There is nothing like a deadline to make me think about doing other things! I am wrestling with a feature on a completely different topic with hours rather than days to go so my mind inevitably turns to this blog, which has taken the back seat for a few days.
Outside it is trying to snow and is bitterly cold. There has been no progress in the garden for a week and what was a horribly soggy mess is now steely hard: frozen, like my feet, to the core. The cold, easterly wind, which fortunately had the worst of it sucked out by England and Scotland, is still severe enough here and has dried out the bare soil, especially where dug, pale and dry. But I know that as the snow changes to rain and the more usual westerly winds win the battle of dominance, sogginess will return.
So, as I have been ordering more seeds and am thinking of next month and the joy of sowing seeds to help retain what little sanity I still have, I thought I would follow the annuals series with veg. My mind is too frazzled to cope with anything approaching an order and if you want a sensibly organised treatise on veg I suggest you buy my book! So here we start the series with radish.
I am going to stick with the very basics in this series and not go into history or nutritional benefits – I can do that some other time. I will assume that any veg is going to be good to eat.
Radish are divided into summer radish, which are always said to be easy to grow and the large Spanish radish, which are black-skinned and white fleshed, and the China rose kind which are large (or huge) and have red skins and white flesh. Here we are again with the first fact and I have to add the caveat that there are also Oriental radishes with green or white skins with pink or red or purple flesh. All these big radishes have to be sown in late summer and are basically autumn and winter veg with large roots that can be stored for several months. Oh yes, and there are the Japanese Mooli radishes that are long and white and push up out of the soil like some strange sea worms. All these are sown from July onwards. Sow earlier and they run to seed and make poor roots.
So we move on to the summer radishes that can be sown from March onwards (earlier in a polytunnel). They can be red, pink, white, purple and yellow and although the round kinds are most popular they can be long, like the ‘French Breakfast’ type or tapering.
Radishes are a minor commercial crop so there are now F1 hybrids with greater vigour and uniformity. I question if the home gardener needs uniformity because no one needs all their radishes in one basket – unless you love them – and if your row matures at different times that is surely more useful.
So radishes are easy to grow? Well, in theory they are but in practice they have problems. They need to be grown fast, they need thinning at an early stage and they get a nasty little pest called flea beetle, which munch on the plants as soon as they appear. If they are not thinned out and are crowded and dry they will not make tasty roots.
Sow little and often
Radishes do not last in good condition long. As they age they get woody and hotter. This is worst in hot, dry weather. Old radishes become hollow as the stored nutrients in the root are used to make a flower stem.
Buy a mixture
We all intend to sow little and often. Perhaps you are as good as your word but I always forget (well usually). So a mixture of radish, which will mature at different times, is a good plan. Besides, I don’t want radishes with every meal.
Grow them fast
If radishes are in poor dry soil they will either not swell or they will be hotter than the surface of the sun. They need moist, rich soil and will cope with some shade in the height of summer. Radishes are definitely worth growing in pots of multipurpose compost. Water, water water. They can be sown among other plants, such as carrots, because they grow so fast and can be ready in six weeks in summer, so are removed before the other plants are big enough to give competition.
Never transplant them
Never buy radish plants. Apart from the cost, radishes do not transplant well – like most root crops. If you have some bare soil in summer – so a few radish.
Thin plants early
As soon as the seedlings emerge, thin them out so they are 2cm apart. When you thin any seedlings you inevitably damage the ones left behind so always water the row an hour or so before you thin and again immediately after to prevent wilting. And keep them free from weeds.
You can sow summer radish from March to August. The large seeds are easy to handle and fresh radishes are nicer than shop bought ones. If you pull too many for a meal, remove the leaves before putting them in the crisper tray or the leaves will suck the moisture from the roots and they will shrivel.
And one last radish! You can also get seeds of rat’s tail radish, a kind grown for the seed pods. These are insanely easy to grow and the plants rapidly run to seed. The pale pink and white flowers are pretty and attract pollinators – including pollen beetles – and then the pods form. You need to pick these while small, or they get stringy and very hot but, picked young, they are crunchy, sweet and spicy. I think they are great raw and in stir-fries. Even better, it is simple to collect your own seeds to sow later. I think this is a really underused vegetable that crops for many weeks and puts up with bad treatment. I think it is less than popular because it is a bit messy and hardly photogenic. I can’t think of a reason not to grow it.