GINGER GROWS A LOT like potatoes—you plant little eyes into rows and wait while the good stuff grows underground. But ginger requires much warmer soil than most plants to germinate, and it’s extremely frost-sensitive.
But we Washingtonians, we’ll try anything. Some summers, on his farm at the western foot of Mount Rainier in Enumclaw, Wade Bennett harvests more than two tons of fresh ginger. “Everyone seems to think ginger needs to come from Hawaii or Indonesia,” he says. “But it’s just not true.”
Instead of growing the rhizome as a perennial, like farmers in tropical regions do, Bennett treats it as an annual. Each spring, he builds what amounts to a gigantic underground greenhouse by covering newly planted ginger with black plastic. When the soil reaches about 75 degrees, the eyes break dormancy and bud under the plastic. He lets the shoots poke through, but keeps the spicy, spunky white ginger roots nice and warm underground until September.
At Seattle farmers markets Bennett’s ginger, often known as “spring ginger” despite the late summer harvest time here, might not look so familiar. Since it hasn’t been cured, you’ll find “hands” with thin, translucent skin instead of the brown, leathery (and often fungicidally treated) stuff that covers grocery store ginger. “The minute ginger starts losing that wet, pinkish look, it starts losing flavor,” says Bennett. So he treats it as a seasonal crop, meant to be used within a few days of harvest. “I don’t even consider dried ginger the same food. Fresh ginger has bright lime overtones and a vivid, fresh flavor.”
Bennett’s ginger is available in September at area farmers markets and online (in limited quantities) at RockridgeOrchards.com. He uses it in curries, and freezes it in raw juiced form to add to ciders and sauces in winter and in years when cool summers don’t give the ginger time to mature.
So, doable? Yes. Easy? Not always, says Bennett. “It’s much easier to grow apples, that’s for sure.”