Radishes are an overlooked garden superhero, this root vegetable wears many hats and serves several purposes in the garden well beyond the dinner plate. Radishes can serve as markers, help out seedlings, improve soil, deter pests, and more.
The normal reason to grow radishes is that they’re edible. However… I don’t really like them.
When I wrote a post detailing how I decide what to grow in my garden, one of the ‘rules’ I made up was to grow things that you love to eat.
Overwhelmed with garden planning? Here are my best tips to help you know What Should You Grow in Your Vegetable Garden
Radishes are the most common way I break that rule. This year I did find out my sisters fiancé loves radishes so they didn’t end up going to the chickens.
Introduction to Radishes
Radishes are a root crop in the cabbage family (like almost everything else in the garden) making them related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts and mustard.
Read more about Growing & Eating Root Vegetable Crops
There are two kinds of radishes, the spring radishes, and the winter radishes. Spring radishes are known for being an incredibly hardy and quick crop, they can go from seed to harvest in a month, even in the early spring.
Spring radishes grow quickly, Cherry Belle Radishes are ready to harvest in as little as 24 days. French Breakfast Radishes have an elongated shape that gives them a more delicate appearance on the table and Easter Egg Radishes provides surprise at harvest time with the possibility of pulling up several different root colors.
That quick growth makes growing a radish a great project for a kids garden, even if they don’t want to eat them they’ll hold their attention long enough to give the rest of the veggies time to get going.
Winter radishes have a longer growing season, 60-80 days vs 24-30, and are usually larger. White Daikon Radishes, the large white radishes popular in Asian cooking are probably the most popular winter radish. Other winter radishes include the adorable Watermelon Radish and the Black Spanish Radish.
How to Grow Radishes
Radishes are in that magical category of crops you can’t fail with. The only way to really set yourself up for disaster is to plant them when it’s too hot.
Radish seeds are smallish rounded teardrops. These Cherry Belle radish seeds are pretty standard for radish seeds, the lighter tan color makes them easy to see against dark soil for easy planting.
In my opinion, they’re the perfect seed size and shape for direct seeding by hand, you can easily roll them off your fingers into the soil with pretty accurate spacing.
They should be planted directly in the garden, both because of the taproot and the quick growth. Plants with taproots grow one main root that digs deep (carrots and beets also have taproots) and they don’t like to be disturbed.
Usually, when you start seeds indoors you aim to plant them out in the garden around 4 weeks off. At that point, your radishes are ready to harvest.
Radishes grow best in full sun but will grow in partial shade, especially later in the season when the temperatures go up.
The most important thing radishes require is constant moisture, if they dry out they won’t be happy. The key to tasty radishes that don’t taste like fire is quick & consistent growth, lots of water is needed to make that happen.
Types of Radishes
Spring radishes can be planted in the early spring, 4-6 weeks before the last frost date, or as soon as the soil can be worked, or when the soil is at least 40 degrees on a soil thermometer. Spring radishes can also be grown in the fall but that does not turn them into winter radishes.
Read more about Early Spring Vegetables to Plant Before the Last Frost Date
They area great choice for succession planting because they grow so quickly, if you really love radishes you can plant new rows about a week to ten days a part for a steady harvest.
Winter radishes should be planted in the late summer, 8-10 weeks before the first frost date in the fall. The winter radishes require shortening day length to form the enlarged roots.
Reasons to Grow Radshes:
Now that we’ve covered how to grow radishes we’re going to get into why you should be growing radishes.
Let’s get this out of the way first, yep, you can eat them. If you aren’t a fan of the super spicy red marbles you can get at any grocery store growing your own radishes might open up a few doors you aren’t even aware of.
This year I’m trying my hand at Watermelon Radishes, which are a fall/winter radish with a longer growing season and won’t be as useful for my regular radish purposes but I’m hoping I’ll enjoy the flavor a lot more and they’re super cute.
For spring radishes I like to grow Easter Egg Radishes because they’re all different colors and it makes the harvest more fun
Technically fodder is anything you feed to domestic animals that they don’t have to go out and graze or forage for themselves. In the world of chicken keeping the term ‘fodder’ usually refers to wheat grass or some type of green grown in trays for the birds.
