The following 101, on growing horseradish, comes from Thomas, a green thumb specializing in garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, and hops, in addition to the spicy stuff below. Tom is also venturing into cold-weather gardening and just built his first hoophouse. Got tips to share or words of encouragement? Post ’em below and cheer him on. And Tom, thanks so much for sharing your know-how. Please keep the good ideas sprouting!
I began growing horseradish about 15 years ago, when my wife and I bought our wooded, 20-acre homestead in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. In our first weeks living on the property, I was thrilled to discover that horseradish grew wild in some of the clearer areas. Though I had always gardened traditional crops, such as potatoes, tomatoes, many types of peppers, and several strains of garlic, this discovery led to my interest in growing, harvesting and preparing horseradish.
I know of only two types of horseradish, common and Bohemian—or maybe three, if you count wasabi. That is grown completely differently, though, so I’ll stick to common, which I grow, and Bohemian below. Common horseradish has broad, crinkled leaves; Bohemian has narrower, smooth leaves. Bohemian is said to be less desirable, as far as taste goes, but is more resistant to disease. That said, I’ve found common to be adequately resistant to bugs and disease. (If you’ve grown other varieties, please share your thoughts via the comments box below!)
Unlike many crops, where you would plant a seed, with horseradish you'll plant a piece of another plant's roots. I have obtained root cuttings in the spring and early fall at local farmers markets; you might also find them for order in seed catalogs. If you’d rather skip ahead a few steps, look for horseradish seedlings—small plants that have already gotten a head start—at local gardening or seed stores in the spring.
Horseradish is a tough perennial, able to survive in areas as cold as zone 3 (think the northern parts of Maine and Wisconsin). It is best grown where the weather gets cold enough to force it into dormancy over the winter months.
The plants thrive in full sun but can take partial shade. Although most types of soil will sustain horseradish, other than consistently damp or wet soil, it does best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.
Horseradish can be an aggressive grower, so plant it somewhere that is contained or where you are comfortable having it spread. In my view, it can border on being a noxious weed, popping up several feet away from where you want it.
WHEN AND HOW TO PLANT
You can plant horseradish in the spring, as soon as you can work the ground, or in the fall, before the ground freezes solid. Horseradish also grows well in large containers. Whether you're planting in pots or in the ground, you can plant directly outside; no need to start plants inside first.
To prepare the soil for planting, I loosen it to a depth of 6 to 12 inches and add a little compost. Most books recommend planting at a depth of 12 inches. I plant the crowns at a 45-degree angle, stopping 2 inches below the surface.
It is important not to plant the crown upside down. (Look for the more tapered end; that’s the bottom. If your crown has some greens on top, it’s even easier to tell which end goes down.) A single plant is usually enough to keep one family well supplied, but I keep several going each year to feed my family and friends.
If you’re planting more than one plant, spacing them 12 to 18 inches apart is good. I’ve read that leaves can get up to five feet along, although I’ve never had a leaf grow longer than three feet.
Horseradish needs very little attention, aside from watering it once a week during very dry weather. I recommend removing the sucker leaves when they are about 8 inches long. The suckers are the leaves that grow around the outside of the crown of the plant. Trim those, leaving only the tight bunch of leaves that grows right from the center of the crown.
WHEN AND HOW TO HARVEST
Though I have heard it said that horseradish should be harvested during months containing the letter R, I typically harvest after a good hard frost but before the ground completely freezes. (A hard frost may or may not kill the plant’s leaves.) To harvest, dig out the root, starting at the top, near the leaves, and work down about 6 or 8 inches into the soil, depending on how big the root is. I like to process the top part—the crown, where the leaves are—for eating and replant the offshoot roots to start new plants using the method above. Even if you don't restart a new plant, chances are one would spring up from the roots left in the ground when you dug up your crown. I have been surprised by how far the roots stretch—and how far away another plant may sprout up.
I don't like the vinegary flavor of many store-bought horseradish products, so I prepare my own condiment with what I grow at home. I peel each 4- to 5-inch piece as if it were a carrot then cut that into small chunks. I place the pieces into my wife's blender (a food processor would work too) with two or three ice cubes for moisture and grind until well blended. I finish it with a tablespoon of white vinegar. Add vinegar sparingly before grinding for milder heat, during grinding for more bite, or three minutes after grinding for maximum heat. When I've completed the steps outlined here, I drain off all of the extra liquid and store my results in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator. Prepared horseradish will keep in the fridge for about six weeks. You can store unprocessed root in your fridge for even longer.
In our home, we use our fresh, homegrown horseradish straight from the jar as a garnish for beef, pork, and some fish. We also use it to make a seafood cocktail sauce and a horseradish mayonnaise for sandwiches. Controlling how hot we want it is a real plus! Below are a few more ways to use horseradish, courtesy of HOMEGROWN members.
• Frank infuses vinegar with horseradish, onion, garlic, chili peppers, and ginger.
• Jennifer makes horseradish cream as a topping for rösti, a savory (and cheesy) Swiss pancake.
• Like Tom, Alain uses horseradish in seafood cocktail sauce.
• From Scratch Club makes a mean flu-fighting shooter.
MORE THINGS TO GROW
• From Going Rogue: Growing Asparagus 101
• From Lucy: Growing Lettuce 101
• From Kathryn: Growing Microgreens 101
• From Matt and High Ridge Farm: Growing Peas 101
• From High Mowing Organic Seeds: Growing Garlic 101
Got experience growing wasabi? Or a way to put those horseradish leaves to use? Post your comments below and keep the conversation rolling! You can find more gardening help in 101s on garden planning, soil testing, selecting seeds, seed starting, raised beds, container gardening and companion planting, and you can dig up more things to sow early in the Fall and Winter Planting 101s. You can always find more things to plant, grow, make, craft, cook, preserve, and tend in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLICKR'S CREATIVE COMMONS: (CROWN IN HAND) URBAN COMBING; (CROWNS) JAZZIJAVA; (IN POT) NERDLING; (SEEDLING) SMATHESON; (MATURE PLANT) GRAIBEARD; (HARVESTED ROOTS) JAZZIJAVA; (PREPARED HORSERADISH) MADPOLE
Hi Thomas I want to start some horse radish this year and have some raised beds that I want to start it in, I have filled the beds with composted chicken manure and leaves and straw. Here is a picture of the bed filled with compost already planted some cabbage and collards and three cucumbers in this bed, the one on the top only has two strawberry plants in it. My question is will the horse radish survive in the compost and the full sun? Thanks Ellen from Georgia
Has anyone ever heard of a homemade hot-sour mustard with horseradish?