Can Straw Mulch and a High Tunnel Be Used to Better Grow Ginger in the Midwest?

Final Report for FNC07-650

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $5,320.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Pov Huns
Huns Garden
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Project Information

Summary:

PROJECT BACKGROUND
Huns Garden is a transitional organic farm that is operated by Pov Huns and Chaxamone Lor (husband and wife), who grow specialty vegetables and herbs. It is in its sixth year and operates on 3.95 acres located in urban Kansas City, Kansas. We specialize in specialty vegetables that have medicinal values, and other Asian greens that are hard to find, and we serve a diverse customer base including immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands and Asia, as well as locals interested in healthy eating. Our produce is sold at the City Market in Kansas City, Missouri.

Pov Huns and Chaxamone Lor are Hmong farmers, who moved to Kansas City from Fresno, California, where they had extensive experience in growing specialty vegetables and herbs since 1984. In Kansas City, they have found a large demand for their specialty vegetables, and are working to find ways to increase production on their relatively small urban acreage and to extend the production season to meet the demand of their customers.

Before receiving this grant, Huns Garden has always carried out sustainable practices.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our goal is to see whether straw mulch and a high tunnel can be used to extend the season and to better grow ginger on our Kansas City farm as well as to grow ginger without the commonly-used crop rotation, which prevents the development of nematodes and rot before the ginger is fully matured and causes to be unmarketable. Because of nematodes, growing ginger in most areas requires a ten-year crop rotation.

Also, our goal with this project is to develop a set of practices that will permit production of high quality ginger root for the early fall in the Midwest. We will investigate the potential of using straw mulch and a high tunnel to increase temperatures to promote growth in April and May to help jumpstart the growing season.

Raised beds made with cinder blocks and filled with high quality soil mix and straw are important in this project for three reasons: First, they will ensure the highest possible quality of ginger root. Second, they will help reduce the labor during harvest. Third, they will help in weed control.

Our plan is to sterilize the ginger rhizome before the sprouting process and to use a fairly low pH soil to see if we can grow nice looking Ginger rhizome in our first year. In our second year, we will see if we can grow the ginger the same way and in the same place without crop rotation. If this is doable, it will be a great improvement, not just to us but also to all farmers who grow ginger.

Process: We know that ginger grows fairly slowly, has limited root systems and is subject to attack by nematodes. To address the slow growth and limited root development, we have decided to use ziplock bags filled with peat moss to help conserve moisture, so that once the sprouting process has started, we will not have to water or check on it for weeks to months without worrying about the amount of wetness or dryness of the soil. For the nematode situation, we have decided to sterilize the ginger seed pieces by dipping them into a solution of one tablespoon of bleach mixed in a gallon of water for 10 seconds. The pieces are then left to dry before they are placed into the ziplock bags for sprouting. To achieve sprouting we place the bags into a warm environment of around 75 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, knowing that most root crops grow better in acidic soil, we have decided to use straight peat moss as our source of artificial soil. To conserve moisture, we have decided to use straw to cover up the peat moss. To ensure all peat moss will stay together, we built a raised bed of cinder blocks.

Also, to make sure that all transplants survive, there will be one week to harden them off (while they are still in the ziplock bags) before transplanting.

1st Year:

1. Purchase a 20’w x 10’h x 96’L cold frame from International Green House with single layer plastic (shipped in).
2. Purchase endwall from Farmtek
3. Purchase hip board, baseboard, Tek screw, EMT-conduit, and connector from Home Depot
4. Purchase Aluminum channel and wiggle wire from Stuppy Green House supply
5. Purchase seeding Rhizomes
6. Purchase Gallons zip lock bag and quart size zip lock bags
7. During the sprouting process, we notice that it would be a lot easier (and space-efficient) if we would go ahead and put it in a smaller ziplock bags, and put them into a stackable bulb crate. That way we would not have to fire up the small greenhouse that we have but instead can use the water heating room (in our basement) for storage and the sprouting process. After the ginger roots are sprouted, we move them to the small greenhouse (this process has saved us on all the heating bills between 7-10 weeks).
8. Purchase Drip irrigation supply
9. Purchase Straw mulch
10. Purchase Cinder Block from Home Depot, and rent truck to pick up Cinder Block
11. Purchase 35 bags of peat moss to use as raised bed
12. Labor for setting up the High Tunnel
13. Labor for bedding preparation is as follows
a. Laying down black plastic
b. Laying Cinder Block.
c. Cut out black plastic center around edge of cinder blocks
d. Laying down composted chicken manure
e. Laying down Peat Moss
f. Transplant
g. Laying down drip line
h. Laying Straw
14. Noted: The inside bed is set up with drip irrigation but the outside bed is not set up with drip due to forecasts of excessive rain.
15. Noted: The gallons size zip lock bag are very bulky and hard to stack and keep in small crates, so we have decided to use some smaller bags and see which will perform better.
16. There is a hardening process required for about a week to make sure that all transplant will survive.
17. Due to the loss of one of our high tunnels during a storm we only grew ginger in two beds inside our other tunnel, instead of the three beds initially proposed.

