As the weather turned warm last weekend I couldn’t get the familiar kids-in-the-backseat saying of “are we there yet?” out of my head. Only my phrase came out: Is it time to plant the tomatoes yet?
Well maybe, but in my experience here, we always seem to get one last frost around Mother’s Day. I did notice that the snow is quickly melting off Mica Peak southeast of Spokane. Local garden lore says when it’s gone, we can plant warm season crops.
So, while we are waiting, why not plant a crop of radishes. You can be eating them straight out of the garden by mid-June.
There are several different types of radishes. The familiar round red ones we add to our salads are called spring or summer radishes. While we are most familiar with the red ones, this group has dozens of different cultivars that range in color from bright red to white, pink and purple. Some are round while others like the icicle radish are long. They have varying levels of spicy hotness, which is brought on by the presence of chemicals and enzymes that when chewed, combine to create an explosion in your mouth.
Summer radishes have a very short growing time of a month to six weeks, which makes them a good first crop in the spring.
Winter or oilseed radishes on the other hand take several months to mature. One of the more familiar varieties in this group is the daikon or Japanese radish. Daikons can weigh upward of 20 pounds or more and grow to 2 feet long. Their very spicy flavor is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes.
Daikons are also used as a forage for livestock and a soil improvement tool. In the fall, cattle will forage on the large leafy tops. After the cattle mow off the tops and the cold weather sets in, the large roots die and decompose leaving behind very large holes deep into the soil. Snow melt and rain flow into these holes to form a deep-water reserve for the summer crops. The roots also pull up nutrients and minerals from deep in the soil and release them to growing plants at the soil surface.
These large winter radishes are also grown for their seeds which contain around 50 percent of their weight in oil. The seeds are pressed, and the oil is then used in biofuel production. The seeds are also eaten as a snack food in some cultures.
Summer radishes are easy to grow. Add a couple of inches of compost to your garden and then work it up into a smooth seed bed. Plant the radish seed about 2 inches apart and a quarter of an inch deep. They should germinate in three to five days. Water as needed if the weather is dry.
The roots will be ready to harvest when they are about an inch to an inch and half wide. Don’t leave them too long as the root will get pithy and bitter.
Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for over 40 years. She is co-author of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook” with Susan Mulvihill. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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