There are a few reasons I want to talk about radishes: first of all, they are so easy to grow, it’s almost a crime not to include them in your garden. There are also many varieties that make radishes much more exciting than what you probably grew up with. They can add amazing color to salads, if you use them in ways you are more familiar with. But if we take a look at how the Asians use radishes, we can find many more options with a vegetable that produces with so little help.
It’s probably not a surprise that they are nutritious; they are a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Folate and Potassium.
What might be a surprise is that radishes don’t really want rich soil. Too much nitrogen and/or soil that is too rich can cause lots of leafy growth and no taproots (and we generally want the roots with radishes). They love sandy soil that is slightly amended. If you bother feeding them at all, use a little bone meal upon planting and just make sure drainage is decent. They love moisture.
I will write an article on organic fertilizers in the near future, and how to tell what is best for each crop. In the meantime here is a general discussion on the subject.
As cool season vegetables, radishes want full sun and are planted as early as August (heat resistant types). Generally you will plant successions of crops throughout the cool season until it gets too hot for them (or you just get sick of them). They produce a LOT, and you might find yourself trading them for other things with fellow gardening friends or giving them away. However, there are many ways to make use of radishes. They last a long time in the refrigerator, so don’t stress if you can’t get to them quickly. Click here for some different recipes for fresh radishes.
There are many varieties to choose from. In general there are the small globular-shaped radishes (like the very familiar red radish), or the long tap-root varieties (like daikon radishes). Colors include red, pink, purple, white, green, and even black. Some are only colored on the outside and white inside, other are full of contrasting colors inside. One even resembles a target with various red concentric circles within each other. It is boggling to the mind how many varieties of radish the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans have bred.
For the sake of growing, pay attention to how much time you have–the larger varieties will take longer to form (and are only slightly harder to grow). The more loose and sandy the soil, the better, so long as it is not totally devoid of organic material. If you pull up plants and find that the ‘radishes’ are not forming, you have too much nitrogen in your soil.
I really suggest experimenting. In Asia, much more has been done with the radish than in the west. However, taking their lead, you can come up with lots of ways to play with radishes. They are so beautiful and so cheap and easy to grow, there really is no excuse not to try. In particular look into the way the Japanese use radishes: besides a variety of methods of using them raw, they also pickle them (in numerous fashions) and they cook them in stir-fries and soups.
Another radish worth mentioning, and one I only recently discovered is the rat-tailed radish. This particular radish is grown for it’s seed pod. You can plant this closer to the warm season when it is too late to plant the others, because you actually WANT this radish to bolt (go to seed). The fresh green seed pod is the harvestable crop on this variety and the flowers are also pretty (nice also to eat in salads or as garnish).
Leaf radish is a variety grown specifically for
the greens. This is something we in the west have not fully appreciated (not just on the radish but on very many crops). These greens can be lightly steamed, lightly stir-fried, or eaten raw.
Some seed sources for radishes:
The Cooks Garden has lots of colorful radishes.
Kitazawa Seed Co. is one of my favorite all-time seed sources for Asian vegetables and has a great selection of Asian radishes.
Evergreen Seed Co. is becoming a favorite too and has a great variety of Asian radishes.
Baker’s Creek has the rat-tailed radish.
Here are a few videos for ideas how to use, preserve and eat radishes.