The revival of the radish
Sitting in the polytunnel on a cold, crisp and sunny day in February, contemplating what to grow this year, it strikes me that all that talk about ‘food trends’, ‘this year’s fancy vegetables’ and ‘the chef’s favourites’ is as seasonal as gardening.
Fads and trends come and go but they don’t really make gardening and food growing any easier. It’s a little like that famous saying: “Growing vegetables is easy if the pencil is long and the garden far away.”
But then again there is a great edible root vegetable from the Brassica or cabbage family that is really easy to grow, germinates quickly and grows rapidly. Some varieties can be eaten within a month from sowing. It doesn’t know pests and diseases and is a good companion to other vegetables. It is mostly eaten raw as a crunchy salad vegetable and can be used for sprouting or micro leaves. This vegetable is also super healthy, which is often forgotten.
Yes you guessed it right, it is the radish. My earliest memorable moment with radishes were not the delicious sharp red devils my parents grew in our garden, wherever there was space (you see they did compromise on the old rotation rule when it came to growing radishes). No, it was actually drinking one of my first pints of a local craft beer (Hohenloher Loewenbraeu) with freshly baked and buttered sourdough bread and a long white ‘Bier-Rettich’, a Mooli type radish, sliced and salted. A sensation of flavours, I can tell you. So what might be trendy for you this year is quite traditional for me, although I do adore radishes in any shape or form.
Easy to grow
Radishes are a cool season crop and one of the first vegetables to harvest fresh in April, even grown in a pot on a balcony in a city flat. I grew my first ones in a fish-box just outside the kitchen door with a little plastic cloche. For a continuous, nearly all year round supply of those delicious ‘sharp devils’, sow every two to three weeks from March to September, 1cm deep every 5cm in rows of 10cm apart, or else broadcast.
The seeds will germinate in a few days and plants love temperatures of 12-15°C in a sunny spot. In early Spring you can cover with a light fabric or fleece if it gets too cold at night. Most important: Keep the soil moist as lack of water makes them too sharp and sometimes hollow. You should be able to harvest in four to six weeks after sowing. Radishes are easy to grow, which makes them an ideal crop to try with children and they rarely suffer from pests and diseases.
For all seasons
Radishes come in numerous varieties, varying in size, shape, colour and crop duration. Categorised into spring/summer and winter radishes, they are also often classified as red, black or white. Popular varieties are Cherry Bell, Long White Icicle, French Breakfast and China Rose. My personal favourites are autumn/winter maturing Mooli varieties like Daikon or Neptune. Mooli radishes are crisp, pure white 25cm long roots and mild in flavour. If you want to try something extraordinary, grow Munchen Bier radish, which are grown for their very spicy seed pods. The tops can be eaten as leafy-greens.
Radishes are super healthy due to the high Vitamin B and C content. Their peppery flavour comes from the sulphur compounds and the sharp taste from the mustard oils they contain, which are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and help cleaning our guts. They are also popular in slimming diets as they are extremely low in calories and protein.
For radish seeds, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie.
Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie. Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at email@example.com.