Radishes can also be used as fodder. You can throw the entire radishes, greens, and roots to the chickens or chop them up into smaller pieces.
A busy chicken is a happy chicken and I like to let mine go to town on things like apples, cabbages and radishes.
Read more about Keeping Chickens Entertained Indoors
Plant Markers (Spring Radishes)
This is where we get into the sneakier uses for radishes in the garden. None of the following reasons to grow radishes have anything to do with eating them.
Radish seeds are quick to come up and pretty sturdy too. That makes them a great choice for a living row marker.
Under perfect conditions they pop up in 3 days, under less than perfect conditions you’re still looking at a short wait of 4-10 days.
This makes them a great living row marker. You can use the radish seedlings to indicate the end of a section, where you’ve stopped planting, or where you’ve switched varieties.
A perfect example is marking there you switched from planting Chioggia Beets to Early Wonder Beets, they look different inside but pretty similar when they’re still in the ground.
My favorite way to use radishes as row markers is when I plant carrots and parsnips. If you’ve never grown them carrots take approximately 14 years to germinate and parsnips take 4-6 lifetimes (actually closer to 7 and 14 days).
When I plant parsnips I toss in a radish seed between every 2nd or third plant. My soil has a lot of clay in it and I have a lot of trouble with the ground crusting over after one of our frequent spring rains.
The radish seeds bust through that without a problem and keep the soil looser for the weaker seedlings. After the carrots and parnips come up you can just cut the greens off the radishes and let the roots rot away, eat the baby radish greens or feed them to the chickens.
Or if the carrots and parsnips are established enough to stay in the ground you can just pull the radishes.
Radishes made a great option for a cover crop with a quick turnaround in either the spring or the fall.
Oilseed radishes are the type most often used as a cover crop, cover crops are planted densely and you’d have to buy quite a few packets of ‘regular’ radishes to cover a whole bed.
Read more about Cover Crops
I’m a big fan of staggering the harvest and planting all season long. That usually leaves gaps and empty spaces in the garden.
If you’ve ever grown a garden you know that soil doesn’t stay “empty” for long, you might as well plant something there.
Radishes also make a great cover crop because they can improve the soil texture. Those sturdy taproots will break up compacted soil and create better drainage.
They will also pull up nutrients from deep in the ground making them accessible to the next plants you grow in that bed. If you want to access those minerals and nutrients you need to leave the radishes in the bed to decompose and break down, which will also add more organic matter to your soil.
The University of Wisconsin has more information about growing radishes as a cover crop including the best times for planting and how to get the most out of your radish cover crop.
Trap Crop (Spring Radishes)
Flea beetles are a tiny garden pest that loves brassicas. They are tiny black beetles that jump like fleas and eat the leaves of many garden plants. If you’ve ever noticed hundreds of tiny holes in your broccoli or cabbage leaves those are the work of flea beetles.
Flea beetles are annoying pests but unless you have a severe infestation they usually don’t cause enough damage to kill a plant unless they spread a disease from one sick plant to another. That’s a whole different situation and a great reason to be vigilant about removing sick plants from your garden.
However, flea beetles can still reduce your harvest even if they don’t kill the plant. What does that have to do with radishes you might ask?
Radishes, especially if you aren’t particularly interested in eating them, make a great flea beetle bait.
Flea beetles love radishes and if given the option they will focus all their beetle energy on them and leave the rest of the garden alone. Radishes are tough enough to brush off the beetle damage and provde a nice root crop even if the leaves look like they were shot with birdshot.
One important thing to keep in mind with organic gardening methods like trap-crops and companion planting is that they are not 100%. It’s not about eliminating garden pest problems as much as it’s about reducing the damage to an acceptable level.
There is also chatter about radishes repelling cucumber beetles from cucumbers and squash. I’ve grown them near my cucumbers and it didn’t work for me (nothing works for me, cucumbers are my nemesis).
Check out my Vegetable Garden page for more ideas or start here: