My operation is a small-scale wild-simulated ginseng plantation. I have planted ginseng, goldenseal and black cohosh on three different slopes. I have 1/5 of an acre in production, with approximate 90% ginseng, 5% goldenseal and 5% black cohosh. Some plots or subplots contain ginseng alone, some have goldenseal interplanted with the ginseng, and others have black cohosh and goldenseal both interplanted with the ginseng.
Before this grant, I was not farming.
PROJECT DESCTIPTION AND RESULTS
1. Project Goals
a. To produce high-value herbal products on forested land with minimal disturbance while simultaneously increasing populations of endangered native plants: ginseng, goldenseal, bloodroot and black cohosh.
b. To create populations of attractive native landscape plants, marketable to generate short-term income, in the process creating more botanical diversity within the ginseng / mixed plantation.
c. To investigate the possibility of a mutualistic effect between ginseng and goldenseal, in which the latter might help mitigate the effects of fungal pathogens Cylindrocarpon destructans, Phytophthora cactorum, and Alternaria panax on the former.
d. secondary goals are: experimenting with most effective spacings of ginseng seed, and different methods of deer control
When proposing the project, I had already determined that the method would be wild-simulated ginseng grown in the woods, and I knew that this would require dense shade on north-facing slopes. To find more specific instructions, I searched on the web and found several very detailed and helpful documents. (1-3)
The materials I read indicated that ginseng seed should be planted approximately 2-3 inches apart in rows oriented downhill. Ginseng has certain soil requirements, including high levels of calcium, low pH, and high levels of organic matter within a well- drained soil. Having decided that I wanted to plant at two different sites, to compare subtle or not-so-subtle differences between them, I took soil samples from each site for testing.
The soil samples from each site, tested at the University of Missouri Columbia Soil and Plant Testing Laboratory, showed the following results*:
optimal, for ginseng *actual in plot 1 *actual in plot 2
pH 4.3-6.5 6.8 6.4
Ca, lbs./acre 1,000-5693 3081 3290
P, lbs./acre >95 18 26
organic matter 10%+ 4.6% 4.4%
The soils are not ideal for ginseng growing, but supplementation would be difficult due to the fact that I am not tilling the soil. If deficiency symptoms appear to exist from lack of phosphorus, high pH or low organic matter, I plan to till in organic supplements next to the rows.
The next step was designing the plot layout, for which I again relied on information from publications from various Extension departments and other literature found on the internet. It was suggested that rows be placed in groups of three, 18” apart within groups and 3 feet between. This provides “alleys” which enable the grower to easily move through the plots and tend the
plants. Within each plot, I included five groups of three rows, each of which was a different treatment. The first group was all ginseng, the second a row of goldenseal flanked by two rows of ginseng, the third bloodroot flanked by ginseng, the fourth containing one row of each bloodroot, ginseng and goldenseal, and the fifth consisting of a central ginseng row flanked on each side by a mixed row of goldenseal, black cohosh, 2-year-old ginseng roots, wild ginger, wild geranium, and bloodroot.
I decided to clear a certain amount of vegetation from each site, and this is when I noticed the extent of the difference between the two locations. Though each was deep in the woods, site 1 was shadier with a more organic-rich soil and far less vegetation on the ground. The slope on which it’s sited faces due north. Site 2 has a bit more light and poorer soil, and a good deal more low vegetation than site 1. An abundance of paw paw helps supplement the shade in the north-east facing site.
Planting began October 6, 2004, with plant materials purchased from two sources. The ginseng seed was purchased from Ozark Mountain Ginseng in Thayer, Missouri, and the roots of ginseng, bloodroot, goldenseal, black cohosh, wild ginger, and wild geranium were bought from a Kentucky business called Herbs, Roots and Barks. I soaked the seeds in a 1:9 bleach:water solution before planting, as is recommended by growers. I made the 25-foot furrows approximately 1-inch deep and planted seeds at a space of 3 inches, so there should be approximately 100 plants per row if germination was 100%. In the ginseng rows, roots were planted every foot in place of the seeds that would have been at that spot. I alternated 1 and 2-year old roots throughout each row. Planting was completed on October 16. Half of the materials were given to neighbor Alan Helland for planting in similar plots on his property.
After planting I surrounded the plots with Deer-X fencing, using iron fenceposts with pvc extensions on the top to get extra height, and staples at the bottom to keep smaller animals from getting under. Despite these efforts, the fences were all torn down by falling debris. Perhaps one might reinforce the top of the fencing with a wire or use a stronger fence material for better results.
In early spring I attended a workshop about organic certification and considered the applicability of such certification to my operation. Subsequent reading has suggested that organic certification is not helpful in making herbal products more valuable on the market. However, I may still pursue certification at some point.
Also in early spring, I started to make lists of the additional species that might be added to the plots to diversify them. The seeds and plants I eventually ordered are listed in the appendix. All of the seeds except the aster required stratification periods. Whereas ginseng seeds are usually stratified by the seller before sale, most other native seed is not.
