Growing Ginseng

Orang Utan Organic Ginseng was set up originally by John and Jenny Dubois almost by chance when they purchased a small property at Catani, in Victoria on which 1kg of Ginseng seed had been planted.

Having had their interest in Ginseng sparked, John and Jenny decided to plant another 10kg of seed as well as 5000 one year old rootlings.

The Catani farm proved to be unsuitable for Ginseng growing with slugs and floods being a major problem.  Undaunted, they set about to find another property more suited to growing ginseng.

Ginseng requires special conditions to flourish.  The most important being a moist well drained soil with an optimum pH of 5.4 and a canopy cover to maintain 80% minimum shade.    Young plants are fragile and have to be well watered while establishing.

John and Jenny’s 12 month search culminated in the purchase of a 40.5 ha property at Gembrook where, having salvaged approximately 800 roots, they set about transplanting their ginseng and Orang Utan Organic Ginseng was born.

The property mainly faces east and is hilly from 5 to 40 degrees. And whilst the property is all bush, only about 8 ha is suitable to grow woods grown ginseng without any extra shade being provided. 

It had a yearly average rainfall of 1200mm and a spring fed dam that was always full to supplement watering during below average years.  John set up a sprinkler system fed from the dam using a portable firefighting pump.

“This we feel is good insurance, especially for new plantings, as we believe that older plants will survive, even if they go dormant earlier in a drought year.”

Eucalypts are the main canopy species, with an understorey of hazel pomadarus along with other understorey plants such as tree ferns, tea tree, etc.  This provided the 80% shade requirement as long as gum trees did not come crashing down and destroy the canopy.

The soil varies throughout the farm from loamy sand to heavier clays.  The soil pH in the growing areas had to be adjusted to 5.4 with the application of lime, dolomite and gypsum. 

Extensive soil testing over the first 2 years proved the property met all the requirements for organic certification. 

Ginseng growers around the world who are aiming to achieve simulated wild grown ginseng normally plant seed and let the plants fend for themselves.  Rarely is fertiliser used.  John and Jenny went against this trend using organic certified fertilisers to boost growth. 

Invasions by deer, wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, bush rats, lyre birds, possums and parrots have proved to be a constant problem for growing ginseng.  Bandicoots are especially fond of Ginseng, not only eating the above ground plant but burrowing down to devour the root. 

Original plantings of ginseng were protected from these native Australian animals and birds by rough wire fences and electronic deterrents.  These were only partly successful and have now been replaced with wire igloos.

“Although this has meant more work, the peace of mind is well worth it.”

“Growing Ginseng can be a steep learning curve. We would advise all growers about the importance of sharing information and attending regional growers’ field days. That is after all where the real knowledge is on Australian growing techniques.”

John and Jenny ran the farm for 15 years until they retired in 2014.

Graeme and Sara Trethewey bought the farm mainly to provide confidence and self esteem workshops for children and young adults in the Australian bush away from technology.  A need for this service was identified while dealing with students at their tutorial business, Sum Of Us.  The Ginseng was an added attraction, and they are continuing John and Jenny’s tradition of ginseng growing in Australia.

Additional plantings have been carried out using John’s techniques with the aim of providing ginseng seed and seedlings for Australian growers.

Jenny & John