Turmeric is native to the monsoon forests of south east Asia. It is a perennial herb growing to 1m tall with underground rhizomes – the part of the plant with the medicinal curcumin we’re after. (Although the leaves are great in curry.) It produces tall, beautiful, white flower spikes, if the rhizomes are left undisturbed for a year. It likes well-drained soil, a frost-free climate and 1000 to 2000mm of rain annually, or you’ll need to water it often. It thrives best in fertile soil, and won’t like to be waterlogged. It does like partial shade however.
In Australia plant turmeric in September or October into warm soil. The rhizomes should be planted 5-7 cm deep and it is often planted on ridges – to avoid water-logging – with 15-30 cm between plants. The crop is planted by setts (small rhizomes) with one or two buds, facing upwards.
Rhizomes are harvested 9 to 10 months after planting. You’ll know they’re ready when the lower leaves turn yellow or the stems are drying and falling over. You don’t have to dig the whole clump up at once, just dig carefully at the side of a clump to remove as much of the rhizomes as needed.
In cooler areas of Australia turmeric can be grown in glasshouses. Like all herbaceous perennials clumps of turmeric need to be broken up and fresh pieces planted every 3 to 4 years.
You can try to get fresh turmeric root from your green grocer or health food store, or look on-line for a supplier. #TurmericWeek