Fast-Growing Radishes

If you're pressed for time and space to garden, selecting the right vegetable crops to grow is key. One of the best vegetables for the hurried, small-space gardener is radishes.

Radishes take up little space, and they can be grown in the ground or in containers. They mature quickly -- within one month of seeding -- and are crisp, tender, and tasty, especially if grown during the cooler weather of spring or fall. Cool temperatures bring out the best in radishes, so now is the time to plant a quick crop before the end of the gardening season.

Here's how to plant and harvest these spicy little treats this fall.

Radish Varieties

Most people are familiar with the round or cylindrical radishes. These varieties mature 20 to 30 days from seeding and can be grown in spring or fall. Oriental or "winter" radishes, such as 'Minowase Summer Cross #3' daikon take longer (60 days) to mature and should be sown in summer for a fall and winter harvest.

The spring radishes can be planted now to mature during the cool, moist days of fall. Here are some of the best varieties to try.

'Early Scarlet Globe' - This classic globe-shaped, red-skinned, and white-fleshed variety features a mild, crisp flavor.

'D'Avignon'- This French breakfast-type radish is elongated, with red skin and a white tip. It withstands some hot weather without getting pithy.

'Sparkler'- A globe-shaped, red-skinned variety with a white tip, 'Sparkler' has white, crisp flesh

'White Icicle'- This slender, 4-inch-long, white radish is mild flavored and tender.

'Cherry Belle' - This globe- to round-shaped variety has bright red skin and white flesh. Popular with home gardeners. 

Growing Radishes

While most people think of growing radishes in spring, they can be grown in fall as well. Select a spot in your garden where earlier crops, such as beans, have finished producing. Remove the old plants, amend the soil with compost, and form the area into a raised bed. Smooth and flatten the surface, removing any rocks and leftover plant roots. Broadcast seeds over the raised bed or sow in rows. Cover seeds with a light layer of sand or potting soil, tamp down the soil lightly, and water. Keep the bed moist, and within days the seeds will germinate.

In Southern areas, consider shading the bed with a shade cloth, and stagger plantings every few weeks to have a constant supply of radishes into fall.

Once they've germinated, thin the seedlings to 2 to 3 inches between plants. Winter radishes should be thinned to 2 to 4 inches apart. Radishes should be encouraged to grow quickly to maturity by keeping them well watered. Slow growing makes radishes hot in taste and woody in texture.

Problem-Solving and Harvesting

The main problems with growing spring radishes in fall is lack of root development, pithiness, hot flavor, and cracking. All these conditions are caused by too much nitrogen fertilizer, not thinning early enough and far enough apart, hot weather, fluctuating soil moisture conditions, and not harvesting early enough. To solve these problems, don't fertilize the radish bed, thin early and to the proper width, protect radishes from hot weather with a shade cloth, keep the soil evenly moist, and harvest early.

Root maggots are the biggest insect-related problem. They are generally not a problem in fall plantings, but working the soil well before planting can help prevent severe infestations.

Start harvesting radishes as soon as the roots have formed globes or elongated. When in doubt, harvest, since radishes stay crisp, tender, and sweet for only a short time. Winter radishes can be left in the ground for a longer period of time without becoming woody. These should be pulled before the ground freezes.

Question of the Week

Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Q. My sweet potato vines are growing wild. When do I harvest them?

A. Sweet potatoes may be harvested any time before first frost, once the roots reach a size that is acceptable to you. The tubers are ready for eating when the ground heaves up and cracks open at the plant's base. Most gardeners leave the tubers in the ground until just before the first frost to get the largest potatoes possible. However, once soil temperatures go below 50 degrees F, the tubers can be damaged.

Once dug, store the sweet potatoes in an 80-degree F room, out of direct sunlight, for 10 days to cure. Then wrap them in newspaper and store in a humid basement that doesn't get below 50 degrees F.

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