Estimating Ginseng Seed
June 4, 2018
This is a question I’ve answered many times over the years. Since most of my customers and friends are growing wild simulated ginseng, I’ll lean this article in that direction.
How much seed you need depends on a number of things:
- What type of final product you want (wild sim v cultivated)?
- How much space do you have?
- How many seeds per pound?
- How long do you intend to grow before harvest?
- How much of your area is unusable (think rocks and trees in wild sim setting)?
Regardless of your method or area, you will always use the same formula
Commercial ginseng farmers typically plant around 80 pounds per acre and increase that amount if viability tests come out low. Most of us won’t be planting 80 pounds of seed in a year, however. So let’s look at these different considerations one at a time.
If you are looking for big fast roots, you can plant very densely and fertilize the ginseng for a comparable cultivated product. However, if you are looking for wild simulated roots with some age, you won’t need to plant nearly as many seeds in the same area. Plant density varies considerably. However, a good rule of thumb is about 5 plants per square foot. Traditional wisdom suggests that the plants will naturally thin out to about that density on their own over time. If you break it down on a diagram, this is a little less than 6 inch spacing between the plants. Commercial farmers use about 2 inch spacing.
Obviously, the more space you have to plant the more seed you will need. But, to accurately estimate this, we need to do basic math. We will work up several examples. Most folks understand basic geometry to arrive at a square foot figure but some might not. So, simply multiply the width by the length of the area you want to plant. In the case of a bed that is 2 feet wide by 20 feet long, 2 x 20 = 40 square feet. An acre is 43,560 square feet.
Seeds per Pound
This is another one of those subjective things that will just vary to some degree depending on seed size, region of origin, and the particular growing season. The general rule of thumb is 7,000 seeds per pound.
Years to Grow
Planting wild sim for harvest in 10–12 years is much different than planting woodsgrown in a tilled bed anticipating a harvest in 6-8 years. First remember, if you substantially disturb the soil, you won’t be able to grow ginseng there again. For this reason, I highly suggest wild simulated planting in such a way that it promotes natural propagation of the patch which can then be sustainably harvested for many years. Planting wild sim (using the ECF Seeder) I plant 2 or 3 seeds in each hole in an arch in front of me about 8–10 inches apart. Then I take a small step forward (12–18 inches) and repeat this process. I also recommend going back into a wild sim patch and reseeding it after two years. You cannot do this rake and scatter without damaging the young ginseng you planted before. But, with my seeder, you can seed the same area without damaging the plants that are already there from the initial seeding. This allows you to fill in sparse spots and it also mixes the age classes of the harvested ginseng down the road. When I planted woods grown for rootlet harvest in 2-3 years, I planted very thickly in tilled beds.
This is an estimation you must make. When I’m going to seed a wild simulated area, I don’t intend to do anything with it for at least 5-7 years. So I cut out deadwood, small saplings, and low branches. I also pull all the multiflora rose bushes in the area. Here in northern Ohio, I normally estimate the usable space of an acre to be about 80%.
Some things just make more sense when you draw examples. For me, seed spacing is one of those things. Below are quick and dirty diagrams of 2", 4", and 6" seed spacing per square foot.
To determine how many seeds per square foot, just draw out a square foot and overlay a grid the size you like. For instance, the above graphic shows a square foot divided by a 2"x2" grid. By counting the intersections we can see how many seeds it actually takes for each square foot. In the graphics, I placed a green dot where the seeds would be. Notice that I did not place/count seeds at the top and left side of the square. This is because the bottom of the square foot above will have seed on its bottom -which are the very same intersections as those on the top of this grapic. The same principle applies to one side. So, by simply counting the intersections in this diagram we come up with 36 seeds per square foot. Of course these are only estimates and you will likely seed more than this anticipating germination in the 70-80% range normally.
The very same principle applies for any spacing as depicted in the 4"x4" diagram above and the 6"x6" diagram below. This spacing gives us 9 plants per square foot.
And finally, we have only 4 seeds per square foot with 6"x6" spacing.
Now that we understand what we are doing, lets work through a couple examples.
Example 1 is a 4'x16' raised bed intended to produce roots for personal consumption. Therefore, we can treat this bed similar to commercial applications. Predation of seed and seed that naturally delays germination or just doesn't germinate will lower the plant density from our estimate. So for this, I'd plant the bed with about 2"x2" spacing anticipating a harvest in 3-5 years. However, if you want to keep the bed going longer before starting over, you might consider wider spacing.
4'x16'=64 square feet. Since 2"x2" spacing is 36 seeds per square foot, 36x64=2304 seeds. Now, if we divide 2304 by the estimated number of seeds per pound 2304/7000= .33 pounds or 1/3 of a pound.
Example 2 is a tilled woodsgrown bed for seed production. The bed is 2' wide by 30' long. Anticipating growing the plants for some time and also some predation of the seed before spring, we'll go with 4"x4" spacing here (9 seeds per sq ft).
2x30=60 x9=540 seeds. Buying 2 ounces of stratified seed will give you plenty. 7000 seeds in one pound divided by 16 ounces, 7000/16=438 seeds per ounce.
Our final example will be a 1/2 acre of wild simulated expecting to allow the plants to grow indefinately and start a naturally reproducing, sustainable patch. Remember, there are 43,560 sq ft in one acre, so we divide that in half 43560/2=21,780 sq ft. Since we know we cannot plant ginseng seed in every square foot of this half acre plot, we must estimate the amount of plantable or usable space. We'll go with 80% as the rule of thumb here in Ohio. We'll plant these with 6"x6" spacing.
21,780x.8=17,424 usable square feet at 80% of 1/2 acre. Now it works just like the other examples. 17,424x4=68,968 /7000= 9.85 pounds of stratified seed.
Since I tend to plant 2-3 seeds per hole when using my seeder (because of predation and such) I always estimate 5 seeds per foot even though I normally space them farther apart than that with the intention to come back in a couple years and reseed the entire area again lightly. The same example with 5 seeds per square foot would look like this: 17,424x5= 87,120 /7000= 12.45 pounds of stratified seed.
Just remember the formula...
Figure out the number of seeds per square foot, multiply that by the total usable square feet, and divide by 7000 to estimate the required pounds of stratified ginseng seed.
Best of luck with your patches gang!