Experiments with germinating ginseng indoors succeeded. The germination rate was about 50 percent, and the growing medium was treated with a product called “Soil-Gard” which is a fungus that is supposed to compete with detrimental fungi.
In spring I found that a good percentage of the seed and roots had emerged.
The bloodroot is the only species that didn’t do well; it failed to emerge. Initially I thought that the goldenseal was also not emerging, but then I learned to recognize the plants and saw that it was 50-65% successful. Some of the plants were very small at first, since growers tend to sell very small pieces of goldenseal root. All that is needed is a piece of rhizome with a single bud to constitute a viable new plant; sometimes these are very small but will grow in time.
In mid-July, I administered approximately 50 gallons of water per plot. Wild-simulated ginseng is generally not watered, but it was a very dry summer, and I was concerned for the survival of the plants. They died back fairly early, in August. I was subsequently told by my seed supplier that young plants tend to die back earlier than older plants, so this was not an unusual or alarming sign. There was no evidence of disease at any point during 2005.
In fall of 2006, we planted two new plots near plot 2, with seeds planted 1 foot apart in rows also spaced one foot apart. We planted some seed in these plots as late as the end of December.
I monitored the ginseng plants for signs of the fungal diseases during the summer. I saw symptoms consistent with phytophthora leaf blight and alternaria leaf blight, but only on a few plants. There was quite a bit of insect damage (holes chewed through leaves), especially in the drier areas of the plot.
I administered treatments for deer and insect control twice, using this pattern across the plots:
The “Not Tonight, Deer” is made of dehydrated eggs and white pepper, and is designed to deter deer exclusively. The hot pepper wax may deter deer, insects, and any other herbivores.
I monitored the plots for the effects of these treatments, but there were a few limiting factors to this experiment. First, the ginseng was already very spotty within the plot due to soil variations (it prefers concave zones with more organic matter and water-holding ability). Also, the ginseng died back even earlier in 2006, and kept me from observing for very long during the single season. I would have to continue treating the plots, and monitoring for changes over a longer period in order to get a potentially meaningful data set.
I also hung bars of Ivory soap from the trees near the plot, based on the recommendations of a deer control study by the Illinois Walnut Council.4
There appeared to be very little deer herbivory; I only noticed a few plants that had been partially eaten. Unfortunately, they were larger, multi-pronged plants which naturally attract the attention of deer. I believe that at this point most of the plants are too small for deer to pay them much notice.
In late September I tilled several new plots in the woods and began planting them with a mix of ginseng and goldenseal. This time I am trying the method recommended by grower Dennis Lindberg: scattering the seeds to an approximate 3-inch spacing on tilled soil, and covering them with about 1/2 inch of soil. The beds are then covered with straw mulch. I’ve placed these on a south-facing slope, which Dennis also reports has worked very well for him, possibly even better than north-facing slopes due to the exposure to morning sun.
The first plot is surrounded with a ring of goldenseal roots, and the others are ginseng only. In the future I would like to plant some plots with different spacings. I would also like to do research on the possibility of creating and marketing value-added products made from the ginseng, goldenseal, and black cohosh.
I received advice and support from neighbor and herb farmer Alan Helland, forestry professors Dr. Rose-Marie Muzika and Dr. Michael Gold, ginseng farmer Dennis Lindberg, and Jose Garcia, Extension Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program. I am also grateful to Joan Benjamin for her very valuable support. However , the most helpful person has been Dennis Lindberg, the owner of Ozark Mountain Ginseng in Thayer, Missouri. I purchased all of my seed from him, and the second round of goldenseal root as well. Dennis has been a grower since 1983, and I was lucky to be able to visit with him at his farm and benefit from the advice garnered from his years of experience growing and selling native forest products.
I was pleased to have good germination of the ginseng and generally good rates of survival into the second year. Goldenseal performed to expectations as well. Bloodroot completely failed to emerge. It may have been planted too deeply but this was certainly a disappointment.
There is not yet any data available on yields, since these products cannot be harvested for several more years. There is also no data on the goldenseal-ginseng interaction, since there hasn’t been an outbreak of any fungal pathogen. However, there is data on the performance of the ginseng at the two different sites, and within the different treatments.
The comparative performance of ginseng, goldenseal and bloodroot in different treatments is represented in the following graphs.
It seems likely from these data that there are some pronounced site effects. The lower soil organic matter content in site 2 may be a factor.
Ginseng performed differently in each treatment, as shown in this chart:
The variation is probably due to soil inconsistencies across the plot rather than a treatment effect. The best way to determine this would be through continued monitoring of a large number of sample plots. With a large enough sample, statistical analyses could be applied to determine whether there is a treatment effect.
I’ve learned a good deal about ginseng, as described in the sections above. However I’m just starting to understand it as a crop, and am looking forward to watching it grow and to learning about marketing it, along with the other herbs, goldenseal, black cohosh and possibly bloodroot. Working on this project has helped introduce me to a lot of people within my local farming community, for which I am grateful. One could say that farming is becoming “demystified” for me as well; although I studied horticulture in college, farming is not something I’ve done.
