Chapter 11. General Information.
It is those who study the soil and give attention to their fruit that make a success of it. The same applies to growing Ginseng and other medicinal plants.
When buying plants or seeds to start a garden it will be well to purchase from some one in about your latitude as those grown hundreds of miles north or south are not apt to do so well.
Ginseng culture is now carried on in nearly all states east of the Mississippi River as well as a few west. The leading Ginseng growing states, however, are New York, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Minnesota.
Thruout the "Ginseng producing section" the plants are dug by "sengers" from early spring until late fall. The roots are sold to the country merchants for cash or exchanged for merchandise. The professional digger usually keeps his "seng" until several pounds are collected, when it is either shipped to some dealer or taken to the county seat or some town where druggists and others make the buying of roots part of their business. Here the digger could always get cash for roots which was not always the case at the country store.
Quite often we hear some one say that the Chinese will one of these days quit using Ginseng and there will be no market for it. There is no danger, or at least no more than of our people giving up the use of tea and coffee. Ginseng has been in constant use in China for hundreds of years and they are not apt to forsake it now.
The majority of exporters of Ginseng to China are Chinamen who are located in New York and one or two cities on the Pacific coast. There is a prejudice in China against foreigners so that the Chinamen have an advantage in exporting. Few dealers in New York or elsewhere export—they sell to the Chinamen who export.
The making of Bordeaux Mixture is not difficult. Put 9 pounds bluestone in an old sack or basket and suspend it in a 50-gallon barrel of water. In another barrel of same size, slack 8 pounds of good stone lime and fill with water. This solution will keep. When ready to use, stir briskly and take a pail full from each barrel and pour them at the same time into a third barrel or tub. This is "Bordeaux Mixture." If insects are to be destroyed at the same time, add about 4 ounces of paris green to each 50 gallons of Bordeaux. Keep the Bordeaux well stirred and put on with a good spray pump. Half the value in spraying is in doing it thoroughly.
It is our opinion that there will be a demand for Seneca and Ginseng for years. The main thing for growers to keep in mind is that it is the wild or natural flavor that is wanted. To attain this see that the roots are treated similar to those growing wild. To do this, prepare beds of soil from the woods where the plants grow, make shade about as the trees in the forests shade the plants, and in the fall see that the beds are covered with leaves. Study the nature of the plant as it grows wild in the forest and make your "cultivated" plants "wild" by giving them the same conditions as if they were growing wild in the forest. As mentioned in a former number, an easy way to grow roots is in the native forest. The one drawback is from thieves.
The above appeared as an editorial in the Hunter-Trader-Trapper, August, 1905.
Growing Ginseng and Golden Seal will eventually become quite an industry, but as we have said before, those that make the greatest success at the business, will follow as closely as possible the conditions under which the plants grow in the forests, in their wild state. Therein the secret lies. There is no class of people better fitted to make a success at the business than hunters and trappers, for they know something of its habits, especially those of the Eastern, Central and Southern States, where the plants grow wild. There is no better or cheaper way to engage in the business than to start your "garden" in a forest where the plant has grown. Forests where beech, sugar and poplar grow are usually good for Ginseng. The natural forest shade is better than the artificial.
This is a business that hunters and trappers can carry on to advantage for the work on the "gardens" is principally done during the "off" hunting and trapping season.
The writer has repeatedly cautioned those entering the business of Ginseng culture to be careful. The growing of Ginseng has not proven the "gold mine" that some advertisers tried to make the public believe, but at the same time those who went at the business in a business-like manner have accomplished good results—have been well paid for their time. In this connection notice that those that have dug wild root for years are the most successful. Why? Because they are the ones whose "gardens" are generally in the forests or at least their plants are growing under conditions similar to their wild state. Therein the secret lies.
The majority of farmers, gardeners, etc., know that splendid sweet potatoes are grown in the lands of the New Jersey meadows. The potatoes are known thruout many states as "Jersey Sweets" and have a ready sale. Suppose the same potato was grown in some swampy middle state, would the same splendid "Jersey Sweet" be the result? Most assuredly not. If the same kind of sandy soil which the sweet potato thrives in in New Jersey is found the results will be nearer like the Jersey.
Again we say to the would-be grower of medicinal roots or plants to observe closely the conditions under which the roots thrive in their wild state and cultivate likewise, that is, grow in the same kind of soil, same density of shade, same kind and amount of mulch (leaves, etc.) as you observe the wild plant.
