Observations by Fred Hosemans – Pioneer Australian ginseng grower
There are approximately 50 grades of ginseng in the Asian market place with the top of the list being old
wild roots. At the bottom of the list are young, force-fed roots which have been cultivated with lots of
manures, fertilisers etc. frequently applied and harvested at 3 years.
In between, there is a lot of good and not so good ginseng. Where does your crop fit in?
Organically grown roots usually bring a better price than roots grown with chemical applications.
The various growing methods include Artificial Shade, forest floor and wild simulated.
If the aim was to grow the best available quality, you would grow wild simulated without using chemicals. You would use organic fertiliser, so that in 7-10 years time you had something worthwhile to harvest.
At the other end of the scale are the large quantity – low quality operations. These operations are more subject to market price variations and glut situations than the higher grades.
Other factors that influence root quality.
Buyers grade your crop by age, shape, colour and taste. The last 3 criteria can be influenced by variables such as:
1. Soil Types – can effect both colour and shape – eg clayey soils often produce short stubby roots where sandy soils produce longer straighter roots; red or chocolate mountain soils generally cause the roots to have the more preferred darker colour when dried than the roots grown in a grey loamy or light sandy soils which often produce whiter roots. The lighter the colour, the lower the price, generally speaking. Regardless of colour, soil with a high organic content will drain well yet still has the ability to maintain good moisture levels which is most important for good growth.
2. Growth Rates – can effect the appearance of the dried roots regardless of age. Generally the older slower grown root will develop more body wrinkles (corrugations) which are very desirable as well as the longer necks which are prized in the ‘wild’ market place. Roots that are fertilised heavily, generally do not produce long necks, but increase in size quickly and therefore with few or no wrinkles and hence, are less valuable. Of course, large, force fed roots are generally harvested at 3-4 years which further detracts from the value of the crop.
3. Mulch – the applied quantity and type of mulch used can influence the shape and growth rate of ginseng roots. ie. A loose mulch will allow more moisture to reach the soil and be retained than a dense mulch. The aim is to maintain moisture levels not to create a too dry or too wet situation.
4. Shade – levels of shade can influence root growth. ie. insufficient shade can cause roots to go dormant early due to sunburn or heat stress, shortening the growing period and therefore root growth considerably, whereas too much shade can cause the tops to grow long and sideways towards available light, thereby weakening the stems and taking energy needed to allow root extension during the growing period
5. Fertilisers – the type, quantity and rate of application will definitely effect root growth and consequently root appearance. Unfed Australian virgin soils do not provide ginseng with the nutrients and minerals it requires for healthy growth. If you do not regularly amend the soil that you are growing your ginseng in, the roots will not grow successfully. In fact, when grown in unfed soil, roots can become smaller with each successive year because they will feed off themselves. Regular light applications of natural soil amendments are infinitely more appropriate to good growth and appearance then heavy or frequent applications of non-organic fertilisers.
Not drying the roots correctly, effects the price you receive.
The final price you get for your ginseng is always what the market price is at the particular time you wish to sell. If ginseng is scarce, the price goes up. If there is a glut, the price goes down.
Whichever way you choose to go, you should always strive to grow the best possible quality. That way, you should always get a fair price for your crop.