Edible Gardening

Catch radishes before they bolt (or not)

Radishes are quick to grow and also quick to bolt when temperatures warm up.
Radishes are quick to grow and also quick to bolt when temperatures warm up. Bee file

Radishes are all about timing.

This root vegetable rushes to please our spring gardening urges with almost immediate gratification. Usually, they’re the first thing ready to harvest, as soon as three weeks after their seed goes in the ground.

Because of their rapid rewards, radishes rank among the most popular early spring crops for vegetable gardeners.

But when the weather warms up, they “bolt” – throwing all their energy into making seed.

“This time of year, they’ll go to seed very quickly,” said Suzanne Ashworth, who grows about six radish varieties at her Del Rio Botanical farm in West Sacramento. “You need to catch them when they’re small.”

Of the four types of radishes – red, white, black and daikon – red are the most familiar, little crimson balls typically sold in supermarkets by the bunch with their leaves still attached. In the garden, they take only three weeks to reach maturity. French Breakfast – a name applied to several different varieties – fall in this category, too. These elongated roots are red pink or purple with a white tip. Also known as spring radishes, the most famous variety is Cherry Belle.

White radishes refer not to daikon but fast-growing icicle varieties. Four or five inches long, they’re slim fingers of radish root with pale skin and mildly pungent crisp flesh. Another group of spring radishes, they mature in under a month, too.

Black radishes look like sooty turnips. Often called “Spanish blacks,” their flesh appears milky and very white. Mild (and slightly musty) to very peppery in flavor, they take longer to grow, spending the winter maturing for early spring harvest.

Daikon, a favorite in Japan, can grow two feet long and 3 inches thick, needing several (usually winter) months to mature. (Although baby daikons can be harvested in 40 days.) Their skin and flesh are usually white but can be pale green, purple or red. Their flavor ranges from mild to a distintive peppery bite. In Asia, this deep-rooted radish is often grown for its seed, a source of oil. Heirloom green and red “watermelon radishes,” popular for their rainbow hues, are actually daikons.

This year, Ashworth, whose organic produce goes to many of Sacramento’s top restaurants as well as weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) customers, grew Spanish blacks for the first time at the request of The Kitchen, the Selland family’s high-end restaurant.

“It’s an interesting radish,” she said. “(At The Kitchen), they shave it like a truffle, but it has to be really thin. I’m not really that fond of the black ones; they look a little dirty and that can be a big problem (for a produce farmer or seller).”

As for bolting radishes? Try eating the seed pods, Ashworth suggested. The pods pack a lot of the same crisp pungency as the more familiar roots. In addition, radish seeds can be sprouted and eaten like bean sprouts.

“If your radishes go to seed, it’s OK,” Ashworth said. “You may not have the roots, but you have the pods. They’re delicious, too.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

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