Chapter 10. Letters From Growers.
The culture of Ginseng has a pioneer or two located in this part of the country (N. Ohio), and having one-fourth of an acre under cultivation myself, it was with interest that I visited some of these growers and the fabulous reports we have been reading have not been much exaggerated, in my estimation, but let me say right here they are not succeeding with their acres as they did with their little patch in the garden. One party gathered 25 pounds of seed from a bed 40x50 feet last season, and has contracted 30 pounds of the seed at $36 per pound, which he intends to gather from this bed this season. He then intends to dig it, and I will try to get the facts for this magazine.
Now, to my own experience. I planted three hundred roots in the fall of '99. The following season from the lack of sufficient shade they failed to produce any seed; I should have had two or three thousand seed. Understand, these were wild roots just as they were gathered from the forest.
In 1901 I gathered about one pound or 8,000 seed, in 1.902 three pounds and am expecting 30,000 seed from these 300 plants this season. Last season I gathered 160 seed from one of these plants and 200 seed bunches are not uncommon for cultivated roots to produce at their best. I have dug no roots for market yet, as there has been too great a demand for the seed. My one-fourth acre was mostly planted last season, and is looking very favorable at the present time. It is planted in beds 130 feet long and 5 feet wide; the beds are ridged up with a path and ditch 2 feet across from plant to plant, making the beds, including the paths, 7 feet wide. Beds arranged in this manner with the posts that support the shade set in the middle of the beds are very convenient to work in, as you do not have to walk in the beds, all the work being done from the path.
My soil is a clay loam and it was necessary for me to place a row of tile directly under one bed; this bed contains 1,000 plants and has been planted two years, and I find the tile a protection against either dry or wet weather; I shall treat all beds in a like manner hereafter.
If you are thinking of going into the Ginseng business and your soil is sand or gravel, your chances for success are good; if your soil is clay, build your beds near large trees on dry ground or tile them and you will come out all right. In regard to the over-production of this article, would say that dry Ginseng root is not perishable, it will keep indefinitely and the producers of this article will not be liable to furnish it to the Chinaman only as he wants it at a fair market price.
W. C. SORTER, Lake County, Ohio.
Even in this thickly settled country, I have been able to make more money digging Ginseng than by trapping, and I believe that most trappers could do the same if they became experts at detecting the wild plant in its native haunts.
I have enjoyed hunting and trapping ever since I could carry a firearm with any degree of safety to myself, and have tramped thru woods full of Ginseng and Golden Seal for twenty years, without knowing it. Three years ago last summer I saw an advertisement concerning Ginseng Culture. I sent and got the literature on the subject and studied up all I could. Then I visited a garden where a few cultivated plants were grown, and so learned to know the plant. I had been told that it grew in the heavy timber lands along Rock River, so I thought I would start a small garden of some 100 or 200 roots.
The first half day I found 6 plants, and no doubt tramped on twice that many, for I afterward found them thick where I had hunted. The next time I got 26 roots; then 80, so I became more adept in "spotting" the plants, the size of my "bag" grew until in September I got 343 roots in one day. That fall, 1904, I gathered 5,500 roots and 2,000 or 3,000 seed. These roots and seed I set out in the garden in beds 5 feet wide and 40 feet long, putting the roots in 3 or 5 inches apart anyway, and the seeds broadcast and in rows. I mulched with chip manure, leaf mold and horse manure. Covered with leaves in the fall, and built my fence.
The next spring the plants were uncovered and they came well. I believe nearly every one came up. They were too thick, but I left them. The mice had run all thru the seed bed and no doubt eaten a lot of the seed. That spring I bought 5,000 seed of a "seng" digger and got "soaked." The fall of 1905 I dug 500 more roots and harvested 15,000 seeds from my beds. The roots were planted in an addition and seed put down cellar. Last fall I gathered 5,500 more roots from the woods, grew about 3,000 seedlings in the garden and harvested 75,000 seeds. I dug a few of the older roots and sold them.
