Growing ginger in water

By: Joseph Masabni and Stephen King

The ginger plant (Zingiber officinale) is grown for its aromatic, pungent, and spicy rhizomes, which are often referred to as ginger roots.

The main active components in ginger are gingerols, which are responsible for its distinct fragrance and flavor. Gingerols are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that can help alleviate the pain caused by arthritis. Studies have also shown that ginger helps boost the immune system, protect against colorectal cancer, and induce cell death in ovarian cancer.

The texture of ginger rhizomes is firm, knotty, rough, and striated (banded). Depending on the variety, the flesh may be yellow, white, or red. The skin is cream-colored to light brown and may be thick or thin, depending on the plant’s maturity at harvest (Fig. 1).

Figure 1. Ginger flesh can be red, white, or yellow.

Site selection

Ginger thrives best in warm, humid climates. Choose a site that provides plenty of light, including 2 to 5 hours of direct sunlight. Ideal spots are also protected from strong winds.

Soil preparation

The best soil for ginger is loose, loamy, and rich in organic matter. Loamy soils allow water to drain freely, which will help prevent the rhizomes from becoming waterlogged. Thick mulch can also provide nutrients, retain water, and help control weeds.

Planting

Before planting, cut the ginger rhizome into 1- to 1½-inch pieces, and set them aside for a few days to allow the cut surface area to heal and form a callus. In early spring, plant parts of the underground rhizomes. Each piece should be plump with well-developed growth buds, or eyes.

A good source of ginger for planting is fresh rhizomes from another grower. If you are buying ginger from a store, soak the rhizomes in water overnight because they are sometimes treated with a growth retardant.

Plant the rhizomes 6 to 8 inches apart, 2 to 4 inches deep, and with the growth buds pointing upward. They can be planted whole or in smaller pieces with a couple of growing buds each. Ginger plants will grow to about 2 to 3 feet tall.

Fertilizing

If the soil is less than ideal, add a slow-release organic fertilizer at planting. Afterward, liquid fertilizer may be applied every few weeks.

These soil amendments are especially needed in regions of heavy rainfall, where rain can leach essential nutrients from the soil. You can also add compost, which will supply nutrients as well as retain water in the soil. Ginger roots benefit from fertilizer containing high levels of phosphorus (P). Have the soil tested first and amend the soil before planting according to the test recommendations.

Watering

Do not allow the plants to dry out while they are actively growing. As the weather cools, reduce watering. This will encourage the plants to form underground rhizomes. In dry areas, mist or spray plants regularly. Always avoid overwatering.

Figure 2. Harvest ginger by digging up the entire plant.

Harvesting

Ginger can be harvested by digging up the entire plant (Fig. 2). Although it may be harvested at any stage of maturity, the best time is when the plant is 8 to 10 months old. After harvest, choose rhizomes for replanting and replant them promptly.

Ginger is typically available in two forms:

  • Young ginger is usually available only in Asian markets and does not need to be peeled.
  • Mature ginger is more readily available and has a tough skin that needs to be peeled.

Store fresh ginger in the refrigerator or freezer. If left unpeeled, it can keep for up to 3 weeks in refrigeration or up to 6 months frozen.

Nutrition

Ginger is a good source of copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and vitamin B6. Historically, it has been used to relieve symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. It is also safe for pregnant women who are experiencing nausea and vomiting.

Serving

When preparing ginger, peel off the skin with a paring knife. Ginger can be sliced, minced, or julienned (Fig. 3).

The level of flavor that ginger delivers to a meal depends on when it is added during the cooking process. Added early, it will give a hint of flavor; adding it toward the end will bring about a more pungent taste.

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Cuttings from the lush, bamboo-like foliage lend fresh flavor to tea or soup stock, and simply rustling the leaves as you pass by releases a heavenly scent. While most American grocers sell only cured ginger — harvested from steamy parts of the globe like China, India, and Nepal — a growing number of specialty growers throughout the Northeast (I’m one of them) harvest baby rhizomes in late autumn.

Here’s how you can grow your own ginger outside of the tropics, too:

Find a Root

Buy a piece of ginger the size of your thumb with several bumpy nodules at the tips — these are the buds. Opt for plump chunks, not those withering in their own skin. Skin on the delicate buds should be thinner and lighter colored; forego pieces with darkened buds.

Like potatoes, conventional ginger is irradiated and treated to stop it from sprouting at the supermarket. That means it won’t sprout in your home, either. Choose organic.

Encourage Sprouting

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This is the hardest part. Ginger takes its time getting started. To speed it along, create a terrarium using a takeout container with a clear lid. Choose one just a few inches larger than your seed and punch drainage holes in the bottom.

Put an inch or two of potting soil below the seed and sprinkle just a half inch above. Water well. Replace the lid, but don’t seal it. Maintain the soil at 70 degrees and moist to the touch, watering only when the soil dries. A sprout will emerge in six to eight weeks.

Plant in a Large Container

Ginger is a heavy feeder and an even heavier drinker that needs a lot of room to grow. Given the space, a chunk the size of your thumb will easily grow to fill a 2-gallon pot over the course of about six months. Choose a pretty container with good drainage holes and a deep saucer.

Use well-draining, fertile soil with plenty of coir. Gently place your pre-sprouted rhizome on top of 4 inches of soil and bury all but the sprout tip. Place it in a warm, sunny window or in a sunny, sheltered spot outdoors where temperatures range 60 to 90 degrees.

Hill the Soil

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Like Irish potatoes, ginger rhizomes will burst through the soil and turn green in the sun. Commercial growers boost yields by watering regularly and hilling the rhizomes once a month. To achieve the same result at home, water weekly with organic plant food and once a month sprinkle several inches of rich compost into your pot, protecting the rhizome itself from solar exposure.

Harvest

Hold the greens at their base, where they emerge from the soil and lift the entire rhizome. (This is a good project to do outdoors over an old newspaper or drop cloth.) Snap off a chunk of the rhizome, then place the rest of the plant back in its pot, sprinkle on more potting soil or compost, water heavily, and treat it gently for a few days. Like any fragile transplant, protect it from glaring sunlight and wild temperature swings for a few days while it recovers.

Enjoy

Related Story

Baby ginger has a mild flavor and unlike its cured counterpart, it’s juicy with more snap and less string. Best of all, the skin is so thin and pretty, there’s no need to peel. Sauté it with veggies, steep slices in hot water with lemon and honey for a soothing tea,or toss chunks in the juicer with apples, carrots, or kale. Feeling adventuresome? Create an infusion with your favorite libation, steep in simple syrup, or candy it by simmering in sugar syrup.

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Ginger has been used in Asia for over two millennia to flavour food and drinks. It is an herbaceous perennial, meaning the leaves die down in autumn.

It has a hot, spicy taste without the burn of chilli and many health-giving properties, such as stimulating the heart, settling the stomach, and improving digestion and circulation.

The plant has a long history as a treatment for morning sickness and other types of nausea. Confucius was said to have eaten fresh ginger as a tonic with every meal.

Edible ginger is Zingiber officinaleand the part used for cooking is a type of root called a rhizome, which can be lifted, split into smaller pieces then replanted each spring.

Versatile in the kitchen, ginger can be used freshly grated in stir-fries, curries and desserts, or kept dried and powdered for cakes and puddings.

It can be used to make a tea or brewed into beer, or preserved for serving with desserts or Asian food.

TIP Ginger can add an energising dash of flavour to basic dishes such as pumpkin soup or ice-cream.

Storing fresh ginger

Fresh ginger root can be stored unpeeled in a Ziplock bag in the fridge crisper for two months, just cut off pieces to peel and use finely grated.

For a ready-to-use supply, peel the rhizomes and cut into chunks then put in a clean glass jar and cover with sherry or vodka before sealing tightly.

To dry ginger, peel and cut into 5mm thick slices then put on a wire rack in the oven on the lowest heat setting for 10 to 15 hours, turning every three hours. Cool and store in an airtight container for a year

Raising ornamental ginger

Closely related to edible ginger, the ornamental varieties are prized for their versatility and spectacular flowers.

They grow best in tropical or subtropical areas and are effectively pest-free.

