Nutritious and Delicious
Though the little red globes you find in your produce department seem pretty humble, the radish deserves much more praise. Not only is the ruddy root quite nutritious, it's so simple to grow that black-thumbed gardeners and kindergartners alike will surely have success.
Common table radishes are a low-calorie food rich in vitamin C, electrolytes and antioxidants, and the B vitamins. According to the USDA, a 100-gram serving is just 16 calories, with a tenth of a gram of fat and 2g of fiber; yet just 2g of sugar. They also contain folates, several minerals and lutein and beta carotene. So slice up a few radishes and toss them in with your dinner salad. Not only does the red skin add color, the firm flesh adds crunch and a hint of spiciness.
Some cooks prepare radishes the same way as turnips, or you can cook the leaves like greens such as poke and turnips.
Colors, Shapes, and Flavors Galore
There are lots of varieties beyond the familiar red spheres. Other common types include a large, all-white carrot-shaped variety called daikon in Japan or mooli in India; and a mild red and white, cylinder-shaped version called a French Breakfast. They get that name from a French custom, eating them with salt and butter as a breakfast course. Other types include Spanish Black, which has black skin and spicy white flesh, and the watermelon radish with white skin and a red core. There are also hybrids and heirloom seeds such as carrot-shaped and all-white varieties. Seeds can be found at garden centers or ordered online from seed companies like Burpee's or Ferry-Morse.
You Can Be a Radish Rancher in Your Back Yard
Almost any grocery sells radishes; a bunch of ten or so usually costs about a dollar. You don't need to buy them from the store, though; because they're easy to grow. Unlike lettuce and carrot seeds, radish seeds are large enough that even children can handle them. Most varieties manage to poke their first leaves above the soil in five or ten days, and some are ready to eat in less than a month. Besides being easy to plant and quick to mature, radishes are also great cool-weather crops. Most can be planted a month or so before last frost date in the spring, and fall crops can be sown up until the first frost. In warm climates like the desert southwest and Gulf coast, radishes can be grown all winter; though they don't thrive in the hot summers.
Most planting instructions say to cover seeds with about ½ inch of soil, spacing them half an inch apart with eight to ten inches between rows. The seedlings need to be thinned before the roots start to enlarge; if they're too crowded the roots will not develop. Instead of pulling out seedlings, use sharp scissors to cut them at the root line: that won't disturb the soil as much as pulling them out does. Some gardeners have had good luck with planting the seeds in containers such as broad, shallow pots filled with a good gardening mix. Just be sure the pots are well-drained.
The wise gardener will not plant all his radishes at once, because you don't want them to all be ready to eat at the same time - too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing! Instead, plant about two feet of radishes in your garden, wait a week to ten days, then plant another couple of feet, Some gardeners suggest dropping a seed in the hole from which you just harvested a root, or to alternate radish and carrot seeds since carrots grow more slowly.
So give a cheer for the humble radish; for it's nutritious and delicious and easy to grow!