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Ginseng Story - Come Back Here | Print |  E-mail

Come Back Here

by userid: Hunter

With the beautiful weather today I couldn't stand sleeping threw it so I postponed sleep (I work and I use the term loosely..nights) and went sang'n. I stopped at the land owners house and spoke with him and his wife and before I left she told me to watch for her bears. I've never saw any sign of bears at this spot but, they do live WAY back in the sticks so I was optimistic. I started heading to my favorite spot when I spotted my first sang. While I was digging I spotted more, then more and more. I couldn't believe it. Sang was everywhere and I'd been walking past it for weeks now. I found it under fir trees, in ivy patchs, just everywhere. The ivy had died down and let the sang poke threw. There was nothing huge just nice 3 prongs. I had filled one quart baggy and stuffed it in my pack. I desided since I was coming back I would leave my pack and just take another baggy. I dug plants for what seemed like 100 yards when I found the the grandparent patch. 4 HUGE 3 prongs and 1 even bigger 4 prong. I sat in to digging. I had 2 of the 3 prongs out when I heard a sound. If you've ever been around bears you know the sound. I can't describe it other than to say it sounds kind of like "oouuhh". I turned around and saw 3, 50-75 lb cubs standing over my pack. Momma made the sound as I guess she smelled human scent and wanted them back. She had just topped over the hill. I sat on my rear just admiring the scene for a second when one of the cubs grabbed my pack and took off with the other two towards momma. I jumped up and started running down the hill yelling "Hey...get back here with that!!" I went over the hill (still yelling) and they were about to cross the other ridge when they stopped. I stopped and yelled and when I did the cub with my pack hopped up and down, just like a dog and slung my pack back and forth. Exactly like an excited dog with something he's fixing to destroy. While he was doing this my water bottle went flying along with my bag of sunflower seeds and peanuts. My camera and map were safely zipped up in another pocket. I screamed out and he let go of the pack, slinging it down the hill. I walked over picked up my pack expecting the worst but, my $75 pack wasn't even torn. I walked down the ridge and got my food and water and then thought crap... where's my sang. It had come out. A clear shiny baggy should be easy to find... nah. I searched for 30 minutes before I finally found it. I then had to walk back up the ridge to my digging spade and other sang but, unearthing that super sweet 4 pronger made me smile. On the way out I told the owners what had happened and they both just died laughing saying that they wished they could have seen it. They also asked me why I didn't take a picture of the bears.. I said because my dang camera was running faster than I could. After I gave them a healthy portion of my sang (they grind it up and put it in coffee) I ended up with just over 5 oz.
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Growing Ginseng 1: Wild-Simulated Method | Print |  E-mail
If you decide to grow ginseng, there are three basic methods you can grow it. The first method is the wild-simulated approach which is the easiest, the least expensive, and it can be implemented on steep hillsides and ravines where nothing else is possible. This is the method of choice for most novice growers can choose and it can be potentially the best return on your investment.
Site Selection:
You want hardwood forest land where wild ginseng is growing or has grown in the past or land has adequate drainage with about 70% shaded with hardwoods. It is worth a try on wooded property near wild ginseng  and you might risk a few ounces of seed initially on a good looking site with no encouraging history. Since ginseng has been hunted to near extinction in many locations, determining whether or not it once grew on your property  could be difficult. You may want to find an old timer who knows the local history of ginseng. If you are in ginseng country, such venerable resources are often available and will appreciate your interest.

Asking for local advise, however, always incurs a risk. The major drawback of planting wild-simulated ginseng is the seven to ten years your ginseng must stand in the forest subject to predatation, especially human, before it reaches maturity. The fewer folks who know about its presence, the better. If ginseng digging, as old timers call hunting wild ginseng, is still part of your area's culture, then very likely the boundaries of your property will not be respected, especially in the fall when the berries are bright crimson and east spot. As one Kentucky growers told me:"You're growing ginseng and everybody is interested in your claim!". You must consider whether poaching will be a problem and, if so, whether you can minimize or prevent it.