Blue ginger

  • Grows up to 2.5m high
  • Not a true ginger but has fleshy green leaves and ginger-like stems
  • Bright purple-blue flowers appear in autumn

Blue ginger has bright purple-blue flowers that appear in autumn. Image: Getty Images

Butterfly ginger

  • Grows up to 2m high
  • Thrives in shady conditions
  • Tolerates cold conditions
  • Bears highly fragrant white flowers in summer

Butterfly ginger bears highly fragrant white flowers in summer. Image: Getty Images

Beehive ginger

  • Grows over 2m high
  • Beehive-shaped bracts, or modified leaves, appear in summer
  • The flower bracts turn from yellow-green to bright red

Beehive ginger flower bracts turn from yellow-green to bright red. Image: Getty Images

In the garden

Ginger likes warm, temperate and tropical areas, and moist, well-drained soil with added organic matter.

It can be grown indoors in colder areas or started in pots during the cooler months then moved outside.

The foliage grows to about 1.5m high with colourful flowers in summer and aromatic leaves.

It usually takes five to nine months to produce a decent crop, with ideal conditions consisting of temperatures above 30ºC and regular watering.

PLANT segments of the rhizome containing one or two buds in spring. Remove any rocks or soil clods to give rhizomes smooth passage.

WATER sparingly until shoots appear to avoid root rot, then weekly from late spring to autumn in dry periods.

KEEP the soil damp until a month or two before harvesting then stop watering for optimum root growth.

MULCH to keep weeds at bay, retain moisture in the soil and provide protection from the cold for ginger plants left in the ground over winter.

HARVEST fresh ginger in late summer and early autumn or, if drying, dig up about 10 months after planting.

WATCH FOR red spider mite, which attaches webbing to plants, making leaves go yellow and mottled, and possibly papery. Control by overhead watering and spray with a mite killer every week except in very hot weather.

Rhizome rot occurs in hot, humid conditions. Ensure good drainage and dig up and destroy any affected roots.

for the recipe for this Stir-fried Ginger Pork dish

How To Grow Ginger From A Root

Ginger is grown from an existing root or rhizome, just like garlic or potatoes. Buy young, fresh, organic ginger to reduce the risk of contaminants. TIP Ginger likes moist not wet soil and filtered sunlight.

Zingiber officinale

Ginger is one of my favorite spices to have in high supply around my kitchen, and lucky for me, this tropical plant can easily be grown indoors all year, even during the long, cold Vermont winters.

Life in the Vermont mountains is beautiful. But living in a northern climate means there are many heat-loving plants that just don’t work well when they’re planted outside in my garden.

Instead of giving up on all of my favorites, I decided to try the next best thing: bringing them indoors.

All ginger needs is filtered sunlight, warm and humid weather, and rich and moist soil. If you can mimic these conditions inside your house, you can grow it in just about any climate!

What You’ll Learn

  • Getting Started
  • Planting
  • Caring for Your Plants
  • Harvesting
  • Growing Tips
  • Cooking and Recipe Ideas

Getting Started

To get started, look for a large, wide planting container with good drainage holes, and a tray or saucer to set beneath it. Although it has shallow roots, this plant requires significant space to grow and spread.

A shallow pot is fine as long as it is at least 12 inches wide. It is also a good idea to find a container that is portable, as you may want to move it from place to place in your house, or outside when the warm weather returns.

You’ll also need a few small stones to place in the tray or saucer that you’ll be the container on. This allows for good drainage and maintains humidity around the plant.

Next, source some ginger roots. You want to look for firm roots that look plump and juicy, not shriveled or withered. Try to find large, fat chunks, at least two inches long and two inches wide.

You may have luck sourcing the roots from nurseries, garden centers, or seed companies. Plants are available from Burpee.

Zingiber Officionale Plants

Look for roots with multiple budding eyes. These should look like little nodes sticking out from the skin, similar to the eyes of potatoes.

If you have a friend with some ginger plants, ask them if they will cut off a few pieces of a rhizome for you. They will likely be happy to share. Once a supply is established, it will continue to grow and spread easily, and a few chunks of root won’t be missed.

That’s part of the beauty of growing your own ginger!

While not ideal, it is also possible to grow from roots purchased at the grocery store. The results will likely be variable and you may need to try it a few times with different roots to get a successful crop.

If you do choose to use grocery store ginger, it is important to make sure that it is organic, as conventionally grown ginger is sometimes treated with an inhibitor to prevent sprouting.

You’ll also need well draining, nutrient rich potting soil. Alternatively, a coconut coir or peat moss soilless mix combined with organic compost or vermiculture would work well.

Once you have your materials, you are ready to get to planting!

Start by soaking the roots in warm water overnight. In the morning, cut each root into sections, ensuring that there is at least one budding eye on each piece.

The size of each section will be dependent on the number of eyes on the root. These eyes will eventually sprout, so the more you are able to cut, the more plants you will have.

Fill your container most of the way with the potting mix, and place the root sections on top of the soil about 5 inches apart with the buds pointing upwards.

Cover lightly with about two more inches of potting mix, and water until the soil is moist to the touch but not wet.

Place the container in a warm area that receives at least five hours of filtered, indirect sunlight per day. In its native climate, ginger grows in rainy, humid, and partly shaded conditions, so it does not require significant amounts of bright, direct sun.

The next step is patience!

This plant can be very slow to propagate. It may take from three to eight weeks for shoots to appear. Watch, wait, and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

As an alternative to planting in an open container, you may be able to speed up the sprouting process by creating a mini greenhouse to provide a consistently warm, humid environment.

Either use a flat seed starting tray with a plastic dome, or find a plastic takeout container with a clear lid, and punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage and in the top so oxygen can get in.

Fill with a couple of inches of potting soil, insert your cuttings, and add 1/2 inch more soil on top. Water well and replace the plastic lid. Keep warm and moist until you begin to see green shoots.

At this point, you can transfer the sprouting buds to your larger container.

Caring for Your Plants

The key to growing ginger in containers is to mimic natural conditions as much as possible. This means it needs to be kept warm, moist, and well fed.

The ideal temperature for this plant is around 75°F. Find a spot in your house away from drafty doors and fireplaces where the plant will have some sun exposure, perhaps near a south facing well-insulated window.

To maintain humidity, place your container on the tray you prepared with small stones and little water in the bottom.

The water will continually evaporate, adding moisture to the air around the plant. The stones will keep the pot from sitting directly in water, which could lead to the soil becoming waterlogged and your plants rotting.

When watering, it is important to make sure make sure the soil is moist but draining well. Soil should be damp to the touch, but not soaking wet. Water by misting the surface of the soil with a spray bottle anytime it begins to feel dry to the touch.

To keep this plant well fed and happy, top it off with fresh compost as more stems emerge and the foliage grows taller.

During periods of heavy leaf production and growth, you can feed it monthly with a balanced all-purpose organic liquid fertilizer.

With any luck, your plant will grow to be two to three feet tall, with beautiful tropical foliage and maybe even a flower or two!

Though the rhizomes won’t be fully mature for eight months or so, you can begin to harvest small pieces of the young roots three to four months after growth begins.

To harvest small pieces as needed, remove some of the soil around the outer edges of the container and carefully feel around for the rhizomes.

When you find one, take a sharp pair of scissors and cut what you need from the outer edge, then gently return the remainder of the root to the soil.

Try to leave at least a couple of inches of rhizome connected to the stalk to keep it alive, allowing the plant to continue to grow and produce new roots. Be sure to give the rhizomes a few weeks of recovery time before harvesting again from the same plant.

As long as you continue to take good care of your plants, you should be able to continue to harvest in this manner indefinitely!

If you are in need of a larger harvest, you can also pull up a full plant and harvest the entire root. The best time to do this is when the foliage starts to die down in the fall or winter.

As long as you cut and save a couple of pieces of rhizome to replant, you will be able to start the process over again.

If over time the foliage begins to fade and wither, just harvest the entire rhizome and replant a few pieces, adding some fresh compost to the mix when you do so to provide proper nutrients.

