Edibles

Horseradish–You Can Grow That!

Horseradish is an easy to grow perennial root crop in my zone 6 gardens of south-central Connecticut – a plant-it-and-forget-it crop until autumn, when horseradish harvest time rolls around. It’s a You Can Grow That! plant … so easy to grow that I’m often surprized more gardeners don’t dedicate a sunny bed to it.

ycgt_blog_post_graphicYou Can Grow That! is a blog meme started by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening. On the 4th of each month garden bloggers champion the virtues of gardening.  All of this month’s, as well as previous posts, can be found at the You Can Grow That! website.

The key to growing horseradish is dedicating it to a sunny bed where the main roots can extend deeply into the soil and side roots can spread to eventually grow into new plants. I don’t advise planting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA horseradish in an ornamental bed. Horseradish leaves grow two to three feet tall and are not necessarily showy over the entire growing season. They emerge a lovely green and quickly grow to near mature height. But the leaves are often munched by caterpillars and tend to brown during the heat of summer.

In my region, deer browse the leaves in late summer leaving unsightly bare stalks standing until harvest time. Because of this I advise planting horseradish in an inconspicuous spot. Don’t expect it to be an attractive eye-catcher. In my dedicated-to-edibles gardens, horseradish has it’s own bed. Because horseradish plants have not completely filled the bed, I fill bare spots with onions since these bulb crops don’t compete with deeper horseradish roots and easily survive among horseradish leaves. Also, my horseradish bed is unfenced and available to browsing deer which leave the onions alone and don’t browse horseradish leaves until late summer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But each autumn, even after deer browse the horseradish leaves to stalks, I harvest and process enough horseradish to meet my family’s needs.  Harvest time comes after a couple of good hard frosts, which help sweeten horseradish roots, but before the ground freezes. Harvest using a digging fork that allows deep penetration into the surrounding soil but does not cut the roots. Loosen the soil around the large tap root, then pull the root out of the ground. The root will likely snap off, but that’s okay. Pieces left in the soil will become future horseradish plants. Once all good size roots are dug, level off the bed and replace any mulch (I use straw or salt hay). Remove any remaining leaves from the dug roots, and as much loose soil as possible, then place roots in a cardboard box, in an area protected from weather, to cure for a few days. Before processing, you want to give the exterior of the roots time to dry, but don’t let them dry out too much so that interior moisture is lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On processing day, brush as much remaining soil off as possible and soak the roots in water. Then gather your tools. Gloved hands are a must when processing horseradish. An open window is also helpful since the pungent odor of fresh cut roots will make your eyes water. A potato brush is handy for removing clinging soil.  Rely on a  sturdy vegetable peeler and a small knife to peel the brown outer-coating from the roots. I like to do this in the sink to contain the peelings.

Cut the peeled white roots into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chunks, then place in a food processor bowl – with the cutting blade – with some water and white vinegar. Don’t completely cover the chunks, but give them an inch or so of liquid to sit in. As the chunks sit they gain pungency … you might want to keep the cover on the food processor bowl as much as possible. When all roots are cleaned and chunked, add white vinegar to about half way up the processor bowl and let the pieces sit about 15 minutes. If you have not opened a window yet, now is the time to do so. The pungent odor really gets strong once that food processor begins to work. Process the horseradish, adding white vinegar as needed, until no large chunks remain and the blend has a creamy texture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You’ll shed tears during processing, but these will be well worth it once you taste the sweet, fresh flavor of homegrown and home-processed horseradish.

Warning: you may never settle for store-bought again.

Since starting You Can Grow That! in October 2012, dozens upon dozens of gardening and growing ideas have been shared. Visit You Can Grow That! to dig into the brains of gardeners with a passion for encouraging others to green up their thumbs.

If you try growing horseradish as a result of this post, let me know. Roots should be available from quality independent garden centers and are sold by many seed companies.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry

Time for Thyme–You Can Grow That!

You don’t have to be an herb gardener to find a reason to grow thyme (Thymus vulgaris). There are many reasons to include this versatile,  herb in perennial beds or in container plantings and, it’s so easy to grow that  You Can Grow That!

ycgt_blog_post_graphicOn the 4th of each month, C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening urges garden bloggers to champion the virtues of gardening by sharing You Can Grow That! suggestions. Read the rest of the June 2013 posts, as well as previous posts, at the You Can Grow That! website. You are bound to get some ideas for trying something new in your garden.

