An easy addition to your vegetable garden
Story and Photos by A.J. Heinsz-Bailey
What vegetable is often overlooked, easy to grow and comes in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes? If you guessed “radish” you would be correct. The word Radish comes from the Latin word “radix” which means “root”. The first known radishes (Raphanus sativus) were found in China. Around 300BC the ancient Greeks and Romans began enjoying these fast growing tasty treats. The Spaniards brought them to the Americas. The radish is even the star of a Mexican festival. “La Noche de los Rabanos” (Night of Radishes) festival was started over a hundred years ago. Men, women, and children get together every December 23rd for radish carving competitions with cash prizes. Radishes are not just for salads. Try some! There are over 200 varieties available.
In our area radishes are distinguished by their growing seasons. Spring/summer types are the small ones that mature in 25-30 days. They are planted after the last spring frost and before the summer heat begins. These annual radishes come in pink, red, yellow, purple and white. They can be round or elongated in shape. Some are spicy and some are mild. Spring radishes are harvested when they are small and crisp. The greens can also be eaten raw or cooked. Some varieties to try are: ‘French Breakfast’, ‘Cherry Belle’, ‘Champion’, ‘Easter Egg’, ‘Helios’, ‘Sparkler’ and ‘Icicle’.
Winter radishes are the larger types which mature in 60-80 days. These biennial radishes are larger than the spring radishes. Winter radishes may be white, black or green. Winter radishes are about the size of baseball. There is even a red meat winter radish that is colored like a watermelon. One of the largest winter radishes is the Daikon. The word daikon means “great root” in Japanese. This cool weather white giant can reach 18 inches in length and weigh 5-6 pounds. Varieties include ‘Misato Rose’, ‘Round Black Spanish’, ‘White Chinese’, ‘Sakurajima’, ‘April Cross’ and ‘Summer Cross’. The Japanese Ministry of Health has recently declared the Daikon radish the most popular vegetable in Japan.
The rat-tailed radish is grown for its 6 inch seed pod and not for its root. Native to South Asia this variety requires 50 days to maturity. This one is fun for kids because of its unusual name. They will boast of having had fresh “rat tails” for lunch. Radishes can also be grown and used as spicy sprouts.
Site selection for radishes is not complicated. A location that gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight daily will meet the needs of this quick growing cool season root crop. Best results will be obtained when the daytime temperatures do not exceed 65 degrees for the spring type radishes. The plants start going to seed and the root becomes inedible as the weather gets warmer. A well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8 is ideal. Cultivate the soil to a depth of at least eight inches. Sow seed 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Allow 5-7 days for germination. Thin spring varieties to 1/2 to 1 inch between plants. Winter radishes should be thinned to 3 to 5 inches apart to allow for their quick root growth. Radish seed can also be broadcast planted and thinned as they grow. If you have empty spaces in your garden rows fill them with radishes. Successive crops can be planted every 10-14 days while the weather is still cool. It is easy to have an abundance of radishes to share.
Caring for your radishes is simple. Mulch them with organic matter. It helps the soil retain moisture and also provides nutrients for the rapidly growing roots. Water consistently. Dry soil will cause the radishes to bolt and become pithy. A soil that stays too wet will cause root rot and splitting of the radishes. Fertilize radishes sparingly. Too much nitrogen will cause lush tops and no radishes. A lovely stalk of light pink to purple colored flowers will emerge if radishes are left in the ground too long. Keep your radishes weeded.
Radishes have few insect and disease problems. Flea beetles chew small holes in the leaves. Light infestations will not hurt the crop. If the infestation is heavy floating row cover can be used over the crop to exclude the beetles. Root maggots are an occasional pest that will leave furrows in the radish skins. Row cover works for this pest also. There are no disease problems of concern in our area.
Proper harvesting yields the tastiest results. Radishes should be checked frequently as they near maturity. Crisp, plump and firm are the characteristics of a good radish. The easiest way to determine when to harvest is to dig around the radishes then pull and taste a few roots. Oversized radishes can become tough and woody. The centers will become pithy and taste strong. Hollow centers and splitting are signs that the radish is past its prime. Hot weather will result in a deterioration of flavor. Learning these few tips will assure that your taste buds will not be disappointed when bite into your first home grown radish.
Storing radishes is simple. Cut off the greens and store the roots in sealed plastic bag for up to one week in the refrigerator.
Nutrient rich radishes have antibacterial, antifungal, and detoxifying properties. They also contain calcium and vitamin B6 and other minerals essential to good health. The leaves can be cooked or eaten raw. The seeds can be sprouted and used in salads or on sandwiches. Radish seed oil can be used as a basis for biofuel. The overgrown radishes can be carved into artworks. You can even pickle radishes for later consumption.
Salads, chips, carved flowers, and artwork are some of the many uses that should encourage you to start “rooting for radishes.” Radishes are ideal way to get children involved in gardening. In one short month you will be able to dazzle friends and relatives with your results.
Baked Radish Chips
This easy to make snack is a low-calorie alternative to other vegetable chips.
Thinly slice the radishes. Put in bowl with spices; stir, then place slices on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350° degrees for 10 minutes, flip the chips, and bake for another 10 minutes. Chips should be crispy when done.Store in an airtight container.
Eden Brothers www.edenbrothers.com
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds www.rareseeds.com
Territorial Seed Co. www.territorialseed.com
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange www.southernexposure.com
Harris Seeds www.harrisseeds.com
Pinetree Garden Seeds www.superseeds.com
Johnny’s Selected Seeds www.johnnyseeds.com
High Mowing Organic Seeds www.highmowingseeds.com
Botanical Interests www.botanicalinterests.com