Growing a curry: Turmeric (part one)

Who doesn’t love a good curry? I am not talking about a supermarket ready meal or a blow-your-head-off, post pub Vindaloo, but a well balanced, homemade dish with an emphasis on flavour rather than overpowering spice. There are so many great curry recipes around that there really is one to suit almost every palate.

When you think of curry it is easy to automatically think of our British “favourites” such as a Tikka Masala, Balti or the aforementioned Vindaloo. However you would be doing an injustice to years of culinary expertise from around the globe if you were to think that that was as far as things went.

There are delicious, light, coconut milk based curries from Thailand. Rich, spiced offerings from Malaysia. Creamy curries bursting with an amazing depth of flavour from North India and amazing vegetarian creations from the South. In this country we tend to focus on the food of Northern India when we think of a typical “curry” as this is the kind of variety that has been ingrained in our own British culture for years. It is vastly different from the food of Southern India, where they tend to place more of an emphasis on vegetables.

I am a lover of all curries from all cultures and if I could only eat one type of food for the rest of my life without hesitation I would pick curry. There are just so many kinds to choose from I don’t think I would ever get bored!

I regularly cook curry at home from scratch. I make my own curry pastes and sauces, nothing comes from a jar or packet and I have even made my own breads and chutneys to accompany the meals too. I am not trying to boast or make myself sound like a domestic goddess. Of course I love a good takeaway as much as anyone else but there is also a deep satisfaction that I gain from combining all the ingredients together and creating something that tastes divine and in my opinion, gives a depth of flavour that you just don’t get from a jar of stir in sauce.

Now I want to take things one step further and actually grow as many of the ingredients as possible to use in my own homemade curries. Many of the typical ingredients and spices are not native to Britain and you would be forgiven to think it impossible to grow them here. However, that is not the case. Although our climate will make growing certain items more challenging, it is not impossible. I am going to make it my aim to be cooking my own home grown, homemade curry by this time next year.

The first item I have decided to grow specifically for my curry is Turmeric. The turmeric we use in cooking is actually the root (or rhizome) of the plant, which is harvested, cleaned, dried and then powdered to give the spice that we use in cooking. Turmeric is also used widely in medicine and homeopathic remedies. It has anti-inflammatory properties as well as a whole host of other health benefits, but I won’t delve too much into that side of things as I am growing mine for cooking and I am not too clued up on the ins and outs of how it is used in medicine!

So, without any further waffle, as I feel a got a little carried away (and hungry) with all my above thoughts on curry, let me tell you how I have started to grow my own turmeric plant right here in the UK.

The first thing I had to do was source my Turmeric rhizome. Turmeric does not grow from seeds and so you will need to source a piece of fresh turmeric that you can then propagate yourself and hopefully grow a successful plant from.

turmeric1

The best places to search for fresh turmeric are a local farm shop or Asian supermarket. You are unlikely to find fresh turmeric root in a standard supermarket, whereas most good Asian supermarkets should stock it. I actually located my rhizomes in a local farm shop. They were not too expensive (I forget the exact cost) and I picked up three pieces. If you cannot find turmeric in your area then you can purchase rhizomes online that you can use to grow from. When selecting your rhizomes make sure that they have at least one or two buds on them (these look like little Rhino horns) as this is what will eventually sprout and grow.

Planting the turmeric was really simple. I read that you could split the rhizomes if you want to, however I chose not to do this with mine as they were already fairly small. If you do choose to split your rhizomes then make sure that each separate piece has its own bud. All you then need to do is fill a plant pot with good quality potting compost and bury the rhizome an inch or two under the compost.

The best time to plant turmeric is in early spring as it will take approximately 7 – 10 months to grow into a mature plant that you can harvest from. Turmeric will not survive the cold winters that we get in the UK and so if you are planning on growing it outside then it does need to be started off early in the year so that you can harvest it before the cold winter temperatures arrive.

However, that being said, turmeric can be grown inside in a pot and it does make an attractive pot plant. If you are planning on keeping your turmeric inside then timing is not so critical and you can take less notice of the recommended planting times! In fact, I didn’t plant mine until mid June as I will be keeping it inside as a pot plant and I didn’t want to wait until next year to get it started off!

After planting my turmeric I placed it inside my heated propagator and set the temperature to 30 degrees. Turmeric does need high temperatures to germinate and grow and it is best not to exclude light. If you do not have a heated propagator then choose the warmest area of your home and perhaps place it inside a clear plastic bag to try and keep the temperature as high as possible.

The next step is to keep the compost moist and wait! After planting my rhizome it took about 10 days before I could just about see a tiny green tip poking out of the soil. This was actually an incredibly exciting moment for me as I hadn’t been sure that my turmeric was going to grow at all – I must admit, I had tried and failed to grow it earlier in the year (but that’s another story!) Within 5 days, my turmeric had put on amazing growth and was proudly standing a couple of inches tall.

turmeric2

This is where my “here’s one I made earlier” story ends, as the picture above was taken just a few hours ago. Over the next few weeks I will continue to make sure that the growing plant is kept warm, watered and when it grows a little larger, fed. Turmeric is a hungry plant and it will definitely need feeding with a good quality plant food as it grows larger. I will also re pot it into a larger pot when it needs it, as I don’t want to constrict its growth any more than I have to. With luck on my side I should be harvesting my own turmeric within 6 – 9 months.

I will create a part two to this turmeric adventure as and when the plant develops, as I am aware that some of you may wish to follow my story and try growing your own turmeric and I don’t want to leave you all wondering what to do next! In this instance, we are all waiting on nature to take its course but with any luck, I will see you back here in a few months for part two – growing the plant larger and harvesting the rhizomes.

 

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