S P I C E I N D E X
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G r o w i n g S p i c e
Here are some easy to follow instructions on growing your own spices.
For more information about climatic growing zones, click here for map.
Growth: Acacia (nilotica) is an evergreen and very thorny tree that can grow between 10 - 20 meters high.
Native to: Africa, but also found in the Caribbean, the Middle East, India and Australia.
How to grow acacia: Take the seed fresh or old and boil it for about an hour. Allow to cool over night. Remove floating or broken seeds and plant directly where you want to grow. Between 1 week to 3 months you will know if the seed has germinated or not. It has been noted that the tree self-germinates more quickly after a forest fire. Tree planters who have used this observation and pre-treated the seeds with smoke noticed a higher success rate of germination. Another method is to injure the seed into growth action. Cut with a knife or use a file to scrape off part of its protective mantle before planting. Young plants are fragile, but require no maintenance once established. Plants are considered a serious pest in South Africa and Australia.
Time to seed: Anytime where the climate and soil exists to support the species. The seeds fall and self-germinate, or they may lay dormant for years waiting for a signal to wake them into growing.
Sun: Bright sun, no shade. Very drought resistant once established.
Zone: 9-11; frost sensitive when young.
Soil: Grows best in dry soil that is subject to seasonal runoff or that brings gravel, clay and soil. Drought resistant. Can tolerate poor soil.
Time to harvest: Rainy season because trunks ooze gum.
Harvest: The wood is water- and insect-resistant, and produces gum-resign, leaves, flowers, roots, shoots and seedpods. While the seedpods and fresh shoots can be used as a vegetable, the air-dried seeds function as a marginal source of protein for humans in times of duress. Acacia seeds are a good source of food for camel, sheep, goat and cattle. Dried acacia gum powder can be added to almost any dish by mixing or finely sprinkling on the surface.
Attracts friends: Bees and othe rpollinating insects.
Environmental benefits and concerns: Replenishes poor soil, aids in reversing desertification; windbreaker and good boarder trees. Its wood is hard, sturdy, long lasting and resistant to termites and other pests. Acacia has become a serious invasive pest on the continent of Australia.
Storage: Keep fine powdered acacia gum safe in a plastic bag and in a dark and dry place.
Growth: Anise is an annual plant that can reach 3-feet hight.
Native to: Mediterranean; but also found around the globe where the climate allows.
How to grow anise: Anise is easy to grow and is best grown from seeds but does not like to be transplanted; so plant where you want it to stay. Sow directly into the garden, after the last frost has passed, in full sun, about ½ inch deep and in rows that are 3-feet apart to avoid crowding. Keep moist until established, and water regularly.
Time to seed: Early spring.
Sun: Full sun.
Zone: 6 – 10.
Soil: Loose, normal but well drained soil.
Time until harvest: About 3-4 months.
Harvest: When you notice that the flowers become heavy with seed-growth they will begin to lean and the petals will die. Take this as your cue. Cut the flowers at this stage and spread them out, one layer deep, on a dry surface and let them finish drying in the sun. Once completely dry, rub the flowers and seeds between your fingers or your hands to separate the seeds, blow gently to separate seeds and flower or use a sieve. Keep the seeds in a dry and dark glass container.
Attracts friends: Butterflies, bees, parasite-eating wasps.
Environmental benefits: Attracts beneficial insects for organic pest control. Adds fragrance and flowers.
Storage: Keep seeds in dry and dark container.
Growth: Basil is an annual plant that - depending on species and growing conditions - can vary between 1-foot to 4-feet high.
Native to: India; but is now grown anywhere a sunny and warm climate supports it.
How to grow basil: Basil can easily be grown in the garden or inside in pots. Outside, plant the seed directly into the soil about a ¼ inch deep into trenches. Cover them with good soil and keep them slightly moist until the seeds begin to sprout. Once the plants have a few leaves (3 or 4) you can begin to thin them a bit. Give the plant a little less than a foot of space it will have the space to spread out and develop well, providing you with plenty of leaves to harvest. As soon as flowers appear try to clip them right away to sustain abundant leaf growth.
Time to seed: Plant the seeds in spring after the last frost.
Sun: Full sun.
Zone: 10 – 11.
Soil: Prefers organic, well-drained and rich soil. The plant does not like to be in dry soil.
Time to harvest: You can pick the leaves off the plant as soon as they are mature enough to sustain some picking. Start at the top and pick leaves from several plants so as to spread the potential stress damage and reduce the recovery and re-growth rate.
Harvest: Leaves can be harvested year-round and used in cooking, salads or for medicinal purposes. Frequent picking starting on top encourages more growth, especially when supplied with organic soil support.
Attracts friends: Bees and butterflies.
Environmental benefits: Basil has been reported to repel flies, mosquitoes, aphids, whiteflies and hornworms (a common pest for tomatoes).
Food: Use basil in a thousand dishes and salads.
Storage: Best used fresh but can be dried on a clean cloth in the sun and stored in a dry and dark container.
Growth: As a wild shrub Bush tea grows up to 6-feet high.
Native to: South Africa’s Cedarberg Mountain only.
How to grow bush tea: From seed to mature shrub takes about 2 years. Bush tea only grows in the Cedarberg Mountains of South Africa. The plants make few seeds, which are also very tiny in nature. Plants have been self-propagating in the wild, but some local farmers have been successful at growing them as crops. The seeds are nurtured in shallow soil containing beds until they are about 5-7 inches high and are then planted into the ground around Cedarberg.
