Radishes – Organic History, Varieties and Organic growing advice by Andy Hamilton

Radishes are one of the crops to give many vegetable gardeners hope. This is because they can be sown, with protection in the second week of January and as they are a fast growing crop this means that they are often the first crop of the year for many of us.


The Radish is somewhat elusive when it comes to tracking its ‘roots’. It is widely thought to have originated from China because wild forms have been found there and it has also been cultivated in China for thousands of years. However, contradictory evidence also suggests that it was cultivated in Ancient Egypt, originating from plants native to the Mediterranean Countries. It known to have grown wild in the South of Russia for thousands of years and to confound things further the ancient Greeks have even made references to the Radish. All this evidence at least suggests one simple fact; the Radish is one of our oldest cultivated plants.

The Romans gave us a lot of things here in the UK including many herbs and also the type of snails that eat your vegetables (bastards). However they cannot be attributed with giving us radishes and I can find references that they introduced the radish to Germany. However, it does not seem to appear here until the 16th Century. I will concur to any evidence that suggests otherwise.


Radishes can broadly speaking be catagerised as two main types namely; summer and winter. They also come in many differing shapes, colours and sizes such as black radishes, multi-coloured ones, round ones and long ones that can grow longer than a parsnip.

Summer varieties include ‘Rainbow Mix’ a red white and purple radish, ‘Cherry Bell’ – cherry shaped, ‘Flamboyant Sabina’ cylindrical, ‘April cross’ will reach 30cm or more (12″), ‘French Breakfast” one of the most popular and ‘Easter Egg’ a white variety.

Winter varieties include ‘Black Spanish Round’ a large black skinned and white fleshed variety shaped like a globe, ‘Mino Early’ grows to 30cm (1ft) long and is good in a salad and ‘Minawasa Summer’ variety from Japan.

Organic Growing Advice

The ideal soil for radishes is one that does not dry out as they will quickly go to seed. This means, if you have sandy soil you will have to keep an eye open, clay soil is better. It is worth mentioning that over-watering will give you bigger leaves and a smaller root.

Summer varieties should be sown from about March until mid June at about 1.3cm (half inch) deep, in rows spaced 15 cm (6 inches) apart. Some of the bigger varieties will need more room so check with your seed supplier for planting distances.

Winter varieties can be sown from July to Mid August. – As there are so many different varieties of winter and summer radishes this is only a planting guideline.

As with most crops keep the area weed free and be vigilant against pests. Slugs as always are a problem. Also as radishes are from the brassica family you should look out for cabbage root fly. If found burn the infected crops and check the rest of your brassicas, also you may want to put rings of cardboard around your radishes as the cabbage root fly will lay its eggs in that instead they will dry out before hatching. Do check your plant, I have just lost some, the tiny maggots can riddle your poor radishes with holes if you are not careful.

It is definitely worth planting a couple more than you need and letting them go to seed. I am now on my third generation of radishes from doing this and it is nice not to have to buy seed this year. After flowering they will grow a pod which will contain a few seeds, let the pod dry out on the plant before you lift them and when you break the pod inside are the seeds.

Radish Recipe

Radish Salad

A couple of handfuls of radishes
One lettuce(loose leaf)
4 tomatoes
One red onion
100g Feta cheese
handfulof basil leaves
Pine nuts
Olive oil


Cut the radishes into pieces the size of your big thumb nail (unless you are Shridhar Chillal, then cut them to the size of your big toe nail).

Tear up the lettuce and quater the tomato and cut the quaters in half. Chop the onion so you get chunks smaller than the radish but not tiny. Cut the feta up the same size as the radish.

Tear up the basil leaves.

Place the pine nuts into a warm (dry) frying pan and lightly toast.

Mix the whole lot togther drizzle the oil over and serve with a cheeky grin and without your trousers on.

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