Discover Unique Varieties of Radishes for the Garden

Dorren G. Howard shares unique varieties of radishes you can grow in your garden, includes conditions for growing radishes, seed sources, radish pickling recipe and and exotic types of radishes.

| August/September 2002

Learn about these unique varieties of radishes to grow in your garden.

Forget those wimpy little radishes found on relish plates. They pale in comparison to the unique varieties of radishes you can grow. Consider sweet, rose-fleshed, green-skinned "Shinrimei" radishes, zesty Japanese daikons or even crunchy, mustard-infused radish pods.

Some weigh up to 5 pounds apiece. Others offer a color explosion. Still others impart cooked dishes with subtle flavors that are the hallmark of some ethnic foods. Now these are radishes!

Esteemed by the Greek god Apollo, cultivated by Egyptian pyramid builders and eaten for breakfast by American settlers, the radish has been around forever. It was prescribed by physicians to prevent scurvy, used by herbalists to ward off women's chatter, and salted or pickled to accompany food and drink throughout recorded time. The radish is still so revered there is a Night of the Radish — La Noche de los Rabanos — every December 23 in Oaxaca, Mexico. Local farmers grow giant white winter radishes, which are carved into sculptures worthy of a museum. Radish bullfighters, radish nativity scenes, radish Madonnas and more line the village square, while merry makers dance and eat — radish tamales, radish empanadas and radish pickles — until midnight, when one radish sculpture is awarded the grand prize. Sculpting a radish may not be your passion, but growing a few of the exotic types certainly can liven up your garden and dinner table.

Choose Cool Conditions When Growing Radishes

Most of the exotic radishes are best planted in late summer or fall (fall-planted) for a winter crop, or in early spring, as soon as the ground thaws. Warm-climate gardeners do best to plant in late October. Cool soil and air temperatures are needed to develop flavors and avoid building heat, which can mask the subtleties of the various undertones. If you're growing a radish for storage, Jeremiah Gettle, owner of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Mansfield, Missouri, suggests it should be fall-planted. "After harvest, store them in sand or sawdust to maintain moisture, like you would a carrot, and they will improve in flavor." he says. "it takes cool growing conditions to produce a sweet radish." He plants in late August and harvests in early November in his USDA Zone 6 gardens. Some varieties, like 'Black Spanish Round,' contain much of their heat in the skins. Removing the skin helps tame particularly hot radishes.

Some radishes are grown solely for their edible seed pods, and they, too, produce the highest quality crop in cool conditions, Because they can mature in as little as 30 days after sowing, podding radish varieties, like 'Munchen Bier,' 'Madras' and 'Rat Tail,' can be planted in very early spring, too. However, if spring is short-lived in your area, fall planting is advisable. "Pick the pods when they are young and tender for best flavor," says Bill Adams, retired Texas extension service agent and vegetable specialist in Houston. Pods can be green or have a purple hue and are attractive salad ingredients. They have a mustard flavor people either love or hate. I like the bite and use them in stir-fry," says Melinda Smith, a former Massachusetts organic farmer, who now conducts a farming apprentice program. "But they were not the hit with my produce customers like I thought they would be."

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