Time to seed: The seeds are planted during the South African fall months of February and March; but the plant has so far been determined to only grow in the region from whence it came. Propagation in other countries and regions has not been successful.
Sun: Full sun.
Zone: 8 – 9.
Soil: The plant does well only in the soil and conditions of Cedarberg. The most bioactive tea is from wild crafted plants from areas not clear-cut to promote mono-cultured tea fields. However, as with many other species, wild bush tea and its inherent biodiversity may be endangered from over-use due to worldwide demand, which has risen sharply as local farmers try to meet the global need.
Time to harvest: When the plant has reached a height of 1.5-2 meters or after about 2 years. With the current harvest methods, the shrub - which is not actually a tea plant species but an herb - can produce tea for about 5 years.
Harvest: The needle-like leaves and small stems are harvested in the South African summer November through January. The leaves are dried in the sun and produce a tea more yellow in color with a higher anti-oxidant content. In addition, you can chop the leaves, which allows the fermentation process to take place. The latter technique produces a bright red color and stronger flavor.
Attracts friends: Pollinating insects and birds.
Environmental benefits: Bush tea prevents soil erosion as roots quickly reach deep in search for sparse water.
Food: Caffeine-free beverages and soup stock.
Storage: Bush tea keeps well in a dry, dark and covered container.
Growth: Caraway is a biennials up to 2-feet high.
Native to: From the region of South-Central Europe to Asia; but nowadays grown anywhere the climate supports it.
How to grow caraway: Caraway is a biennial plant, which means it takes 2 seasons to reach maturity and produce seeds. A little secret: if you want to speed up the process, it sometimes works to plant the seeds in fall and harvest the next summer. However, this is somewhat of a gamble.
Begin planting the seeds in shallow trenches in spring after the first frost has passed; cover them with a thin layer of good soil and keep slightly moist until the first leaves begin to show. Thin the plants so that each plant you want to keep has an umbrella of space measuring about 2 feet to reach its size potential. Keep in mind that caraway does not transplant well. Keep weeds clear from your plants. Caraway can reach up to 2-feet high and has leaves similar to those of carrots.
If you live in areas where you have four marked seasons, mark the spot where you planted the caraway and protect the plant with some mulch during the winter. It will most likely die off but return to complete its growth cycle. Once caraway is established, the plant will self-sow and continuously propagate, sometimes becoming overpowering.
Time to seed: Plant in fall or spring directly into the soil.
Sun: Full sun; but dislikes excessive heat and humidity.
Zone: 3 – 7.
Soil: Organic, fertile soil that drains well but is moisture retentive. The plant can withstand some dry conditions, but once established should be watered about once a week. Add organic compost material once during the season to assure plenty of growth, flowers and seeds.
Time to harvest: Late summer or early fall (usually in September), depending on the dryness of flowers and seeds.
Harvest: Leaves, root and seeds. The leaves can be harvested for your needs as soon as the plant is big enough to sustain the loss of a few. The plant will begin to produce seeds in the second year. The flower of the plant will produce an abundance of caraway seeds. Cut the flowers once they begin to dry and get heavy with seeds. Hang the flower stems upside down covered by a brown paper bag. A fine screen should cover the opening of the bag and catch the seeds as the air drying process is completed. Allow them to dry slowly to preserve the oils. You can also shake the bag to make sure that most seeds dropped down. At the end of the growth cycle you can dig up the roots and use them like a root vegetable similar to that of fennel root or celery.
Attracts friends: Small parasitic wasps, bees, lacewing, hoverflies, pirate bugs and big eyed bugs.
Environmental benefits: Can loosen compacted soil environments and thus support rooting of other plants normally stunned by such conditions.
Food: Leaves are used as garnish in salads soups and many other dishes. The seeds are often used in baking, cheese and soups.
Storage: Caraway seeds with potent oil content keep well for about a year. Keep them in a dry and dark container. They can still be used after that time but it is most likely that most of the plants properties will diminish with time.
Growth: Cardamom is a perennial up to 4-meters high.
Native to: Tropical Southeast Asia; also grows anywhere else with similar climates.
How to grow cardamom: Cardamom is grown in wild or cultivated gardens in tropical Southeast Asia and is usually propagated by rhizome division. However, cardamom can be grown from fresh, organic, non-irradiated or otherwise treated seeds. The hard seed sprouts more easily if given a signal to initiate growth. A good signal is a cut (not into the core), smoke, hot water or a file/sandpaper scratch Place indoor in pots with rich moist soil to facilitate growth.
Time to seed: Organic environments foster self-propagation for the plant. Cardamom spreads across the forest floor, reaching out a maximum span of 16 feet. The surrounding trees are trimmed and vines and weeds are prevented from overgrowing the plant.
Sun: Needs filtered shade.
Zone: 10 – 11.
Soil: Continuously moist but not muddy.
Attracts friends: Pollinating bees and hummingbirds.
Environmental benefits: Conserves soil and water, maintains mountain watersheds; good storage of atmospheric carbon; intense and pleasant scent. Gardens can be maintained in the forest without destroying the forest ecology. Large trees are left standing to provide the needed shade. Provides partial and sustainable income for local families who in turn participate in protecting the forest and its biodiversity.
Food: Many foods around the world utilize the seeds’ oils and spice.
Storage: Cardamom seeds are best stored left in their pods. Put the pods in a covered glass container and the seeds shoul retain its flavor and properties for many years to come. Powdered cardamom does not store well or long.
