The Bay Gardener
By Dr. Frank Gouin
Add Two More Roots to Your Garden and Cuisine
Homegrown horseradish and parsnips make rare pleasures
Horseradish doesn’t grow in jars on grocery store shelves. You can grow your own at home. If you’ve embarked on growing Jerusalem artichokes after reading last week’s column (Vol. xiv, No. 17), you might want to use that other half of your plastic 55 gallon barrel to grow your own horseradish.
Both projects start with cutting both ends off the barrel, then cutting it in half crosswise. Bury each half in soil in a sunny spot. If you place the barrels side by side, plant horseradish in the southern barrel half, Jerusalem artichoke in the northern. Fill your horseradish barrel with sandy loam soil. Mixing two buckets of play sand with three buckets full of garden soil makes an ideal blend. Do not add compost.
Roots of horseradish can often be found in organic food stores or purchased from nursery catalogs. Bury two or three short pieces of the root at least 12 inches apart and two to three inches deep. They’ll sprout as soon as the soil warms. Allow no more than three uniformly spaced plants to grow in each barrel.
In late fall after all of the foliage has died back to the ground, harvest the roots, leaving a couple root pieces for next year’s crops.
For the most sinus-clearing, eye-watering and genuflecting horseradish, brush and scrape the roots clean and grind in a food processor immediately after harvesting. You’ll need to grind horseradish roots outdoors or under a hood. Add white vinegar to make a slurry in the blender. Add salt to taste.
Store your finished horseradish in a tightly sealed glass container in the refrigerator. Freshly made, refrigerated horseradish will maintain its potency for at least three months. Store other roots with moist peat moss or sawdust in a plastic bag in the bottom of the refrigerator until you are ready to make more.
Invest a Little Time Now for Winter Parsnips
To eat parsnips is a memorable event of delayed gratification. To enjoy them at their best, Southern Marylanders must plant in the spring but wait to harvest until late winter or early spring of the following year. Then taste how delicious they are either stir-fried in butter or olive oil for just a few minutes or microwaved for just three minutes.
Parsnips are truly a New England crop because their seeds will germinate best in cool soils. To get good germination in this latitude, seeds must be sown now, while soils are still cool.
To conserve garden space, sow them in double rows approximately 12 inches apart. As soon as the seedlings are two to four inches tall, thin each row so that plants are four to five inches apart. After the plants have been thinned, apply a narrow band of 10-10-10 fertilizer between the rows and water well.
Do not disturb the plants until next winter’s harvest.
Freezing ground stimulates the conversion of starch to sugar within the intact root. Because the roots stay in the ground for such a long time, they may grow 12 to 18 inches long. Often it is impossible to harvest an entire root. One root will often feed two to three hungry appetites. Once you have tasted spring-dug parsnips, you will want more.
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