Wasabi Crop is a new start-up company initiated by the organic chemist Dr Sean Kitson. The idea originated from his son, Zak who first suggested starting up a business venture to sell rare garden plants. So, we both researched into growing rare plants and came across Wasabia japonica. The more we read about the wasabi medicinal plant the greater the excitement about growing it for a commercial market. To our surprise, we found not many wasabi growers outside Japan and the inspiration was to let everyone know about this remarkable plant. We knew this was going to be a challenge due to wasabi’s stringent growing conditions.
The first thing we did was to construct a large polytunnel containing an automatic water irrigation system on a two-acre site which has become known as the Wasabi Crop Facility. The planning and construction of the polytunnel began in late 2015. The next stage was to secure wasabi plant ‘starts’ from a viable source. This was a huge challenge and after making numerous inquiries, we purchased a large number of Mazuma wasabi plants. On receipt of these wasabi plants, we began the major task of planting them in the polytunnel. This important work was down to Zak and it took him nearly five days to complete. Zak had the easy job and my work was to prepare the pea shingle gravel beds.
Eventually, all the wasabi plants were planted by October 2016. In the meantime, a large greenhouse was constructed for our Wasabi Crop Research. The research projects involve growing wasabi using greenhouse hydroponics, Hadopots technology and seed germination studies.
The day-to-day running of the Wasabi Crop Facility involves weeding the pea single gravel beds and monitoring and recording the internal temperature and humidity inside the polytunnel. Wasabi is a shade-loving plant and is usually grown under the shade of trees and nets in order to encourage an air temperature range of between 6 to 20 degrees Celsius. This range of temperature is required for good crop production. In addition, the pH of the growing medium is regularly monitored to keep it in the range of pH 6 to 7. Since wasabi is a semi-aquatic plant, it is important to maintain reasonable moisture levels and to contribute to an overall humidity in the polytunnel. Conversely, it is important to keep the wasabi roots moist - but not soaking in pools of water - and therefore, regular plant observations take place, throughout the day in order to locate any wilted plants so that we can address any issues with water irrigation. The fertility of the growth medium is important and this is periodically monitored that so we can continue to create the best optimum conditions to produce high end rhizomes for the commercial market and for our customers.
The only drawback in cultivating wasabi is the 2 year wait. During this period, we remain optimistic and excited and we cannot wait until harvest day. This will be a great day to look forward to with having to pull out all the mature wasabi plants and see the rhizomes for the first time. I have a bet with Zak that we can beat the British record of a single rhizome weighing 377 grams. Following the collection of the rhizome crop, we will store them in cold, humid conditions in order that our customers can to receive fresh wasabi.
The great thing about wasabi is that not only can you consume the
rhizome but also the wasabi stems, wasabi flowers and green heart shaped wasabi leaves as well. These wasabi leaves and stems can be used to prepare interesting salads with that extra wasabi kick.
To be more adventurous, why not add fresh wasabi to your favourite
The driving force behind Wasabi Crop also remains the medicinal properties associated with the wasabi plant. This is very personal to Zak because from the age of 7, he has been diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Today, at the age of 15 years he is fit and healthy and cannot wait to sprinkle freshly grated wasabi on his sandwiches!