Cooking radishes | Growing radishes | Varieties | Sowing | Site and soil | Weeding and watering | Harvesting
By no stretch of the imagination could radish be considered a significant vegetable of Irish gardens, let alone a major one, but it still has an honoured place with people who are fond of its crunchy peppery flavour. The hot taste comes from chemicals that are similar to those contained in mustard and to a lesser extent in turnips, both of which are relatives of the radish, along with the rest of the cabbage family. The name radish comes from the latin ‘radix' meaning ‘root', which is apt.
Radish has the distinction of being the fastest developing outdoor vegetable. In just six to eight weeks from sowing, the first radishes can be eaten, the variation depends on the weather. For the same reasons of speedy results, radishes have always been popular for encouraging an interest in gardening with children. The large seeds of the radish also make it ideal for little fingers, and the self-same large seeds partly explain the speed of growth, quickly making a strong seedling.
The radish has a long history of cultivation, first with black-skinned, carrot-shaped kinds in the eastern Mediterranean region, and later with white-skinned kinds and finally the red-skinned kinds with which we are most familiar about two hundred years ago. There are also green and yellow-skinned kinds.
Radishes are a good source of Vitamin C, dietary fibre and, in common with most fresh vegetables, contain anti-cancer flavonoids. The oriental radish kinds are even better as they also contain valuable levels of potassium, magnesium and folate. Radishes are generally considered as a salad vegetable eaten fresh, but they can be cooked, especially the oriental and winter kinds which are cooked like turnips, good in stir fries, stews and soups.
The familiar varieties of radish are the red-skinned, white-fleshed small salad radishes. Most varieties are round in shape, such as ‘Scarlet Globe', though some are pointed, such as ‘French Breakfast'. There are white varieties, such as ‘White Icicle', used young and eaten raw. And there are white winter radishes which are eaten fresh or cooked and impart a nice peppery crunchy flavour. White winter kinds are usually called ‘mooli', such as ‘Mino Early', and they originated in Japan. There are red-fleshed winter kinds from China, such as ‘Mantanghong'.
Radishes can be sown early, as soon as the ground conditions allow, usually in March. Because they develop so quickly, repeat sowings will be essential if a continuous supply is required. It is best to sow just a few seeds at a time. Sowing can continue into late summer, and the winter kinds are sown in July for winter use.
Site and soil
Being a quick-growing crop, radishes needs full open sunshine and good soil conditions. It was originally probably a seaside plant and it still likes light, open soil, fertile but not too rich. If the soil is too rich the centre of the radishes can be soft.
Weeding and watering
Be sure to control weeds as soon as the radish seedlings appear above ground, which can be within a few days of sowing. Watering may be needed, especially in summer, because drought and heat can cause ‘bolting'.
Radishes should be used as soon as they are big enough, because they will come in a rush. The winter kinds stand outdoors except in a sharp frost and can be used as needed. Radish is a member of the cabbage family and can suffer form cabbage root flies, especially crops standing outdoors and this factor should be watched.