Ravishing pink and red globes are sliced open to reveal a gorgeous, crisp white inside, with a spice and bite that follow the crunch that comes from one of spring’s first vegetables. I adore radishes, and am always on the lookout for a new variety, but to be totally honest, nothing beats the taste of a traditional red radish. I love them thinly sliced by themselves, or sprinkled with a little sea salt and layered with goat cheese on a crusty baguette. I’m the first to descend on a pile of radishes at a farmer’s market, and have grown them myself- from my trusty plot of somewhat sheltered garden to a bucket on my back porch. And when I see a vegetable tray at a party, with a few sad radishes carved into flowers and left there at the end of the night, I happily eat them and savor the spice, feeling a little sad for everyone who passed over the chance to have the radishes.
Radishes are not difficult to grow at all—but can be overwhelming. The fact that they germinate so quickly makes them ideal for new gardeners or kids. But because almost every seed in the packet sprouts, gardeners are soon faced with hundreds of radishes and what to do with them. My suggestion? Don’t spread an entire packet right away, or in one place. Sprinkle a few radishes among the seeds of your slower growing vegetables, such as broccoli or cauliflower. Use them as a marker for slower germinating plants, like parsnips and carrots, by planting them alongside the rows. Radishes also make good companion plants alongside cucumbers and squash to repel cucumber beetles, and alongside spinach to attract leafminers away from the spinach). Or plant some every other week to space out the harvest.
To plant radishes, sow seeds about ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, starting 4-6 weeks before the last frost for spring radishes. You can sow weekly until early summer. For winter radishes start sowing in late summer. Once all of your seedlings are up, thin them to about 2 inches apart, unless they are larger varieties (then thin to 3-6 inches apart). Mulch with compost that has been enriched with wood ashes to keep root maggots away and help retain soil moisture.
Radishes like water in moderation; too dry and they get pithy, too wet and they split and rot. Frequently check your radishes as they mature quickly and some varieties can be ready to harvest within 3 weeks. When your crops are mature, pull the radishes- whether you need them or not. Cut off the leaves and store in bags in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. A few winter varieties can be left in the garden under a heavy straw mulch through the winter and pulled as needed.
For a small, mild variety, consider planting Cherry Belle. This tasty radish is ready in 21 days and can take the heat, so you can plant them all summer long.
Not crazy about heat yourself? For something a little different, try French Breakfast Radishes. Ready in 25 days, these radishes have a non-traditional shape and mild flavor.
For big beautiful radishes you can carve into culinary masterpieces, try Gurney’s Choice German Giant Parat Radishes. These beauties do not get pithy and are ready to harvest in 29 days. Plus, they can grow to several inches in diameter!