This project coincided with the establishment of my farm. I’ve always wanted to grow something on my land, though I don’t live on site, and the shade plants in this project are the perfect crop.
As I mentioned above, these crops enabled me to farm without moving to the site. Another barrier involved in the project would be the fact of many farmers having a lack of information about ginseng, which I hope to address in a future project or projects. On a more holistic level, I started this project to see whether a novice such as myself could successfully grow wild-simulated ginseng. It seems to be working out so far, which is a good sign for potential growers who might be able to take advantage of the market shift from field-grown to wild-simulated ginseng.
Possible price variation is potentially an advantage. Prices of wild-simulated ginseng can reasonably be anticipated to rise, but this is speculative. Fortunately the seed and initial costs are not great compared to the prospective eventual profits. However there is some risk due to the plants needing to grow for years before harvest. As a new grower I can’t properly assess this disadvantage, but the available literature leads me to believe that many growers succeed.
I have already found forest farming to be very rewarding. I would recommend the practice of planting and growing ginseng and goldenseal by the wild-simulated method to any woodlot owner with a small amount of time to commit. Potential growers should expect to lose some plants to the vagaries of nature. Anticipate some losses from deer, insects, drought, failure to germinate and fungal damage. Next, keep apprised of the state of the market. Third, start small to get a feel for this unique type of farming and decide whether it’s for you. Because the work takes place in the woods, forest farming can expose the practitioner to seed ticks.
In regard to the actual process, I have discovered many ways to do things right. Most of these are described in the previous section of the report.
I feel that I have many more questions and am hoping to investigate them over the next several years. The plots on my farm could be a source of information for many new growers.
In September 2004 a student journalist interviewed me about the project for a story in the Columbia Missourian newspaper.
I spoke at the 2005 Small Farm National Trade Show and Conference. The presentation I gave there is included as a Power Point file on a CD-R accompanying this report. I believe there were approximately 30-35 people in attendance, and many had questions and seemed very interested. At least six people approached me afterwards for contact information, with more questions, or with requests for collaboration.
In February 2006, a University of Missouri student named Alexis Malone interviewed me at length for a case study on sustainable agriculture.
In September 2006 I did an interview with Sara Agnew of the MU Agricultural Extension and News Office. Her story about the SARE program was scheduled to be sent to newspapers across the state in October 2006.
I have posted information at http://home.mchsi.com/~h.oconnor/wsb/html/view.cgi-home.html-.html and will also be publishing on the website http://www.h2oc.com/ginseng. Perhaps these can be linked to some sustainable agriculture websites.
I plan to continue to publish my results as more data becomes available. Ginseng grown by the wild-simulated method is typically ready for harvest in 5-7 years or longer.
Now that the Missouri Demonstration Award Program has been eliminated, this producer grant program is even more important in our state. Farmers are more likely to try sustainable methods if there is some help and information available. I hope that the program continues to exist for as long as possible.
1. Hankins, Andy, Virginia Cooperative Extension Publication number 354-312, Producing and Marketing Wild Simulated Ginseng in Forest and Agroforestry Systems, November 2000. (currently posted at http://www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/forestry/354-312/354-312.html
2. Adam, Katherine L., ATTRA publication number IP115, Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Native Roots, October 2004. (posted at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/ginsgold.html)
3. Carroll, Chip and Dave Apsley, Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet F-56-04, Growing American Ginseng in Ohio: An Introduction. (http://ohioline.osu.edu/for-fact/0056.html)
list of species attempted to add to plots
Aquilegia canadensis – Columbine
Aruncus dioicus – white goat’s beard
Aster novae-angliae – New England aster
Blephilia ciliata – Ohio horsemint
Chelone oblique – rose turtlehead
Heuchera richardsonii – alum root / coral bells
Mertensia virginica – bluebells
Scutellaria incana – downy skullcap
Silene caroliniana – wild pink
Silene virginica – fire pink
Tradescantia ernestiana – woodland spiderwort
Veronicastrum virginicum – culver’s root
Caltha palustris – marsh marigold
Euphorbia corollata – flowering spurge
Delphinium virescens – prairie larkspur
Polemonium reptans – Jacob’s ladder
Geranium maculatum – wild geranium
Polemonium reptans – Jacob’s ladder
Arisaema triphylum – jack in the pulpit
Classification of soil on which plots were established:
60008 Menfro silt loam, 20 to 45 percent slopes
Menfro soils are formed from silty material deposited by wind and occur on the backslopes of hillsides. The rate that rainfall runs off is high and the soil is not so wet at most times as to restrict root growth. The rate that water moves downward through the soil is moderate. The water storage capacity for plants is high and the soil has a moderate tendancy to shrink when dry and swell when wet. During extended rainy periods the soil does not remain saturated. This map unit is generally unsuited to cultivation because devastating erosion can occur.
note: These soils on this property may be more suited to cultivation because of the roots of trees which are holding them in place.