Poachers pose a potential threat to all ginseng farmers, but especially to those simulating the wild conditions. Ginseng poaching is a felony in some states, but a cultivated hillside of mature plants is terribly exciting to a ginseng digger who may never have seen so much ginseng in all his/her life. Although poached roots are usually traceable to the scene of the crime by soil comparison, the ginseng poachers is likely to believe that, once dug, your roots are nearly as negotiable and untraceable as cash.
Somce people put up fences, others keep large, loud dogs. Most stay close to home during the growing season, especially in the fall, and those that succeed usually keep good relations with their neighbors and keep quiet about the ginseng they are growing.
Planting and Maintenance:
Assuming you have a promising piece of woodland and do not feel threatened by poachers, wild-simulated growing is relatively easy. Avoiding low-lying wet areas, you first do whatever clearing underneath the trees that is necessary. The thicker you intend to plant, the more competition you need to remove. As a rule of thumb, if the undergrowth makes it difficult to rake the leaves up, then you definitely need to do some thinning. The extreme would be to clear all undergrowth-uprooting small trees, grubbing out vines, and spraying the woodland weeds with a commercial herbicide. Competition will be reduced and air circulations will be improved. On the other hand, if you intend to plant thinly, the less you disturb the area the few problems you are likely to have with disease.

In the fall or early spring, you rake aside the leaf litter and loose the soil surface an half inch or an inch deep with a heavy-tined garden rake, leaving some areas untouched to eventually serve as walkways. Scatter ginseng seeds fairly thinly and rake them in, or walk on them, or both. Cover the planted area with the original leaf litter, adding a little extra mulch if you are planting after the autumn leaf fall or in the spring, and let growth occur naturally. If you are preparing a large area and have a good tiller available, you can save a step by raking aside the leaves, hand casting the seeds, and cutting them into the soil with the tiller set at one inch, then cover with leaf litter.
Protecting the seeds with a little dirt and a thin coating of leaves or other mulch is extremely important. Seeds are subject to drying out and to damage from repeated freezing and thawing if they are not covered properly. Even with mulch, some of those are or near the soil surface will be eaten by the many creatures that hunt underneath the leaves.

On one-tenth of an acre, about 4,356 square feet, growers sow anywhere from one to eight pounds of seed. In a wild-simulated planting, less than three pounds per tenth-acre, there is a good chance that disease control will be unneccessary. The thinker you sow, the more preparation and care you will have to encounter and contribute, and the more roots you should eventually have to sell. Consider also your available time and the accessibility of the planting site.
Closer spacing not only reduces ventilations, creating higher huminity in which fungus diseases prosper, but closeness also facilitates the spread of disease. Disease can spread over the surface of the soil from stem to stem, through the soil by root contact, between foliage when infected leaves touch or fall on healthy leaves, and by raindrops splashing spores from diseased to healthy plants. Crowding also may place the plants in competition with each other for sunlight, water, and soil nutrients, thereby stressing them and making them more vulnerable to both diseases and unusually harsh weather conditions.

Wild-simulated ginseng planting does not require a great deal of maintenance. Only if weeds are taking over should they be thinned. On planting sites where weeds are especially think, some ginseng farmers apply herbicide in the spring a few weeks before the ginseng emerges. However, several growers are convinced that weeds actually inhibit disease. If an infestation of rodents or insects threatens the crop, rodenticides or insecticides are applied. When thicker planting makes disease more likely, twice weekly inspections are prudent and fungicide spraying is common practice. Some wild-simulated growers irrigate and fertilize . In doing so, they make enhance root weight but produce roots less similar in appearance to the wild and therefore less valuable.
The Yield:
While wild-simulated ginseng roots usually approach or equal to wild in quality and price, the eventual worth of wild-simulated planting is difficult to predict. The natural ferility of the particular planting site, which is left unchanged, will determine both the quantity and the quality of the ginseng that can be grown there. The wild-simulated ginseng grower will have to learn through experience and by trial and error.
Based on my own observations and what other growers report, a successful half-acre wild-simulated garden might yield a crop worth anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 in six to ten years. Dr. D. B. Settles of Nicholasville, Kentucky, says that in six years on half a acre he raises about $45,000 worth of ginseng indistingguishable from the wild.
by W. Scott Persons, author of "American Ginseng Green Gold"
Ginseng Growing in the Woods in New Hampshire | Print |  E-mail

Tom Woods

The more I've studied and cared for American ginseng, the more enthralled and mystified I have become by this small, in obtrusive, slow growing, imperiled, sensitive woodland plant.  According to the NH Department of Agriculture, there are only 17 confirmed sites in the state where ginseng grows wild. At each, there are fewer than 80 plants.

I have never seen ginseng growing wild in NH. I have seen it in Vermont. There, the soil is deeper and sweeter than it is here. I suspect that enhances ginseng's ability to survive. Despite it's rarity in NH, the the photos here suggest that the state does have favorable habitat where ginseng can thrive.