Now back to thyme … Does an image such as this carpet of bloom come to mind when you think of thyme?

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This is a lovely, and traditional, way to plant thyme but when considering where you might grow thyme think outside of the traditional herb garden.

Thyme is a wonderful edging plant for garden beds in full or part-sun.

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It softens the base of a stone wall or boulder.

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It acts as a ground cover at garden edges and at the base of a tree.

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It will can handle light foot traffic while filling the space between fieldstones in paths.

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There are multiple varieties and shades of thyme. The wooly thyme above grows just an inch tall in a blue-green hue. Golden thyme, on the left below, has yellow-green leaves while the leaves of common thyme are medium green.

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There’s also silver-edged thyme, carpet thyme, creeping thyme, variegated lemon thyme … all with names that explain their special attributes.

Like many herbs, thyme grows well in lean soil and does not like wet feet. Varieties bloom during summer in shades of white, pink and magenta, and bees love the blossoms. Thyme also grows well in containers, as long as the containers are not overwatered. To use thyme fresh, simply snip off the number of sprigs needed for your recipe.

Shear off thyme flowers after they  have faded. The plants will send up new growth and will soon look refreshed. This is when I like to take cuttings to dry for winter use, but you can also take early spring cuttings, before thyme blooms. Place the cuttings in a paper bag, making sure they are not packed so tightly that air cannot circulate. Staple the bag closed and place in a dry area out of direct sunlight (I use the tops of my kitchen cabinets). Once dry, rub the leaves from the stems and store the leaves in a jar in a dark cabinet. The stems can go to the compost pile. Dried thyme holds its flavor over the winter and is wonderful in soups and sauces.

Thyme has a long history as a flavoring and a medicinal plant. According to the Rodale Herb Book, thyme was used to attract pollinating insects in Mediterranean orchards and young sheep were set out to graze on fields of wild thyme to enhance the flavor of lamb. Different cultures have seen thyme as a symbol of courage and grace, used the herb in scented soaps and oils, and touted its antiseptic properties.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA You don’t have to like the flavor of thyme to see its usefulness in the garden. Small plants may take a while to establish but once they do you will have plenty of thyme to divide and use elsewhere. Thyme is a go-to edging and groundcover in my gardens.

It even does well in the lawn and is often suggested as a lawn replacement in low-traffic areas.

Make time for thyme … it’s a multipurpose You Can Grow That! plant.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry

A Determined Gardener

What can a determined gardener living in a fifth floor apartment grow? Strawberries, cilantro, basil, microgreens, broccoli and a few ornamental perennials all grow outside the apartment of Amanda Bloom.

Amanda is the editor of The Mercurial, a web magazine that covers news and interesting items about food, arts, music, science, health, the environment and people. Much of The Mercurial’s news content focuses on the greater Danbury, Connecticut area but many other articles speak to New Englanders in general.

Amanda has cross-posted some of my blog articles in the Science, Earth & Stars section of The Mercurial. Today I have the chance to return the favor by posting part of and linking to her fifth floor gardening adventures. Amanda is quite a determined lady. Her desire to pick her own home-grown produce compels her inventiveness and I’m thrilled to know that my account of growing microgreens, Seed to Salad in 10 Days, inspired Amanda to do the same.

 

My Fire Escape Garden: May

May 22, 2013
By Amanda Bloom

A bin of lettuce and spinich at left and strawberries at right.

A bin of lettuce and spinach at left and strawberries at right.

What’s one to do when one loves to garden but hasn’t a yard?  Why, accumulate lots of pots and truck loads of soil up to one’s fifth floor apartment, of course!  This is what I’ve been doing over the past four years to create a mostly edible garden on my apartment’s fire escape.

NOTE: When using a fire escape as a garden, it’s important to keep the walkway clear.  This is an emergency exit, after all!

Container gardening can be challenging, but there’s nothing quite like hopping out your living room window and harvesting some fresh produce for a summer meal.

I’ll share my garden’s successes and failures here each month.  These photos were taken about two and a half weeks ago, in mid-May.

READ MORE at The Mercurial.

I’ll be watching for Amanda’s gardening adventure updates. If you are an apartment-dwelling gardener or a gardener with limited in-the-ground planting space you are bound to pick up some great gardening pointers. Besides, don’t you just love reading the adventures of a gardener with the last name of Bloom?

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Joene Hendry
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