Saturday, September 26, 2015

The "wild" forest floor

The ragweed had to go.
To boldly grow where no man has grown before:
The small, shade-loving perennial [American ginseng] is cultivated for domestic sale and export in the U.S., but wild ginseng is prized as a superior crop. Found growing in forested regions, harvest and export is big business, fetching hundreds of dollars a pound, but is heavily regulated and competition between foragers is fierce and often operates outside the law. Because the slow-growing plant is destroyed to harvest the root, those who illegally harvest ginseng can face stiff fines or imprisonment...
Out back there lies an area some 600 square feet, fenced off, of pretty much bare dirt. To the east, the back barn blocks the rising sun. To the west, the Mother-in-Law house blocks the setting sun.  Above it stands a 60' pecan tree that keeps out the rest of the sun most of the time. It was a chicken run years ago, but because chickens eventually learn to fly over the fence, I gave that up quickly*.  So there it sits, year after year, growing a few scraggly weeds and grasses and gathering leaves and, for some reason, big Legos of divers colors.

However, this year I bought an ounce of ginseng seed and I'm going to try to grow it wild, if that's not an oxymoron.  I didn't spade up the area.  I didn't clear the underground roots. I didn't prepare the bed to ensure maximum germination or speedy growth, if such a thing is possible for a plant that can take a decade to fully mature.** I merely scratched lines in the dirt, buried the seeds under about an inch of soil, and watered.

That's not the way you're supposed to grow American ginseng.  But that's the way it grows in the wild, and wild ginseng is a much more valuable crop.  So I broke the rules, and if it works I'll be far ahead of the game with lots of 'wild' ginseng and no trespassers to contend with***.  If nothing grows, I'll have lost $20, a couple hours of labor, and two years' growth from a plot of dirt that grows nothing worthwhile anyway. In the worst case, I'll spade it up in 2017 and plant it "right."  Sounds like a can't-lose bet to me.

* They learned to fly out quickly.  Flying back in seemed beyond their capabilities.
** So it's a good thing the world didn't end this week or I'd never get a crop.
*** If they did get into the yard, Digging Dog would surely slobber them to death.


  1. After reading this I went and looked up pics of ginseng. I swear that stuff grows in the woods all around here. I always just assumed it was another poisonous weed. Have to take a closer look, maybe transplant some to my back yard orchard.

  2. I've seen some youtube vids where guys harvest the root and then re-plant the berries. That might be easier than trying to move a whole plant.

  3. Well, I was wrong. Walked the woods and what I was seeing was two different plants, the red berries of the jack-in-the-pulpit, and a different palmate-leafed plant growing close together. Darn, too easy. But I will keep my eyes open, now that I know what it looks like.