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The humble radish is one of the earliest, easiest and fastest crops to grow from seed. And, when harvested early, they lack the woodiness and overly sharp taste often found in their grocery store cousins. Fresh from the garden, radishes are sweet, crisp and have a delicious, water-filled crunch. Plus, their somewhat prickly greens are perfect for a number of dishes.
To grow radishes, select a variety or two that appeal to you.* French Breakfast radishes are longer than round with white tips and reddish shoulders. Pink Beauty produces round, pearlescent pink roots about the size of a large marble. Easter Egg is a mixed bag of yummy, rounded roots ranging from whites to pinks to purples. Watermelon is a unique variety best sliced thin to show off its stunning pinkish-red interior and greenish-white exterior. And, there are many, many more!
Plant your selected seeds in well-drained garden soil according to the depth recommended on the seed packet. Sow the seeds heavily and plan to thin the seedlings later. Water them well, and continue to water them consistently during the entire time they grow. Inconsistent watering can lead to spicy and pithy roots. Depending on your weather, expect your seeds to germinate and send up seed leaves within a week or so.
Once your seeds emerge, begin thinning the sprouts. To do this, gently pluck out overly crowded plants. Remove any that look weak or yellow first. Then, thin your rows leaving enough space between sprouts for your radish roots to form – usually a couple of inches on either side of each sprout. You may need to thin your seedlings a few times as they grow, so keep an eye on them!
Soon after you begin thinning the plants, true leaves should begin to form and the radish roots will begin to fatten. Ideally, your radishes will mature rapidly. As you continue to thin the crops, keep in mind that the young plants you pluck out can be washed and tossed into a salad. Eventually, the small shoulders of color will emerge at the soil level. Pull a few each day, always thinning out the oldest first. Your earliest harvests will have small radish roots, and as the plants mature over a few weeks, the roots will fatten up.
Watering regularly and harvesting young are the best way to get the best, sweetest and crunchiest radishes from your garden. Reseeding frequently from late winter into late spring will allow you have a continual harvest until temperatures soar for summer. When it gets hot, forego seeding radishes. In higher temperatures, they tend to go to seed fast, often without ever forming tasty bulbs to eat.Radish roots are best served fresh from the garden, uncooked. Wash them well, remove and save the tops, and enjoy the colorful, root orbs and spikes as a raw snack or slice them into a salad.
Radish tops, despite being bristly to the touch, actually taste great torn into a mixed salad. But, if you can’t stand the scratchy texture, try washing, chopping and sautéing them in a bit of garlic and olive oil as fresh, green side dish to go with a larger meal. Or, chop them to stir into a pot of beans or soup. Once cooked, the prickles disappear but the flavor doesn’t.
*Delicious Daikon and other winter radishes grow somewhat differently and may not fit with the spring radishes discussed here.