The worst enemy I find to Ginseng culture is Alternaria, of a form of fungus growth on the leaf of the plant. This disease started in my beds last year, but I sprayed with Bordeaux Mixture and checked it. I have not as yet been troubled with "damping off" of seedlings. I shall try Bordeaux if it occurs.
My garden is now 100 feet by 50 feet, on both sides of a row of apple trees, in good rich ground which had once been a berry patch. I used any old boards I could get for the side fence, not making it too tight. For shade I have tried everything I could think of. I used burlap tacked on frames, but it rotted in one season. I used willow and pine brush and throwed corn stalks and sedge grass on them. For all I could see, the plants grew as well under such shade as under lath, although the appearance of the yard is not so good. I also ran wild cucumbers over the brush and like them very well. They run about 15 feet, so they do not reach the center of the garden until late in the season. I planted them only around the edge of the garden.
In preparing my soil, I mixed some sand with the garden soil to make it lighter; also, woods earth, leaf mold, chip manure and barnyard manure, leaving it mostly on top. I take down the shade each fall and cover beds with leaves and brush. This industry is not the gold mine it was cracked up to be. The price is going down, lumber for yard and shade is going up. The older the garden, the more one has to guard against diseases, so one may not expect more than average returns for his time and work. Still I enjoy the culture, and the work is not so hard, and it is very interesting to see this shy wild plant growing in its new home.
In order to keep up the demand for Ginseng, we must furnish the quality the Chinese desire, and to do this, I believe we must get back to the woods and rotten oak and maple wood, leaf mold and the humid atmosphere of the deep woodlands. I have learned much during the short time I have been growing the plant, but have only given a few general statements.
JOHN HOOPER, Jefferson Co., Wis.
I believe most any one that lives where Ginseng will grow could make up a small bed or two in their garden and by planting large roots and shading it properly, could make it a nice picture. Then if they could sell their seed at a good price might make it profitable, but when it comes down to growing Ginseng for market I believe the only place that one could make a success would be in the forest or in new ground that still has woods earth in it and then have it properly shaded.
The finest garden I ever saw is shaded with strips split from chestnut cuts or logs. There are thousands of young "seng" in this garden from seedlings up to four years old this fall, and several beds of roots all sizes that were dug from the woods wild and are used as seeders. These plants have a spreading habit and have a dark green healthy look that won't rub off. It is enough to give "seng" diggers fits to see them.
I have my Ginseng garden in a grove handy to the house, where it does fairly well, only it gets a little too much sun. I have a few hundred in the forest, where it gets sufficient shade and there is a vast difference in the color and thriftiness of the two.
The seed crop will be a little short this fall in this section, owing to heavy frosts in May which blighted the blossom buds on the first seng that came up. My seed crop last fall was ten quarts of berries which are buried now in sand boxes. My plan for planting them this fall is to stick the seeds in beds about 4x4 inches.
I see where some few think that the mulch should be taken off in the spring, which I think is all wrong. I have been experimenting for seven years with Ginseng and am convinced that the right way is to keep it mulched with leaves. The leaves keep the ground cool, moist and mellow and the weeds are not half so hard to keep down. It is surely the natural way to raise Ginseng.
My worst trouble in raising Ginseng is the damping off of the seedlings. My worst pest is chickweed, which grows under the mulch and seems to grow all winter. It seeds early and is brittle and hard to get the roots when pulling. Plantain is bad sometimes, the roots go to the bottom of the bed. Gladd weed is also troublesome. I think one should be very careful when they gather the mulch for it is an easy matter to gather up a lot of bad weed seed.
I see in the H-T-T where some use chip manure on their "seng" beds. I tried that myself, but will not use it again on seed beds any way. I found it full of slugs and worms which preyed on the seedlings. Sometimes cut worms cut off a good many for me. Grub worms eat a root now and then. Leaf rollers are bad some years, but the worst enemy of all is wood mice. If one does not watch carefully they will destroy hundreds of seed in a few nights.
