The first pulling of crisp, spicy, sweet roots, slathered in cold unsalted butter, then dipped in flaky sea salt and accompanied by a glass of something white and very dry: I feel I have been dreaming about my first spring crop all winter.
Radishes are keen on life, which is why they get to go first. They take roughly 30 to 40 days to mature outside (fewer in a polytunnel with plenty of watering). Perhaps more importantly, they favour cool, moist conditions. The seeds germinate at between 14C and 30C and are quick about it, so they are one of the best indicators of whether your soil is warming up. Another way of knowing if your soil is nearing 14C is to wiggle your fingers in it. If you can linger there, your soil is warm; if after a minute you wish to hug a cup of tea, it is not.
The trick to a good radish – one that is crisp, not bitter and definitely not woody or hollow – is quick growth. For this, you need fertility and moisture. Competition from other radish seedlings will rob the soil of both. Therefore, don’t oversow – seeds should be 3-5cm (a couple of inches) apart in rows 10-15cm apart, or broadcast thinly over a patch. Not too deep, either – they need only a centimetre of soil above them and do best sown into a fine tilth. Sow a pinch at a time, in succession – ie, as one lot emerges, sow the next batch. No one can eat 30 radishes ripening all at once, which is what they are wont to do.
If your soil is not yet fertile enough for the nutrients to be readily available, you could spread leaf mould mixed with well-sieved garden compost over the surface and sow into that. Alternatively, take organic manure, dried farmyard manure or chicken pellets with added seaweed and gently tickle this into the soil before sowing. Alternatively, sow after a leguminous green manure, such as clover or alfalfa.
Italian and French breakfast radishes) are among my favourites – cylindrical with red tops and white tips. For round shapes, ‘Cherry Belle’ is a brilliant red and ‘Pink Beauty’ is as the name suggests. ‘Rudi’ has a fine flavour and is slow to turn pithy. Finally, if you find yourself with odds and sods of leftover packages, mix them together for a colour harvest.
In spring, radishes need full sun, but by summer they will grow well in semi-shade, where the soil will remain cool. In hot soils, they will bolt, becoming tough and so spicy as to be unpleasant. When the first and second sprinklings of radish seedlings are up and doing well, you can start to think about sowing beetroot, spring onions, broad beans, cabbages, cauliflowers, parsley, peas, spinach, lettuces and rocket.
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