27 January 2010
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
For instant gratification in the vegetable garden, try radishes (Raphanus sativa). Raphanus, Greek for quickly appearing, describes their growing habit perfectly, as many radishes mature at 25-35 days, seedlings erupting in 4-7 days. Children especially love this feature, which is why radishes make a perfect introduction to gardening.
Because they grow so quickly, radishes need rich, well-drained, sandy loam about as unlike Virginia piedmont clay as one can get. Create a 2-foot deep, raised bed or container for winter radishes like the mild Minowase, or 6 to 12 inches of earth for the spring varieties. Mix half native soil with half coarse sand. Make sure the soil is free of clumps, lumps, pebbles and rock. Enrich the earthen bed further with weekly half-inch, top and side dressings of screened, finished compost.
For optimum health and to deter a disease called clubroot, keep soil pH 6.5 to 7 and rotate radishes out of their beds every three years. Do not allow crops of the mustard family like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, of which radish is a member, to occupy the same beds.
As soon as the earth can be worked in early spring or late winter sow at a half-inch depth with one inch between each seed. Keep rows at a 6- to 9-inch width. Thin spring seedlings 2 inches and winter seedlings, 4 inches apart. Maintain moist soil with light misting.
Some of these are available as heirloom and open pollinated. For early spring radishes with maturity 20 to 35 days try Champion, Cherry Belle, Cherry Beauty Early, Comet, Easter Egg (kids love the different colors), Red Boy, Scarlet Globe, Sparkler White Tip; continue sowing into late spring with White Icicle and French Breakfast, which tolerate heat without becoming woody and peppery. For winter radishes at a 45- to 70-day maturity, experiment with China Rose, Snowy (F1), Miyashige, Chinese White, and Tama hybrid.
Pluck spring radishes when they are 1-1.5 inches wide, winter ones, at 2 inches. To have a continuous set of crops through midsummer, you could plant short rows among perennials, even roses, at 10- to 15-day intervals ending with the White Icicle and French Breakfast varieties around May 15. By July you have depleted your supply and made room for other occupants in the garden. Begin your winter sowing in early September for October to December yields.
There are a few, the most discouraging being cutworms, which are controlled by applying a dust formulation of BTK, a biological insecticide, to the soil a week before sowing. Cabbage root maggots are deterred with container plantings or raised beds, and flea beetles cause only cosmetic damage to the leaves.
Harvesting too late and uneven moisture will bring on a peppery flavor, woody texture, cracking and splitting. Crowding will lead to poor root development, so be aggressive with your thinning, especially winter varieties. They need more shoulder room.
Be imaginative. Smoked salmon slivers on large thick slices of winter radishes give you flavor and nutrition without the calories. Cherry Belles slathered with peanut butter a yummy food toy.
Tip of the Week
In a July 2009 report in "HortTechnology", scientists at Ohio State University reported that you damage African violets (Saintpaulia ionantha) when you brush the leaves or flowers with your bare hand. If you must touch, wear latex or nitrile gloves, or poke and prod with a clean wooden chopstick or toothpick.