Have you ever hoped you could someday grow horseradish in your own garden? You too can grow horseradish in your own garden! In fact, this aesthetic and nutritious herb is easy to grow. Here are a few tips:
Don't bother looking for horseradish seeds. Start your plants from a bit of root. You can obtain live root stock from other gardeners (who will surely be happy to share) or buy a horseradish root from the grocery store, chop it up and put it in the ground. The best time to plant is when the ground is not frozen. Horseradish prefers to grow in soil, but does not strictly require it as long as it is kept damp. It prefers full sun, but will grow if it can reasonably hope to someday catch some stray light. It is an extremely hardy plant!
Tips for success:
Try to plant long, thin pieces of root perpendicular to the ground. These will grow and thicken into a nice straight root that is easy to peel and prepare. I have found typical root size to be about as large as a person's forearm. Because it goes deep, it is a good idea to loosen the soil well beneath the planting. Hard, packed soil can constrict root growth. Plant starter roots at least two feet apart, preferably three as horseradish will produce waist high foliage.
Harvesting horseradish should be done sometime in the fall or winter, before the ground freezes. I've been told the longer it is left in the ground, the sharper the taste becomes. In order to harvest the root, simply take a shovel and dig down around the plant until you get bored. Then chop off what you have and take it home. Don't worry, you will leave enough behind to start next year's crop.
You may have heard stories about how readily horseradish spreads, and how it comes up from long lateral roots. When you watch your plant grow during the summer, you may find this hard to believe because you will not see any shoots coming up around the main plant. Sometimes, even a two year old plant will still have only one crown. However, once you harvest the main tap root, every lateral roots becomes an independent plant. Plan accordingly, and plant near natural obstacles that will contain its spread such as garden pathways, paved areas, and Lake Michigan.
It is possible to dig out a patch of established horseradish, and at least one person has actually succeeded in doing that. It can take a couple years before it is all gone. There is a type of caterpillar that can be introduced to remove an entire horseradish patch in a matter of days. This particular caterpillar is yellow, very large, and runs on gasoline. It should only be used as a weapon of last resort, because the treads may crush your other vegetables or those of your gardening neighbors.
Once you have harvested your roots it is time to prepare them. If you can't get to it right away, they will keep outdoors in a bucket of water for a week or two without noticeable ill effects. Alternately, you can put them in a plastic bag with a little water in the refrigerator and they will still be viable for planting in the springtime. I have had great success in preparing horseradish using a recipe from Minnick's "A Wisconsin Garden".
- Peel the roots with a potato peeler or knife.
- Shred with a cheese grater or a blender.
- Mix each 1 cup of shredded root with ½ cup of white vinegar and ½ teaspoon salt.
- Store in jars in the refrigerator.
- It keeps at least one year.
WARNING: preparing horseradish is a pungent job. Before grating your roots it is a good idea to clear the area of any stray family members, household pets, houseplants, etc. that might not appreciate the aroma of raw horseradish. Open windows and doors to increase air circulation. Wear clothes that are machine washable. Anti-chemical respirators are available cheaply from most hardware stores and should allow you to breathe in perfect comfort. Do not attempt to prepare horseradish while wearing contact lenses. If you do, do not attempt to remove them until you've washed your hands really well. It might be easier to have a friend do it.