Wasabi Crop Story

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Wasabi Crop was started up by Dr Sean Kitson and his son Zak, who live in the Orchard County of Armagh, on the island of Ireland. The idea of this venture came from Zak when he set out to think about growing wasabi rhizomes. Subsequently, he discussed his idea with me, and when I looked into it, I discovered it was a tough plant to cultivate.  To my astonishment, this medicinal herb was mostly grown in Japan, and it would have been difficult for Zak to achieve his goal. However, if Zak could grow wasabi, that would be amazing.  Just imagine being one of the first to grow and sell wasabi on the island of Ireland – it would certainly make the news!

Zak was only 15 years old when he began to plan his ideas on how to grow fresh wasabi.  First, he decided the best place to grow it was in a large polytunnel on his field. The Wasabi Crop Growing Facility was constructed in June 2016. The next challenge was to source native wasabi plants because getting your hands on real wasabi seeds is nearly impossible.  If you did manage to obtain wasabi seeds, they would more likely turn out to be mustard seeds –as we discovered our peril.  However, we did manage to secure some wasabi plants from a viable source.  After a few months, the wasabi seedlings finally arrived in the County of Armagh; by then, we had decided how best to grow them.

Zak’s next stage was to harden the fragile wasabi plants by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions. This process was vital to enabling the young, delicate plants to sustain themselves. After several weeks, the wasabi plants were hardy enough to be planted in the polytunnel. I think Zak spent a few days planting about 600 in total.

My Passion for Growing Wasabi

During the next several months, especially as the winter season approached and nights began drawing in, Zak got into a routine of looking after these precious wasabi plants. He began to find horticulture interesting and enrolled in an online herb course to understand the science behind growing plants.

Zak working carefully in the polytunnel, nurturing and tending to the wasabi plants to ensure their healthy growth.

As the days and weeks went by, many tasks were performed in our Wasabi Crop Growing Facility, as Zak called it. These tasks involved keeping the weeds away from the growing beds and monitoring and recording the growing facility’s temperature and humidity.

Zak pointed out that these plants prefer shaded conditions, noting that in Japan, wasabi is commonly grown beneath black shading cloths in streams or naturally under the canopy of trees. Accordingly, inside the polytunnel, we employed black shading cloths over the wasabi plants. This method may appear unconventional because plants usually require ample sunlight; however, sunny days are infrequent on the island of Ireland. To test this, Zak planted some wasabi in pots under direct sunlight, only to discover that the leaves started to burn.

Another important factor was to aim for an optimum temperature between 6 and 20 degrees Celsius for good crop production. Zak and I talked about the ideal pH range for the growing medium when cultivating wasabi rhizomes, which should ideally be maintained between 6 and 7 units. 

It is also important for these wasabi plants to grow in an environment of high humidity to keep the prized rhizomes moist and not sit in pools of water, which could result in root rot.  Zak came up with the idea to fit an overhead, automated watering system – I thought he was becoming lazy, but this turned out to be a good idea because we could leave the wasabi plants and get on with other jobs.

Over the following several months, the wasabi did exceptionally well, and Zak continued to monitor the growing medium. He found a mixture of pea shingle, soil, and rich compost worked well. The young wasabi plants were also given dilute seaweed, which provided the necessary nutrients to produce high-end rhizomes for potential customers.

Today, Wasabi Crop is one of the first commercial growers to sell fresh wasabi products on the island of Ireland. He told me the only disadvantage of cultivating wasabi rhizomes is the 2 year wait. This is how long it took to harvest his first wasabi rhizome, which weighed over 120 grams. 

The great thing about wasabi is that you can consume the rhizome (swollen stem) and the green heart-shaped wasabi leaves. These wasabi leaves and stems can be used to prepare an exciting salad with that extra wasabi kick. Why not add fresh wasabi to your favourite beverage or grow your own island of Ireland wasabi plants like Zak?

James Martin visits Wasabi Crop

In the summer of 2019, celebrity chefs James Martin and Paul Rankin were at Wasabi Crop in County Armagh, exploring the unique cultivation of real wasabi.  James used freshly dug wasabi rhizomes from our facility to craft a stunning mountain-view salmon dish set against the dramatic heights of Slieve Gullion.

Why Grow Wasabia japonica?

Growing Wasabia japonica, commonly known as wasabi, offers a range of benefits that extend beyond its distinctive flavour, which is a staple in Japanese cuisine. Primarily, the cultivation of wasabi is driven by its medicinal properties. Research has highlighted that wasabi possesses potent antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a valuable plant in the realm of natural health remedies.

Wasabi contains compounds such as isothiocyanates, which are believed to inhibit the growth of bacteria and reduce inflammation. These compounds make wasabi a unique culinary ingredient and a beneficial addition to a health-conscious diet. The anti-inflammatory effects are particularly significant, as chronic inflammation is linked to various serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Additionally, the market for authentic wasabi is growing, especially outside Japan, where the appreciation for genuine wasabi, as opposed to the more common horseradish-based substitutes, is increasing. Growing wasabi in Ireland, which offers suitable climatic conditions, presents a unique agricultural opportunity. The cool, moist environment mirrors the native habitat of wasabi, facilitating its growth and potentially yielding high quality wasabi rhizomes and leaves.

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