Growth: This cayenne pepper is an annual (e.g. North America) and perennial (e.g. Central and South America), depending on the climate; reaches not quite 2-feet high.
Native to: South America (most likely).
How to grow cayenne: Cayenne peppers are relatively easy to grow. Seeds can be placed straight into the soil or started in seedbeds or pots.
Time to seed: Springtime, once the frost has passed and you are sure the ground will stay warm.
Sun: Outside of their native hot climates the cayenne peppers need full sun. Consider some shade during the peak sun hours to reduce the potential for sun-damage.
Zone: 9 – 11.
Soil: Work the soil with organic compost and prepare by loosening. Use mulch to support even moisture content. Too dry or excessively moist soils will diminish the plant’s strength.
Harvest: Late summer or fall. Sizes of cayenne peppers may vary, depending on the species; they usually extend 2-6 inches in length. It takes about 3 months from seed to harvest. Pick the peppers when they transition from green to a full red color and snap off easily. However, it is better to cut the cayenne peppers to reduce the injury rate to the plant. Also, remember to not touch your eyes or other mucus membranes once handling cayenne to avoid burning sensations.
Attracts friends: Flowering plant attracts Bees especially on hot days.
Environmental benefits and concerns: Powdered cayenne pepper, hot pepper spray, tinctures or wax is used by some as an animal or insect deterent. However, it is a relatively violent method to painfully irritate the mucusmembranes in the snouts, noses and eyes of squirrls, deer, gofers, mice, rabbits as well as your own cats and dogs. There are more humane means to perhaps achieve the same goals.
Food: Fresh in salsas or sauces, dried or pickled as seasoning.
Storage: Keep dried whole peppers or powdered pepper in a dry, tight glass jar and in a dark spot to maintain potent taste and properties.
Growth: Cinnamon is a tropical and sub-tropical evergreen tree that grows between 18-30 feet high.
Native to: Cinnamon trees were apparently once indigenous to the island of Sri Lanka-more specifically the Sinharaja rainforest. Nowadays, the tree grows in parts of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South-America, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean islands and in parts of tropical Africa (such as Ghana or the islands of Zanzibar and Madagascar).
How to grow cinnamon: Wild cinnamon trees are quite different from farmed cinnamon trees, which are grown for about two to three years until the roots are well established. The tree is then cut down. Dozens of thin shoots will soon spring from the edge of original tree stump. These are harvested every rainy season. Actually, it’s the bark that is harvested from these little finger-size shoots. The bark is stripped off and cut into shorter strips and dried. The bark curls as if still trying to clothe the shoot and hardens in place, which is why the sticks look the way they do.
Cinnamon trees do not like to be disturbed once roots have taken place. Grown from seed or cultivated from cutting starts in pots or trays but requires the right environment and care to flourish, especially when outside its native habitat. Although it takes more effort, it is possible to grow cinnamon elsewhere.
Time to seed: Year around in its native habitat.
Sun: Prefers tropical sunshine with partial shade. Can be grown outside the tropics, but can’t handle frost very well or prolonged cool periods.
Zone: 9 – 11.
Soil: Deep layers of well drained soil rich in nutrients and frequent rain.
Harvest: The rainy season makes the bark softer which in turn makes it easier to strip the bark from the shoots. Cinnamon is harvested after each rainy season. Strip the bark’s outer layer from its shoots, cut them into the desired lengths and dry them in a dark space until they are hard. That’s it - at least as far a ‘novice’ is concerned.
Sri Lanka is the island country with the oldest and undoubtedly most proud tradition of procuring the best cinnamon in the world. Cinnamon growers and cutters are on the top of their game having perfected the complex art and skill of growing, cutting and curing the island’s cinnamon that requires seasoned knowledge and experience.
However, a wild cinnamon tree will allow you to take a clipping of a small branch. Grind away at the bark for the cinnamon you need. If you cut from the main trunk, take small pieces only and do not cut across the circumference of the bark or you will kill the tree.
Attracts friends: The spicy, sweet smelling white flowers and bark attract birds and bees.
Environmental benefits: Many cinnamon farms, especially on Sri Lanka, are organic small-time home-growers who make an economically and environmentally sustainable living on a relatively small space.
Food: Cinnamon is used in a great many dishes, savory and sweet alike.
Storage: Cinnamon can last virtually forever if stored in a dry and dark place. However, it may lose its flavor and properties if ground and stored over time. Best to grind the amount you need at the time.
Growth: Clove is an evergreen and tropical tree, which reaches up to 40-feet high in the wild. At this size it can sprout a dense canopy about 15-feet wide.
Native to: The Indonesian Molucca islands; but is now also grown on Zanzibar, Madagascar and other parts of East Africa. The clove tree only grows within sight of the oceans. Inland propagation has failed. Clove production takes place almost entirely on islands and coastal properties.
How to grow clove: Clove trees grow from seeds or cuttings. Allow the seeds to ripen on the tree and fall on their own accord. Pick seeds, soak them over night in a container of water, and plant them the next day in a container filled with loose, rich organic soil at a depth about half an inch and about the same distance apart. Protect them from extreme sun and weather. In about two weeks the trees will begin to sprout. When the roots are well established, transplant the seedlings into larger containers and let them grow in a sheltered shady environment. Remove any unhealthy looking plants to avoid contamination. Transplant the tree about a year or two afterwards, ideally into a diverse garden that allows for partial shade. Flowers and seeds may not appear until the tree matures about five to seven years later.
Time to seed: In the summer months when the seeds begin to fall on their own accord. Do not let them lie on the ground for more than a few days. You can achieve higher germination when the seeds are freshly fallen.
