The Radish – A Little History and Some Growing Instructions
Radishes originated in China, and in China, today, truly wild forms of the radish can still be found. The name, radish, comes from the Latin word, radix, which means “root” and specifically radish root. The genus name, Raphanus, is a Latinized form of a Greek expression raphanos which means “easily reared”. In prehistoric times, the radish spread to Middle Asia where many different forms were developed and soon after, the radish spread to the Mediterranean. Before the pyramids were constructed, ancient Egyptian writing show that radishes were being cultivated, and the ancient Greeks so valued the radish that they offered up little gold radishes to the god Apollo. The Romans also were familiar with various forms of the radish.
In the middle ages, in both Europe and the Orient, a fascination with giant radishes was created. Giant radishes were described in Germany in the 13 th century and a German botanist reported seeing radishes weighing 100 pounds in 1544. Small radishes were not recorded in Europe and Britain until after the middle of the 16 th century, but by 1586, small radishes were common in throughout Europe and Great Britain.
The radish was one of the first vegetables introduced into the New World. Radishes were already under cultivation in Mexico in 1500 and in Haiti in 1565. The radish quickly caught on in the Americas and by 1848, there were 8 different varieties listed.
Radishes are used in very different ways around the world. In China and Japan, most of the radish crop is pickled in brine, similar to the way we pickle cucumbers. In China some large radishes are grown for the oil in the seeds. In India, the rat-tailed radish is grown for its fleshy edible seed pods which reach a length of 8-12 inches, and in Egypt, one type of radish is grown for its top greens only.
Radishes grow quickly, some maturing in 3 weeks from seed, in cool weather. Radishes should always be planted in succession plantings every 10 days to 2 weeks from the earliest possible time in the spring when the ground can be worked until early summer. For a fall crop start 6-8 weeks before the first frost date. Plant seeds for small radishes ½ inch deep in rows 6-8 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 2-3 inches apart. Plant seeds for large radishes 2 inches apart in rows 18 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 4-6 inches apart. Harvest small, round radishes when they are the size of large marbles. Do not leave radishes in the ground because they will quickly become woody and tough. Radishes can be harvested and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator and will keep their flavor and crispness for weeks. Large radishes should be harvested before the first hard frost.