I find the best way to destroy them is to set little spring traps where they can run over them. There was a new pest in this locality this year which destroyed a big lot of seed. It was a green cricket something like a katydid. They were hard to catch, too.
THOS. G. FULCOMER, Indiana Co., Pa.
The notions of the Chinese seem as difficult to change as the law of the Medes and Persians, and his notion that the cultivated article is no good, if once established, will always be established. This will be a sad predicament for the thousands who may be duped by the reckless Ginseng promoter. One principle of success in my business is to please the purchaser or consumer. This is the biggest factor in Ginseng culture.
The Chinaman wants a certain quality of flavor, shape, color, etc., in his Ginseng, and as soon as the cultivators learn and observe his wishes so soon will they be on the right road to success. Ginseng has been brought under cultivation and by doing this it has been removed from its natural environments and subjected to new conditions, which are making a change in the root. The object of the Ginseng has been lost sight of and the only principle really observed has been to grow the root, disregarding entirely the notions of the consumer.
Thousands have been induced by the flattering advertisements to invest their money and begin the culture of Ginseng. Not one-half of these people are familiar with the plant in its wild state and have any idea of its natural environments. They are absolutely unfit to grow and prepare Ginseng for the Chinese market. Thousands of roots have been spoiled in the growing or in the drying by this class of Ginseng growers. Many roots have been scorched with too much heat, many soured with not the right conditions of heat, many more have been spoiled in flavor by growing in manured beds and from certain fertilizers. All these damaged roots have gone to the Chinese as cultivated root and who could blame him for refusing to buy and look superstitious at such roots?
Now as to profits, Not one-half the profits have been made as represented. Not one-half of those growing Ginseng make as much as many thousands of experienced gardeners and florists are making with no more money invested and little if any more labor and no one thinks or says anything about it. Many articles have appeared in the journals of the past few years, and when you read one you will have to read all, for in most part they have been from the over-stimulated mind of parties seeking to get sales for so-called nursery stock.
Probably the first man to successfully cultivate Ginseng was Mr. Stanton, of New York State. His gardens were in the forest, from this success many followed. Then the seed venders and wide publicity and the garden cultivation under lattice shade. Then the refusal of the Chinese to buy these inferior roots.
Now, it is my opinion the growers must return to the forest and spare no labor to see that the roots placed on the market are in accordance with the particular notions of the consumer. Ginseng growers may then hope to establish a better price and ready market for their root.
The color required by the Chinese, so far as my experiments go, come from certain qualities of soil. The yellow color in demand comes to those roots growing in soil rich in iron. The particular aromatic flavor comes from those growing in clay loam and abundant leaf mold of the forest. I have found that by putting sulphate of iron sparingly in beds and the roots growing about two years in this take on the yellow color.
I have three gardens used for my experiments, two in forest and one in garden. They contain altogether about twenty-five thousand plants. One garden is on a steep north hillside, heavily shaded by timber. These plants have a yellowish color and good aromatic taste. They have grown very slow here; about as much in three years as they grow in one year in the garden. The other forest garden is in an upland grove with moderate drain, clay loam and plenty of leaf mold; the trees are thin and trimmed high. The beds are well made, the roots are light yellow and good flavor, they grow large and thrifty like the very best of wild.
I am now planting the seed six inches apart and intend to leave them in the bed without molesting until matured. The beds under the lattice in the garden have grown large, thick, white and brittle, having many rootlets branching from the ends of the roots. The soil is of a black, sandy loam. They do not have the fine aromatic flavor of those roots growing in the woods.
The plants I have used in the most part were produced from the forest here in Minnesota and purchased from some diggers in Wisconsin. I have a few I procured from parties advertising seed and plants, but find that the wild roots and seeds are just as good for the purpose of setting if due care is exercised in sorting the roots.