Sun: Tropical sun with partial shade.
Zone: 10-11. Does well especially in costal climate in zones with temperatures between 15 – 30 Cº. It cannot handle frost conditions.
Soil: Well drained soil, with an ideally even distribution of sufficient rain.
Harvest: The buds are picked by hand just as they begin to open. Break the clusters into individual pieces, spread them in a shallow fashion onto a breathable and clean surface, and allow them to dry slowly in the sun. The complete process may take up to five days.
Attracts friends: Bees, birds, pollinating bats.
Environmental benefits: Honey collected from hives near clove trees is a specialty.
Storage: In a dry container, kept out of the sun.
Growth: Cocoa grows almost anywhere within an imaginary belt of 10º degrees North and South of the equator. The tree can reach up to 60-feet high in the wild, while most plantation trees remain near 25 feet.
How to grow cocoa: Cocoa trees prefer warmth and evenly constant, moist weather conditions common to many islands near the equator. However, they do not like windy conditions, but rather prefer sheltered ones. Cocoa provides the most potent properties of taste and therapeutics when grown in mixed organic gardens that include papaya, banana, coconuts and many other local and sustainable crops that share an affinity for similar sun, soil and weather conditions. Cocoa trees are self-pollinating.
Take a seedpod from a cocoa tree that you know has a high yield to ensure abundant future harvests. Plant them in containers filled with rich, moist, organic soil. Within a few months the baby cocoa plant will have sprouted and developed a sufficient root system that allows for a successful transplant into the ground.
Native to: Equatorial Americas; but nowadays they also grow in areas within 10º of the equator.
Time to seed: Grown from seed or from rooted branch cuttings. In the tropics where cocoa grows; the growing season is continuous.
Sun: Cocoa trees grow best as an under-story tree to larger tropical trees that allow for diffused sunlight.
Zone: In temperature zones almost anywhere within an imaginary belt of 10º degrees North and South of the equator.
Soil: Loose, moist, rich soil.
Harvest: The tropical cocoa tree carries fruit throughout the year and is harvested twice a year. Only the ripe fruit is picked - which takes some experience.
Attracts friends: Bees.
Environmental benefits and concerns: Since cocoa trees do best as an under-story tree, the tree promotes the existence of large canopy trees that together provide a natural biodiversity and environment for other plant and animal.
The plant itself also seems stronger in organic mixed environments that allow for natural and self-balancing pest control. Larger plantations are often hounded by pest problems that can destroy large portions of plantation in a relatively short amount of time.
Storage: The ripe pods are harvested, cut open and the seeds are extracted and poured into bins which are covered completely with fresh banana leaves. The seeds are left there for a few days (2-5) to ferment, which produces a significant amount of heat that you can easily feel by touching the leaves. The fermentation brings about the cocoa flavor. After this process completes, place single layers of the seeds on trays, exposing them to the sun until completely dried. Quickly cover the trays in the event of sudden tropical rain. Finally, sort by size and de-shell, roast and ground into a thick liquid. Extract the cocoa butter and cocoa powder - the raw materials for chocolate and a host of other products.
Growth: The coconut is a tropical tree can reach to up to 100 feet.
Native to: Scientists contest the exact origin of the coconut tree.
How to grow coconut: Choose a ripe and fallen, brown and wrinkly looking coconut with its outer shell intact. Soak it in a container of water for three days. Use a 3-5 gallon pot. Fill the pot with a few rocks at the bottom for good drainage, and top it off with 2/3 rich organic soil mixed with 1/3 sand. Place the coconut halfway deep into the pot - pretty much the way you found it on the ground. Now the nut is covered half by soil, while the other half is exposed to the air. Find a warm spot with sun and partial shade. Begin watering the nut daily with lukewarm water keeping it constantly moist but not wet to produce germination. This requires patience and diligence. Think of it as your baby that needs daily care. Too much water will rot the nut, while not enough water results in stagnation. The whole process may take several months for signs of life to appear. Some coconuts begin sprouting on top, while others begin shooting roots. Once the plant has solidly taken, you can transplant it to its permanent spot. You can use organic fertilizer from compost to nurture the tree into maturity.
Time to seed: The coconut is a tough nut. It is able to survive long voyages on the salty ocean seas and sprout when washed ashore thousands of miles away. In a native climate anytime.
Sun: Initially partial shade and later full sun to partial shade.
Zone: 10 – 11.
Soil: The coconut can thrive in a great variety of soil types as long as sufficient water, proper microorganisms and nutrients are available.
Harvest: As soon as the nut appears, matures and falls by itself, which may take several years.
Attracts friends: Coconut crabs are not just the largest hermit crabs in the world but they are also the only animal that is able to cut open a coconut and consume its content.
Environmental benefits: Virtually every part of the tree is used in a myriad of natural products produced by mom and pop family businesses as well by larger industries; from food to medicines, from household articles, building materials to charcoal. The list of coconut-related products is perhaps longer than that of any other tree.
Storage: Coconuts can be stored for long periods, conserving coconut water and flesh.
Growth: Fennel is a perennial plant that can grow up to 4-7 feet in height.
Native to: Mediterranean but found worldwide where climate is somewhat similar.
How to grow fennel: Save some seeds from your last harvest and, after the last frost, sow them directly into your garden where you have full sun and well-drained soil. Cover the seeds lightly with a thin layer of soil approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep and about a foot apart. Keep the soil only slightly moist until the first sign of growth appears. Fennel is easy to grow once geminated and needs very little attention or watering.