The growing of medicinal plants may never be a successful industry for the large land owner, for they are not apt to pay so much attention to the plants as the person who owns a small place and is engaged in fruit growing or poultry raising. The business is not one where acres should be grown, in fact we doubt if any one will ever be successful in growing large areas. The person who has acres of forest land should be able to make a good income by simply starting his "gardens in the woods." The shade is there, as well as proper mulch, etc. In fact it is the forest where most of the valuable medicinal plants grow of their own accord. The conditions of the soil are there to produce the correct flavor. Some of the growers who are trying to produce large roots quickly are having trouble in selling their production. The dealers telling them that their roots have not the wild natural flavor but have indications of growing too quickly and are probably cultivated.
While plants can be successfully cultivated by growing under conditions similar to the forest, yet if there are forest lands near, you had better make your "gardens" there. This will save shading. In the north, say Canada, New England and states bordering on Canada, shading need not be so thick as farther south. In those states, if on high land, even a south slope may be used.
In other states a northern or eastern slope is preferred, altho if the shading is sufficiently heavy "gardens" thrive. Read what the various growers say before you start in the business, for therein you will find much of value. They have made mistakes and point these out to others.
From 1892 to 1897 the writer was on the road for a Zanesville, Ohio, firm as buyer of raw furs, hides, pelts and tallow. The territory covered was Southern Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Northern Kentucky. During that time Ginseng was much more plentiful than now. Once at Portsmouth a dealer from whom I occasionally bought hides, had 21 sugar barrels full of dried seng—well on to 3,000 pounds. It was no uncommon thing to see lots of 100 to 500 pounds. I did not make a business of buying seng and other roots, as it was not handled to any great extent by the house I traveled for, altho I did buy a few lots ranging from 5 to 100 pounds. The five years that I traveled the territory named I should say that I called upon dealers who handled 100,000 pounds or 20,000 annually. This represented probably one-fifth of the collection. These dealers of course had men out.
Just what the collection of Ginseng in that territory is now I am unable to say as I have not traveled the territory since 1900, but from what the dealers and others say am inclined to think the collection is only about 10% what it was in the early '90's.
This shows to what a remarkable extent the wild root has decreased. The same decrease may not hold good in all sections, yet it has been heavy and unless some method is devised the wild root will soon be a thing of the past.
Diggers should spare the young plants. These have small roots and do not add much in value to their collection. If the young plants were passed by for a few years the production of the forest—the wild plant—could be prolonged indefinitely.
A root buyer for a Charleston, W. Va., firm, who has traveled a great deal thru the wild Ginseng sections of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio says: The root is secured in greatest quantities from the states in the order named. Golden seal is probably secured in greatest quantities from the states as follows: West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania. A great deal is also secured from Western States and the North.
The "sengers" start out about the middle of May, altho the root is not at the best until August. At that time the bur is red and the greatest strength is in the root.
Many make it a business to dig seng during the summer. Some years ago I saw one party of campers where the women (the entire family was along) had simply cut holes thru calico for dresses, slipping same over the head and tied around the waist—not a needle or stitch of thread had been used in making these garments.
Some of these "sengers" travel with horses and covered rig. These dig most of the marketable roots. Others travel by foot carrying a bag to put Ginseng in over one shoulder and over the other a bag in which they have a piece of bacon and a few pounds of flour. Thus equipped they stay out several days. The reason these men only dig Ginseng is that the other roots are not so valuable and too heavy to carry. Sometimes these men dig Golden Seal when near the market or about ready to return for more supplies.
Some years ago good wages were made at digging wild roots but for the past few years digging has been so persistent that when a digger makes from $1.00 to $2.00 per day he thinks it is good.
Some say that the Ginseng growing business will soon be overdone and the market over-supplied and prices will go to $1.00 per pound or less for dried root. If all who engage in the business were able to successfully grow the plant such might be the case. Note the many that have failed. Several complain that their beds in the forests are infested with many ups and downs from such causes as damp blight, root rot, animals and insect pests. A few growers report that mice did considerable damage in the older beds by eating the neck and buds from the roots.
There seems to be a mistaken idea in regard to "gardens in the forest." Many prepare their beds in the forests, plant and cultivate much the same as the grower under artificial shade. While this is an improvement over the artificial shade, fertilized and thickly planted bed, it is not the way that will bring best and lasting results.
