Horseradish and Other Root Crops
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Cheryl Shafer
Posted on: March 22, 1999

I’m interested in growing root crops, on a bulk scale. I’m considering horseradish, which I am having a hard time finding information on. Is it worth it and how much to plant per acre? Do you have a benefit from organic? What other root crops should one consider? I have approximately 10 acres. Would like to grow for the medicinal market. I am aware that horseradish is mostly for the culinary market but I’m still considering it.

While this is a crop I have not personally grown in field conditions, I do know of those who have. Horseradish is one of those crops which has a number of botanical names. It can be Armoracia rusticana, A. lapathifolia, Cochlearia armoracla, C. rusticana, Rorippa armoracia, or Radicula armoracia, depending on which botanical authority used). If this is not enough to bring tear to the eyes, certainly it’s growing habits will.

The plant, which attains two feet in height and has large, elongated, serrated, and wavy-edged leaves, is uncommonly prolific. Any piece of root left in the ground is capable of developing rootlets and shoots. This means that harvesting the crop in the Autumn will leave enough rootlets to spread that following Spring.

It is considered a "cross-over" between a vegetable and a condiment (spice), having many different markets and uses, including culinary, medicinal, and even cosmetic. The first Spring leaf is often mixed with other salad greens, or even boiled with other leafy vegetables. It’s too strong by itself, but combines well with other foods.

The root, always served fresh or dried, is best known for its use as a condiment. It functions as a chief ingredient in tangy sauces for fish, meat, foul, or vegetables. It also improves cocktail sauces, mustard sauces, and hollandaise. High in vitamin C, the root was also used in the past as a cure for scurvy. One recipe still uses it to relieve whooping cough in children.

Horseradish, which is best planted early for a good fall crop, needs to be replanted every few years as its quality deteriorates. Root cuttings, called "thongs," can be 6 to 7 inches long and may or may not include a bud. Plant them 12 to 15 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart.

Harvest the roots in the Autumn of their third year, store them in damp sand or the refrigerator for the fresh market. Dehydrating the root does loose a significant amount of the essentail oil, maybe as much as 12% by weight. Best growing conditions include such colder regions as Illinois and Saskatchewan, where it is frequently cultivated for larger productions.

More than likely, the field will continue to show horseradish, as getting all of the root from the ground is almost impossible. Resetting a field will need up to 400 lbs. of new rootstock per acre (every third year). COG, of course, is becoming more and more important in the consideration of marketing. It possible, this would be preferred for better returns on your effort.

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