A mature plant is evidenced by at least three prongs, a large flower head that rises up above the leaves, and a stem with a length of more than 12 inches from the ground to the base of the prong.

The flowers will develop into berries that hold 2 or three seeds each. They turn red when ripe, usually in September.

How to Select Site for Planting & Growing Ginseng | Print |  E-mail

General Site Characteristics

Not all land can grow ginseng. The simplest way to determine if any portions of your site will grow ginseng is to seek out areas that are growing ginseng or recall whether any areas on the land grew ginseng in the past. Likewise you may wish to look for so-called companion plants, such as Jack-in-the-pulpit, bloodroot, Solomon's seal, wild ginger, wild yam, ferns, blue cohosh, trillium, sarsparilla, black cohosh or goldenseal and see whether they can be found. You may be able to find other good pictorial guidebooks to wildflowers to other states and regions in bookstores near you. Companion plants are frequently found living in the same conditions that ginseng grows in, and often grow nearby. If these areas are found you should also note the soil and its moisture content, the extent of the tree canopy, the nutrient levels in the soil and the "lay" of the land (the degree of slope and drainage). In other words it is not a single factor that makes for good ginseng-growing but rather a combination of factors. The better you understand the impact of these factors, the greater the chance that you will have success in growing wild-simulated ginseng.

It should be noted that there are exceptions to the rules. Ginseng is a rather hearty plant that can grow where one or more minor factors are missing. Landholders who attempt to grow ginseng in areas where natural conditions will not support the plant often attempt to compensate by creating dense beds of expensive, prepared soil, often with the assistance of heavy doses of fungicides. Not only is this costly, it can often result in a less valuable ginseng root than wild simulated ginseng roots. Some growers have only partial conditions and compensate by growing woods grown or simulated ginseng in rather dense beds of prepared soil and often with the assistance of fungicides. We do not favor these conditions for we seek organic growers of ginseng and preferably those who can grow the crop in the virtual wild condition.

Specific Conditions

Even when ginseng is not found, your property may still be capable of growing it. A careful examination of topographic maps, water drainage maps and soil maps in a manual overlay fashion is a good gauge of where ginseng is likely to grow. Syl Yunker, a long-term ginseng grower, claims success nine out of ten times using this method. The more one knows about the necessary conditions for ginseng growth (as well as the minor, more subtle requirements for ginseng), the more readily one can locate a place for growing the ginseng. Modern computer technology can also help you locate a good site. The last part of this section explains an ASPI service that will help growers locate better sites via computer technology.

Soil and Nutrients

The best kind of soil is well-drained, rich dark soil, with sufficient humus content. Look for loamy soil that is high in wood content ("blocky" soil). Soils with heavy clay composition should be avoided. While most ginseng growing soils are slightly on the acidic side, the pH ranges permissible for ginseng growing are quite wide. It is believed that ginseng does best in soils between pH 5.5 and pH 6.0, although a recent study found ginseng doing well under highly acidic (low pH) conditions when there were very high levels of calcium.

On ideal ginseng growing sites, soil should be slightly on the acidic side but limestone-based with relatively high calcium and a preferred calcium/magnesium ratio of five to one. Soil maps, topographic maps and companion plants give the ginseng grower a good idea of where ginseng may grow best. You can augment this through a soil analysis done by your local county extension office or by state agricultural laboratories. These services are usually conducted for a nominal fee or free of charge.

Ginseng also grows remarkably well when surrounded by a healthy layer of leaf litter. The wild simulated ginseng grower can build up this leaf litter during the growing process. The litter should be intermixed with twigs to keep it airy, but ginseng will often thrive in heavier litter, too. The grower is advised to reduce the amount that washes or blows away by laying dead fall, twigs and small branches ten to twelve feet apart in a terrace formation running along with the contours of the hill. Leaves accumulate behind these natural barriers and create the "beds" in which the wild ginseng will thrive in a few years.

While one could discover through topographic and soil maps the approximate best locations for ginseng, a more thorough knowledge of the soil nutrient content will (as with most other crops) require a chemical analysis. As mentioned below, it is possible to continue the organic certification which is preferred for virtually wild ginseng and yet add certain natural amendments to the soil such as gypsum (hydrated calcium sulfate) for enhancing the calcium content or Epsom salts (hydrated magnesium sulfate) for raising the magnesium content. While nutrient balance is highly important for growing healthy ginseng, the best approach is to locate the best sites first and carefully target your ginseng planting to those sites, rather than adjusting soil on sub-standard sites.

