Turmeric is a fantastic root crop that has many medicinal qualities (which I won’t go into here) and growing organic turmeric is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.
Growing organic plants means we’re using organic methods and principles to grow our plants. Likewise, growing organic turmeric depends largely on how well we put those principles into practice.
Organic and mindful gardening always tends to the soil. It means matching the right plant with the right conditions at the right time. Root crops like turmeric like well draining soils. And when I say they like them, I mean, without a well draining soil, the plant is likely to drown and rot.
We need well draining soil for growing organic turmeric
Growing organic turmeric requires a fertile well, draining soil. But what exactly is a well draining soil? I’ll write a blog examining it in detail later, but basically, a well draining soil is where water is able to move freely through the soil.
A well draining soil doesn’t allow water to sit for an extended period of time. Some people say one hour is too long for the water to sit, others say 10 minutes is too long. I say the length of time depends on the plant.
With turmeric we don’t want water sitting around the root zone for more than say 10 minutes.
Fertile and friable soil for growing organic turmeric
Our soil needs to be fertile and friable. The fertility comes from the soil biology. Hopefully you have good fertile soil from years of adding composts, manures, rock minerals and mulch. As a result, you have healthy soil microbes and fertile soil. If you’re just starting out with your garden, you’ll need to how to create a healthy soil.
The soil needs to be friable. This means it needs to be workable and malleable. The roots will have a hard time forming and growing if the soil is hard and compacted. Adding organic matter and keeping the soil covered in a mulch and not allowing the soil to dry out will encourage earth worms and reduce any compaction.
What part of the turmeric plant do we use?
Turmeric is a rhizome – a root crop the main part of which grows beneath the soil. When you see a turmeric root you may mistake it for ginger. They grow in the same way and I grow them in the same garden as they enjoy the same conditions.
So you can break off a tiny piece of the turmeric rhizome and that will form a plant. Specifically, if it hasn’t started shooting yet, we’re looking at the lighter coloured part of the rhizome, a pointed end usually – that’s where it’ll shoot from.
One rhizome can send a number of shoots and if you’re a commercial grower you’ll cut the rhizome up into many pieces to increase the number of plants.
After harvesting I usually just toss smaller pieces of rhizome back into the garden and cover those with a bit of soil. They’ll store in the garden over winter and shoot in spring.
But if you’re doing this for the first time, you might want a bit more instruction… so place a piece of the rhizome under the soil, about 3-5cm deep and cover that will soil.
When to plant turmeric
Growing organic turmeric rhizomes really is easy. Most people who fail tend to over protect them. As stated above, after harvesting in early to mid winter we can just toss chunks of the rhizome back into the soil.
We can pot them up anywhere from mid winter (after the plant has died back) to late spring. They don’t need to be shooting to plant them. Just don’t over water them once they’re planted. Don’t fret over them, don’t worry about them, just put them in the ground and so long as they get a drink every week or so, they’ll shoot.
If you’re growing from a turmeric plant (rather than rhizome) then you’ll want to be planting from the spring to mid summer. Any later than this and the plant isn’t going to get enough time to grow, flower and develop the turmeric that you want.
Plant it in your prepared soil matching the level of the soil around the pot with the soil in the garden. Cover the soil with a mulch like lucerne or sugarcane. Water it in and don’t stress.
Successfully growing organic turmeric requires a tropical to subtropical climate. It likes a full sun position but will tolerate filtered sun for part of the day. If you live in a hot climate with a hot summer sun, then filtered sun is the go. Otherwise, you’ll be needing to water your turmeric far too often.
The lifecycle of turmeric
Turmeric has an annual lifecycle. Typically, shoots start coming up out of the ground in late spring. They look like cylindrical swords emerging from the ground. They’ll soon grow up and open large leaves. These will increase in size and as the season progresses the plant will increase in height.
Generally turmeric will reach a height or about 1 metre but that also depends on the soil, water and light. Turmeric typically flowers in late summer to early autumn, but I’ve also seen it flower in early summer.
We need to keep the water up to the plants throughout the summer or they will transpire too much water from their large leaves. I tend to cover mine in a shade cloth through the hot summer months and if you’re living in a hot climate, you might benefit from doing the same.
In autumn you’ll start noticing the older leaves of the turmeric start to turn yellow. The plant will start to look a little sick. So long as they’re not starving or drought stricken… this is normal. They’re transporting nutrients from the leaves and placing them all back into the turmeric roots.
We want to let the leaves turn yellow, for the plants to wilt and for the leaves to die off before we do anything. Just be sure to keep the water up to the plants. We don’t want them dying due to thirst… But also… don’t drown them…
Plants need less water in autumn than in summer so you can back the water off. If I water my turmeric every second day in summer, in autumn, without rain, I might water every 4-5 days.
Once the leaves have died back and the turmeric is looking dead. Then you can harvest.
Turmeric is ready to harvest once it’s died down. This will be winter. The way I harvest turmeric depends on the soil it’s growing in.
If it’s growing in a clay soil that is quite hard, then I harvest my turmeric by carefully pushing a gardening fork into the soil and gently lifting it up. I want to be gentle because I don’t want to hurt any worms and also I don’t want to break the turmeric roots. Gentle, mindful lifting.
If my turmeric is growing in a more friable soil with more compost then we might be able to pull it up without using a fork. Either way, be gentle as there are often a lot of worms living around and in the roots.
We will start seeing the roots and rhizomes of the turmeric and if we’re successful some of the roots will be much larger then our hand.
Carefully clear any excess soil away form the roots, ensuring any worms make it safely back into the garden soil. Worms can be lodged into the crevices of the turmeric and so I gently pry the roots apart so that worms aren’t injured in the harvesting process.
We can use a hose to hose off the excess soil.
If you want turmeric to grow in your garden next year, drop some smaller bits of the root back into the garden now. Just drop them, cover them with soil and mulch. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out over winter, but don’t let it get boggy. Moist soil is what we want for storing turmeric in the soil over winter.
Once the turmeric is free of soil and worms, we can give it a wash and then go about using it. Easy 🙂