2nd Year:

1. Purchase 60 lbs of ginger roots to make seed pieces for sprouting.
2. Purchase quart size zip lock bag to use as pot.
3. Purchase 20 bags of peat moss to add to and expand old raised beds.
4. Reuse those bulb crates for sprouting process, and move the sprouting process to a storage room where there would be light and warmth at 70 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
5. Move all crates that had sprouted to the small greenhouse after all the sprouts had push through the plastic bags.
6. Labor for bedding preparation is as follows:
a. Remove the previous year’s straw and peat moss.
b. Clean out overgrowing Johnson grass roots and milkweeds roots which entered the bed
c. Laying down black plastic
d. Laying Cinder Block.
e. Cut out black plastic center
f. Laying down composted chicken manure
g. Laying down peat moss
h. Transplant
i. Laying down drip line
j. Laying Straw
7. Noted: The inside bed is set up with drip irrigation but the outside bed is not set up with drip due to forecasts of excessive rain.
8. Noted: In our second year, we continue using those previous 2 beds on the same spot, so that we can test our notion of no-crop rotation.

PEOPLE
• Pov Huns- Project coordinator and Farmer
• Chaxamone Lor- General Labor and helper
• Katherine Kelly, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. 4223 Gibbs Road; Kansas City, KS 66106. Katherine and Daniel will help with trial design and outreach thru Bi-annual Farm tour.
• Daniel Dermitzel, Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. 4223 Gibbs Road; Kansas City, KS 66106. Katherine and Daniel will help with trial design and outreach thru Bi-annual Farm tour.
• Dr. Edward (Ted) Carey-K-State Extension-Consultant and outreach thru Great Plain Vegetable conference

RESULTS
First year is quite positive and as follows:
a. We lost the original intended high tunnel to a wind storm so we had to make changes from the original three beds to just two beds.
b. The outside bed was excessively wet from too much rain which caused some of the rhizomes to rot away, and the ginger roots to be underdeveloped.
c. Started to harvest the inside bed in mid-August and the outside bed in mid-September
d. The outside bed grew smaller rhizomes than the inside bed — this is probably due to the temperature fluctuations on the ground. It stayed cooler for longer periods.
e. In the outside bed, for every 0.1 lb seed piece we grew between 0.5 lbs and 2.5 lbs so we can say that even with this result, it is within expectation.
f. For the inside bed, it has performed exceptionally well. We are very pleased with the results. For every 0.1 lbs of rhizomes we planted, we harvested anywhere between 3 and 6 lbs.
g. We assume the difference in these results was due to the soil temperature fluctuations.
h. We also learned that if we had planted the early bed in mid-April, it would not have survived because when the temperatures reached freezing in the fall, all the ginger tops in the high tunnel were damaged.

Second year results are as follows:
a. We found out from the first year that smaller bags have better storage capacity and stackability, so we settled with using quart size bags with ¼ cup of water.
b. We also, used 8-inch bulb crates to set in our bag and stack up crate so that we would use less space for sprouting. Once it is sprouted and the shoot is pushing thru the bag, we open up the bag and only then we start to water and move those crates into the greenhouse.
c. We reworked the original two beds. The outside bed is excessively wet from too much rain, and the ginger root is, again, underdeveloped.
d. Transplant in May 15 after the danger of frost.
e. The harvest started on the last week of September on the inside bed. The outside bed started after the first week of October.
f. The outside bed grew smaller rhizomes than the inside bed, this is probably due to the temperature fluctuations on the ground that stayed cooler for longer periods.
g. In the outside bed, for about 0.1 lb of rhizomes we planted, we harvested anywhere between 0.5 and 2.0 lbs so we can say that even with this result, it is within expectation.
h. For the inside bed, it has performed exceptionally well again. We are very pleased with the result. For every 0.1 lbs of rhizomes we planted, we harvested anywhere between 1.5 and 5 lbs (Average is 3 lbs per plant).
i. We assume the difference in yields between year 1 and year 2 was due to the soil temperature fluctuations and, even more so, due to groundhog issues in the beginning of the season. We first thought it was deer damage, but it was later discovered that it was groundhog. A small fence was constructed around the bedding and the issue has been resolved, but it still caused the delay of the first harvest by a month and reduced our overall yields.

