By Nancy Bennett
My husband calls it green fever. After winter months spent going over seed catalogs and paying a king’s ransom for lettuce at the local market, I crave to eat my own greens, and preferably one that I can grow myself. Enter the radish. Radishes take about 4 weeks to grow so they are a great start up crop. They are light feeders and can be put in with other, hungrier long term crops. As soon as soil can be worked in spring, you can plant them.
Types of Radishes
Radishes come in many varieties but two growing types. The standard or salad type radish can be sown from early spring until fall. This variety dislikes heat so some growers do not grow them in the summer, or find a cooler place for them to thrive. In September, you can start them up again, and keep getting crops till the soil freezes. Try sowing a new batch every 2 to 3 weeks till the warm summer months.
The heirloom varieties are my favorites. Try French Breakfast or Early Scarlet Globe, for a good early bite. An exciting one to try is Chinese Red Meat or Beauty Heart, also known as the “Watermelon Radish.” If you are looking for a milder type of radish, you might want to try a golden yellow one from Czechoslovakia called Helios.
The second type is known as a winter radish, or Daikon radish. This one takes longer to grow, about 60 days on average. Start these in midsummer, sowing every 2 or 3 weeks, so that your last harvest coincides with the fall frosts. Make sure you harvest before your soil freezes them in though, for unlike other tubular plants they will not overwinter. Some varieties include China Rose, Black Spanish Round, or Philadelphia White Box.
If you are using a container to grow your radishes, aim for one of the smaller round red radish or easter egg varieties. Cherry Bell is a good early one with red skin and white flesh, while the Easter Egg ones are a delight to look at as they grow in different colors.
Even when you ignore them they will reward you. If your radishes bolt, as they can in hot summer weather they will produce flowers followed by shiny pointed seed pods. Some of these pods you should leave on the plant for seed for the next year, but pick a share to eat as well. They are like a spicy pea pod. Some radishes are grown specifically for this pod and a good one to try for this is a variety known as the Rat Tail Radish. I grew this variety last year for market, and it was a great seller, especially for people wanting to add a nice zing to their menu.
Health Benefits of Radishes
Health wise, the radish is one hot little power packer. It works as a great detoxifer for your blood, and is an excellent digestive toner, because of its roughage and having a high water content. Radish contains loads of vitamin C, and is useful in combating urinary and kidney problems. As a weight loss aids, radishes are great, being filling and low in calories.They are also great to keep your breath fresh!.
A Brief History of Radishes
Radishes are thought to have originated in China where they were consumed since 400 BC. In Eygpt during the building of the pyramids, radishes were a common food for the builders, where they were thought to promote muscle and endurance. Their seed was also ground for oil, before the olive made its way down the Nile. In ancient Greece the replicas of golden radishes have been found.
Even in modern times, radishes continue to crop up in many cultures. If you travel to Mexico in December, be sure to check out Oaxaca, where on the 23rd, many folk dress up and giant radishes are carved and taken to the street to celebrate, what else? Noche de Rabanos, otherwise known as “The Night of the Radishes.”
Recipe: Radishes in Red Wine and Thyme
- First trim and clean a bunch ( 15 to 25) radishes and set aside.
- Use a large frying deep frying pan, add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Add half an onion cut into small pieces and cook till soft and brown.
- Remove the onion and add minced garlic and cook till aromatic.
- Return onions, and add 2 sprigs of fresh thyme( chopped) to pan.
- Add one cup water and one 1/4 cup good red wine and heat to a simmer.
- Add radishes and cook until tender.
- Remove radishes and keep warm. Reduce left over liquid to make a sauce.
This dish is great with a lot of things but wild rice and chicken compliment it well. Serve the sauce with radishes and rest of meal. A glass of red wine is a great pairing with this dish.
About the Author: Nancy V Bennett divides her time between her farm ( Three Sisters Farm) on Vancouver Island and writing articles on a wide variety of subjects. Her work has appeared in over 400 publications, including Dogs In Canada, HR Luxury Magazine and Reunions Magazine. She is an avid heirloom gardener and promoter of saving and sharing seeds, especially rare and endangered tomato and sweet pea varieties.