NZ Lifestyle Block

10 things to know about growing ginseng

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IF YOU have a shady corner on your block, ginseng is a possible growing opportunit­y – if you're patient.

THE PLANT isn't difficult to grow. Once mature, it's about 70cm x 70cm, with glossy, dark-green leaves similar to a strawberry. The striking red berries grow in clusters over summer.

IT GROWS well in most parts of NZ but does best in areas with cold, hard winters and warm, dry summers. Glen says it's unlikely to do well in warm, humid parts of the country with mild winters. May to August is the best planting time.

IT TOLERATES a range of soil types, except for dense clay soils, which impede root developmen­t. Rich friable volcanic soils are ideal.

THE BEST site will have around 70-80% shade (especially in summer), such as under: - a pine plantation; - establishe­d deciduous trees; - a patch of native bush; - an establishe­d home orchard.

THE GROWING area needs to be free from weeds over the plant's lifetime, especially when it's young. Blackberry, if left unchecked, can quickly smother a crop within a couple of years.

GINSENG CAN be sown directly from seed, or you can plant out seedlings. Ginseng seeds and plants (aged six years) are available from NZ ginseng growers.

THE PLANTING rate is surprising­ly high at 10 plants per square metre. If planting in an establishe­d pine forest, you can get 20,000 plants per hectare. Not surprising­ly, many firsttime growers opt to plant a few hundred seedlings first time around to see how well it establishe­s before committing to a larger area.

IT’S RECOMMENDE­D you harvest ginseng once it's 8 years+ old – buying seedlings (vs sowing seeds) gives you a good head-start.

FENCING OFF the growing site is essential. Livestock, wild deer, and pigs love to browse ginseng. Rabbits, hares, and possums are also big fans. All need controllin­g to prevent them from wiping out a growing area. Pheasants have also developed a taste for Glen's ginseng plants and have prompted an arms race between the two parties. At this stage, Glen admits the pheasants are winning. His theory? He's convinced they're getting smarter every year as a result of eating his ginseng crops.

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