Time to seed: Late spring, after frost has passed. The plant is self-seeding once established.
Sun: Full Sun but can tolerate some shade.
Zone: 5 – 10
Soil: Regular soil, well drained, may add some organic compost
Harvest: Root bulbs, leafs and seeds (fresh and dried). Harvest seeds when they turn brown and dry. Rub them off the flower-stems and collect in a brown paper bag and store them in a dark and dry place. The leaves can be picked anytime once the plant is big enough to sustain a partial picking. Dig up the root, clear off the soil wash and use fresh or dry.
Attracts friends: Spittlebugs, butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, ladybugs, lacewing, hoverflies, parasitic mini wasps and big-eyed bugs.
Environmental benefits: Fast growing plant for fragrance and flowers, shelter for beneficial garden insects, natural pest control and soil erosion prevention. Fennel fragrance has been reported to repel fleas.
Food: The leaves can be used in salads, to flavor sandwiches and soups. The stems can be cut like coins and be added to salads and soups or eaten raw. Bulbs are used in many stews and soups. Seeds can be added to spreads, cheeses and breads.
Storage: Fennel bulb and leaf is best used fresh but can keep for a few days covered in a plastic bag placed in the refridgerator. Dried seeds are kept in glass with a tight lid. Color and properties remain stronger if kept out of the light.
Caution: Do not mistake fennel with poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), which while there are similarities between the plants hemlock has purple spots or streaks especially at the bottom of the stems also called the ‘blood of Socrates’ after the legend that tells of hemlock being used to poison the ancient philosopher. The leaves of hemlock are flat while those of fennel are fine like a needle. Hemlock also has a distinct ‘musty’ smell to it while fennel smells much like anise. So, if in doubt trust your nose and your eyes. Toxic doses of hemlock function as a muscle paralyser. Once the diaphragm and heart muscle are affected death can occur.
Growth: Garlic is an annual plan that is available as hundreds of species ranging between 1 – 4 feet in height. Bulb grows below ground.
Native to: Mediterranean and Central Asia but today is grown pretty much anywhere.
How to grow garlic: Garlic plants are very easy to grow in pots and gardens alike. The individual garlic clove is the seed. Plant them upright with the pointy end up and the ‘flat’ end down, about an inch deep into moist and good organic soil. Each garlic clove will produce a bulb containing about a couple dozen cloves themselves. With that in mind space them about 3-4 inches apart to avoid crowding.
Time to seed: To grow big and savory bulbs with potent medicinal properties may take a bit of experience. It starts with choosing a potent and rich clove stock. Pick the best from your last season or buy good stock from a trusted local organic grocer or farmer. Break the bulb just prior to planting to separate the individual cloves. Use only those cloves that come of the base easily and cleanly.
Garlic can be planted in late fall or early spring. The fall and spring equinoxes in either the northern or southern hemisphere are generally a good marker to plant garlic. Garlic planted late in the year will develop roots first and may develop a short top shoot which will quickly grow after the last frost of the year in spring has vanished. While garlic can handle some frost and winter condition it is advised to cover the winter garlic with a layer of straw/ mulch for extreme frost protection and for moisture retention later. However, if you want to grow garlic in a warmer climate you need to cool the garlic to about 50º F for 2 to 3 week to trigger the impulse to sprout.
Sun: Full sun.
Zone: Garlic is very hardy in zones 7 – 10. However, garlic lovers all over the world have success stories attesting to the fact that all zones can support the growth of garlic. Some species will do better than others under the many various climate conditions. Ask a local grower who has some good experience and try to replicate method and species.
Soil: Rich, organic well drained soil. Use natural manure to fertilize the soil to enhance chances of growing potent bulbs. Keep weeds at bay. Keep the early garlic evenly moist but not wet. Once the plant is established an occasional watering is enough especially if you use mulch. Reduce watering to near zero a few weeks before harvest time. This may take some practice and experience.
Harvest: Rule of thumb, when about half of the lengths of the leaves of the plant has turned brown and begins to wither away it is time to harvest. Double-check to see if the bulb is large and full and without cracks. Small bulbs – too early; cracked bulbs – too late.
Pull the bulbs with the help of a small shovel and gently remove most of the soil without bruising the bulbs. Gently braid them together by their shoots not unlike in the old vampire moves where garlic braids are used for protection. Hang them in a dark and dry place, at about room temperature, with even and gentle ventilation, for a two to three weeks until they are evenly dry. Look for dry ‘wrappers’ but bulbs fat and rich with nutrients.
Now it is time to select those great bulbs for your next harvest and just put them aside as they are. Keep the in a dark and dry place until it is time to plant them.
The rest of the garlic bulbs must now be readied for storage or consumption. For eating cut the roots, leaving about ½ an inch in place and cut the top leaves without damaging the deeper protective wrappers. This keeps them fresh. Remove the dry dirt and the dirty outer layer of the wrappers and place the bulbs into a net, which you can hang into your pantry or kitchen area for easy access.
Attracts friends: Garlic not just protects against ‘vampires’ but also serves as a garden pest deterrent and is often planted at the boarders of other crops more prone to succumb to fungi other garden pests.
Environmental benefits: Protects some large leaf vegetables from aphids and snails such as cabbage and lettuce. Deters Japanese beetle.
Storage: In cool, dry and well-ventilated place garlic can last for up to a year. Store only undamaged bulbs and cloves. Remember to not to put the garlic bulbs or cloves into a refrigerator or as soon you take them out and expose the garlic to room temperature it will be initiated to sprout, making it unsuitable for cooking and consumption.
