Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ready for Radishes

I love radishes. Not the tough, woody, and "hot" store-bought varieties. I'm talking sweet, crisp, and "sharp" home-grown radishes.

When I first started gardening 8 years ago, I heard and read that radishes were one of the easiest vegetables to grow. A real no-brainer. Eager for a quick success, I planted radish seeds and crossed my fingers. What happened? Not much other than disappointment. I grew lots of green radish tops but they all had thin and spindly radish roots. No round edible radishes.

Not one to be easily deterred in the garden, I planted a second packet of radishes and hoped for better results. What happened this time? Same poor results, and an extra dose of disappointment. So much disappointment that I walked away from the radish game. Threw in the towel. Hung up my cleats.

After doing some reading, thinking, and head scratching, I eventually identified my previous mistakes. In past years I planted my radish seeds in nitrogen rich dirt or soil. I also didn't water very often after germination. These two factors almost certainly resulted in poor radish growth. Radishes won't develop large flavorful roots if they have too much nitrogen, but they will grow lush foliage. Radishes are also best when grown quickly. What does that mean? Radishes need a steady supply of water to guarantee rapid growth. Most great radishes will go from seed to harvest to table in less than 1 month. They need lots of moisture.

In recent years and particularly this spring, I think I finally figured out how to grow great radishes. Here are the main factors I try to control:

1. Location - I plant my seeds in a large (24" diameter), deep pot in full sun. The pot provides plenty of space for root growth. It is very thick glazed ceramic with 3 drain holes on the bottom. It holds moisture very well, but also drains properly.

24" diameter ceramic pot filled with well-aged compost and radishes ready for harvest.
2. Soil - I like to use well-aged compost. Not fresh stuff, I'm talking year-old rich compost that isn't loaded with nitrogen. It drains well, contains all nutrients and doesn't require additional fertilizer or minerals, and does the trick for me. I fill up my ceramic pot with 100% compost.

3. Seed spacing and planting - I generally scatter seed on the surface of already-moist compost. I'm not overly concerned with rows or spacing, as long as the seeds aren't clustered together. Then I take a handful of dry compost, scatter that over the seeds, then water again. My top layer of compost is not much more than a dusting. Some seeds are usually slightly exposed. No big deal.

4. Moisture - I keep my radishes well watered. Every day for the first week after sowing. Every third of fourth day after germination. No extra water if it rains. This sounds like a lot of water, but good compost drains rapidly yet still manages to retain the perfect amount of moisture.

Blanche Transparente radishes peaking out of the compost. They are a long white, tapered variety of radish also called White Icicle. Note how the radishes are starting to crest out of the compost.
5. Thinning - Radishes don't require tremendous space but also don't like loads of competition. I will usually thin my seedlings if they are stacked up too tightly.

6. Harvest - Harvest early. Most varieties are ready within 30 days. They taste fresh, crisp, and only mildly spicy when young. Use your best judgement, but don't wait too long before harvesting. I have found that most radishes are not like fine wine...they won't get better with age. Older radishes are tough, woody, and have an overbearing heat to them.

Blanche Transparente radishes on my cutting board. The largest radish was over 7" long, the shorter radishes about 4" long. They were crispy, mild, sweet, and tasted like proper radishes.
7. Varieties - Round; thin; tapered; cylindrical; red; pink; white. You name it, it probably exists. Experiment to find the varieties that you enjoy eating and grow well for you.

These are just my personal observations about growing radishes. Probably too much info and maybe overkill. I still know many gardeners who have great soil, simply toss in a few seeds, water well, then harvest. Simple is always best in the garden. Experiment. Find out what works best for you. Then try to simplify. The only thing left to do after that is eat and enjoy.

Bon App├ętit!


The Ebullient Gardener said...

Very interesting information! I have planted some radishes as well and I am hoping for some luck! Thanks for sharing the information!
Happy Gardening!

Jenny said...

That's very interesting information. Especially the result of extra nitrogen part - now I know why my last fall radishes did not grow - they were planted in the space where I had beans which deposits alot of nitrogen into the soil. Lesson learned.