Get growing from plant parts this month

I grew my first crop of sweet potatoes, turmeric and ginger in 2014. They were great until a crash-and-burn disaster, but I am committed to trying again this year.

It is impossible to buy sweet potato seed because they only grow from clones or cuttings. And while turmeric and ginger are available from seed, they are not easy to germinate.

All three crops are better started from plant parts, so I am calling this gardening project my grocery store garden.

Ginger and turmeric

Both plants easily grow from the chunks of roots – often called tubers – that are available at grocery stores. Look for firm, fresh tubers.

Buy two pieces of turmeric and two of ginger, and leave one piece of each on the counter. Lay one whole fresh dormant piece on its side on top of the soil in a shallow pot. Only water the soil pots enough to moisten it slightly and put the pots in a warm area – on top of a heat mat, grow lights or the fridge.

Once the leaf buds appear, roots will sprout. This is the time to plant any tubers left on the counter. Once they sprout, new plantings and roots in pots will need a soil cover of three to five centimetres.

I was feeling cocky about my growing success last fall until both my turmeric and ginger were accidentally forgotten outdoors in November.

And they froze.

Note to self: these are tropical plants. To avoid disaster they need the warmth of the home. Keep them inside year-round or at least between September and June.

Sweet potatoes

I “heard it through the grapevine” that these are easy to grow.

“Simply cut the fleshy roots in half and lay the halves face down on soil,” I was told.

Well that advice was a disaster for me. The cut roots rotted instead of rooted, and in two weeks I had to throw them out and buy plants already started.

This time, I have a whole sweet potato sitting on a warm sunny counter. When it sprouts on its own, I will take cuttings from the sprouting root.

I found out last year that sweet potatoes are easy to root from cuttings. I plunged small cuttings right into moist soil and they rooted within days.

If you are unsure of rooting cuttings in soil, place the sprouts cut off the tubers into jars of water and let them root before you move them into pots. In warmer weather, move the plants outdoors into the hottest soil you can find. Raised soil beds against a south-facing wall, protected from wind are ideal.

Why put brakes on your garden success? Organic grocery stores are the best place for shopping for these unusual crops because the food they sell has not been sprayed to inhibit sprouting or growing. Don’t take my word for it. Grow your own grocery store garden to get food you would have trouble growing in Calgary otherwise.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and entertaining speaker. Check out her blog at or follow her on Twitter @NoGuffGardener.