Growth: Ginger is a tropical and sub-tropical perennial plant between 2 – 6 feet in height depending on which of the many species you plant.
Native to: Ginger is thought to have originated in part of Asia but is now at home in India, West Africa and the Caribbean.
How to grow ginger: Buy the type of organic ginger rhizome from a grocer you would like to grow. Look for fat, solid, robust and smooth surfaces with many buds and avoid those with cracks or a dry and wrinkled surface. Soak the rhizomes in warm water over night. Place the ginger into the planting container with the buds pointing up. Cover them with soil leaving but the surface exposed. Water the rhizomes lightly to keep them slightly moist but not wet. Once the shoots appear, after about 10 days to 2 weeks, water a bit more. During its growth cycle the plant will reach an average height of 4 feet depending on species. Most ginger species flower from July through September and some have striking foliage.
If you want to keep ginger in a pot use 3 – 5 gallon containers to allow the plant to expand nicely.
Time to plant: While it is more common in tropical and sub-tropical climates ginger can be grown outdoors anywhere where the climate can sustain its growth. If not, Ginger can be grown inside in pots. Keep the plant inside until you can be reasonably sure that the average outdoor temperature will be about 75º F. Once the temperature goes below 50º F and approach near freezing the plant will die. Ginger is very frost sensitive. For outside planting choose a wind-sheltered location.
Sun: Young plants need a bright spot but must be protected by shade. Even once the plant is established shade or at least a majority of partial shade is crucial for many ginger species to thrive.
Zone: 9 – 11
Soil: Organic well drained potting soil enriched with compost. Ginger can be grown in many different soil environments. If growing in containers place some rock at the bottom of the pot to avoid over watering.
Harvest: While in general your sign to indicate the proper time to harvest is when the leafs begin to turn brown and wilt away, most plants grow fast enough that parts can be used after only about 4 – 6 months of growth. Once the plant is established and growing well, cut some of the new vertical shoots, as you need them for cooking of medicine. To harvest the rhizome cut the new horizontally growing rhizomes off the base-rhizome of the plant. Clean the rhizomes gently and place the on a clean and breathable cover in the sun to dry.
To know the variation of specific tastes and special medicinal properties takes knowledge and experience and is a ‘science’ by itself. However, the general properties discussed in this book are applicable to most species of ginger. There are a great many books available on how to work with ginger much more precisely and specifically.
Ginger goes dormant in colder winters. It ‘hibernates.’ Let it dry and begin care with the new cycle of spring.
Attracts friends: Some ginger flowers give of a spice scent that attracts bees, butterflies and birds.
Environmental benefits: The spice scent of the plant repels some garden pest.
Storage: Fresh ginger can be stored safely for a few weeks when kept in a brown paper bag and placed in the refrigerator. Store dry powdered ginger in a tight container and keep in a dark and dry place.
GRAINS OF PARADISE
Growth: Grains of Paradise is a perennial up to 3 feet in height and similar in look and growth to ginger or turmeric.
Native to: Native to West Africa but grows also is other regions on the continent.
How to grow grains of paradise: The plant is grown from seed. One seedpod can contain hundred of small seeds.
Time to seed: Year around.
Sun: Partial shade.
Zone: 11-12. Average coolest temperature in coastal Ghana is about 24°C.
Soil: Rich, well drained soil.
Harvest: The fresh seedpods are harvested when they turn to a dark red coloration. To dry them, place them as a single layer, in the sun on a breathable, clean surface for about a week to ten days. The pods are dry when the have a wrinkled, black appearance and are hard and solid when you touch them.
Attracts friends: The lily-like flower attracts bees and butterflies.
Environmental benefits: This plant can easily be grown in local West African gardens on small lots of land and produce enough seeds to supplement the household income of the grower’s families. The plant will mature in less than a year and can produce seeds for ten or more years.
Storage: The dried pods containing hundreds of seeds ‘for safe keeping’ can be stored for a long time as long as it is in a dry and dark place. Break the pods and use the loose seeds as needed. Grind the seeds into a fine powder. Any unbroken seed pieces will crunch like sand when you chew on them making the experience somewhat unpleasant.
Growth: Myrrh is a small tree or shrub that grows up to 4 meters (12 feet) in height.
Native to: East Africa, Namibia and the Southern Arabian Peninsula.
How to grow myrrh: The myrrh tree is a very tough plant and appears to love a solitary life the kind that can be found in the rocky desert landscapes of Namibia, Somalia, Oman or Ethiopia. The plant can handle the fierce sun and the little and only occasional water on top of rocky, sandy soil which makes it pretty much impossible to have any companions nearby. Myrrh trees that produce potent resign cannot be farmed but need to grow wild. In actuality very little is known and reported about how to grow the myrrh tree. Even though it is a valuable crop, there are no myrrh plantations, which speaks to the difficulty of man-made propagation.
If you are able to obtain some seeds plant a dozen or so about an inch apart in a spiral fashion about half an inch deep into a one-gallon clay pot. If you have more than one seed sprouting support the strongest one or separate them into individual pots. Try to re-create the plants environment. Find a solitary spot that provides bright light and plenty of warmth. If the roots reach the base transplant the plant into a larger container. Once the tree is established you may end up changing pots every year or so. Water the plant lightly and let the soil dry out completely in between. The plant will want to hibernate during the winter and may appear withered. Do not water during this time. Let it rest and begin to support the plant with the arrival of spring.
