Few vegetables are as much fun for children and adults alike to grow as the radish. And as the photograph graphically illustrates, radishes don't have to be small, round and red. There is a 23-pound Japanese radish called Sakurajima --and yes, it is edible.
Incidentally, in Japan, radishes are not a mere garnish; they are utilized in numerous stir-fry dishes and account for 18% of Japan's commercial vegetable crop.
Both ordinary and Oriental radishes are easy to grow. Children in particular like to grow radishes. Being impatient creatures, children want results quickly, and ordinary radishes are almost instant vegetables. The seeds sprout in a few days and the radishes are ready to eat in a few weeks. Oriental radishes take longer, but the results are more spectacular.
Fall is an ideal time to plant radishes in Southland gardens. And while ordinary radishes can be planted from fall through spring, Oriental radishes should be planted only in our autumn weather as they will quickly bolt to seed when the days begin to lengthen.
There is a wide assortment of ordinary radishes for your garden. Easter Egg is a colorful new hybrid that produces purple, pink, white, violet, red and lavender radishes--all from the same seed packet. It adds a bit of excitement to any salad or relish tray.
Excellent Table Fare
Among other good, ordinary radish varieties is Burpee White, an old favorite of mine. It is a large, round, white radish with mild flavor and it will stand in the garden longer than other varieties without turning hot or pithy.
Two other varieties that retain their texture and flavor well are Crimson Giant and Champion; both reach the size of a half dollar and make excellent table fare. An old variety called French Breakfast is very early maturing and has an unusual oblong shape with a red top and a white bottom.
White Icicle is an old-fashioned radish that produces a long, slender, white root that resembles an icicle in shape. You may want to mix the seed of several different varieties in a bed or container and decide which you like best.
Although the giant Sakurajima radish is the most spectacular of the Oriental radishes, it is not as practical as the long, slender daikon varieties, as Sakurajima requires lots of garden space and takes up to seven months to reach maturity.
Flavor-wise, the daikon is by far my favorite radish. If grown properly, it has a crisp, sweet, refreshing flavor with only a hint of pungency. We consume a large number of daikons throughout the year; both fresh and in various stir-fry dishes. The daikon is the most widely grown of the Oriental radishes. It looks like a huge white carrot with a blunt end and radish foliage.
Use Japanese Recipes
Technically speaking, the daikon belongs to the same family as other radishes; however, it produces roots up to 3 feet in length and 4 inches in diameter.
If you want an interesting culinary experience, plant daikon and then purchase a Japanese cookbook and experiment with the multitude of recipes that use this unique vegetable.
Good daikon varieties for our growing region include Summer Cross, April Cross and Minowase.
To grow radishes, prepare the soil by spading it to a depth of 12 inches; or 18 inches if you are growing the longer-rooted Oriental radishes. Unless you already have a loose, well-drained soil, work in large amounts of organic materials. Mix in an application of a vegetable fertilizer, water thoroughly and allow the soil to settle for two days before planting.
Follow the directions on the seed packet as to spacing and thinning. Keep the soil surface slightly moist while waiting for germination. Radishes grow faster than most weeds, so weeding is minimized and as a bonus, few insect pests are attracted to radishes.
Border Other Crops
Besides planting in rows, radishes may be scatter-planted in plots or tucked into the corner of a flower bed or along lawn borders. Ordinary radishes are a very useful "marker crop." That is they can be planted along the sides or rows of other crops whose seeds are slow to germinate.
For instance, radishes germinate in a few days while it takes onion seeds three weeks or more to germinate. By outlining the onion rows with the radishes, you can control weeds without disturbing the onions. By the time the onions need the growing space, the radishes will have been harvested.
Seeds for the ordinary radish varieties mentioned here are usually easy to locate in local seed racks. Seeds for the Oriental varieties are sometimes available in local nurseries.
If you are unable to locate them, seeds for Summer Cross may be ordered from Burpee Seed Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974. April Cross and Minowase seeds are stocked by Twilley Seed Co., P.O. Box T65, Trevose, Pa. 19047. Seeds for the giant Sakurajima radish are available from Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321.