Ravishing Radish

Let’s Get Planting

How do you celebrate National Start Planting Radish Seeds Day? That’s not to like about early spring in Bakersfield? There’s Chinese New Year (it’s the Year of the Monkey), Mardi Gras, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day (also National Gumdrop Day), National Tooth Fairy Day, followed up by Dentist’s Day. Right around the corner comes St. Patrick’s Day, National Goof-Off Day (March 22), and Easter Sunday. Whew! That’s a lot of holidays!

One holiday I never forget is January 8: National Start Planting Radish Seeds Day. Okay, we all know it’s also The King’s birthday and I made up the National Plant Radish Day part. Mrs. P likes to start planting her radish seeds on a date that’s easy to remember and, of course, who could forget Elvis’ birthday? Who indeed.

Botanically known as Raphanus sativus, radishes are believed to have originated in remote areas of China and Japan. Even today you’ll find this humble little veg in many Asian dishes. Now found around the world, radishes are almost always eaten raw. Their leaves, on the other hand, can actually be cooked like spinach. There are round, long, pink, black, white, and purple radishes. Most Europeans eat radishes as a hors d’oeuvre with butter and salt. I remember being served radishes this way in France with a little pot of sweet butter and a tiny dish of coarse salt. The late Mr. P ate radishes this way and, in fact, this was basically the only vegetable that he would eat!

To grow well, radishes prefer a cool, moist soil. They need to grow quickly to be at their crisp and flavorful best. One trick is to add a little soybean meal into the soil before sowing the seeds in rows. Ten days after planting, apply a liquid fertilizer. The hardest part will be pulling out every other plant when the tops are up. Instead of just tossing these tops, rinse them off, trim the root, and add to a green salad for a peppery taste.

Which seeds should you plant? Radish seed tapes are sold in most garden centers and I’ve written before how to make the seed tapes yourself. To refresh your little grey cells, cut strips of newsprint, squeeze drops of any non-toxic glue along the strips at 1/2-inch intervals. Place a radish seed on each drop of glue, let dry overnight. Lay out the strips in rows and cover with at least one inch of good potting soil. Holding your hand flat, tamp down on the soil and water lightly. Seed tapes are great for new gardeners and children. Radishes come up so fast, it’s almost instant green thumb gratification! When Mrs. P was a mere bud of five years old, she planted her first garden with radish seeds. If you can, make successive plantings every seven days while the weather is still cool. They need sun but not as much as you might think. The Russians really love their radishes and it’s probably because they have such a short growing season that it’s one of the fastest crops available for the home gardener.

Heirloom varieties are ‘French Breakfast’ (1879), ‘Cincinnati Market,’ and ‘White Icicle’ (mid-1800s). ‘Cherry Bell’ went to the top of the chart in popularity in 1949. The photos you’re seeing are of Mrs. P’s ‘Cherry Belles.’ Aren’t they just the sweetest looking radishes? Other hybridized radishes easy to grow are ‘Purple Plum,’ ‘Hailstone,’ ‘Easter Egg,’ ‘Helios,’ ‘Watermelon,’ ‘Lady Slipper,’ ‘Pink Summercicle,’ and ‘Gloriette.’ One of the oldest radishes, ‘Round Black,’ has been around since the 1500s. Asian-style radishes are the Daikons which are longer and often paler in color. They’re great for pickling as well as eating raw. ‘Green Meat,’ ‘Minowase,’ and ‘Red Meat’ are super simple to grow.

While traveling in France, I shared a train compartment with a jolly little professor at the Sorbonne. Cooking and gardening were his hobbies and we exchanged recipes and planting ideas with my rusty college French and his almost unintelligible English. His radish salad recipe is a real winner and I make it as often as I can as it’s one of the most delicious non-fattening things in the world. “Delicious” and “non-fattening” aren’t words usually seen in the same sentence, mais oui? I call this: VIVRE LA RADIS!

Vivre La Radis

Vinaigrette Dressing

  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 c. oil (olive or vegetable)
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Combine the following in a mini blender/processor and mix at high speed until creamy looking. This will make 1/2 cup.

Salade

  • 3 c. radishes, thinly sliced (I use the slicing disc on my food processor or you can use a mandolin, but watch your knuckles!)
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. white mustard seeds, crushed
  • 3 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Combine radishes, green onions, and 1/4 cup parsley in medium bowl. Crush mustard seeds in a small bowl. Stir in mustard and vinaigrette dressing. Pour over radish, onion mixture. Toss well. Chill thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Before serving sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parsley. Makes four servings.

Narcissus Thalia
Narcissus Thalia
by luriegarden/Thinkstock

Continuing on with our R and D theme which you might think stands for Research and Development, but actually refers to the world of Radishes and Daffodils. Yes, early spring is also about celebrating all things Daffy. There are Daffodil Shows all over California in February and March, did you know? From the deep south in historic Julian (North San Diego county), to Corona del Mar at Roger’s Gardens, to the north in Woodside at the beautiful Filoli, Californians love their Daffodils. In the event you’re interested, there’s a wealth of information at DaffLibrary.org. Yes, there is such a thing and there’s also the ADA, or American Daffodil Association. Because Daffs are blooming now, it’s fun to see the different varieties around town. Sure, there’s the old standby, ‘King Alfred,’ but look carefully and you’ll see all sorts of variations of yellow, cream, white, pink (yes, pink!), and reddish flowers coming into bloom. What I love about growing Daffs is that they will multiply in the ground year after year. They’re so foolproof. They’re such happy looking flowers, aren’t they? A dozen or so plopped into a vase will brighten any room.

What’s the difference between Daffodils and Narcissus? What’s a Jonquil? The quick answers are: (1) Nothing and (2) Jonquils are yellow Daffs. Daffodil is the common name for members of the Narcissus family and the name Jonquil is used in parts of the U. S. for only the color yellow. Who else would tell you these things?

This year I’m growing only white Daffs in my new blue and white garden. Last fall I planted 100 white Daffs (‘Mt. Hood,’ ‘Thalia,’ ‘Cheerfulness,’ and ‘Alaska’). They’re all up and starting to bloom. A little hard work digging for a few hours in November will pay off for years to come.

Oh, I almost forgot to remind you to plant ‘Easter Egg’ radish seeds! In the event you can’t find them locally, Burpee, Territorial Seed Company, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Park Seed all carry this variety. You’ll grow an Easter Basket of six distinctly colored radishes, all with white flesh. Most seed packs include a couple hundred seeds for under $3. Plant now and you’ll have an interesting addition to your relish tray for Easter Dinner.

Q. Why are radishes smart? A. Because they’re so well-read (red)!
Q. What’s the coolest vegetable? A. A rad-ish.
Q. What is small, red, and whispers? A. Hoarse radish!

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