Thursday, January 21, 2010

Passion For Horseradish

Anna reg [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
Horseradish is one of those herbs you can love or hate.  The hot, pungent flavor stirs passions one way or another.  The ease with which it can be grown is an attraction for some, but others despise it because it can spread aggressively.  If you love lots of it, or just enjoy growing lots of anything, this herb is for you.

Horseradish may be grown from USDA climate zones 3 through 9.  That covers a large area from International Falls, MN to Fort Pierce, FL, and from East to West coasts.

Choose a planting site in full sun to light shade that you'd like to devote to growing it.  Average, slightly moist, well-drained soil between pH 5.5 and 7.5 is good enough.  To determine your soil pH, you need a soil analysis.  If you don't have a pH test kit, you should contact your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service for help.  For a nominal fee, you can deliver a soil sample to their office for testing.  Call them for instructions.  While you're at it, specify horseradish as the crop to be grown.  They should be able to provide more specific recommendations particular to your region.  As a rule, horseradish should be fertilized with garden fertilizers low in nitrogen and higher in phosphorus and potash.

Cultivate the soil deeply and amend it according to soil test recommendations.  Long, straight roots require soft, fertile soil without obstructions.  If you have a few roots to plant, you only need to prepare that many planting holes.  If you want to produce large crops of roots, you'll need to prepare a larger area.

For each root, dig a big hole in the cultivated soil about twelve inches in diameter and eight inches deep.  Lay the root at a 45 degree angle against the side.  The top of the root should be about one inch below the soil surface.  Fill the hole with compost.  Water deeply.  As the soil and compost sinks, add more compost on top to compensate.

Two or three applications of fertilizer during the summer may be necessary.  Horseradish is moderately drought tolerant, but large roots will require regular moderate irrigation if rainfall is insufficient.

Flavor is best when harvested in the fall after frost when the foliage has yellowed or fallen.  Youngest roots that are one year old are the most pungent.  The roots over-winter in the soil quite well, so gardeners in the south may harvest them according to need.  Gardeners in the frozen north may want to harvest enough to supply them until spring.

Horseradish can be stored in the same manner as any other root crop.  If stored in plastic bags and refrigerated, roots will stay fresh for several weeks.  Root cellars are ideal.  Grated horseradish can be stored in the freezer for up to six months.

For horseradish recipes, a brief internet search will turn up several.  Horseradish is reputed to possess some therapeutic value.  It is supposed to be high in Vitamin C.  Ancient civilizations considered it to be an effective aphrodisiac.  Freshly peeled horseradish in olive oil has been used to produce a massage oil to treat muscle soreness and chest congestion.  As with any medical claims, view them with some skepticism and always consult a physician.

Perhaps you've seen horseradish in stores, but never gave it much thought.  It's time you tried some.  Plant horseradish in your garden, and explore your passions.

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