As our summer crops slip away, garden beds are making themselves available for planting that next round of what will nourish us. On this week’s garden to-do list: Plant fall radishes.
I look forward to the first roasted watermelon radish the same way I look forward to the first Cherokee Purple tomato. It marks the change to true fall much the same way the tomatoes bring in the summer.
Fall radishes—like watermelon, daikon and black Spanish radish—are unlike spring radishes in that they take a bit longer to grow and they have a stronger taste. The tradeoff is their hardy, long-keeping nature going into winter and, in the case of black radish, at least, their health benefits.
What Are Fall Radishes?
I classify fall radishes, or winter radishes, as watermelon radish, black radish and daikon radish—each varieties of Raphanus sativus. They have a spicy flavor in common but, apart from their root vegetable nature, don’t appear too similar.
- Watermelon radish is the mildest and my favorite of the bunch. Cut one of these globe-shaped radishes open, and you’ll understand where it gets its name.
- Black radish looks like a Halloween prop, with its thick, rough black skin and ghost-white flesh. This globe-shaped radish is the spiciest with a peppery bite.
- Daikon radish has a completely different look, growing elongated in a cylinder, like a thick carrot, and can serve as a food crop for humans as well as a cover crop for compacted garden areas. If you decide you don’t want to eat them, let them continue growing and breaking up your soil.
How to Grow
The reason these aren’t called summer radishes is because watermelon radish, black radish and daikon radish like the cool weather. Direct seed them in full sun in late summer. Thin them to 4 inches or so, and they’ll grow to fill the space.
Fall radishes take about two months to mature to full size and can continue growing after a frost but not necessarily a freeze.
If there’s a hot spell, watermelon, daikon and black radishes could bolt, leading to woody roots. Assuming your fall weather is “normal,” these roots will grow right up until the freeze.
How to Harvest
Watermelon and black radishes regularly grow to 3 inches around. Daikon don’t get the round growth so much as the long growth.
Kentucky farmer friends of mine have grown them 12 inches long, and I saw several bunches that were at least 16 inches long at a farm stand in South Carolina last December! You can harvest each of these when they’re much smaller if you got a late start with planting, your crop is bolting or you’re impatient.
Radishes are easy to harvest. Grasp them singly by the greens close to the root, and tug. You should have no problem popping each out of the ground. The daikons might need the help of a digging fork, if your soil is parched.
How to Store
Rinse or brush the soil from the radish roots. Allow them to dry and remove their greens before storing.
Keep fall radishes in a root cellar—they are roots, after all—or in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Wrap them in a damp paper towel or plastic bag for extra-long storage.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit that I’ve kept fall radishes in the fridge for a couple of months, but I have. I ate them, and they were excellent. These are the definition of a storage vegetable.
How to Eat Fall Radishes
First of all, don’t let the haters tell you radish greens aren’t worth eating. They are. Cook them as you would any other greens, as radish greens tend to have tiny spikes that would be unpleasant raw.
For the fermenters out there, daikon radishes are an essential ingredient in kimchi. Daikon, black and watermelon radishes all make interesting, flavorful ferments. Try mixing these with beets and carrots for a varied root-veggie ferment.
My favorite way to eat any of the fall radishes is chopped and roasted with olive oil and salt, as roasting concentrates their natural sugars. Served alongside a roasted chicken … this is a date night in itself.
Excellent leftover meals resulting from this meal are stir fry and fried rice.
Some people love them, but raw fall radishes are a hard sell for me. Slice them uber-thin and toss them with salt and rice vinegar or make a quick pickle, and we can talk. The spice is more than I care to have.
Boil a peeled black radish, and mash it with potatoes or purple-top turnips for a horseradish-like kick.
I have not tried this, but I’ve read about black radish “chips”—sliced thin, tossed with salt and oil, and roasted—and I would be willing to give this a try.
I’m looking forward to seeding my fall radishes, knowing I’ll have nutritious storage vegetables ready to harvest in a couple of months. Try growing a few this fall so you can eat well into the winter.