(Lori Adams, who owns Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden and is a frequent vendor at the Sitka Farmers Market, will be writing a regular garden column in the Daily Sitka Sentinel this summer. The Sentinel is allowing us to reprint the columns on this site after they first appear in the newspaper. This column appeared on Page 4 of the Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, edition of the Daily Sitka Sentinel.)
GARDENING IN SITKA
By Lori Adams
EVERYTHING I’VE LEARNED ABOUT GROWING RADISHES
All of the gardening books I have read say that growing radishes is SO easy, but I really have a hard time growing a good decent radish.
Every year I try, and every year I get a few good ones and a whole lot of bad ones — skinny tough roots with nice tops that immediately bolt. This year I actually grew some pretty decent radishes so I think I’m starting to get it figured out a little. I refuse to give up.
First of all, radishes are a root crop, so they don’t like a lot of fertilizer. In fact, the books pretty much say to just throw the seeds in any old dirt and they will grow. Nitrogen produces large luscious tops, not large plump roots, so this fall don’t put any nitrogen-rich material in the bed where you plan to plant radishes next year. Instead, bulk up the bed with sand and loose organic material such as beach/forest mulch (not much seaweed) and leaves.
Next spring, either mix some bonemeal into the soil or gather some starfish to bury about four inches below the surface and then plant your seeds directly on top of the bed. I recommend buying seeds for varieties that are shaped like carrots rather than the typical round ones because they produce more poundage per square foot. If you are using a seeder the seeds will be buried, but if you broadcast the seeds by hand you will need to rake them in a little or sprinkle some dirt over the top.
Be sure not to get the seeds too close together. I am sure this is one of my biggest problems. Radishes that are too close together just shoot up and bolt. Proper spacing is VERY important. About three inches of spacing is about right. You can hand plant each seed, but that is very, very tedious. That’s why I purchased a seeder. I am still learning how to use it, but I think it will be helpful to achieve proper spacing.
Radishes need cool weather to germinate and grow and we have that, but even though our winters are mild it doesn’t work to plant outdoors in February (believe me, I’ve tried). Some years you can plant in March, but mid-April is probably the best time to plant.
Be sure to cover the bed with floating row cover to protect the seedlings from frost and the dreaded root maggot flies. Radishes are from the brassica family and root maggot flies love them. It can be helpful if you do not grow radishes (or any other brassicas) in the same spot each year.
It is important to keep the surface of the bed damp while you are waiting for the seeds to germinate, and on dry days it may be necessary to water the bed more than once. After germination it is very important to water evenly. Large fluctuations in watering can cause radishes to split, bolt or get pithy.
If you have tried everything and your radishes still bolt, pull them up and throw them in the compost, but leave a few of them in the ground. They will flower and then grow seed pods. The green, tender pods can be eaten whole and they taste just like radishes.
One variety called the “Rat Tail Radish” (raphanus sativus) is grown specifically for its pods. It grows about six feet tall and produces hundreds of pods. The advantage of growing this variety is that it matures in the summer and likes warm weather, but unlike other varieties it needs rich, fertilized soil. I like to plant both types for radish taste all season long.
Brought to you by Down-To-Earth U-Pick Garden
2103 Sawmill Creek Road
Open June-August / Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
747-6108 or 738-2241