The Unsung Hero of the Garden
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Radishes would probably not win the prize for favorite garden vegetable. But, the humble radish, with its flavor, nutrition, ease of cultivation, and pest-repelling properties, is truly the unsung hero of the garden.
Every part of a radish plant is edible and nutritious. Pickle the roots or roast them with carrots and parsnips. Sauté the greens or turn them into radish leaf pesto (it’s better than basil pesto!). The flowers are a particular delicacy. Sprinkle the spicy flowers over salads and meat dishes.
The Tastiest Varieties
There are two types of radishes: the long-rooted and the round. The original ancient Chinese radish was long-rooted and white, like a fat carrot. The English bred this white radish into a deep red, called the Long Scarlet. The Italians shortened this radish until it was small and round, the Cherry Bell. There are now hundreds of radish varieties around the world.
The most delicious of all are the French Breakfast, Zlata, and Chinese Red Meat. You can eat these radishes raw, like fruit. Also try the Japanese Daikon and Munchener Bier for hearty portions with a mild, tasty flavor.
Plant radishes in well-tilled, well-drained soil any time between October and February. Use your finger or the wooden end of a garden rake to draw lines across the width of the bed two inches apart and 1/8th inch deep. Sprinkle radish seeds generously down each line then rake them into the soil.
Thin the radishes to a final spacing of two inches (and eat the thinnings, they are delicious!). Radishes mature in only 18 to 30 days—the farmer’s version of fast food! Harvest as soon as the root is ready.
Powerful Natural Pest Control
The scent of a radish repels and confuses pest insects. To protect your more delicate winter veggies (lettuce, broccoli, bok choy) from bugs, companion plant radishes liberally throughout the garden.
You can also plant a thick line of radishes across the width of your garden beds every few feet down the rows. The radishes will form walls, or barriers, to trap insects into confined areas, where they are easier to eliminate.
Gorgeous Winter Flowers
If you leave your radishes in the ground, they will soon produce a brilliant display of pink, purple, and white flowers. You can count on radishes to flower in the coldest weather, even when they are covered with frost.
These flowers serve as beacon to draw bees and other helpers into the garden, especially when they are the only flowers blooming in the bleak winter landscape.
Radishes are an essential vegetable for your winter garden. Plant new radish seeds every three weeks and you will have a continual harvest of this hero vegetable all the way into spring.