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.
You 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 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.
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.
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.
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.