The radishes should have been the first harvest of this spring season as they have been every year since I started planting them (back in the mists of time). I can’t tell you how wrong it felt to be eating basil before we’d had any of our traditional spring vegetables – lettuces, arugula, mustards, and radishes – those spring things that crunch and bite and clean out the winter slodginess from our intestines and taste buds! But we’re back on schedule now after I finished harvesting the first sowing of ‘Cherry Belle’ radishes and we were able to enjoy their juicy crispness of spicy sweetness.
Most people I know don’t like radishes and I think it’s because they’ve never tasted one pulled fresh from the earth. Like tomatoes, a radish needs to be rushed from the soil to the mouth – otherwise, it seems to lose some of its juiciness, and it tends to become all heat with none of the sweetness to balance the pepper. And speaking of heat…I tend to do only a couple of early spring sowings because, once the heat of summer starts to hit, radishes become a one-dimensional heat ball and we find ourselves gravitating to other, more summery flavors, from the garden.
Apart from taste, there are several other good reasons to grow radishes:
- They’re a cool season crop, meaning that as soon as you can work the soil, you can plant radishes, and for a gardener who’s been banging against the walls all winter, it’s heaven to be able to plant something!
- They grow quickly – the ‘Cherry Belle’ matures in about 24 days which is one of the quickest harvests you can get from a vegetable (the lettuces might be neck-in-neck).
- They’re ridiculously easy to grow. Sow them a 1/2″ deep and about 1″ apart in well-draining soil that has had at least 4″ of compost worked in. Make sure they have full sun (that’s more than 6 hours of direct sun hitting the leaves) and make sure they don’t dry out (or they’ll get woody) but don’t keep them too wet (or they’ll split). Harvest them when they’re about the size of a large marble.
- They take up very little space for the flavor impact they deliver. In a small urban garden, where tough choices have to be made about what you have space for, the radishes make good use of their 1′ x 1′ area. And, because they grow so quickly and are done in about a month, you can plant something else in their space for the summer (like herbs).
Traditional radishes too boring for you? There’s always the daikon radish – best if you have a loose soil and not the heavy clay I have. Or how about a fall/winter radish for storage? I’m going to try growing the ‘Round Black Spanish’ radish this fall, partly because I love the unusual coloration of black skin with white flesh but also because I’d like to see how long it will store – I’ve read that it will keep for a couple of months in the fridge or in a bucket of sand (which means I could be eating radishes in December!). Stay tuned…
Most of the time I eat my radishes raw – usually in the garden standing beside the radish bed. Occasionally they’ll show up in a salad but, on the days when I have some fresh, organic butter on hand and a loaf of equally fresh bread, I eat them like the French do – sliced and scattered on a buttered piece of bread, sprinkled lightly with salt. We’re used to eating radishes raw, maybe because in the spring we crave the texture and flavor of the uncooked after the winter’s slow stews but I’m thinking of doing something a little different with the ‘Black Spanish’ after reading my friend Cindy Black’s post on cooked radishes - I think a braised radish in the fall sounds like just the kind of comfort food I’ll be craving by then.
So here’s to the radish – a humble vegetable with hidden depths.