Garden Calendar: Grow your own horseradish
If you like horseradish, you might try producing your own. The herb is easy to grow and survives through the winter in Kansas, so now is the best time to plant it. Horseradish also stores well after harvest.
For those unfamiliar with horseradish, it is an herb with a distinct aroma and flavor. Horseradish is often described as being hot, but the flavor is much different than that of hot peppers or chilies. Horseradish is often found in dips and sauces, as a topping on steak, and is the key ingredient in imitation wasabi. My personal favorite horseradish recipes are horseradish mustard and plain horseradish mixed into mashed potatoes.
The roots are the only part of the horseradish plant that is consumed, so soil preparation is important for good yield. Add compost or organic matter to the garden and work it into the soil before planting. A general rule of thumb when adding organic matter is to spread one to two inches of material over the soil surface, and mix it in to the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches.
Fertilizer is also best added prior to planting, but a soil test should be done to determine what nutrients are needed in the area. Soil samples can be submitted to your local county Extension office for testing and recommendations. Thanks to a grant from the Douglas County Conservation District, Douglas County residents can test up to 10 samples per year for free, basic analysis only.
Plant horseradish root cuttings three to four inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. One or two horseradish plants will probably provide more than enough horseradish for a family. If you miss planting this fall, root cuttings can also be planted in early spring as soon as the ground thaws.
Apply mulch over the soil surface to control weeds. Prairie hay, straw or chopped leaves are examples of mulching materials that work well with horseradish.
Horseradish plants do require a little bit of maintenance. The plants should be lifted and stripped a couple of times during the growing season. Lifting and stripping means to remove the soil around the crown of the plant, raise it up, and remove the small roots on the crown and sides of the main root. This encourages the main root to gain size. Also, remove all but the best sprout or crown of leaves. The plant and soil are then returned to its original position.
Generally, the first lifting and stripping should be done when the plant’s leaves reach eight to 10 inches long. The second lifting and stripping should occur about six weeks after the first.
Horseradish is harvested in late October or early November, preferably after a hard frost or freeze. To dig roots without damaging plants, dig a trench alongside the row, then loosen plants with a spading fork. Grasp plant leaves and gently pull the plants towards the trench and out of the ground.
Cut the largest roots from the plant for use. Smaller side and bottom roots can be re-planted. Roots for planting can also be wrapped and refrigerated for planting at a later date.
After harvesting, wrap horseradish roots in dark-colored plastic (roots wrapped in clear plastic may discolor from light exposure) and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Fresh horseradish will usually maintain its flavor in the refrigerator for four to six weeks. If frozen, horseradish keeps about six months.
To use harvested horseradish, peel or scrape the roots first. Then use a grater or blender to shred the roots. The University of Illinois recommends filling a blender halfway with diced horseradish roots and adding a small amount of water and ice before grinding. Add one to two tablespoons of white vinegar, a half-teaspoon of salt and one tablespoon of sugar.
White vinegar is added to ground horseradish root to stop the enzymatic activity that builds heat. For hotter horseradish, wait a few minutes after grinding to add vinegar. Cider vinegar discolors the horseradish and is not recommended for use. If not using immediately, place the prepared horseradish in tightly sealed containers for storage.
If you prefer, grated horseradish can be added directly to food or placed in lemon juice and served immediately.
The origins of horseradish as a name are partially unknown. Some researchers believe it may have come from an adaptation of the German name for the plant, meerretich. Meerretich means sea radish, and the plant grew wild in European coastal areas. The name horseradish first appeared in print in 1597.
— By Jennifer Smith, the Horticulture Extension Agent for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Contact her or an Extension Master Gardener with your gardening questions at 843-7058.