When I was a child I was encouraged to go outside to explore and play, which I loved to do so much that only the need for food would bring me inside. Everyday presented a new discovery; one never knew what surprises Mother Nature had to offer. We made ink with pokeberries, fished in the nearby stream and created forts in the hydrangea bushes on the cool north side of the house. Even sweltering summer afternoons were spent outside looking for adventure.
Today, many children spend their free time engaged in scheduled activities such as sports, play dates and birthday parties. I am continually amazed at the pace that my nephew and niece are going places, doing things and all that they are learning.
I recognize the positive aspects of this evolution. I don’t know when I last heard a child utter the words "I’m bored!"
The only drawback that I see is many of these activities don’t provide experiences with nature and all its wonderful resources for the development of young minds. The solution to this is to create activities for kids that reconnect them to the natural world.
This project for starting a ginger plant from a root purchased at the local market is a fun way to engage a child’s curiosity about their environment.
Common ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a wonderful plant for children to grow because it has so many uses – a flavorful spice, a remedy for the common cold and a cure for an upset stomach. Children can learn that there are benefits of growing plants beyond the beautiful blooms and foliage.
And because ginger’s root or rhizome is so odd looking, it is easy to catch the attention of a child for this activity. In fact, the root is often referred to as a "hand" and the sections are called "fingers."
The best time to start a ginger plant from the root is in the spring. When you select roots for growing, choose those that are fresh with 1 to 2 inch long sections and plenty of nodes.
1 six inch terra cotta container with drainage holes
sterile potting soil
Begin by cutting the root into a few pieces, making sure that each piece has a few nodes or buds from which to sprout.
Fill your container 2/3 of the way full with potting soil.
Place the gingerroot pieces flat on top of the soil and cover with about 2 inches more of potting soil.
Water well and place it in a warm windowsill with bright but indirect light. In just a few weeks a stalk will emerge at each one of the nodes. You can expect your plant to grow about 4 feet tall.
If you live in a mild part of the country you can plant this directly outside. Ginger prefers to grow in areas with partial shade and consistently moist, rich soil. In climates that have cold winters, treat it as a tender houseplant and bring it indoors when temperatures drop below 40 degrees F.
While your ginger plant may occasionally produce flowers, it is not a common occurrence. But when you consider what the roots have to offer, you’ll hardly miss the blooms. Wait about 4 to 7 months to harvest new roots. Simply cut the leaf stalks close to the top of the root and lift it out of the soil.
What an amazing gift from nature – a fresh supply of flavorful and healthy ginger root and a fun way to introduce your children to the benefits of gardening.