There has been considerable said in the past season by those desiring to sell nursery stock condemning the commission houses and ignoring or minimizing the seriousness of the condition which confronts the Ginseng grower in a market for his root. Now, I believe the commission men are desirous of aiding the Ginseng growers in a market for his roots so long as the grower is careful in his efforts to produce an article in demand by the consumer.
In my opinion those who are desirous of entering an industry of this kind will realize the most profits in the long run if they devote attention to the study and cultivation of those medical plants used in the therapy of the regular practice of medicine, such as Hydrastis, Seneca, Sanguinari, Lady Slipper, Mandrake, etc. They are easily raised and have a ready market at any of our drug mills. I have experimented with a number of these and find they thrive under the care of cultivation and I believe in some instances the real medical properties are improved, as Atropine in Belladona and Hydrastine in Hydrastis.
I have several thousand Hydrastis plants under cultivation and intend to make tests this season for the quantity of Hydrastine in a given weight of Hydrastis and compare with the wild article. It is the amount of Hydrastine or alkaloid in a fluid extract which by test determines the standard of the official preparation and is the real valuable part of the root.
This drug has grown wonderfully in favor with the profession in recent years and this increased demand with decrease of supply has sent the price of the article soaring so that we are paying five times as much for the drug in stock today as we paid only three or four years ago.
I trust that I have enlarged upon and presented some facts which may be of interest and cause those readers who are interested in this industry to have a serious regard for the betterment of present conditions, to use more caution in supplying the market and not allow venders to seriously damage the industry by their pipe dream in an attempt to find sales for so-called nursery stock.
L. C. INGRAM, M. D., Wabasha County, Minn.
It was in the year of 1901, in the month of June, that I first heard of the wonderful Ginseng plant. Being a lover of nature and given to strolling in the forests at various times, I soon came to know the Ginseng plant in its wild state.
Having next obtained some knowledge regarding the cultivation of this plant from a grower several miles away, I set my first roots to the number of 100 in rich, well-drained garden soil, over which I erected a frame and covered it with brush to serve as shade.
In the spring of 1902 nearly all the roots made their appearance and from these I gathered a nice crop of seed later on in the season. That summer I set out 2,200 more wild roots in common garden soil using lath nailed to frames of scantling for shade. Lath was nailed so as to make two-thirds of shade to one-third of sun. This kind of shading I have since adopted for general use, because I find it the most economical and for enduring all kinds of weather it cannot be surpassed.
During the season of 1903 I lost several hundred roots by rot, caused by an excessive wet season and imperfect drainage. In the seasons of 1903 and 1904 I set about 2,000 wild roots in common garden soil, mixed with sand and woods dirt and at this writing (July 9th, 1905) some of these plants stand two feet high, with four and five prongs on branches thus showing the superiority of this soil over the others I have previously tried.
During my five years of practical experience in the cultivation of this plant I have learned the importance of well drained ground, with porous open sub-soil for the cultivation of Ginseng. My experience with clay hard-pan with improper drainage has been very unsatisfactory, resulting from the loss of roots by rot. Clay hard-pan sub-soil should be tile-drained.
Experience and observation have taught me that Ginseng seed is delicate stuff to handle and it is a hard matter to impress upon people the importance of taking care of it. I have always distinctly stated that it must not be allowed to get dry and must be kept in condition to promote germination from the time it is gathered until sown. Where a considerable quantity is to be cared for, the berries should be packed in fine, dry sifted sand soon after they are gathered, using three quarts of sand and two quarts of berries. The moisture of the berries will dampen the sand sufficiently. But if only a few are to be packed the sand should be damp.
