Monday, January 4, 2021

Radical Radishes


Purple daikon radishes sliced for dehydrating.

Here I am, in a new year. Let's see if I can keep the posts flowing in 2021. In this post I will try to "root" myself into a new habit of sharing with you all.

And so today I will write about roots.

Roots are amazing. Not that plants in general aren't completely awesome, but how many of you have really dug into the subject of roots?

The first thing to emerge from a seed is the tiny root, the radicle. Roots anchor plants into place. They absorb water and nutrients from the soil. They store water and nutrients for dormant times. They exchange nutrients with fungal mycelia. They set up symbiotic relationships with bacteria. Roots excrete substances into the soil that may benefit or harm other plants. Roots communicate with fungal mycelia and other plants. Roots sense things. At the very end of each growing tip roots possess sensory structures that guide the roots' grow away from harm or toward moisture, nutrients and beneficial relationships.

At least 50 percent of most plants' mass is in their roots, especially during the growing season when the plants send out hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny feeder roots, each tipped with a tiny "brain" directing growth. (Are you getting chills of delight? I am.)

Watermelon radishes on the left, spring/salad
radishes on the right.

I just thought you ought to know this before I started writing about a specific root -- radishes, especially winter radishes.

We pulled lots of winter radishes from the garden this fall/winter. Lots. Lots and lots. You can say we had a bumper bumper crop of fall-planted radishes.

You may wonder what we're going to do with all of those radishes.

As we've discovered, there's not much you can't do with winter radishes. 

We've got two crisper drawers of them for fresh eating. Using different colored the radishes allows us to create beautiful garnishes. Today I'm adding some to a stir-fry. We chunked, steamed and froze a lot of them. My husband likes to take steamed ones from the freezer, thaw, and mash with potatoes and seasonings. I baked slices and dehydrated them as crunchy snacks. A jar of fermented purple daikons sits in the fridge. I baked some smaller ones whole, oiling them, putting them in a casserole dish, covered and baked until done. They can also be roasted; sliced or chunked, oiled and spread on a cookie sheet to roast in the oven.

Radishes are very easy to grow, but give the larger ones a little space. I was instructed to space the purple daikons at three inches. Watermelon radishes, red beauty radishes and white daikons can also reach considerable girth, so space them well. Regular watering helps keep them crunchy. 

When the weather started getting cold, I mounded lots of hay over the radishes as they will stay fresh in the ground for quite a while. However, when I pulled the last purple daikons just before Christmas, some of them had obviously been frozen at the top. Usually they're still good, but if they've started to turn a little brown inside I discarded that bit. We had so many. I did not feel bad about composting some of them.

Winter radishes do not do well planted in spring. When the temperatures rise, they want to produce flowers and seeds instead of plumping up their roots.

One root fertilizer I learned about is made up of potato peels, banana peels and spent coffee grounds. Dehydrate the potato and banana peels and grind them (a food processor works better than a blender). Dry the coffee grounds and mix it all together. Scatter onto the soil before you plant your seeds. This homemade fertilizer provides potassium, nitrogen and other nutrients. If you have a lot, use it to fertilize other garden plants. We don't peel our potatoes, but get plenty of banana peels and coffee grounds, either of which can be used alone as fertilizer.

I posted about radishes a couple of years ago. There should be more information there.

I was curious about the difference between regular winter radishes and daikons (which are a type of winter radish), so I looked it up. Daikons tend to be a little larger and less "spicy" than other winter radishes. I can tell you that this is true. Winter radishes are much larger than and take longer to mature than spring/salad radishes. Spring radishes will mature in about 30 days, as a rule, so they can be planted about two weeks apart maybe three times starting in early spring. Plant the winter radishes in late August later. Some you can harvest small at 30 days, let them go longer for larger roots. They grow best in cooler weather. If you leave them in the ground too long, they will get pithy, although the last purple daikons, planted in August and pulled late December, were not pithy. Some of the red beauty radishes were (planted August and the last ones pulled early to mid-December).

This fall I don't think I'll plant quite so many winter radishes.

Then again, with all the ways we've discovered how to use them. Maybe I'll do it again.

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