If you’ve never gardened before, start with radishes. This crop is among the simplest to grow in the vegetable garden. It germinates quickly and matures within thirty to forty-five days. It takes up almost no space, so you can tuck in it among other vegetables. Radishes grow admirably in containers as well. Radishes suffer few diseases or pests and are even reported to deter some insects, such as the dastardly cucumber beetle.
But, you ask, what do I do with all those radishes? It’s true that common red radishes are not particularly versatile. You can toss them in salads or eat them as a snack, but that’s about it. Several varieties that grow well in the fall, though, taste delicious cooked in stews or stir-fried. These radishes are usually labeled “winter” or “Chinese” radishes. They’re exceptionally cold hardy and can be left in the ground well into winter. Most have a long, rather than bulbous shape, and come in white, black, or deep purple.
To grow radishes, choose a site in your garden with at least partial sunlight. Full sun is even better. For spring crops, a site with slightly sandy loam soil is best. Clay soil is acceptable for fall crops. Radishes need a soil rich in potassium and phosphorus for quick growth. Dig an all-purpose vegetable fertilizer into the soil prior to planting.
Sow radish seeds half an inch deep (or slightly deeper in warm climates) in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. For fall plantings, sow seeds in early fall when the weather has started to cool. Space the seeds one inch apart or thin them later. Winter radishes need three to four inches between each plant because the roots are bigger. Keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy.
Your goal in growing radishes – especially spring radishes – is to encourage quick growth through adequate soil moisture, sunlight, and nutrition. Slow growth causes woody, bland or bitter radishes.
Pests and Disease
Radishes suffer few pest or disease problems, especially if you rotate crops. They simply grow too quickly. Root maggots are the one pest you might encounter. Some gardeners dig wood ash into the soil or spread it on top of the soil, which is said to deter maggots, but be careful if you have alkaline soil because wood ashes can raise the soil pH even more.
Harvest radishes when the tops stand four to six inches high or when the radishes beneath are about one inch in diameter. It’s better to harvest them while they’re slightly young, rather than waiting for them to get bigger.
Winter radishes store well in the ground for several months, or you can dig them up and store them in a box with damp sand, sawdust, or peat. Keep the box in a cold basement, garage, or root cellar with steady temperatures of around forty degrees. With this treatment, they’ll last two months.
For spring radishes, try the French Breakfast variety. For winter, Black Spanish continues to be a favorite. For a more unusual look, Cincinnati Market and White Icicle offer long thin radishes rather than the typical round shape.