PROJECT IMPACTS
Environmental Impacts: Organic growing methods, biological and mechanical management systems resulted in no adverse environmental impacts. The use of a controlled growing environment versus the traditional practice of no irrigation, no high tunnel and no mulch, has been very interesting and successful. As a result, 9 out of 11 local Asian growers are now growing ginger for fresh farmers’ market. This project has moved local growers and consumers further toward a local sustainable food system. In addition, we have successfully extended the local production of this specialty produce which resulted in all the environmental benefits normally associated with local foods including reduced transport needs (most ginger arrives in the United States from as far away as China, other Asian countries and other tropical regions).

Economic Impacts: In our first year of production, we found that it is a very good item on our list of produce that is grown locally. It also shows a good potential of mass production if we can find a cheaper way to grow it. In our second year, however, we saw that with the increase in local ginger production, most local farmers engaged in competitive pricing which resulted in prices as low as half the price of the regular imported ginger! At the end of the growing season of our second year of producing ginger, we have realized that our growing method has worked exactly as expected but that because of other growers imitating our production methods, the price for locally produced ginger plummeted. The income has dried up while the expenses still remain. The economic feasibility of this system of growing ginger has proved to us that we can grow ginger but it also tells us that there is no more niche marketing for ginger in the mid-west (especially for Kansas City, MO market). Our successful ginger growing method can now be added to the list of crops suitable for high tunnel production and allow high tunnel producers to diversify their crops without the use of the traditional crop rotation.

Social Impacts: The social impacts of this project are both positive and negative. The positive side is that we now can grow local ginger within the United State of America without the fear of nematodes. Those who can find the niche market for it will do great. Organic Specialty vegetable growers in our region have the potential to utilize this system of growing for their farm’s economic benefit, and meet a market demand. This system of growing can be economically feasible, if growers refrain from excessive price undercutting. Also, it could increase the economic security of farmers in this region by enabling them to meet local consumer demand and satisfaction for specialty vegetables, which could encourage consumers to increase their support of the local organic vegetable growers’ way of life while improving the health of the individual who uses these specialty vegetables.

OUTREACH
For the year of 2008, the information was shared as follows:
a. A field day on 4th of July weekend, 14 people attended.
b. A presentation at the Farmers forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, MO on November 7, 2008; 40+ people attended.
c. A copy of the presentation was given to NCR-SARE for reference and for a hand out as needed.
d. A copy of the presentation was given to the Kansas City Center of Urban Agriculture (KCCUA) to be posted on its website as well as distributed as needed by the organization.

For the year of 2009, the information was shared as follows:
a. A field day on 24th of June weekend, 150 people attended
b. A presentation at the Farmers forum at the National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference in Columbia, MO on November 7, 2009; 40+ people attended.
c. A copy of the presentation was given to NCR-SARE for reference and for a hand out as needed.
d. A copy of the presentation was given to the Kansas City Center of Urban Agriculture (KCCUA) to be posted on it’s website as well as distributed as needed by the organization
e. A presentation at the Great Plains Vegetable Conference at St. Joseph, MO on January 6, 2010, 120+ people attended

RESULTS
Base on the growing process of the results we have observed, we can say that growing ginger root in a raised bed filled with peat moss and covered with straw under a high tunnel has performed fairly well. We do not have any issue with the growing process and it has grown as expected. It has outperformed the conventional growing method. These outstanding performances are made possible through the high tunnel which helps raise the soil temperature and controls the moisture that is necessary for growing ginger.

Based on the results, we are satisfied with our growing process. Even though we have achieved what we wanted to do for this project, we think there should still be another cheaper and easier way to produce ginger. Also, because nematodes are a problem among ginger farmers, I would like to see this process continue and see how many years we can produce in the same place without crop rotation.

DISCUSSION
I learned that even with a well thought-out process, any research project is and will always be faced with obstacles. These obstacles can be man made or presented by Mother Nature. For each year of this ginger experiment, we lost a high tunnel (one to wind and one to a major snow load). From these losses, we find it hard to recover. The advantage is that we have found a way to better grow those vegetable that we like to see on our display at the market stand.

Also, there are PowerPoint presentations attached which include pictures of the project as well as the farm tour itself and conferences where the information was presented to an open audience with a question and answer session.

(See attached 2008 and 2009 Small farmer conference PowerPoint presentations).

PROGRAM EVALUATION
I would like to see an increase in the number of grants awarded to producers and ranchers. I would also suggest that SARE make it easier for grantees to shift expenses after the grant has been approved to accommodate any unexpected event during the execution of the project, e.g., the loss of a high tunnel during a storm.

Research

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.