Why? Because plants crowded together will contract diseases much sooner than when scattered. One reason of many failures is that the plants were too thick. Those that can "grow" in the forests are going to be the ones that make the greatest success. Farmers, horticulturists, gardeners, trappers, hunters, guides, fishermen who have access to forest land should carefully investigate the possibilities of medicinal root culture.
Those who have read of the fortune to be made at growing Ginseng and other medicinal roots in their backyard on a small plot (say a rod or two) had best not swallow the bait. Such statements were probably written by ignorant growers who knew no better or possibly they had seed and plants for sale. Ginseng growing, at best, should be done by persons who know something of plants, their habits, etc., as well as being familiar with soil and the preparation of same for growing crops.
It must be conceded that but slow growth of Ginseng can be hoped for in the woods and as size and weight must be had to make the industry profitable. It is presumed that most Ginseng growers will still make their garden under artificial shade. This being conceded, we must strive for conditions under which the plant will thrive. The root of the Ginseng in the woods is in cool soil and is usually down quite deep. To meet this condition we plant our roots deep. In some recent experiments we have had good success putting them down so the bud will not be within three inches of the surface. This gives us also a chance with our little rakes and diggers to loosen up the soil and get the top two inches fine and mellow before the plant comes up. This avoids breaking off the stem as often happens when a plant is trying to get up through hard soil. I am coming to consider a mulch as a harborer of insects and disease germs and prefer to work the top soil all summer making a dust mulch. This areates the soil and makes the plant healthy and stout of stalk.
Northern Ginseng, planted in the southern states, is apt to come up so early in the spring as to get caught in frosts and so also is southern Ginseng apt to be so late in ripening its seed in extreme northern states as to have it killed by frost before ripe. There is an advantage to the northern grower in getting stock from say five hundred miles south of him as the disposition of such plants is to make a longer season's growth resulting in a larger root. I rather favor getting stock occasionally from a few hundred miles, either north or south, finding it usually to give added vigor to the garden but I do not advise extremes.
Do not be deceived by anyone telling you that an American Ginseng root resembling the human form is worth more than any other good shaped root, for it is not. This applies only to the wild mountain Ginseng of Manchuria and Korea. Our Ginseng is not in that class. Ginseng seed, as soon as gathered, should be mixed with twice the bulk of berries you have, of sifted woods loam. Or you can put in a barrel or other good sound vessel a layer of sifted woods loam, then a layer of the red berries, say a half inch thick, then add an inch of loam, then another half inch of berries and so on until you have all your berries layered. Leave in this shape a month. By that time the pulp will have all disappeared and by sifting, the loam will go through the sieve and the seed stay in it. You can then re-pack in the same loam but they will need looking after occasionally to see that the loam does not dry out. Do not keep wet, but just a little moist, like garden soil in condition for planting.
I use for this purpose earthen crocks holding twenty gallons, but good hardwood barrels may be used. These should be emptied about once a month and the seed aired a little and a little water added if needed, and re-packed. These packages should be kept in a cool cellar. The seeds will begin to crack open some in the following September and are then ready to plant. Or seeds may be packed in like manner in boxes with wire screen tops and bottoms and buried in the garden where they will care for themselves until time to plant.
In planting, seed may be sown in drills or broadcast and covered with a little soil and mulch; if sown broadcast, seed should not be nearer than two inches of each other. I have raised fine seedlings or yearlings by making a bed of well rotted manure about six inches deep and planting seed in that but such plants should be re-planted into soil at the end of the first season as the manure is apt to cause rust of two years' growth is allowed in it.
Age of Ginseng is reckoned by years' or seasons' growth, In other words, a plant that comes from seed in the spring say May first, grows until frost, perhaps the middle of September. This plant is a yearling, although it actually is only a few months old but still has all the growth it will have at the end of the full year. In like manner a plant that has had two seasons' growth, is a two-year-old, etc.
Pyrox, a proprietary preparation, is in my judgment far ahead of Bordeaux. I am also informed that one or two other fungicides are on the market that are excellent or said to be but have not as yet been tried on Ginseng long enough to be recommended.
In order to get the greatest weight of root a crop of Ginseng should be harvested at the time of the natural death of the tops. If a lighter, more corky root is wanted dig earlier or very early in the spring.