Growing Tips

  • If your house is cool when planting, you can try using a heat mat set to 70-75°F to warm the soil. Remove the mat as soon as sprouts appear.
  • When you first plant ginger, do not over water. The soil just needs to be kept lightly misted so it doesn’t dry out. Once the shoots break through the soil, you can begin to water more generously. It appreciates the moisture, just make sure the soil is draining well.
  • Plants can be moved outside in the summer to benefit from some sunshine and fresh air. Do this only when daytime temperatures consistently reach 70°F and nighttime temperatures do not drop below 50°F. Place the pot somewhere that receives some shade, like on a covered porch.

Cooking and Recipe Ideas

Ginger is deliciously warming, and can be prepared in a variety of creative ways. It can be dried, powdered, pickled, or even crystallized.

Personally, I am partial to fresh ginger, which is why having it growing right in my kitchen is so wonderfully appealing.

I love grating the fresh root right into soups, stir fries, and salads. It is wonderful in ferments with carrots or cabbage as well.

For a powerful burst of tropical spice, try this recipe for an orange ginger sunshine smoothie . I can’t think of a better way to start the day than with a tall glass of fresh ginger, orange juice, and honey.

If you are looking for more creative ways to prepare and use this spice, check out this helpful guide, also available on Foodal.

A Not-Quite-Tropical Paradise

There is nothing I enjoy more during the winter than a steaming cup of fresh ginger tea.

And now that I’m growing it in containers, I can bring a splash of that tropical heat to my winter wonderland any time I want.

Don’t take my word for it – give it a try yourself! Growing ginger indoors is easy, fruitful, and fun. Perhaps those cold winter nights may never have to be so dreary again.

Have you ever tried growing it indoors in containers? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And don’t miss our full guide to growing ginger for more tips.

Why not check out these guide for more inspiration:

  • Grow a Super Food in Your Own Backyard: Cultivating Tuberous Turmeric
  • How to Grow Flavorful Cardamom in Your Home Garden
  • Fancy Tropical Herbs for Your Garden

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© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via Burpee. Originally published on November 30, 2019. Last updated: January 2, 2020 at 16:39 pm. Uncredited photos: . Additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

About Heather Buckner

Heather Buckner hails from amongst the glistening lakes of Minnesota, and now lives with her family on a beautiful homestead in the Vermont Mountains. She holds a bachelor of science degree in environmental science from Tufts University, and has traveled and worked in many roles in conservation and environmental advocacy, including creating and managing programs based around resource conservation, organic gardening, food security, and building leadership skills. Heather is a certified permaculture designer and student herbalist. She is also a fanatical gardener, and enjoys spending as much time covered in dirt as possible!

Whether you cook something sweet or savory, fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has a traditional place at the winter table. And, potted ginger is so easy to grow! Contained gingers grow fast for fresh, flavorful roots in any season.

Growing Ginger

Ginger is wonderfully easy to grow as a potted house plant for a sunny window. Start with a spacious container with bottom drainage. Then fill the pot with fertile Sunshine® Advanced Rain Forest Blend, leaving at least 2 inches of head space at the top of the pot for watering. Ginger likes soil with a slightly acid pH between 5.5 and 6.5, so consider adding a little Black Gold Peat Moss Plus to increase soil pH.

Plants or roots don’t need to be planted deeply; place them just a few inches below the soil surface. When planting ginger root, be sure to set it with its horn-like buds facing upwards. Lightly press down the soil to ensure good soil-to-root contact and water moderately, keeping roots just moist. Fertilize ginger monthly with an all-purpose water soluble fertilizer, provide high light, and keep ginger plants warm and humidity high. They don’t appreciate dry air or temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sourcing Ginger Plants

Store-bought roots from organic grocery stores will work very well or you can purchase plants from retail greenhouses, like Logee’s and Stokes Tropicals. Just be sure you are choosing culinary ginger (Zingiber officinale) rather than flower ginger plants and that it is organically grown. There are many cultivated varieties of culinary ginger, but most are only available in Asian agricultural markets.

Harvesting Ginger Root

Happy ginger plants will begin to develop generous, fragrant, fleshy roots (rhizomes) that spread outward to fill the sides of the pot. Cut off outer rhizomes for cooking, and leave plenty of plant in the pot to generate lots more ginger for cooking.