Canopy and Air Flow

Ginseng grows best in a rich, shady forest with reasonably open lower layers. Thus a forest with a canopy of high trees and a rich ground cover of herbs and wildflowers is ideal, but not one with an under- or mid-story of densely growing plants like cedars and briars, which slow ginseng growth. The over-story should provide 70-80% shade, giving the forest a very obvious dappled effect. Look for the "soft hardwoods," trees that show their fall colors earliest. Another way to identify the "soft hardwoods," is to look for kinds of trees that leaf-out earlier than oaks in the spring and lose their leaves before the oaks in the fall, like maples, tulip trees, ash and hackberry. A modest number of cedars is also a good sign, because they are indicators of limestone soil. Most pines, except scattered white pines, should be avoided. Remember that the 70-80% shade rule is not a hard and fast rule across the forest. Small gaps in the canopy occur whenever trees fall, but ginseng survives in most cases: the excess sunlight merely retards ginseng growth for a few years while the canopy is open, then resumes at its normal growth rate as the canopy begins to fill in.

Grade and Aspect

Grade and aspect also have a bearing on where this cool, rich forest dwelling plant can grow. Wild ginseng is known to grow in a variety of places from extremely steep slopes to near level conditions. Regardless of the grade, it is important that the site be well drained so that excessive moisture does not accumulate. Avoid very dry sites and soggy bottomlands, and try to identify rich, well-drained sites with conditions in between the extremes. For the wild simulated ginseng grower in most parts of the Appalachians, a gentle, 40% percent slope is ideal, both for ease of walking and for adequate drainage.

The aspect or geographical orientation of the slope is important, too. Aspect becomes all the more important as one gets into the hotter climes of the southern U.S.  In the most of the central and southern Appalachians, growers should plant on north- and northeast-facing slopes and avoid hotter south- and southwest-facing slopes. But in cool regions of Canada, northern New England, and even in the higher elevations of the Appalachians, ginseng can grow on slopes that receive more sun.

Ginseng prefers ample moisture and cool conditions and this, too, depends on where one lives. Experts suggest that areas with 50 below-freezing days a year are at the southernmost ginseng growing zone.

Determining Sites Electronically

Many of the site conditions needed to grow ginseng can be identified beforehand by creating an overlay of topographical, soil and other maps. In fact, the manual overlay method can quite accurately pinpoint areas where soil type, grade, shady slopes, and identified forest cover indicate that conditions will support ginseng growth. A more convenient method is to use the combination of a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a Geographic Information System (GIS). While both methods have been developed fairly recently, each has found widespread use in other site selection operations.

GIS Mapping:
GIS is a computer mapping system. The major advantage is that it can map areas more conveniently and more precisely than hand overlays. GIS compiles maps with data drawn from existing sources of information like government soil map data. Available data from different sources can already be pulled together to help locate good choices to place a ginseng patch. Some states have now made the data available free for the taking whereas others have not yet prepared it or require a modest to sizeable payment for use in its current format. Data being used includes: topographic maps with proper elevation data, soil data, water flow data and 3-D modeling software to simulate the rising and setting of the sun to help determine the sunny and shady spots on potential ginseng growing areas.

GPS Tracking:
A GPS device is essentially a radio that helps locate 'where you are' and 'how to get' to a preselected place. The United States  military services developed this system during the Vietnam War to track themselves on land, sea or in the air and has since declassified the GPS so that now anybody in the world can use this system. The GPS is a handheld device that can be purchased from Radio Shack and most electronics stores for less than a hundred dollars. The GPS radio is a receiver just like an AM or FM radio, except that it picks up timing signals from two dozen NAVSTAR GPS satellites that orbit twelve thousand miles above our planet. These satellites constantly transmit their position and the exact time in orbit. The GPS receivers listen in on the information from three or more of the satellites and through triangulation of the signals sent can determine speed, direction, elevation, and the exact position of the receiver.

Ginseng often grows best in deep woods, an advantage that can be used to help protect the plant and the grower from poaching. This is good for security, but makes plants harder to locate the following year. By using a GPS unit, one can mark a trail that only the grower can follow. Or the GPS device can help a potential wild simulated ginseng grower catalog exactly where ginseng plants, companion plants, or suitable growing areas exist on a large acreage or isolated and unfamiliar areas, so that he or she can return to the precise site to sow seeds. Later one needs only punch in the marker numbers for the trail and the exact patch. A GPS receiver can tell you the direction and the distance to the next marker location. For security, these coordinates need to be recorded in a safe place. Each marker has an accuracy of 30 feet, meaning one is within 30 foot of exact location.

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