Acid Phosphate is used on Ginseng for the purpose of making the soil acid rather than alkaline. At one time ashes and lime were advised for Ginseng but it has been proven that these favor rust, fiber rot, and should never be used. Acid Phosphate may be used as high as five or six tons to the acre and if the soil is strongly alkaline, it may be used several seasons before it becomes acid. Your druggist can test your soil and tell you whether it is acid or alkaline.
Diseased beds are sometimes sterilized by steam and sometimes by formalin. In this connection, we give the method of treatment as used at Cornell University. This is reprinted from Special Crops, August number, 1913:
Recently very many requests have been received by us in regard to the treatment of soil which has grown diseased root, as well as dipping diseased roots in various solutions at the time of resetting. It seems advisable at this time to publish a short note in regard to these treatments.
Treatment of Soils.
Soils which have produced one or more crops of Ginseng have, during their use, as a rule, accumulated a number of different organisms. These organisms are usually parasitic on the Ginseng root. Before such soil is again used for Ginseng it should be treated so as to get rid of as many of these organisms as possible. Two possible methods of treatment are open to the grower to accomplish this end:
(a) Steam sterilization; (b) Formaldehyde treatment.
Very good results have been obtained with this method by various workers, in sterilizing beds for tobacco seedlings, and we see no reason why it is not applicable for Ginseng beds. The heating of the soil should be done very early in the spring, just before sowing. This will have an appreciable effect in starting the seedlings off quickly. In addition to the killing of the fungi, this method has several advantages over formalin treatments. The weed seeds in the soil are very largely killed. The labor saved as a result of this is sufficient to pay for the cost of the treatment. The physical texture of the soil is altered by the heat, the soil is made more suitable for root development, and, moreover, considerable plant food is made directly available to the seedlings. The following paragraph is taken from Bulletin 250 of the Bureau of Plant Industry:
"The inverted pan method devised by Mr. A. D. Shamel of the Bureau of Plant Industry appears to be the most practical for Ginseng beds. The apparatus for Ginseng beds of the usual width consists of a galvanized iron pan, four by ten feet and six inches deep, which is inverted over the soil to be sterilized, the steam being admitted through a steam hose connected in the end or side of the pan. The sharp edges of the pan, which are forced down into the soil, prevent the escape of the steam. The pan is fitted with handles for moving and should not weigh more than four hundred pounds. The soil is prepared as for planting. All fertilizer are applied and worked in as desired. A few potatoes are buried at a depth of about a foot to gauge the degrees of heat attained. These should be cooked when sterilization is completed. The steam should be kept at as high a pressure as possible, eighty to one hundred pounds, and the treatment should be continued for one to two hours, depending upon the pressure maintained."
Formaldehyde treatment has been used over and over again by the writer and various growers with very good results, and we recommend this treatment without hesitation. The sterilization should be undertaken in the autumn, though it may sometimes be done in the spring. All the roots should be removed from the beds and the soil should be worked up loosely. The formalin (which is formaldehyde gas dissolved in water) is diluted with water and applied by one man, using either a hose or large watering pot, and another man spading the soil over as the solution is applied. The soil should be as dry as possible. Sterilization in a wet season presents many difficulties. If the soil is quite wet the proportion of water should he reduced accordingly. The grower must study his individual soil and use his judgment as to the dilution suitable. As a rule, the grower should first test just how much water each square foot of soil will hold and then make such dilution of the formalin so that one gallon of the formalin will cover fifty square feet of soil. The soil should not be worked after treatment until the excess of water is well drained off. As soon as the soil will work without puddling, it should be again thrown up loosely to permit the evaporation of the formaldehyde. Ten days or two weeks after treatment, several re-spadings of the soil having been made, the beds should be in shape for replanting.
(Formaldehyde can be obtained in carboy lots (10 gallons) at about $0.70 a gallon.)
Treatment of Roots
It would be a waste of labor if the soil were sterilized and reset to roots, either themselves diseased or to which particles of diseased soil adhere. In order to have the best results, not only must the soil be sterilized, but where the beds are to be planted with roots instead of seed, the roots should first be dipped in a solution of either Bordeaux 3-3-50 for ten minutes or left for the same time in Pyrox one pound to six gallons. Plant the roots while still wet.
Where the grower is convinced that he is troubled with the "rust," acid phosphate at the rate of 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per acre should be applied immediately after sterilization of the beds.