With proper planting and care, your small radish patch can award you with plenty of delicious harvest.
Photo by Michael Feldmann
Radishes are incredibly easy to grow, as they tolerate most soil types and are very quick to be ready for harvest (usually within three to four weeks). They’re delicious when eaten raw, offering a fiery burst of flavor to salads.
There’s a wide variety of radish cultivars to choose from, ranging from near-spherical red-and-white roots to long, thin white radishes, also known as mooli. And however, growing radishes is not hard at all. In fact, with proper planting and care, nearly anyone can become a successful radish gardener.
Choosing Your Favorite Variety
Radishes are so easy to care for and grow so quickly that you won't even notice when the harvest is ready.
Illustration by Mary Peterson
Most commercial radishes are red, but there are white, red-and-white, and even black ones. There are two main types: ordinary ones, small and quick maturing, and winter ones, larger and more pungent. Both the flesh and skin of ordinary radishes are edible, but the skin of winter radishes should be removed to expose the white inner tissue.
Fine ordinary radish varieties are:
- Burpee White. ‘Burpee White’ radishes, best eaten at 1″ across. It is quick and easy to grow in cool weather. They are ready to be harvested in around 25 days after planting.
- Cherry Belle. ‘Cherry Belle’ is an extra-early variety with exceptionally short tops and bright red skin color. They are ready to be harvested in about 21 to 27 days after planting
- French Breakfast. ‘French Breakfast’ is a large, scarlet radish, oblong in shape with white tips. The flesh is crisp, juicy, mild, and sweet. French Breakfast radishes are ready to be harvested in around 20 days after planting.
‘Cherry Belle’ is an excellent radish variety with exceptionally short tops and bright red skin color.
Illustration by Mary Peterson
- Sparkler. ‘Sparkler’ is ready in 25 days, bearing white roots that change to pink closer to the leafy stems. Novelty radishes, including the following, are becoming more popular.
- White Icicle. White Icicle radishes have a snowy white color and are ready to be harvested in about 32 days. This heirloom radish can grow to be 5 to 6 inches in length and about 1 inch in diameter.
Good winter radish varieties are:
‘Round Black Spanish’ radishes have a white interior and black skin. They are ready to be harvested in around 55 days after sowing seeds.
Illustration by Mary Peterson
- Round Black Spanish. ‘Round Black Spanish’ radishes have a snow-white interior and jet-black skin. A very old heirloom variety. They are ready to be harvested in about 55 days after planting.
- White Chinese. Also called Celestial, white, 6 to 8 inches long, 2 to 3 inches across. A 12-foot row yields about 6 pounds over a week. They are ready to be harvested in around 60 days after planting.
Growing Radishes in the Garden
Radishes provide beauty in the garden and abundant flavor in your kitchen. Radishes are very easy to grow and, once planted, require little care besides watering and harvesting. So, if you're just getting started with an edible garden, radishes are great to start. Here are some easy tips on planting and caring for these almost carefree, beautiful, flavorful plants.
Radishes tolerate partial shade and grow best in well-worked, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. They grow fast; fertilizer applied after planting will not reach the roots, so prepare the soil before sowing: dig about 2 inches of compost or 4 inches of cow manure into a strip 12 to 18 inches wide and 8 inches deep, then add 1 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer to every 10 feet of row.In most of the United States and Canada, where frost is expected in winter, sow seeds of ordinary varieties in early spring when the soil can be worked and continue to plant every 10 days until a month before maximum daytime temperatures are expected to average over 80 degrees Fahrentheit. In late summer, when maximum daytime temperatures average below 80°, start successive plantings of ordinary radishes again and continue until night temperatures drop to about 40 degrees. Sow winter radishes once, about two months before minimum night temperatures average below 20 degrees; they can be harvested in fall for storing over winter.
In regions where winter temperatures rarely fall below 30 degrees, start successive plantings of both types in fall; make the final planting of ordinary radishes a month before maximum daytime temperatures average above 80 degrees, and make the final planting of winter radishes a month earlier.
Sow seeds ½-inch deep. Space ordinary varieties 12 inches apart in rows 4 to 6 inches apart. When seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, thin them to stand 1 inch apart. When sowing winter varieties, group three or four seeds in a spot; set each group 4 to 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart. When seedlings are 1 to 2 inches tall, cut off all but the strongest in each group. Give your radishes enough water to keep the roots growing quickly.
Gathering the Harvest
Nothing can compare to a fresh juicy harvest of homegrown radishes.
Photo By Michael Feldmann
The time from planting to harvest is 20 to 30 days for spring radishes, and 50 to 60 days for winter radishes. Pull up the whole plant when the radishes are the right size. Test- pull a few or push the soil aside gently to judge the size, and remember that the biggest radishes aren't necessarily the best. If you wait too long to harvest, the centers of spring radishes become pithy.
Storing and Preserving Radishes
There are several ways of storing radishes. In the home, they can be stored for up to two weeks in zipper plastic bags in the fridge. Line the inside of the bags with moistened paper towels to keep them damp. Remove the leaves and roots but don’t wash the radishes for optimal storage.
Alternatively, radishes can be stored in the basement or cellar. This is also the longest storage method and you can expect radishes to store up to three months this way. The basement or cellar should be unheated and dark with between 34 and 42 degrees, and high humidity. The radishes should be put in cardboard or wooden boxes with moist sand or dirt. Spread the unwashed and untrimmed radishes between layers of sand or dirt, making sure the roots don’t touch. Check them once every several weeks for rot.
Radishes can also be successfully stored by pickling. This way is very easy, effective, and delicious. Wash your radishes well and remove the leaves and stems. Then slice the radishes thinly and place them in a sterilized jar. Heat vinegar, spices, sugar, and salt in a saucepan until boiling, then pour over the radishes. Seal the jar and allow it to cool. Allow the radishes to pickle for at least 2 to 3 days. This way, radishes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.
Propagating Radishes by Saving Seeds
To save seeds from your radishes, allow several plants to bloom together, and wait until the seed pods dry and turn brown before harvesting the seeds. The seeds can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to five years.
Michael Feldmann is a farmer and writer in Oklahoma, who studies agriculture and has worked as a journalist for magazines and newspapers around the country. His writing has been published in Acres USA, Rural Heritage, Farming magazine, Farmers Weekly, Permaculture magazine, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, and as a column in Poultry World. Read all of Michael’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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