Growing vegetables, heck, even growing houseplants, is not something with which I have much experience compared to my farming-for-generations neighbors. In fact, there was a time when friends would laugh me off my front porch if I brought up the idea of me growing anything. I was, perhaps, best known for my black thumb.
That is, you see, until I actually put some effort into learning what I didn’t know. By far, the best teacher has been experimentation. Just throw some seeds in the ground and see what they do. Seriously.
Last year, we started with just a little 20 foot by 20 foot garden to do just that – throw some stuff in the ground and see what happens. Some stuff did well, others didn’t. Frogs made homes out of my corn stalks. Birds picked apart my onions. Ants made highways out of my watermelons. But, my tomatoes and basil plants ran like gangbusters. My sugar snap peas and cucumbers took on a whole life of their own.
This year, we decided to go big or go home. I ordered more than $300 worth of seeds and plotted out an ambitious 5,000 square feet of gardening heaven (or hell, depending on how prolific the weeds are growing this week.) So far, we’ve planted radishes, four types of lettuce, yellow onions, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, 20 tomato plants, two types of basil, spinach, broccoli, kidney beans, zucchini squash, corn, and sugar snap peas.
We’ve also planted some lemon grass, some apple mint, some peppermint, asparagus, strawberries, grapes, chives and leeks. Oh, and did I mention, we built a greenhouse for herbs, seed starts and to house tender plants over the winter?
Sound ambitious for a true novice? You betcha…but like I said, it’s go big or go home this year. And I haven’t even mentioned the bell and jalapeno peppers, the watermelon, cantaloupe, and shelling peas we have yet to get in the ground. Or all the spearmint, lemon verbena, dill weed, chamomile, and various other herbs still going in the greenhouse.
We’ve already harvested our first crop of the year, too. I put in about a half dozen 12 foot rows of radishes back in early March. Those are now all harvested and the bare spot waiting for another shipment of seeds for Round 2. In the meantime, I have a few jars of pickled radishes and a few pounds of fresh whole radishes slowly dwindling away with every dinner salad.
Last year’s radishes bolted straight to seed because I planted them too late and again, Mother Nature brought the heat a little too early. This year, the radishes actually grew well! Really well, in fact. As such, I learned a few things to keep in mind for the next crop.
- Don’t mulch over the radishes. While this does keep the weeds down, it can also trap heat. Radishes are a cool weather crop – they don’t care much for heat.
- As the plants mature, push dirt back up around any red that pokes up above the surface. This helps the radishes keep their round shape. If you see red crowns popping up, the radish will elongate if you don’t keep dirt hilled over it.
- Make sure to thin young seedlings early and often, before the leaves get big enough to cover stragglers. If you miss any and they grow too close, you won’t get a radish, you’ll get long spindly roots you can’t use. Your rabbits will love you for the scraps, but your salads will be radishless.
Once you harvest your radishes, there are a few options for preserving them, if you have more than you can use. You can dehydrate them and eat them as chips, or you can pickle them and keep them in the fridge. A word of warning if you choose the refrigerator pickle option – hold your nose when you open them. The odor is pretty…um…strong – yeah, we’ll go with that one – strong.
Here’s the recipe I used. Each “batch” makes 1 pint jar of pickled radishes.
Refrigerator Pickled Radishes
2 dozen radishes, sliced
1 cup cider vinegar (white vinegar will work, too)
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp mustard seed
½ tsp celery seed
2 tsp dill weed
***you can substitute 2 tbsp pickling spice for the listed seasonings, if that’s what you have***
Warm sugar, vinegar and spices just enough to melt the sugar. You don’t have to boil it, just warm it enough to get the sugar melted and mixed in well.
Fill a sterilized canning jar 2/3 full with sliced radishes. Pour warm vinegar/sugar mixture over the radishes, leaving ½ inch headspace. Put the cap on and shake the jar gently. So long as the vinegar mixture isn’t too warm, you can put it right into the fridge.
Once a day for the first few days, take the jar out of the fridge and shake it gently to redistribute the spices. It takes 48-72 hours for the radishes to really pickle well. The vinegar will pull the red out of the radish skins and turn everything a soft pink. And, the longer the radishes sit in the fridge, the more mellow they get.
Pickled radishes are great as a small side dish (think cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving) or as a topping on salads. If you put them on salads, keep in mind the vinegar will sour dairy-based dressings. Go with an Italian dressing or some kind of vinaigrette. My favorite partner in crime loves them with raspberry walnut vinaigrette. Just remember…the jar will have a powerful odor, so you might want to open the jar in the kitchen and put some in a small dish, before bringing them to the table.