Time to seed: Late spring and well into the summer time. Collect seeds when you see the flowers wilting away. Keep them dry and dark until you are ready to seed.
Sun: Full, bright sun and heat.
Zone: 11-12. Low temperatures in Khartoum, Sudan average about 15°C.
Soil: Grows best in native, gravel like, desert soil. If you are growing the plant in pots, use clay, sand and a bit of gravel and mix well.
Harvest: While some of the resign oozes forth spontaneously, most of the myrrh resign is forced from the tree by tapping or incisions, about 5 cm in length, into the bark of a mature tree. The resign oozes out in tears and hardens a bit and is collected by the men during the beginning of hottest time of the year, which makes it a very difficult undertaking since they are collected by hand and the trees stand far apart. The cuts are repeated in the same spot on the bark for the next round of harvest. Collector transport the myrrh to caves in the mountains where they stay during the harvest until it is finished. The myrrh is than carefully moved by camel or donkey down from the mountains at night to the villages where it is dried in the shade for weeks and than carefully cleaned and sorted by the women. When this process is completed the myrrh is ready for sale.
Environmental concerns: Currently the self-regeneration of the myrrh trees is progressing very slowly. Scientists and collectors alike hypothesize that continued and intense tapping throughout the year may have reduced the trees ability to regenerate. To remedy the situation attempts are being made to implement a harvest limit and by providing alternating harvest breaks to enhance myrrh tree self-propagation.
Storage: Dried myrrh resign keeps for a long time when kept protected from moisture and the elements.
Growth: Nigella is a hardy, annual, flowering, hermaphrodite that can grow up about 1 foot high and wide.
Native to: Arabia, East Africa, Mediterranean and Western Asia.
How to grow nigella: Black seed is easy to grow from seed. Buy some organic seed and place them directly into soil after the last frost has passed. Place the seeds a ¼ inch deep and cover them lightly with soil. Moisten the seedbed slightly but do not over water. Once the plant is established it is quite drought tolerant and can get by with little water. Thinning of rows maybe necessary. Plants can also be transplanted. Remember the plant is self-seeding, especially if you have no frost during winter.
Time to seed: In Spring
Sun: Full sun and warm location preferred, the plant does not like shade.
Zone: 7 – 10
Soil: Well-drained clay based, sandy soil but will tolerate most any good garden soil. The application of some nitrogen may enhance the therapeutic properties of the plant.
Harvest: Seeds ripen in fall. Allow the fruits to mature and dry on the plant. Immature fruits contain white seed kernel. Mature fruits are dry and when begin to crack open and offer up their content fully turned black seeds. Collect them and clean off the fruit capsule and wilted flower leafs.
Attracts friends: Bees, lacewing, hummingbirds and butterflies.
Environmental benefits: Dried black seeds are placed loosely in small cotton sacks, which are than placed in between woolen clothing to prevent insects from making a meal of it.
Storage: Store them in a dry and dark container for you usage or reseeding next spring.
Growth: Nutmeg is an evergreen tropical tree that can reach a height of about 60 feet.
Native to: Molucca (spice) islands of Indonesia. Today Indonesia and the Caribbean island Grenada are the principle producers of nutmeg, but it is also grown to a significant degree in Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia.
How to grow nutmeg: This tree species require a male and a female tree to grow nutmeg seeds. Collect the ripe seeds, ideally from trees that have shown a high yield in seed production, just as they are falling down by themselves or when their green/yellow outer shell is beginning to split revealing the mace and seed. Remove the fleshy outer layer as well as the bright red mace layer from the seed. It is best to plant the seeds as soon as possible. Fresher seed tend to have a higher germination rate. Prepare a shallow seedbed with a good mix of organic soil, sand and some manure. Place the seeds into the soil and cover them but slightly. Keep the bed moist but not wet. Germination may take between 1-3 months. Separate the sprouted seedling into approximate 3-gallon containers and keep them until they have well established root systems, stem and foliage. This can take between 1 and 2 years. Nutmeg grows well in a mixed garden that contains banana, cocoa, palm trees, coconut and other diffused shade providing tropical trees.
Time to seed: As the trees are falling from the tree or the outer shell begins to split.
Sun: Diffused and continuous shade is especially important for young nutmeg trees.
Zone: 11 or higher.
Soil: Well drained nutrient rich organic, clay and sand containing soil. Add frequent manure to assure a healthy plant.
Harvest: The tree announces its own harvest. When the seed begin to fall. It may take up to 6 – 7 years for the tree to reach the maturity needed to produce nutmegs. The seeds are collected and dried, single layer in the sun. The outer layer is removed and the mace is separated and also dried in the sun. The black seed kernel is broken with a mallet when the inside seed is loose enough to make a sound when shaken. What is left is the nutmeg. It is sold as a nutmeg or ground and sold as a powder.
Attracts friends: Bees and other pollinating insects and animals.
Environmental benefits: Nutmeg trees do well in diverse and organic gardens that have shown, especially on Grenada, to support a whole family with year around sustainable food production for consumption and sale.
Storage: Nutmeg as nut or powder stored in a dry and dark environment can stay potent for a very long time.
Growth: Oregano is a perennial plant that can reach up to 2 feet in height about 1 foot in width.
Native to: Mediterranean but can be grown is a variety of climates.