Place one-half inch sand in box and press smooth. On this place a layer of berries; cover with sand, press, and repeat the operation until box is full, leaving one-half inch of sand on top; on this place wet cloth and cover with board. Place box in cellar or cool shady place. The bottom of the box should not be tight. A few gimlet holes with paper over them to keep the sand from sifting thru will be all right. Any time after two or three months, during which time the seeds have lost their pulp and nothing but the seed itself remains, seed may be sifted out, washed, tested and repacked in damp sand until ready to sow.
Best Time to Sow Seed.
Since it takes the seed eighteen months to germinate, seed that has been kept over one season should be planted in August or September. I like to get my old crop of seed out of the way before the new crop is harvested, and also because my experience has been that early sowing gives better results than late.
One should be careful in building his Ginseng garden that he does not get sides closed too tight and thus prevent a free circulation of air going thru the garden, for if such is the case during a rainy period the garden is liable to become infected with the leaf spot and fungus diseases.
The drop in price of cultivated root was caused chiefly thru high manuring, hasty and improper drying of the root. In order to bring back the cultivated root to its former standing among the Chinese, we must cease high manuring and take more pains and time in drying the root, and then we will have a steady market for American cultivated root for years to come.
V. HARDACRE, Geauga County, Ohio.
In 1900 I went to the woods and secured about fifty plants of various sizes and set them in the shade of some peach and plum trees in a very fertile spot. They came-up in 1901, that is, part of them did, but the chickens had access to them and soon destroyed the most of them, that is, the tops.
In 1902 only a few bunches came tip, and through neglect (for I never gave them any care) the weeds choked them and they did no good. In 1903 the spirit of Ginseng growing was revived in me and I prepared suitable beds, shade and soil, and went to work in earnest. I secured several more plants and reset those that I had been trying to grow without care. In 1904 my plants came up nicely. I also secured several hundred more plants and set them in my garden.
The plants grew well and I harvested about 1,000 seed in the fall. Several Ginseng gardens were injured by a disease that seemed to scald the leaves and then the stalk became affected. In a short time the whole top of the plant died, but the root remained alive. My Ginseng was not affected in this way, or at least I did not notice it.
In 1905 I had a nice lot of plants appear and they grew nicely for a while, and as I was showing a neighbor thru the garden he pointed out the appearance of the disease that had affected most of the gardens in this county the previous year, and was killing the tops off of all the Ginseng in them this year. I began at once to fight for the lives of my plants by cutting off all affected parts and burning them.
I also took a watering pot and sprinkled the plants with Bordeaux Mixture. This seemed to help, and but few of the plants died outright.
I harvested several thousand seed. I placed the seed in a box of moist sand and placed them in the cellar and about one-third of them were germinated by the following spring, and there was not another garden in this vicinity, to my knowledge, that secured any seed. This fact caused me to think that spraying with Bordeaux Mixture would check the disease. It was certain that if the disease could not be prevented or quit of its own accord, Ginseng could not be grown in this county.
In 1906 my plants came up nicely and grew as in the previous season. I noticed the disease on some of the plants about the last of May so I began removing the affected parts also to sprinkle with Bordeaux Mixture with about the same results as the year before. In the fall I harvested about twelve or fifteen thousand seed.
I might say here that I sprinkled the plants, about every two or three weeks. I raised the only seed that was harvested in this vicinity, and most all the large "seng" was dried and sold out of their gardens.
Early in 1907 I secured a compressed air sprayer, for I had come to the conclusion that spraying would be lots better than sprinkling. On the appearance of the first plants in the spring I began spraying and sprayed every week or ten days until about the first of September. I saved the life of most of my plants.
For an experiment I left about five feet of one bed of two-year-old plants unsprayed. It grew nicely until about the 10th of June, then the disease struck it, and in about two or three weeks it was about all dead, while the remainder that was sprayed lived thru till frost, and many of them bore seed. I harvested about 20,000 seed in the fall.
I believe if I had not persisted in the spraying I would not have harvested one fully matured seed, for none of my neighbors secured any. In September, 1906, I dug one bed of large roots thinly set on a bed 4x16 feet which netted me $8.49.
