Have you heard of "green gold?" If you have, you know it means ginseng. Similar to how gold will always be valuable, ginseng will always be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars per pound. It is such a hot commodity that it is being hailed as the new gold rush in America. Rather than wandering in the forest and competing for some wild 'sang, you can safely grow your own at home.
Although it is not a get rich quick scheme, the financial rewards from growing ginseng really do sound almost too good to be true. The fact of the matter is that in five years, you can grow over $100,000 worth of the precious commodity on only half an acre of land!
There are no sophisticated techniques required to raise ginseng, you just need some patience and a delicate touch. The roots are best when left to mature for 5-10 years. The older and larger the ginseng, the more valuable it becomes. If you want to cut down on your waiting time, ginseng roots that are one to three years old are available for purchase.
Roots versus Seeds
When transplanting rootlets, it is best to do so by setting the seedlings 3 inches apart. If planting in the spring, do so in March or April, just before the ginseng begins to bud. If choosing to plant in fall, try to do so in September or October, when the berries are getting ready to fall off. It is best to always replant red ginseng berries during the fall so that ginseng will continue to be available every year.
If you decide to plant ginseng seeds, consider purchasing stratified ginseng seeds. Stratified ginseng seeds are protected in moist sand for a year while the embryo develops and grows. These seeds are best planted any time from September through March. The seeds will sprout in the spring.
For those already familiar with ginseng cultivation who are eager to establish their own homegrown income, consider starting small and growing in stages. The first year, it is recommended that you plant a permanent seed producing plot of about 750 square feet. For this, you'll need to order either 2,000 rootlets or 4,000 seeds. During the second year, plant another 750 square feet with the berries from the initial seed producing plot. Your plot size will grow exponentially each year thereafter. By starting with permanent seed beds, you can begin on a small scale with minimal capital investment.
Fertilizer and Mulch
Decaying leaves are the best fertilizer for ginseng. Chemical fertilizer increases the ginseng's susceptibility to disease; potentially killing your crop and your efforts.
Mulch is absolutely essential in helping keep your roots moist during the hot summer days. Keep your ginseng in a shaded area and the crop will retain enough moisture with the mulch so that it will not require much watering. Mulch will also save your ginseng from winter frost and may require as much as 4 inches to make it with snowy conditions. Be sure to remove a portion of the thick layer in the spring so that the young plants can emerge.
Ginseng does not require as much ongoing care as vegetable gardens, but first year plants are especially vulnerable to stress. Mature plants will require little beyond a weekly inspection. The worst that may occur is that a top dies, ending growth for the season. Fortunately, next spring, a new top will appear.
If your ginseng is thickly sown, beware of disease. If one top is infected, remove it before it infects the rest of your crop. To avoid this, plant sparsely and make sure there's good air circulation over your beds.
Your roots may not be damaged by furry critters, but watch the berries that ripen in the fall. If you leave them for too long, you may find that many small creatures love to feast on the precious red gems.
Due to the value of ginseng, more often than not, the only pest you should be wary of are other humans. Those who know the value of ginseng are irresistibly tempted to dig up a large batch of mature ginseng. Roots cannot be traced and are easily sold for the full value.
Seeds are picked in the fall and should be stored in a cool, moist place away from the sun. Now think of a cake and all of its layers. Similarly, you will need to alternate sand and seed in layers. Alternate one inch of sand with a half inch of berries. Make sure the top layer is composed of sand and cover it with a damp towel. Keep the berries moist for no longer than six weeks. The goal is to let the pulp around the berry decay until the seeds are exposed. Once the seeds are exposed, simply use a mesh screen and pile on the berry sand mixture. Rinse the sand away and the seeds will be ready to plant.
Ginseng roots will not be worth much before their fifth year. However, after the fifth year, the root weight will generall increase 20 percent a year. Ginseng is valued by weight above all else, so the longer you let it mature, the wealthier you will become. Roots over ten years old are especially prized.
To harvest the ginseng, very carefully dig it out of the ground, being careful not to damage the root. Rise off the dirt, but do not scrub it. The rings around the ginseng are held in high regard, so scrubbing them away will only devalue your crop.
If you are near a buyer, you do not need to dry the root, simply cash out. If you do not live near a buyer, you may want to consider drying the ginseng a bit to prevent mold during transit to a buyer. To do so, spread the roots in a single layer on a screen. Place this in a well ventilated room with a temperature of 60°F, not exceeding 90°F. Turn your ginseng once a day. If damp weather occurs, place your ginseng in direct sunlight for a few hours to prevent mold. Small roots will only take a day to dry, while large ones may take as long as six weeks.
What people are willing to pay for American ginseng is astonishing. If you love to garden, it is worth your time to plant some ginseng. It will pay for itself in root and berry.