Jane McLeod: Plant radishes for a quick crop
January 25, 2010
Sometimes it's nice to have instant gratification in the vegetable garden, and radishes serve just such a purpose. Even their Latin handle Raphanus sativus means quickly appearing. With some varieties having only a three- to five-day germination time and a maturation period of two to three weeks, the phrase "blink and you'll miss it" aptly applies to this root vegetable and member of the cruciferous, or Brassicaceae, family of vegetables (the ones that are really, really good for you).
Another vegetable that is labeled a cool-weather crop, radishes do very well with our warm days and crisp nights. Given a sunny location, any kind of soil (but they do better in fine enriched soil with no obstacles to deter root development), compost for fertilization and moisture retention, and just a square foot or so of space, radishes earn their keep better than most other vegetables. Because they take up so little space and grow so fast, they can be planted as a filler between slower-growing crops and will be harvested before the other crops need the room. Some gardeners even sprinkle radish seeds in with carrot seeds as kind of a "nurse crop" to help the more delicate carrot seedlings break the soil crust. Once the carrot seedlings toughen up enough to make it on their own, the radishes are probably already in the salad bowl.
Admittedly, there are not a lot of culinary uses for a radish in the kitchen, but that's when you experiment with all the different varieties. We're all familiar with the round red ones, but radishes come in all different shapes, sizes and colors, and with successive plantings to ensure a steady supply, salads and stir-fries can look and taste different all summer.
Sow radishes directly into the garden or container (they won't transplant), and keep moist and weeded. Thin the seedlings when they are an inch or two tall and base the thinning distance (it will say on the seed packet) on the variety you are growing.
Radishes don't store all that well in or out of the garden, so base the amount you plant on your enthusiasm for radishes, as they are at their best when harvested on the young and small side, and left too long, they can get spongy and crack. Along with their refreshing zip, radishes are rich in vitamin C and trace minerals, so if you haven't gotten past having them in salads, chop them into your tuna fish, potato or egg salad, or sprinkle them in with the sour cream on your baked potato, or just pop them in your mouth for a satisfying crunch.
Radishes are an especially good crop for children, as their jet-propelled bounce out of the soil engenders a lot of enthusiasm while children wait impatiently for the slower-growing garden mates to get their act together. It's also a good crop for those of us who wait through pretty white winters leafing through garden catalogs, eagerly anticipating getting our hands back in the soil.