Growing Heirloom Radishes

An ancient food crop, radishes have appeared in many forms over the centuries. It’s fun to learn about heirloom varieties.
By: Nan Chase

Botanical Name: Raphanus sativus

The very name for radish derives from “radix,” the Latin name for root. Gardeners can be sure that radishes come in many old and reliable varieties.

Growing heirloom radishes means experiencing the feel and flavor that countless generations have eaten for their health. After all, radishes are packed with vitamin C, dietary fiber, and other crucial trace elements.

When looking for heirloom radishes consider these long-time favorites:

  • Spanish black radish. Dating back at least to the 1500’s, this unusual radish grows large and round – about 3 or 4 inches diameter – and has truly black skin with strongly flavored white flesh. This radish keeps well for winter storage in the ground.
  • French breakfast radish. This beautiful radish is oblong, with white-tipped roots and dark pink shoulders. The mild flavor makes this radish perfect as a morning meal: butter slices of baguette, layer with thin slices of the radish, and sprinkle with salt. A taste treat.
  • Watermelon radish. Also known as Chinese red meat or roseheart radish, the watermelon radish is an Asian variety with a long growing season that works well for summer planting and a late fall harvest. The outside is almost white, the inside bright pink.
  • Icicle radish, or white icicle. Growing long and slender, this pure white radish has crisp flesh and a fresh, tangy flavor. A good choice to grow in late spring, the summer heat doesn’t seem to bother this variety much.
  • German giant radish. This great big round radish is perfect for grating to use in salads, since a single radish can provide plenty of flavor. Sometimes known as “parat” jumbo radish, it resists the splitting and cracking typical in hot weather.
  • China rose radish. An oblong radish that grows about five inches long, this radish sports delicate pink skin. It keeps well for winter storage and is best grown from seed sown in mid-summer. Over centuries this radish has migrated from China to Europe to the New World.
  • Early scarlet globe, or scarlet globe radish. With its “short-top” greens and fast growth –seed to table in just over three weeks – this radish has classic good looks: round and dark pink. For two crops a year plant seeds both in spring and fall.

All radishes do best when planted in loose, deeply worked soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. The roots develop to their best size and shape when the ground is free of rocks or lumpy clay, and when the shoots are thinned to a distance of about 1-2 inches as they grow.

And for the best eating – not too spicy, with flesh that’s crisp rather than woody or tough –supply moisture evenly for the entire growing cycle, rather than letting soil get too wet or too dry.

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