by Liberty Hyde Bailey, 1903
HORSE-RADISH, the well-known condiment used so much with roast beef and oysters, is a member of the natural family Crucifarae, to which belong cabbage, turnip, wallflower, stock, charlock, mustard, and many other vegetables, flowers and weeds. It comes to us from Great Britain, where it is thought to have been naturalized from some more eastern European country. It is often found growing wild in moist locations, such as the margins of streams, in cool woods and damp meadows, and, in some places, notably in the state of New York, is troublesome as a weed. For botanical description, see Cochlearia.
The root is perennial, fleshy, whitish externally, pure white within, conical at the top, cylindrical, and, unlike the tap-roots of parsnips, is abruptly branched below. When bruised, it emits a volatile oil of strong, pungent odor and hot, biting taste. If eaten before this oil evaporates, it “is highly stimulant, exciting the stomach when swallowed, and promoting the secretions, especially that of urine. Externally, it is rubefacient. Its chief use is as a condiment to promote appetite and invigorate digestion; but it is also occasionally employed in medicine.” (U.S. Dispensatory.) As a table relish, the consumption of Horse-radish is increasing, and greater attention is being paid to its cultivation than formerly. Under the old methods, profitable returns were often obtained, but under the new, profits are generally highly satisfactory where enemies are not very troublesome. The season of fresh-grated Horse-radish runs almost parallel to that of oysters, with which the root is most frequently eaten in this country. Ungrated roots are, however, kept in cold storage for summer use, since roots dug at that season have an unpleasant taste.
Horse-radish will do well upon almost any soil except the lightest sand and the heaviest clay, but a deep loam of medium texture and moderate richness, well supplied with humus and moisture, will produce roots of the best quality and the largest size. In dry soils the roots will be small, woody and deficient in pungency; in wet, small succulent, strong-tasting. Drainage is essential, and so is a fairly open subsoil. Hard subsoil induces excessive branching of the root. Applications of nitrogenous manures should be rather light, commercial fertilizers rich in potash being given the preference. Rolfs recommends a mixture containing 10 per cent potash, 7 per cent phosphoric acid, 4 per cent nitrogen, 600 pounds drilled in per acre. A heavier application broadcast and deeply plowed under, it is believed, would give better results, since the shaft of the root is less likely to become unduly branched when the food is below instead of above and around it, especially when the sets are placed horizontally. A weeder should be used after the harrow periodically until the plants are an inch or so tall. Thorough preparation of the soil is essential.
Since Horse-radish rarely produces seeds, cuttings are made from the roots, not less than one-fourth of an inch thick and 4-5 in. long. To facilitate planting the large-end up, the upper end is cut off square and the lower oblique. If set small-end up no growth may result. In horizontal planting this special cutting is unnecessary. Root-crowns are sometimes used, but since these develop a large number of roots too small for profitable grating, they are employed only for increasing stock.
The land having been prepared, shallow furrows are laid off 30 in. apart and 2-5 in. deep, according to the method of planting. Sets are planted horizontally, vertically, and at all intervening angles, the large ends being made to point in one direction to facilitate cultivation and digging. The angle is a matter of choice, good returns being obtained in each. The usual distance between sets is about 12 in. Cultivation is given after every rain, or once in 10 days, until the lvs. shade the ground.
Double-cropping is common in Horse-radish growing, early cabbage, turnip beets and other quickly maturing plants being used. The sets are dibbled in 2-4 weeks after the first crop, vertically, 18 in. asunder, between the rows of cabbage, which are not less than 2 ft. apart. One management answers for both crops until the first is removed, when, after one cultivation, the Horseradish usually takes full possession. Deep burying of the sets at the time the first crop is planted is also practiced, the object, as in the first case, being to prevent the appearance of the former until the latter is almost mature.
Horse-radish makes its best growth in the cool autumn, steadily improves after September, and, not being injured by frost if undug, is usually left until late before harvesting with plow or spade. Storage in pits is best, since the roots lose less of their crispness, pungency and good appearance than if stored in cellars. In trimming for storage, the lateral roots are saved and buried for next season’s planting. Exposure to air, sun and frost robs the roots of their good qualities and injures their vitality.
The insect enemies of this plant are those that attack other members of the cabbage family, the harlequin bug being the most dreaded. Remedies are the same as for other pests of this group of plants. Only two diseases have been reported, and these are seldom troublesome.
In the neighborhood of cities, especially where oysters are cheap, this crop is generally profitable, the usual retail price being 10 cents per pint, freshly grated, but without vinegar. This quantity weighs a scant half-pound. The cost of growing per acre is about as follows: Cuttings (10,000 @ $2), $20; fertilizer (1,000 lbs.), $17.50; cultivation (6 times), $6; rent of land, $5; plowing, wear of tools, etc., $3.50; settting roots, at 30 cents per 1,000, $3; total, $55. A marketable crop varies from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds, which may sometimes be sold as high as 5 cents per lb. for first-class root, and 2 1/2 cents for second grade. Usually, however, prices seldom rise above 4 cents and 2 cents for the two grades. Under good cultivation, the proportion of No. 1 to No. 2 root is about 1 to 1 by weight. Lower prices may rule in well supplied markets, and higher in poorly furnished, and when sold in small lots to retail graters, even 7 cents may be obtained.