Freshly harvested ginger is wonderfully pungent and delicious.

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I was skeptical about growing ginger in Vermont. Isn’t ginger a tropical plant? But none the less, a decade ago I was gifted a ginger rhizome from a friend that had recently traveled to Hawaii so I decided to give it a try. To my surprise, it not only grew, it thrived!

In a shady corner of my drafty 1850’s schoolhouse home, my ginger plant completely took over a 20 inch pot in just a few months. Tall stalks reached 4 to 5 feet tall even in a shady corner during the winter months. That ginger lived 5 years with minimal care, and lasted through many harvests.

I was sad to lose it when we moved to our off grid homestead. In the chaos of the move, it was left outside during a frost. While ginger can take a lot of neglect, a frost is asking a bit much.

I later learned that ginger is being grown outdoors as a profitable cash crop by farmers in Vermont and Maine. Local coops and farm stands are starting to carry fresh ginger roots from local farms that are growing it on a large market scale.

I was ecstatic when my friends at Green Mountain Girls Farm recently gifted me a number of freshly harvested ginger rhizomes. Time to get planting!

For science, I decided to plant two of the largest rhizomes of locally grown Vermont ginger, along side a store bought organic ginger. Unless you’re planning on growing ginger commercially, expensive seed ginger rhizomes aren’t necessary. Start with any organic ginger root. Organic is important, as conventional ginger is often treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting.

If you’re looking for a particularly striking houseplant (that you can still eat) try growing a ginger cultivar that has been selected for beautiful flowers. This package of 4 flowering gingers includes a red, blue, white and yellow varieties.

New growth on a fresh ginger root

Regardless of the source of your ginger, begin by soaking it in warm water for 24 hours. I’ve had better success starting ginger that I’ve had sitting on a windowsill in direct sunlight for a few weeks before soaking, as the sunlight helps stimulate bud formation. That’s not strictly necessary, but it can help.

Small bud on the side of a fresh ginger root beginning to sprout after soaking

After 24 hours of soaking in warm water, plant your ginger rhizome with the buds pointed upward. Use a relatively shallow, wide pot if you have one available, but just about any pot will do to get you started. Ginger wants to grow horizontally, so the wider the pot the better your ginger will fare. For indoor growing, windowsill planters tend to work well because they’re wide and relatively shallow.

If you want to really produce ginger in quantity indoors, try growing your ginger in a wide flat bonsai planter. This 18” shallow bonsai pot is ideal. The size will let your ginger grow unchecked, and allow for bigger indoor harvests.

Store bought organic ginger beginning to sprout after sunlight exposure and 24 hours of soaking.

Plant your ginger in a rich potting mix, amended with compost. Be sure that the sprouting buds are pointing upwards and very near the surface. I like to pull the soil back from the bud tips to allow them a bit of sunlight to help stimulate growth.

Fresh ginger planted in a 50/50 mix of potting soil and compost.

Be patient, it can take ginger roots 2 to 4 weeks to get going even in optimal conditions. Ideally, keep your pot in a warm space, 75 to 80 degrees, and water lightly. The soil should be moist, but not soaking.

If you’re in a particularly cold region and you just can’t keep your house warm, consider a seedling heat mat to keep the soil temperature up just for sprouting. Heat mats are great for getting any garden seeds off to a good start, so you’ll be able to use it again and again to get things growing.

In the long term, indoor ginger want filtered sunlight through a south facing window. They don’t need anything particularly strong, and indoor light is plenty to keep them healthy so long as they’re kept warm.

Ginger stems beginning to sprout through potting soil.

After a few months, once your ginger is established, you can begin harvesting around the edges of your pot. Use your fingers to unearth a bit of rhizome, and cut a small portion off with a sharp knife. Replace with potting soil or compost, and allow your ginger to continue to grow. In this way, you can harvest ginger from a single pot forever.

If for some reason you just can’t get ginger to sprout, you can always start with a pre-sprouted ginger in a pot. This ginger plant comes pre-sprouted in a pot, and has striking red flowers.

To see how farmers in the northeast are growing ginger commercially in high tunnels outdoors, follow these instructions from fedco seeds.

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