together by hand.
- Break up any lumps and remove stones and rocks from the soil.
Step 2. Prepare the pot and add planting soil
- Select a medium- or large-sized pot in which to plant your turmeric. The pot should have a couple of holes at the bottom to facilitate drainage.
- Place a few flat stones over the holes to ensure proper drainage and aeration in the soil.
- Use a trowel to fill the pot with the prepared planting soil.
Step 3. Plant the sprouted turmeric rhizome
- With the trowel, make a hole in the soil that is 2 to 4 inches deep.
- Place the sprouted turmeric rhizome in the hole, with the bud pointing upward.
- Cover the rhizome completely with soil.
Step 4. Water and label the pot
- Water the soil with a garden pressure spray pump, wetting it evenly.
- Label the pot with a garden sign. There are many cute garden labels that you can go for, but an ice cream stick can do the trick in a pinch. Turmeric takes quite some time to emerge, so you need to be able to tell it apart from other plants.
- You may also add mulch to the pot immediately after planting to keep the weeds down.
Step 5. Keep a watch on the plant development
- If you’re planting sprouted rhizomes, the shoot should develop within 2 to 3 weeks. Rhizomes without sprouts may take up to 3 months to develop a shoot.
- Place the turmeric pot in a spot that receives partial sun and is shielded from the wind. Turmeric doesn’t much like wind, especially in cool climates.
- Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist, but waterlogging should be avoided at any cost.
- Other than watering and sun, turmeric doesn’t require much in the way of care. However, check the plant regularly for the occasional pest or disease.
- Harvest turmeric when the plant completes its life cycle. You’ll notice that the leaves turn yellow and the plant dries up.
Step 6. Dig out the fresh turmeric in late fall
- Dig into the soil with the trowel at the base of the dead plant to expose the rhizomes. Exercise care while digging so you don’t damage them.
- Dig around the rhizomes once you’ve locate them.
- Loosen the rhizomes completely from the soil and gently pull them out. If the rhizomes have developed into a large mass, you may extract them in parts.
- Trim the dead root and shoot, then rinse the rhizome under running water to remove dirt and other impurities.
- You can also leave some of the turmeric in the soil for overwintering.
Processing the Rhizomes and Saving Seeds
Turmeric rhizomes need to be processed within 2 to 3 days of harvesting.
- Separate the ‘fingers’ from the ‘mother’ rhizome. You can use the mother rhizomes as seeds for subsequent plantings. Store the seed rhizomes in wooden pits or crates with sawdust and cover them with wooden planks.
- In order to cure the remaining rhizomes, put them in water and bring it to a boil. Simmer the rhizomes until you can easily pierce them with a fork. This may take 45 to 60 minutes or longer, depending on their size.
- Drain the water. Optionally, you may choose to rub off the skin of the turmeric.
- Dry the cooked rhizomes in a dehydrator set at 140° F until they are brittle. Consider them done when they break cleanly upon bending.
- Use a spice mill or coffee grinder to grind the dried turmeric and make turmeric powder. In a pinch, you can also use a mortar and pestle to mill dry turmeric, but you may need to labor a bit to get the desired results.
- You can also grow turmeric in a large planter as a mixed crop along with vegetables like eggplants, onions and chilies.
- Raw turmeric rhizomes can also be cooked and eaten as a vegetable or used to make a curry.
- Observe caution and wear gloves while handling and processing fresh or dry turmeric rhizomes to prevent staining your skin, clothing and surroundings.