In September, 1907, I dug a bed 4x20 feet which netted me $19.31.
This is my experience. Of course I have omitted method of preparing beds, shade, etc.
A. C. HERRIN, Pulaski County, Ky.
Many inquiries are continually being received concerning Ginseng. Some of the many questions propounded are as follows: Is Ginseng growing profitable? Is it a difficult crop to grow? How many years will it take to grow marketable roots? When is the best time to set plants and sow the seed? What kind of soil is best adapted to the crop? Does the crop need shade while growing? Do the tops of Ginseng plants die annually? Must the roots be dried before marketable? What time of year do you dig the roots? Does the cultivation of the plants require much labor? What are the roots used for and where does one find the best markets? About what are the dry roots worth per pound? How are the roots dried? How many roots does it take to make a pound? Have you sold any dry roots yet from your garden? How long does it take the seed of Ginseng to germinate?
Do you sow the seeds broadcast or plant in drills? How far apart should the plants be set? Do you mulch beds in winter? Is it best to reset seedlings the first year? How many plants does it require to set an acre? What is generally used for shading? Has the plant or root any enemies? When does the seed ripen? How wide do you make your beds? Do you fertilize your soil? Will the plants bear seed the first year? What price do plants and seed usually bring? What does the seed look like?
It will be almost impossible to answer all of the above questions, but will try to give a few points regarding Ginseng and Ginseng growing which may help some reader out. In the spring of 1899 I began experimenting with a few Ginseng plants, writes an Indiana party, and at present have thousands of plants coming along nicely from one to seven years old. Last fall I planted about eight pounds of new seed. The mature roots are very profitable at present prices. They are easily grown if one knows how. It takes about five years to grow marketable roots.
The seed is planted in August and September; the plants set in September and October. A rich, dark sandy loam is the most desirable soil for the crop, which requires shade during growth. The plants are perennial, dying down in the fall and reappearing in the spring. The roots must be dried for market. They should be dug some time in October. Cultivation of the crop is comparatively simple and easy. The crop is practically exported from this country to China, where the roots are largely used for medicinal purposes. The best prices are paid in New York, Chicago, Cincinnati and San Francisco. Dry roots usually bring $4.00 to $8.00 per pound as to quality. The drying is accomplished the same way fruit is dried. The number of roots in a pound depends on their age and size.
The seed of Ginseng germinates in eighteen months. Sow the seed in drill rows and set the plants about eight inches apart each way. Mulch the beds with forest leaves in the fall. The seedlings should be reset the first year. It requires about 100,000 plants to cover an acre. The shade for the crop is usually furnished by the use of lath or brush on a stationary frame built over the garden.
Moles and mice are the only enemies of Ginseng and sometimes trouble the roots, but are usually quite easily kept out. The seed of Ginseng ripens in August. Seed beds are usually made four feet wide. The best fertilizer is leaf mould from the woods. The plants will not bear much seed the first year. The price of both seed and plants varies considerably. The seed looks like those of tomatoes, but is about ten times larger.
Ginseng is usually found growing wild in the woods where beech, sugar and poplar grow. The illustration shows a plant with seed. Early in the season, say June and early July, there is no stem showing seed. (See cover.)
The plant usually has three prongs with three large leaves and has small ones on each stem. Note the illustration closely. Sometimes there are four prongs, but the number of leaves on each prong is always five-three large and two small.
The leading Ginseng states are West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It is also found in considerable quantities in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, New York, and even north into Southern Canada. It is also found in other Central and Southern states.
During the past few years the wild root has been dug very close, and in states where two or three years ago Ginseng was fairly plentiful is now considerably thinned out. In some sections "sengers" follow the business of digging the wild root from June to October. They make good wages quite often. It is these "sengers" that have destroyed the wild crop and paved the way for the growers. The supply of wild root will no doubt become less each year, unless prices go down so that there will not be the profit in searching for it.