Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

Grow your own pot of yellow gold

- By Daleena Samara

What’s life without turmeric? Over the past months, rising turmeric prices and shortages have alarmed cooks and driven householde­rs out into the garden to grow their own. Demand has also been fuelled by claims that it is a preventati­ve treatment against Covid-19. Ayurvedic practition­ers have urged us to add a little turmeric to the morning’s warm saltwater mouthwash and gargle to keep the virus at bay.

Even before the pandemic, turmeric ( curcuma longa) shot to the ranks of super foods when the West got wise to its rich nutritive content and healing properties – informatio­n Asia has known for millennia. This small finger-like rhizome has been valued as a source of medicine and colouring agent throughout the region with the earliest reference to turmeric appearing in the Atharvaved­a (Ca 6000 yr BP) as a charm to ward off jaundice.

Native to Southeast Asia, turmeric is sought after for use in traditiona­l ayurvedic medicines. It has a long list of medicinal properties and is used to treat conditions ranging from depression to Alzheimer’s, upper respirator­y tract infections, bad skin, arthritis, other joint ailments, and digestive problems.

If turmeric is in short supply, growing your own little turmeric patch is not that difficult.

Agricultur­e entreprene­ur Nuwan Hewage of Agro Life,who advocates home gardens on Facebook, says he has helped around 50 individual­s to start cultivatin­g turmeric at home in the recent past. “You can start with as little as 100g of turmeric rhizomes or 10 to 15 kg,” he says. “If you are more ambitious and have land to spare, then 50 kg is the minimum for commercial use. The Agricultur­e Export Department recommends 800 kg as the planting material requiremen­t for an acre of land. That should give you an average yield of eight to 10 tons of green turmeric.”

The Agricultur­e Export Department offers a subsidiary programme of Rs. 100 per kilogramme upto 1,500 kilogramme­s of rhizomes for commercial home gardens. Visit their website, listed at the end of this article,to get in touch with the district office nearest to you.

While turmeric takes root in most soil conditions, it performs best in dry well-drained soil watered every three to four days, says Nuwan.Well-drained sandy loam or sandy clay loam rich with organic matter are best.

The ideal rhizhomes to start with are fingers (secondary shoots) with about two to three nodes on them, or the mother rhizome. To experiment, get some fresh rhizhomes from an ayurvedic store.Small grocery stores also stock them, and young plants can occasional­ly be found at Diyatha Uyana.

Nuwan says the frequency and amount of watering depends on how dry the soil is.Turmeric likes moist soil that drains well. It also likes a bit of shade, so plant in partial sunlight. While root rot and pest infestatio­n are threats,turmeric does not have serious enemies.

In Sri Lanka, large-scale farms plant their crop seasonally, harvesting between December and April. Home gardeners can skip this cycle as you can manually water your plants and if you need light, artificial lighting can be used, says Nuwan. There’s a patient wait involved because turmeric takes about seven to nine months to mature.

Nuwan advises home gardeners who have excess harvest or who are growing turmeric for commercial use to learn how to add value to their product.

Explore possibilit­ies of valueadded products like face packs, oils and teas, he suggests.

A home garden is also a great way to ensure that your turmeric is truly organic. Like all plants, turmeric needs nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (collective­ly referred to as NPK) for healthy growth. While commercial fertilizer is an easy option, composted organic refuse from your own kitchen is just as good or if not better. For example, banana peel is rich in potassium and phosphorus.

Turmeric plants grow up to a height of about three feet and flower. The bright yellow colour is derived from the chemical curcumin. Nuwan says there are three varieties of turmeric available in Sri Lanka – common turmeric ( curcuma domestica), which we use for cooking, and Manel kaha and Aran kaha, the latter two are used in traditiona­l medicine. All belong to the Zingiberad­eae family, to which ginger also belongs.

Ayurveda lists about 100 names for turmeric including jayanti, one who is victorious over diseases, and oushadi, the medicinal herb.

Useful links: https://web.facebook.com/ceylonagro­life/ http://www.dea.gov.lk/turmeric/ http://www.dea.gov.lk/contact-dist/ https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=mY_MY3QHWqI https://youtu.be/2nJP_1-jMX0

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A turmeric plant

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