Reach Beyond Red Radishes

Reach Beyond Red Radishes

When was the last time you were struck speechless by a radish? Two hundred years ago, radishes had the power to lock long-haired girls within tall towers. At least, that’s what modern English translations claim. A pregnant woman’s cravings for the crops growing behind her house were so strong that she convinced her husband she would die without them. He climbed the fence to indulge her, but the meal only made her want more. The second time, the husband was caught by the garden’s fearsome owner. He had to promise the child in trade for his life and freedom. According to translations, Rapunzel’s mother could have craved radishes or rampion, which is an edible wildflower with roots eaten the same way. Radishes were cultivated in Europe before Roman times and were quite popular where The Brothers Grimm wrote their stories.

Radishes are ridiculously easy to grow and seed is so inexpensive that many organic gardeners plant them simply to keep hungry insects away from their more precious crops. Others companion-plant with carrots since carrots take twice as long. The radishes can be harvested and eaten, allowing the carrots to expand and mature within the empty space.

They are among the first foods of springtime and can be sown right when the ground is workable. Plant one-half to one-inch deep, depending on whether you’re cultivating small or large varieties. After the heart-shaped seedling leaves emerge, gently dig them up with a spoon and redistribute if they’ve sprouted too closely together. Keep soil moist but not wet. Smaller, European varieties are ready within a month while Asian radishes can take two. Pay attention to the growing times of each variety so they don’t become tough and woody.

Sweet or spicy, small or long, spherical or cylindrical, they come in expansive varieties and colors. But often Westerners only recognize small globes, red on the outside, white and crisp within.

Sweet Or Spicy
Would you like a calm, pleasant radish-eating experience or a root that makes you sit up and pay attention? Flavor varies based on variety and growing conditions.

For a sweet, crunchy treat, try daikons. These popular Asian varieties are pure white and grow up to three feet long within 50 days. Asian markets and restaurants sell them raw in a produce aisle, pickled in sushi or kimchi, or added to hot pot soups. In North America they’re often grown as a cover crop, left in the ground to break up soil while the tops feed livestock.

Daikon seeds are available through garden centers and online seed retailers. Plant them six inches apart because they get big! Daikons are an excellent companion to onions since they both flourish in the same conditions. As daikon roots grow down, the leaves spread out wide along the ground. Onion bulbs swell large and round but their tops rise up tall and straight. One mulches the other and they don’t compete unless you plant them too close. And if they get crowded, pull several a little early and enjoy them small and young.

Dating back to 1548, Round Black Spanish radishes pack a lot of heat. Best grown in cold conditions, this winter variety can reach a five-inch circumference within two months. The insides are snowy white while the rough skins look like they’ve been rubbed with charcoal. Black Spanish bolt in high temperatures. Sow as soon as the ground can be worked or wait until fall rolls back around. Give them plenty of space to grow.

For the sweetest and crispest radishes, use fertile soil but not too rich. High-nitrogen compost and fertilizers promote beautiful tops and tiny roots. Sprinkle wood ashes into the soil prior to planting. This adds potassium, repels root maggots, and helps dirt retain moisture. Give them moist soil, cool weather and plenty of space. Radishes allowed to grow in hot or dry conditions become pungent.

Daikon Radishes
Daikon Radishes

Heirloom And Hybrid
Do you want the newest, most improved varieties? Or are you a garden luddite? Choose one, the other…or both. New, open-pollinated varieties are available.

Conventional seed companies offer hybrid radishes. Look for the tag “F1” beside seed descriptions. Hybrids are not genetically modified. They are bred specifically for the best qualities, but unlike open-pollinated varieties, this breeding means those qualities are only available within the first generation. Seeds saved from hybrid plants will not sprout to have the same beautiful and improved qualities of their parents. Hybrids can be organic or conventionally grown and do not carry any of the dangerous claims following GMOs. These healthy and hearty varieties are safe for everything except seed savers. Popular F1 radishes include small, round Celesta or the daikon Minowase Summer Cross.

Open-pollinated varieties aren’t necessarily heirlooms if they haven’t been handed down from gardener to gardener. But you can save the seeds. Look for “OP” beside the seed description or purchase from companies that only sell heirloom and open-pollinated stock. OP varieties let you choose sustainability as well as improved traits. Try cylindrical French Breakfast or the extremely popular Easter Egg radish, which is actually a collection of several open-pollinated varieties sold within one pack.

Some gardeners choose history and sustainability over improved qualities. Heirlooms are often tougher than hybrids, depending on variety. Older radishes may bolt sooner in the heat or have woodier roots. But heirloom gardeners can boast that they have 600-year-old varieties on their properties. Try Long Scarlet for a rare treat. If summer is coming on fast, plant De 18 Jours, an old French variety that yields in just over two weeks.

All varieties of radish fall within the species Raphanus sativus. This means that they will interbreed if planted too closely together. Interbreeding will not affect the plant grown from the first seed; it will be exactly the variety you intended to plant. But if you harvest the seeds of two varieties grown in proximity, the next year’s radishes may be a cross of the two.

