In the chilly early months of 2012, we decided to get serious about going totally fresh and very local—and start a garden. We wanted to plant a lot of varieties, reflecting the explosion of interest across the country in rare and heirloom vegetables.
We sought out Mary Beth and David Shaddix, who have a picture-perfect kitchen garden and nursery, complete with hound and chickens, about 30 minutes from our Birmingham, Alabama, offices. On their counsel—they know what grows best through hot and humid summers, long springs, and occasional frosts—we selected a year's worth of seeds. By early spring, the first thrilling harvest arrived in our Test Kitchen for recipe development. We'll be showing the fruits (and vegetables) of our garden project labors. First up: peppery, beautiful, easy-to-grow radishes.
Start radish prep as early as your soil can be worked, as much as a month before the last expected freeze.
Like all root vegetables, radishes prefer loose, well-drained soil. Drag your trowel lightly to create a 1⁄2-inch-deep line for planting. Sow seeds about an inch apart, and then smooth the soil over the seeds. Allow 6 inches between rows. Water well and wait, but not for long. Seedlings will emerge in a few days. A helpful tip: Label your radish rows with the date you planted them to help you know when they’re ready to harvest.
Because radishes grow so quickly, you can add a dotting of seeds to the garden or containers each week for a continuous supply. Radishes like to be interplanted with lettuces; this helps keep the soil moist and makes them sweeter. So after sowing our first crop with carrots, we planted a second with a spring crop of lettuces. You can also plant radishes between larger, slow-maturing vegetables, such as spring broccoli, which needs 2 months to mature. By the time the broccoli grows tall enough to cast shade, the radishes are ready.
By mid-March, our radishes seemed to be growing by the hour and were practically popping out of the ground.
Tip: Pick radishes when they’re still small—about golf ball–sized. When they get too big, they become slightly bitter and woody. Cool weather also helps keep them sweet and mild. Radishes harvested in summer heat will have a much sharper bite.
Yep, you can eat a radish from root to tip. When our Chinese Red Meats should have been bulbing, warm weather caused them to form blooms, leading to these crunchy seed pods. Eat them raw (they taste just like radishes), or toss in a stir-fry.
When you bring radishes home from the garden or market, chop off the greens—they'll pull moisture from the root. (The greens can be used raw or cooked.) After rinsing and scrubbing, store the roots in a produce bag in your crisper for up to a week. If they become spongy, crisp them up by placing them in a bowl of ice water for up to an hour.