Turmeric is that yellow-orange powder also known as Indian saffron, a spice that has become an increasingly popular ingredient in our cuisine for the particular flavor it gives to dishes and for its positive effects on health, especially in combination with black pepper.
The plant is commonly cultivated for ornamental purposes: those unfamiliar with it might be surprised by the beauty of its large flowers, pink or white, emitted in abundance. This does not exclude cultivating it for culinary purposes to obtain the precious rhizomes, with the incredible satisfaction of having them not only at zero km but even at zero meters.
In fact, we can cultivate this plant of tropical origin even in our climate, in the garden, or in pots. The turmeric crop cycle is quite long, since it begins in spring and ends at the beginning of winter, and consequently, it is important to keep an eye on it constantly, even if the treatments are not too laborious or demanding.
The curcuma longa plant
The Curcuma genus, belonging to the Zingiberaceae family-like ginger, includes many species.
Curcuma longa is the most used for the production of the well-known spice, and is a perennial herbaceous plant, with very long leaves and showy flowering. What interests us for culinary and medicinal purposes is the tuberous root, which for the plant represents a reserve and propagation organ.
After having vegetated throughout the hot season, in autumn the turmeric goes into dormancy, with the aerial part starting to yellow and then wither, and then germinating again in the following spring.
Where can turmeric be grown
Turmeric grows in areas characterized by a tropical climate, and consequently, to cultivate it in Italy it is necessary to ensure similar conditions.
Being a tropical species, to make it grow in Italy you must be able to never make it suffer from the cold, which for this species means a temperature below about 12 ° -15 ° C.
Consequently, it is very likely that its cultivation should take place in pots, which we can move to a sheltered place when the cold months arrive. Alternatively, we can cultivate it in greenhouses or under tunnels, keeping ourselves ready to intervene by covering the plants with non-woven fabric in moments of greatest thermal drop.
Summers characterized by a hot and humid climate, as often occur here, are not a problem for this species, which can be kept outdoors from April to September-October.
Favorable soil and preparation
Like many rhizome plants, turmeric fears asphyxiated soil with frequent water stagnation. The ideal soil is fertile, rich in organic matter and nutrients, deep, and not compact.
Having an important part that develops by swelling in the subsoil, turmeric requires refined and deeply plowed soil. It is necessary to avoid compaction situations typical of strongly clayey soils, therefore the main working with the spade or, if possible, with the boring fork is necessary, which allows to reduce fatigue and not to invert the layers of soil.
After this operation, the compost or manure distributed as soil improvers is hoed by mixing well with the soil and finally raked to level the surface and ensure a good seedbed.
How and when to sow
For the sowing of turmeric the real seed is not used, but, in a similar way to what is done for potatoes, we propagate the plant by agamic way.
In this case, portions of rhizome are used, which can be found in well-stocked nurseries or even by ordering them on the internet, and from these, we will give life to the new plants. You can also buy turmeric root at the supermarket and then plant it, better to choose organic to reduce the risk of it being treated also to discourage germination.
The period in which to plant turmeric is as soon as possible: if we have a heated place available January or February, otherwise as soon as the temperatures stabilize above 12 degrees, March or April in general.
Before burying the rhizomes it is advisable to wait until they already have hints of bud. So let’s germinate in the air. With the right temperatures, the first shoots will be visible in a short time and will grow significantly in the heat. We can cut a root with many shoots, in order to obtain more than one plant. A little bit of what you do by planting potatoes.
We will then place them about 2 or 3 cm deep with a distance of about 20 cm between one and the other.
We can decide to grow turmeric in the open ground or in pots, as long as in any case it ensures excellent exposure to the sun.
How it is grown
Considering the tropical origin of these plants, we can understand their demand for water, which must never be lacking especially in summer, however without excess.
To avoid the shock of cold water at the roots, it is advisable to use water at room temperature, for example always keeping buckets or watering cans full to warm up with the sun, and if for this reason a proliferation of mosquitoes is feared, we can resort to Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, biological larvicide.
Another important care is to regularly remove the weed that develops and if there are few turmeric plants we can also do it simply by hand.
Growing turmeric in pots
If we decide to grow turmeric in pots, we need to get one that is at least 40 cm deep and wide enough, and therefore large planters or wooden boxes such as those used today for urban gardens are also good. Also in this case we choose a sunny exposure: it is not the case to put turmeric on a north-facing balcony.
Whichever container is chosen, it must be filled with good soil and mature compost, to which the manure in pellets is added.
In pots, we will have to remember to water more often, especially if it is made of breathable material. If you keep the plant indoors, we must not place it near the radiators, to avoid the dehydrating effect.
Problems in cultivation
Turmeric could be subject to some attack by aphids, which occur in dense colonies and extract sap from plant tissues with their stinging sucking mouthparts. Fortunately, their damage can be prevented in time by regularly spraying the plants with repellent extracts that we can prepare independently with nettle, garlic, or hot pepper.
The collection of rhizomes
After many months of vegetation and flowering, in winter comes the time of harvest, when the aerial part is totally withered or almost.
Then the rhizomes are extracted from the ground, but not all: remember that these in nature serve as reserve organs for the plant and for its propagation, and consequently, we will have to leave a part of them in the ground or in the pot to still have the plants in the future season.
Use of turmeric and properties
On the market we can find turmeric in powder, contained in glass jars or in sachets, or fresh, in the form of reddish rhizomes and tendentially cylindrical in shape.
The fresh rhizomes that we collect from our cultivation can be kept in the refrigerator for a limited period, but trying to dry them is not particularly complicated: we will have to keep them for about a month in a warm and dry place, and then grind them until they turn into a fine powder that we are used to seeing. In this way, we will be able to keep the turmeric for a long time in glass jars and use it when needed.
The turmeric root is rich in curcumin, the substance that makes it yellow and colors the dishes to which it is added. The substances contained in turmeric have antioxidant and anti-aging properties, not for nothing is it used in oriental medicine and in particular in Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric is also one of the ingredients of the well-known Indian spice curry.
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