A Flourishing Surprise

Canadian County woman has success growing ginger, turmeric; also feeds animals

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Opal Keck stands in front of basil growing in the family’s backyard garden in Yukon. (Photo provided)

By Carol Mowdy Bond
Contributing Writer

Far southeastern Canadian County’s Debbie Harrison is defying the odds by successfully growing herbs that aren’t supposed to grow in the county, such as ginger and turmeric. But she’s also growing herbs that do well in the county, including oregano, thyme, bee balm, comfrey, lavender, rosemary, basil, Echinacea, garlic, mint, and lemon balm.

Harrison, a Master Gardener since 2016, has a green thumb for growing herbs on her Herbal Goats Hobby Farm in the Mustang area. Most of the herbs she grows are supposed to do well in Canadian County. But she’s also growing ginger and turmeric which aren’t supposed to survive the county’s weather.

“I always wanted a challenge so I picked ginger and turmeric to grow,” Harrison said. “Yes, these are warm climate plants that grow usually in zone 8 and higher. But with some work, you can grow them in Oklahoma. Ginger and turmeric are perennial root crops. You can get rhizomes, with living eyes, from an organic market like Sprout’s. It is important that the eyes are not cut off. You can plant in the ground with heavy mulch, or in a pot. Plant in loosened organic soil. Then you wait. It takes ginger longer to come up. The timing is the warmth of the soil. Usually in mid-April.”

Ginger looks like bamboo, whereas turmeric looks like a canna leaf. Harrison has them planted where they get morning sunshine and afternoon shade. Both plants like moist soil, but not overly damp.

Harrison created a spiral herb garden that she designed in a landscaping design class that she took through the Canadian County Oklahoma State University Extension Center in El Reno.

“The placement of the garden was important so I could easily collect the herbs,” Harrison said. “I planted the perennial herbs thyme, oregano, sage, basil, and rosemary. I purchased them from Lowe’s. Most all your herbs love sun. The spiral garden forms a spiral shape that pays attention to space, water use, and microclimate, to create a self-sustaining garden. Taking the landscaping class really helped in the planning of this garden. In the spring and summer, I collect each of these herbs to chop up and add to my chicken feed. The herbs are nutritious and I can really tell the difference in the eggs that the hens lay. The egg yolks stand up higher and they are a vivid yellow.”

Harrison has goats and chickens on her hobby farm. She puts garlic in their water and says it helps their immune systems, just as it helps the immune systems of humans.

She uses mint, thyme, and lemon balm to help her animals repel insects and parasites. She uses chopped up herbs with her four-day-old chicks, and said it helps them grow faster and be healthier.

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For her own use, Harrison uses rosemary, thyme, and basil for tea. And she uses cayenne peppers, comfrey, olive oil, and beeswax to make a salve.

The State of Oklahoma is divided into hardiness zones for plant purposes. The zones are created according to10-degree increments. Oklahoma includes zones 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, and a small pocket of 8a in the southeastern part of the state. Canadian County is in zone 7A. Any plant with a higher zone number is not supposed to survive our winters. Knowing which zone you reside in is useful if you are a gardener.

The OSU Extension Service has a helpful white paper titled “Culinary Herbs for Oklahoma Gardens: Culture, Use and Preservation.” The paper, written by three extension specialists, said, “Herbs are plants with fragrant properties found in leaves, stems, and roots that can be used culinarily. Culinary herbs are plants grown for flavoring various kinds of foods.” The paper includes a long list of herbs that may be grown in Oklahoma, and details about growing them.

Classified according to their life spans, some herbs are annuals and are grown from seed. Others are biennials, meaning they will grow and mature in over two years time. Another group of herbs, perennials, may grow and produce several years from one planting. This group is often started from young plants. Some herbs may be grown indoors.

For the most part, herbs need sunny locations with at least five hours of sun per day. Most need well-drained soil. But if the soil is heavy clay, it’s wise to consider planting in raised beds with amended soil.

Numerous herbs also grow well in containers, which can provide improved drainage, and they can be moved so they have the right kind of sun exposure, and so their growth can be controlled. Most herbs do best with average moisture. There are a few herbs that will tolerate some shade, and they include cilantro, lemon balm, mint, nasturtium, ginger, lovage, chervil, and parsley.

You might have great success growing herbs indoors if you make sure they have the required amount of sunlight. Grown indoors, herbs grow more slowly than outdoors, and they need less water. Although you will not be able to harvest them as frequently, you will be able to harvest through the winter months.

Herbs may be dried at home. Then, if properly prepared, they may be stored in airtight containers in certain locations, or frozen. Herbs grown at home are a bit different than those you purchase commercially.

In most situations, homegrown herbs are stronger and more pungent. So, when cooking, you need to know how much of a homegrown herb to use as opposed to a commercially prepared herb you purchase in the grocery store.

As for advice, Harrison said, “Everyone seems to have a favorite flower, herb, or animal. Pick your favorite, research if it can be grown in our zone. Learn what its intended use is. If you have a true love for it, then it is okay if you fail at first. Once you succeed, just smile and enjoy.”

Courtney Keck is the horticulture educator with the Canadian County OSU Extension Center.

Keck said, “I don’t think a lot of people really know we’re here. The OSU Extension is an extension of the university, the Cooperative Extension Service, where we work with people in the community to educate and empower them with research-based information. We have areas of agriculture, horticulture, family, and consumer sciences and 4-H youth programs. Each extension office, in all 77 counties of Oklahoma, is housed in the county seat. Ours is in El Reno.”

“Culinary Herbs for Oklahoma Gardens: Culture, Use and Preservation” and other fact sheets are available on the web at osufacts.okstate.edu.

To connect with the Canadian County OSU Extension Center, call (405) 262-0155 or go online to extension.okstate.edu/county/canadian.