Radishes To Impress Your Friends
Do you want to see eyes light up with both wonder and confusion when you bring over a basket of spring vegetables? Abandon the notion of red-and-white roots and seek out more color!

Try Pusa Jamuni and Pusa Gulabi, open-pollinated varieties grown by Dr. Pritam Kalia in India. Both are brand new and available in rare seed catalogs. Both are large and cylindrical winter varieties and both also grow well in the heat. But Pusa Jamuni is lavender on the outside with striking veins of royal purple within. Pusa Gulabi has baby pink skin and hot pink middles.

Spicy and ready within 30 days, Zlata resists splitting and bolting. It reaches the size of a standard radish—about an inch wide—but is silky, pale gold.

Choose history and stunning color with Chinese Green Luobo, which are emerald to yellow on the outside with rings of both light and dark green when you slice horizontally. Green Luobo radishes grow similarly to daikons: large, cylindrical roots with tops that spread out several feet over the ground. They can be fried, steamed or eaten raw, but be sure to only grow them within cool weather.

In 1544, a German botanist recorded seeing radishes weighing 100 pounds. If that variety did exist, it is now extinct. The only modern radish with the potential of topping 100 pounds is Sukarajima, sometimes known as shimadekon (island daikon). But it normally reaches only 15 pounds, a weight that is still quite impressive. Grown on the island of Sukarajima, Japan, since about 1800, it doesn’t store well but stays crisp and sweet inside even if the outside gets pithy. Plant in the summer to utilize the 80-day growing season and harvest before the ground freezes.

And if you want improved flavor and texture, but have no intention of saving seeds, look for Bora King. This hybrid reaches up to eight inches within 45 days. Deep plum inside and out, it also boasts a little purple color on the leaves. Find Bora King in catalogs which market both heirloom and hybrid seeds.

Rainbow Radishes
Rainbow Radishes

Succession Planting
If your radishes mature within  30 days, and you have at least  60 days between when the ground can be worked and when it actually stops freezing, why not plant several times?

Succession plant every two weeks: Right when spring starts calling, plant two rows of radishes. Mark the rows so you know where you put the seeds and leave the rest unsown. In two weeks, plant two more rows. By the time two more weeks has passed and you’re ready to plant rows five and six, the first two might be ready. Either drop new seeds in the empty ground left from the harvested radishes or make entirely new rows. Keep doing this until spring turns into summer.

Succession plant three full crops: 
You can probably harvest two successful plantings of small radishes before it’s time to put in your summer vegetables. Start as early as you can, planting the entire bed completely in radishes, harvesting and planting again. When all danger of frost has passed, use that ground for your tomatoes, corn or squash. Even if the radishes grow into the summer, you have time to follow up with 60-day beans.


Sweet Curried Radish Pickles
The beauty of vinegar pickles is the high acidity. If the vinegar is strong enough and isn’t diluted, vegetables can be interchanged within the pickle. Eliminate the hot peppers if you don’t want heat. But do not alter the vinegar/sugar solution.

When choosing vegetables, consider color. The liquid will be turmeric-gold so focus on contrast such as red dried chilies, one green and one orange bell pepper, white or purple onions. Any radishes are fine, but look for daikons because they won’t bleed color and you can grow or purchase a lot of radish for a little money.

5 pounds radishes
1 pound onions
1 pound sweet bell peppers of different colors
6 hot chili peppers, fresh or dried
6 cloves garlic
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
Two cardamom seeds for each jar
2 tablespoons vindaloo curry powder
8 cups apple cider vinegar with 5% acidity
1 cup water
2 cups white sugar
6 to 8 pint jars with lids and rings

Scrub all vegetables, discarding stems, leaves, and/or seeds. Slice radishes into rounds, 1/8 inch or thinner. Cut onions and peppers into long, thin strips. Dice garlic or slice into slivers. Cut fresh hot peppers into small squares or strips or crumble dry peppers into splinters. Gently toss all vegetables, including ginger, together until evenly mixed.

Within a large pot, mix vinegar, water, sugar, and curry powder. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Keep simmering until ready to pour over the vegetables. Get your water bath canning equipment ready, with water nearly boiling in the canner, new lids in hot water, and both ladles and jar lifters sitting nearby.

Sanitize canning jars within a dishwasher or simmering water. Place two to four cardamom seeds into the hot, empty jars. Pack vegetables tightly into the jars, leaving at least an inch of headspace. With a canning funnel, fill the jars with the simmering vinegar, covering the vegetables and leaving a half-inch headspace. Wipe rims with a clean cloth. Place lids on jars and screw ring down until finger-tip tight.

Immediately place the jars in the  water bath canner. Lower the rack and ensure water covers the tops of the jars. Place the lid on the pot and bring water to a rolling boil. Process at least 10 minutes; if you live in high elevations, boil for 20. Carefully remove jars from boiling water and allow to cool completely. Wait at least a week  before eating.

If you have extra vegetables and liquid, place these in a clean jar. Cover the jar and leave it in the fridge for about  a week before eating. The same can be done with any processed jars which failed to seal. Consume the pickles within several weeks.

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