8 June 2014


The first radishes of the season

When I was a child, my parents had a vegetable plot. When I was about seven or eight I became interested in actually growing things, rather than just digging in the dirt of the veg plot. One of the first things I was encouraged to grow was radishes. For many children (or adults) taking their first steps into the world of growing vegetables, radishes are a good place to start. They are relatively easy to grow, provided they get enough water, and the time between sowing the seed and harvesting the bright red roots is probably shorter than any other veg.

As winter draws to an end, radishes are usually the first thing I sow in my veg plot. They will germinate once the soil temperature hits 5C, which is a little lower than many other seeds. Once the weather starts to feel spring-like, usually in early March, I sow a line of radish seed under a cloche. In mild winters, I've successfully sown them (in London) as early as the end of February. Within a week or two, small green leaves can be seen pushing through the soil. This is a good indicator that the soil will be warm enough to plant a variety of salad leaves, including lettuce and mustards. From an early March sowing, the first radishes can be picked in mid to late April.

Radishes can be sown from early spring until the beginning of September. Because they grow so quickly, a line can be planted either before another crop will be sown or once any maincrop has been harvested, hence the name of this blog - as there's always room for a radish. They can also be interspersed in the same row as crops that grow slowly, such as parsnips. Radishes also grow well in pots. The only thing to bear in mind is that radishes are a brassica, so in order to avoid the build up of diseases they shouldn't be grown in a plot that has just had other brassicas in it. Radishes do need to be well watered, otherwise the roots can easily become woody. Perhaps for this reason, I think that radishes planted in the spring, when the soil is usual fairly moist, tend to taste better than those sown at other times of the year.

I've tried growing a few different varieties of radish, and think that one of the best is French Breakfast, which produces neat cylindrical roots, with a pleasant taste. There are also a number of winter varieties, which can be sown in late summer. These produce larger roots that can be harvested up to Christmas, after which they tend to deteriorate if left in the ground. The winter varieties come in a range of shapes and colours. My favourite is Rosa, which produces long, unevenly shaped red roots.

When it comes to eating radishes, it's best to keep it simple. Wash and trim them and add them to a salad, or eat them on their own with a vinaigrette. People often discard the leaves, which is a shame, as when young these are well worth eating - either raw in a salad or lightly steamed. The winter varieties of radish can also be cooked, in which case treat them as you would a turnip.

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