Growing Ginseng: Wild-Simulated Method

If you decide to grow ginseng, there are three basic methods you can grow it. The first method is the wild-simulated approach which is the easiest, the least expensive, and it can be implemented on steep hillsides and ravines where nothing else is possible. This is the method of choice for most novice growers can choose and it can be potentially the best return on your investment.

Site Selection:

You want hardwood forest land where wild ginseng is growing or has grown in the past or land has adequate drainage with about 70% shaded with hardwoods. It is worth a try on wooded property near wild ginseng  and you might risk a few ounces of seed initially on a good looking site with no encouraging history. Since ginseng has been hunted to near extinction in many locations, determining whether or not it once grew on your property  could be difficult. You may want to find an old timer who knows the local history of ginseng. If you are in ginseng country, such venerable resources are often available and will appreciate your interest.

Asking for local advise, however, always incurs a risk. The major drawback of planting wild-simulated ginseng is the seven to ten years your ginseng must stand in the forest subject to predatation, especially human, before it reaches maturity. The fewer folks who know about its presence, the better. If ginseng digging, as old timers call hunting wild ginseng, is still part of your area's culture, then very likely the boundaries of your property will not be respected, especially in the fall when the berries are bright crimson and east spot. As one Kentucky growers told me:"You're growing ginseng and everybody is interested in your claim!". You must consider whether poaching will be a problem and, if so, whether you can minimize or prevent it.

Poachers pose a potential threat to all ginseng farmers, but especially to those simulating the wild conditions. Ginseng poaching is a felony in some states, but a cultivated hillside of mature plants is terribly exciting to a ginseng digger who may never have seen so much ginseng in all his/her life. Although poached roots are usually traceable to the scene of the crime by soil comparison, the ginseng poachers is likely to believe that, once dug, your roots are nearly as negotiable and untraceable as cash.

Somce people put up fences, others keep large, loud dogs. Most stay close to home during the growing season, especially in the fall, and those that succeed usually keep good relations with their neighbors and keep quiet about the ginseng they are growing.

Planting and Maintenance:

Assuming you have a promising piece of woodland and do not feel threatened by poachers, wild-simulated growing is relatively easy. Avoiding low-lying wet areas, you first do whatever clearing underneath the trees that is necessary. The thicker you intend to plant, the more competition you need to remove. As a rule of thumb, if the undergrowth makes it difficult to rake the leaves up, then you definitely need to do some thinning. The extreme would be to clear all undergrowth-uprooting small trees, grubbing out vines, and spraying the woodland weeds with a commercial herbicide. Competition will be reduced and air circulations will be improved. On the other hand, if you intend to plant thinly, the less you disturb the area the few problems you are likely to have with disease.

In the fall or early spring, you rake aside the leaf litter and loose the soil surface an half inch or an inch deep with a heavy-tined garden rake, leaving some areas untouched to eventually serve as walkways. Scatter ginseng seeds fairly thinly and rake them in, or walk on them, or both. Cover the planted area with the original leaf litter, adding a little extra mulch if you are planting after the autumn leaf fall or in the spring, and let growth occur naturally. If you are preparing a large area and have a good tiller available, you can save a step by raking aside the leaves, hand casting the seeds, and cutting them into the soil with the tiller set at one inch, then cover with leaf litter.

Protecting the seeds with a little dirt and a thin coating of leaves or other mulch is extremely important. Seeds are subject to drying out and to damage from repeated freezing and thawing if they are not covered properly. Even with mulch, some of those are or near the soil surface will be eaten by the many creatures that hunt underneath the leaves.

On one-tenth of an acre, about 4,356 square feet, growers sow anywhere from one to eight pounds of seed. In a wild-simulated planting, less than three pounds per tenth-acre, there is a good chance that disease control will be unneccessary. The thinker you sow, the more preparation and care you will have to encounter and contribute, and the more roots you should eventually have to sell. Consider also your available time and the accessibility of the planting site.

Closer spacing not only reduces ventilations, creating higher huminity in which fungus diseases prosper, but closeness also facilitates the spread of disease. Disease can spread over the surface of the soil from stem to stem, through the soil by root contact, between foliage when infected leaves touch or fall on healthy leaves, and by raindrops splashing spores from diseased to healthy plants. Crowding also may place the plants in competition with each other for sunlight, water, and soil nutrients, thereby stressing them and making them more vulnerable to both diseases and unusually harsh weather conditions.

Wild-simulated ginseng planting does not require a great deal of maintenance. Only if weeds are taking over should they be thinned. On planting sites where weeds are especially think, some ginseng farmers apply herbicide in the spring a few weeks before the ginseng emerges. However, several growers are convinced that weeds actually inhibit disease. If an infestation of rodents or insects threatens the crop, rodenticides or insecticides are applied. When thicker planting makes disease more likely, twice weekly inspections are prudent and fungicide spraying is common practice. Some wild-simulated growers irrigate and fertilize . In doing so, they make enhance root weight but produce roots less similar in appearance to the wild and therefore less valuable.

The Yield:

While wild-simulated ginseng roots usually approach or equal to wild in quality and price, the eventual worth of wild-simulated planting is difficult to predict. The natural ferility of the particular planting site, which is left unchanged, will determine both the quantity and the quality of the ginseng that can be grown there. The wild-simulated ginseng grower will have to learn through experience and by trial and error.

Based on my own observations and what other growers report, a successful half-acre wild-simulated garden might yield a crop worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 in six to ten years. Dr. D. B. Settles of Nicholasville, Kentucky, says that in six years on half a acre he raises about $45,000 worth of ginseng indistingguishable from the wild.

by W. Scott Persons, author of "American Ginseng Green Gold"

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