If you want to get kids interested in gardening - let them plant radishes. Magical things, radish seeds - you plant them in the ground, and in almost no time flat, you're rewarded with crisp little globes that can be eaten on the spot. This is one vegetable that provides almost instant gratification. The seeds are large enough for small fingers to handle, they germinate in only 3-5 days, and, depending on the variety, they can reach edible size in only three weeks. What more would a kid want?
Radishes (Raphanus sativus) belong to the Mustard Family. They're available in a variety of shapes and colours, including cheery red, white, pink, violet, as well as bi-colour and tri-colour - green, white and pink.
Although eaten mainly for their roots, radish leaves are also edible and provide a peppery 'kick' to mundane salads. The nutritive values of radishes and leaves consist of moderate levels of Vitamins A, B, C, Calcium, Iron, and traces of Phosphorus and Potassium. Radishes are low in calories and make an ideal snack for those of us watching our waistlines.
An ideal early crop for all zones, radishes are hardy and can withstand some frost. In fact, this vegetable prefers cool growing conditions, and is meant to be sown early and harvested quickly - before hot weather arrives.
Radish seeds can be sown directly in the garden in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Spring radishes should be planted 1/4 - 1/2 inch deep, 1 inch apart for single rows. The seeds can also be broadcast in wide rows 8-10 inches apart. Cover the seed with 1/4 inch of topsoil, and keep the soil most. The plants will germinate quickly. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to stand from 2" - 3" apart. Successive plantings can be made every 10 - 14 days until summer. Newer varieties offered by the seed companies are slow to bolt in summer heat, and can be used to extend the growing season.
Plant radishes in a loose, fertile soil with a pH from 5.5 to 7.0. Because radishes grow so quickly, it is important to work in before planting so the roots can benefit from it. Rake the soil free of all rocks and debris to avoid misshapen roots - this is especially important for the larger, winter varieties.
Since radishes mature so quickly, disease is usually not a problem. Flea beetles may attack the leaves, giving the leaves a 'shotgun' effect. White root maggot may attack a portion of your crop. At the first sign of these small, white maggots, pull up the infected plants and destroy them. By practising good garden hygiene, rotating your crops, and harvesting the radishes quickly you can cut down on your losses.
Winter radishes are similar in culture to spring radishes. However, due to their larger size, winter radishes require more room and a longer growing period. Overcrowding of plants may cause the roots to be deformed or spindly. Thin the seedlings to stand from 5" - 6" apart, in rows 2-3 feet apart. Ensure that plenty of organic material has been worked into the soil. Avoid the use of fresh manure that will result in leafy growth instead of root development.
Spring varieties mature in 20 - 30 days, and include round, half long, and long roots. These should be harvested once the roots reach 1" in diameter. They will be crisp and mild-flavoured.
Winter-hardy varieties mature in 55 - 60 days, and are usually elongated or cylindrical. They may take from two to six months to mature. These slower-growing radishes are excellent for storage, and have a stronger flavour than their spring cousins. These radishes are usually eaten cooked or pickled.
If you haven't grown radishes since you were a kid, it's time to give this vegetable another try. Take it from me, a kid at heart, and find out why this vegetable is virtual child's play.