How to grow oregano: It is very easy to grow oregano. Obtain organic seeds and sprinkle them directly onto loose dry soil. If the soil is porous enough to allow the seeds to be slightly swallowed you don’t need to cover them with a very thin layer of topsoil. Use a spray bottle and apply a mist of water until the topsoil layer and the seeds are covered with a bit of water. Keep the soil slightly moist and in about a week or two you will see the tiny sprout rising from the soil. Allow them to form roots and a few leafs and grow until there are about three inches in height and than transplant them in clusters into their new home, a pot will do, or straight into the garden. Find a spot with good sun and well-drained soil and plant them a little less that a foot apart. Once the oregano plant are established in your garden they can handle relative dry conditions but not for prolonged periods of time. If you have a dry spell you can water the plants slightly about once a week. Increase leaf abundance, taste and oil content by removing the flowers from their stems as soon as they appear.
Time to seed: Seed directly into the garden soil in spring after the last frost has passed. You can start in seedbeds or pots inside weeks before.
Sun: Full sun.
Zone: 4 – 9
Soil: Loose, well drained, organic garden soil. No fertilizer needed, a curious fact, if you do fertilize, you will diminish oil of oregano intensity.
Harvest: You can begin harvesting oregano as soon as the plant has established several stems with multiple sets of leaves. The oil of oregano is more easily accessible in fresh leaves in the morning hours when the leaves pores are still more open than later in the day when the sun gets brighter.
To dry individually picked leaves, spread them out on a dry, clean and breathable surface. Keep them in a ventilated room until dry. You can also cut entire stems with leafs attached and hang them upside down in the same place until dry, and than remove them from the stem.
When the plant begins to wither in late fall or early winter cut the stems down to their base and cover the stumps with mulch to protect them from the winter environment. They will return for a couple of years before re-seeding is necessary.
Attracts friends: Bees, butterflies and other pollinating animals.
Storage: Fresh oregano kept in a small plastic bag and refrigerated or frozen will prolong their properties of taste and therapeutics.
Growth: In a frost-free area rosemary is hardy perennial plant can grow as a plant and as a shrub between 3 – 6 feet.
Native to: Most environments adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea.
How to grow rosemary: While rosemary can be grown from seed it is easier to make cuttings of about 3 – 6 inches long from fresh shoots of an established plant. Make several of the cuttings ideally in late spring when the plant is full of growing energy. Brush the leaves off the lower part of the stem and place them in a glass of water and place it on a warm windowsill until you have about an inch or more of roots. Or place the cleared stem directly into a small container containing your wet soil. Keep the plant in a sunny, sheltered location and keep the soil moist until you feel them rooted. Root growth may take up to two months. You can enhance your success rate by using an organic rooting enzyme and by dipping the leaf free stem about a ¼ inch deep into it and than into the wet soil.
Time to grow: Best when making cuttings in late spring or prior to flowering.
Sun: Full sun and some partial shade is o.k.
Zone: 6 - 10
Soil: Organic, well-drained normal garden soil will do fine. Once established, these plants are quite drought tolerant. No fertilizer required.
Harvest: Allow the plant to reach a couple of feet in height and you are ready to harvest. You can cut off a few new branches and pull the leaves off against their growing direction. Use the leaves fresh for you culinary or medicinal needs, freeze fresh or dry them as you desire. The plant will recover quickly and provide you with more leaves to work with.
Attracts friends: Hovering Syrphid flies help pollinate and Syrphid fly larvae will eat aphids and other soft bodies garden pests. They do not sting even if they look wasp like to some.
Environmental benefits: Protects from garden pests such as Carrot flies, Bean Beetles and Cabbage Moths
Storage: Hang the stems with their leaves in place upside down in a dark, dry and airy room. When dry peel the off the stem and keep them stored in a dry container until you need them.
Growth: Turmeric is a perennial plant that, depending on species grows on average from 3 to about 4 feet in height.
Native to: Tropical Southern Asia but is grown in many similar climates around the globe.
How to grow turmeric: The plant is propagated by dividing the rhizomes and than planting them in a new location. The transplant can be quick and easy in humid, tropical soil and climate while in other location it may take a bit more care. In a colder climate it can also be grown entirely on the inside and still produce potent turmeric.
Find some organic turmeric rhizomes, of the kind you like to grow, at a market or grower and pick several pieces that are shiny, fat in appearance, containing several fingers and do not have cracked or chapped dry skin.
To grow the plant in a 3 gallon pot choose a few pieces and place them into the soil covered with about a half an inch of soil. Keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. Cover with a plastic bag and keep in the dark. When applying water check to see which of the rhizomes are beginning to sprout. Weed out the rest and place the pot with the plant in a warm place with indirect but good light.
Time to grow: In the tropics anytime. In cooler climates you can give the plant a head start inside in pots or wait until the last frost has passed and plant straight into the soil. Temperature zone 8-11 can be planted straight into the soil. Move the plants inside before the first frost appears. Let the leaves wither and cut them down to the root and allow the plant to hibernate through the winter. Just a little of moisture occasionally is all the care required. Bring them out again next spring.
Sun: Full sun to partial shade.
Zone: 10 – 12
Soil: Well drained, loose, rich organic soil.
Harvest: It takes about 5 to 6 month to produce new rhizome growth. You can see the new growth as it will creep sideway right at the edge of soil and air. Harvest anytime after the plant has been established. In case of a cooler climate harvest part of the rhizomes as you prep the rest of plant for winter.
Attracts friends: The plant will produce flowers after a few growing cycles, usually between 2 to four years. The flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Environmental benefits: Ants do not like to cross-powdered turmeric.
Storage: Ground turmeric powder should be kept in a tight, dry container stored in a dark place.