The Scent of a Radish

A Harvest of Radishes

A Harvest of Radishes

Freshly-picked radishes can be spicy, sweet, flavorful, and delicious.  Unfortunately, the all-you-can-eat salad bars of the 1980’s ruined radishes for most of us.   But even if you don’t like to eat them, radishes can play an important role in your garden.

Radishes were first cultivated in China, and they were carried along the ancient Silk Road to Rome, and then northward throughout Europe.  The Conquistadors and the Pilgrims brought radishes to the New World in the holds of their ships, and pioneer settlers carried them west.  I first learned the value of radishes in the lush gardens of Japan, where daikon is a dietary staple.

Radishes for Pest Control

On our farm, we grow radishes primarily for pest control.  The scent of a radish repels and confuses pest insects.  To protect your delicate winter greens from bugs, companion plant a variety of radishes liberally throughout the garden.

You can also plant a thick line of radishes across the width of your garden beds every few feet down the rows.  Plant your greens and carrots and broccoli right up to the line of radishes on either side.  The radishes will form walls, or barriers, to trap insects into confined areas, where they are easier to eliminate.

Whether you need to remove your bad bugs by hand (the pinch method), or spray them with Bt (a natural treatment for caterpillars), pests are easier to find and do less damage when they are confined in your radish “bug traps”.  Also, beneficial predators seem to have an easier time hunting pests when they are trapped in confined areas.

Purple Radish Flowers

Purple Radish Flowers

Bees and Beneficial Predators

Mature radish plants offer a brilliant display of pink, purple, and white flowers, and radishes are the one plant we can count on to flower in the coldest weather, even when they are covered with frost.  The flowers serve as a beacon to draw bees and beneficial predators into the garden, especially when they are the only flowers blooming in the bleak winter landscape.

Radish, Bee Drinking

Radish with Bee Above

Radish with bee buzzing

Radish with Bee Pollinating

Radishes Help Chickens Make Delicious and Nutritious Eggs

If you leave them in the ground long enough, radish roots can grow up to ten or fifteen pounds.  I harvest these huge bushy radishes and feed them to our laying hens, and the hens devour them, root, stalk, and all.  Radishes are an inexpensive and highly nutritious food source for our chickens during the winter, when green material is scarce—and radishes help chickens produce exquisitely delicious eggs.

Laying Hens Enjoying Radishes

Laying Hens Enjoying Radishes

Varieties of Radishes

The standard varieties for radishes are cherry bell, scarlet globe, white icicle, sparkler white tip, and long scarlet, but there are dozens of varieties to choose from.  Plant as many different types as you can find, because different varieties are better at resisting different types of pests, and you might even find some tasty radishes that you like to eat.

Daikon is a Japanese radish with a wonderful flavor, and there are many exotic radish varieties from the Orient with incredible flavor.  The quicker you harvest radishes once they mature, the sweeter the flavor; and the longer you leave them in the ground, the hotter and more pungent they become.  I realize that with radishes “sweet” is a relative term–not sweet compared to chocolate bars and strawberry sodas, but sweet enough when they are the first taste of out your winter garden.

Kimmi of Coastal Bend Health Foods with a Bunch of Radishes

Kimmi of Coastal Bend Health Foods with a Bunch of Radishes

Eating and Cooking Radishes

Every part of a radish plant is edible, and the flowers are a unique delicacy.  Shake the radish plant over a bowl to catch the flowers, and sprinkle them on salads and meat dishes.  Radish roots are best pickled or roasted with other root vegetables, like carrots and parsnips.

Successively Planting Summer Vegetables with Radishes

If you plant radishes now, in mid-December, they will be ready just after the New Year, and the scent of your radishes will protect the garden for the rest of the winter.

On the first day of March, when your radishes are dripping with fragrant flowers, pull them out of the ground, and simply drop your tomato, eggplant, and pepper transplants into the open holes.  Cover the new transplants with compost, and keep your garden going through the spring and summer.

Pull this 15 lb radish, feed it to the chickens, and plant a tomato in its place.  Notice the T-post for the tomato trellis is already in the ground.  We put the posts in when we plant the winter garden, so it is easier to transition it to a summer garden later on.

Pull this 15 lb radish, feed it to the chickens, and plant a tomato in its place. Notice the T-post for the tomato trellis is already in the ground. We put the posts in when we plant the winter garden, so it is easier to transition it to a summer garden later on.

9 responses

  1. I have to know why Kimmi is taking the huge radishes to the health food store. Surely radishes that size are not fit for the table?

    • Hello Cindy! In that picture, Kimmi has one bunch of sparkler white tip radishes (the red ones with the white tips), and one bunch of white icicle radishes. The rest of the greens in that picture are turnip greens, kale, and collards. Those radishes are definitely good to eat.

      Kayla roasts the sparkler white tip radishes in the oven with carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, and sweet potatoes. She drizzles them with olive oil, sprinkles them with sea salt and fresh rosemary, and cooks them for about 45 minutes to an hour at 400 degrees. The radishes are wonderful cooked this way. The first time she cooked this, I didn’t realize it was the radishes that tasted so good. The heat bakes out a lot of the pungency that those larger radishes acquire.

      The white icicle radishes can be washed and cut into discs or spears, and then pickled with vinegar, sugar, and dill. Kayla makes amazing pickled radishes, something to actually look forward to in this cold weather.

      I mainly grow radishes for the pest control benefits, and as a nutritious supplemental food for the chickens. But Kayla has a knack for making something good out of every single thing that comes out the garden.

      Thank you so much Cindy! I would love to know if you are able to try some! Enjoy this beautiful day!

    • Hello Susie! I think radishes would be a great idea for rabbits! For what radishes may lack in taste, they more than make up for in health. Radishes have a lot of vitamin C and some B vitamins, as well as potassium and other minerals. Also, radishes are high in dietary fiber. I consider radishes to be like big doses of vitamins for our chickens, and radishes help flavor the eggs.

      Radishes are really easy to grow, and sometimes radishes will survive when nothing else will–so, this is a pretty stable source for winter supplements to animals. Also, radishes mature quickly, so we can grow them in the same space as slow-maturing plants, like cauliflower, and harvest the radishes when the cauliflower need the space. Thank you so much Susie, I would love to know how the rabbits like your radishes! Have a wonderful day!

  2. Thank you for the radish recipes. I have some growing in my garden right now. Other than sliced in salads, I’ve never known anyone to cook them. I’ll certainly give them a try!!

    • Hello Cindy! I need to get Kayla’s recipes for roasted winter vegetables, and also for her pickled radishes–but I better hurry before she goes into labor! I am not big on raw radishes, especially if they’ve been in the ground for a while, but roasting and pickling take out the pungency. Thank you so much Cindy! Have a wonderful night!

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