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Commercial Fruit and Vegetable Growers

Central Illinois Update: Ginger planted at new Unity high tunnel

ginger planted in high tunnel

Our production and demonstration garden at the Unity Community Center in Normal received a nice infrastructure upgrade recently — a small high tunnel. Besides adding the capacity to grow protected culture crops over the cooler months for our free community food donation program, it is allowing me to participate in my first year of ginger root production research. That effort kicked off this June. Why grow ginger, some may ask?

Illinois protected culture growers look to tomato and cucumber as their main cash crops in the summer. However, a two-year crop rotation in tunnels can lead to a buildup of disease pressure that can cause problematic outbreaks of fungal and bacterial disease. Adding a high value per square foot crop like fresh ginger into the rotation could help keep Illinois farms profitable while helping prevent crop disease outbreak.

Chris Enroth and Ken Johnson, horticulture educators in western Illinois, have been growing different varieties of fresh ginger in collaboration with Shelby Henning of Western Illinois University for the past two years. Preliminary results indicate that:

  • Fresh ginger root could be a successful and profitable high-tunnel crop for Illinois high tunnel growers
  • There is ready-made market demand for this product

Now, ginger root as a high value Illinois specialty high tunnel crop is being evaluated in three locations this year – Macomb, Jacksonville, and Normal, to better understand best practices of seed sourcing, germination, planting, crop fertility and development, harvest, and marketing. On June 14, after rather intricate ground preparation involving trench-digging, backfilling with compost, and fertilizer, we planted our ginger rhizomes which take 45-60 days to germinate. Our intent is to develop a draft Illinois Ginger Growers Guide in the next few years for eventual publication. Until then, stay tuned.

As an aside: Central Illinois has been rather cool and dry for the last month. Daytime high temperatures haven’t exceeded 85 degrees except for maybe 12 of the last 30, and in the same month, Bloomington-Normal has had 1.5 to 2 inches of rain, give or take. I note slower than expected growth of pepper and tomato crops nearby. Hopefully it warms up, and if it does, those with good drip irrigation/fertigation systems in place will likely have an average to better than average production year.

Photo: Planted ginger rhizomes. Photo: N. Frillman, 2023

Nick Frillman (309-663-8306;