Spring planting might be on a gardener’s mind, but not every favorite crop is on the spring agenda. Spring is a stingy season for those vegetables that need a fairly long growing season yet quickly go to seed with the onset of hot weather. Those crops are best planted from July or August onward, when cool weather lies ahead. But because July and August are months full of garden distractions (weeds, anyone?), I’m working out my game plan for fall crops now.
Most of the large storage radishes fall into the better-later category. Little salad radishes are so quick-growing that you can always get in a spring crop. And yes, there are certain large radish varieties, bred for heat tolerance, that are slower to bolt. But I know that if I want to plant my prized Beauty Heart radishes, now is not the time.
I acknowledge that the phrase “large storage radishes” is not in the average American gardener’s vocabulary. (They’re often called winter radishes, because of their good keeping ability.) Big, black Spanish radishes remain a mystery to most of us, and even daikons are more shopped for than grown. But if you’re game to look beyond the usual little red balls and petite white cylinders, the Beauty Heart is the one to try. Also referred to as watermelon radishes, these form a hard, round globe up to four inches in diameter.
On the outside, Beauty Heart radishes are plain, ranging in color from pinkish to greenish-beige. But cut one open and you’ll find an explosion of magenta, radiating from the center. Sometimes the whole interior is rosy, sometimes just the glowing heart. Hence the name, a translation from the Chinese. The most commonly available variety goes by the very un-vegetarian name Red Meat.
I often serve these treasures raw, sliced into very thin rounds or half moons for nibbling, garnishing or for tossing into a salad. Just a few can make a winter dish festive, standing in for the reds of summer tomatoes and peppers. I cook them, too, but only briefly. Their red pigments, like those of red-streaked bean pods, or purple broccoli, are much dulled by moisture or heat. As with small red radishes, I’ll toss them into fried rice or a stir-fry only at the last minute, to warm them, before they lose color. This also preserves their pleasant crunch.
Beauty Heart radishes keep almost forever in cold storage, and they’re small enough that a bag of them can be stashed in a corner of the fridge. I even use their edible green tops in stir-fries, or tossed into a pan of just-cooked bacon.
When it’s time to sow, I thin the seedlings to about four inches apart. They’ll do fine in any soil type with enough organic matter added, but you need to be vigilant about watering, especially in the warm days of late summer and early fall. There’s plenty of time to think about all that, but now’s the time to order the seeds, along with those for fall broccoli, fall bok choy and fall spinach. While seeds are still on your mind.
Damrosch’s latest book is “The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.”
Dandelions are beginning to grow and set seed. Avoid spraying herbicides by digging them out with a fishtail weeder, whose forked tip allows easy removal of the tap root. If you can’t get to weeding for a few days, pluck off the yellow flowers as they open to prevent seed development.
— Adrian Higgins