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Raphanus sativus. Cruciferae. An annual or biennial herbaceous plant grown primarily as an annual for its enlarged succulent taproot, eaten raw. It is a very variable species and root shapes occur in a range of forms, colour and pungency. Young seed pods are also edible and have a spicy flavour.

The radish is believed to have originated in the Eastern Mediterranean region and it was an important food crop in Egypt by 2000BC. Cultivation spread to China around 500BC and to Japan around AD700. It is now widely distributed and is adapted to a wide range of conditions, although cool temperatures favour optimum growth. Cultivars are available for both summer and winter use and, unless conditions are particularly severe, a supply can be available throughout the year. Young leaves are also edible. The immature seed pods can be eaten raw or pickled. The rat-tailed radish (Raphanus caudatum), grown mainly in India, produces edible seed pods 30cm long.

An open site is preferable although the summer crop will tolerate light shade, and radish is a useful intercrop between slower-growing vegetables. Soils should be light, rich and well drained. A soil that has been manured for the previous crop is ideal. A pH of 6.0 to 7.0 is optimum; more acid soils should be limed. Crop rotation should be as for brassicas.

Outdoor sowings are made from early spring to late summer and the season can be further extended by sowing in cold frames or under cloches. Sow seeds thinly at a depth of about 2cm allowing about 2.5cm between seeds in rows 15cm apart. Moist soil is essential for rapid germination and development but too much water can lead to excessive leaf growth. The crop develops rapidly and repeated sowings should be made at weekly to fortnightly intervals to ensure continuity of supply. Radishes for winter harvesting are much larger and hardier than those commonly grown for summer use. They should be sown in late summer in rows 20-25cm apart, allowing 10-15cm between plants.

Summer radishes are harvested by pulling before they run to seed, lose their succulence and become woody. The winter crop can be left in the ground until required, although harvesting during frosty weather will be facilitated if the soil is protected by a covering of straw. In heavier soils, it may be preferable to harvest during the autumn and store the trimmed roots in boxes in a cool shed. Seed pods should be harvested when still green, when they are crisp in texture.

Radish cultivars can be broadly classified into summer and winter types, both including a wide range of forms. Summer radishes which range from round to long; the flesh is usually white, but the skin colour may range from red to white. Winter radish are generally much larger, with some Japanese cultivars achieving a root length of almost 60cm while still retaining their succulence. Winter types may be round, cylindrical, long and tapered, with black, red or white skin. Recommended cultivars include (spring-summer harvesting) ‘Cherry Belle’, ‘Crystal Ball’, ‘Easter Egg F1’, (multi-line hybrid with variously coloured radishes), ‘French Breakfast’, ‘Long Scarlet’, (‘Cincinnati’): hardy, good for forcing, ‘Pink Beauty’, ‘Pontvil’, ‘Prince Rotin’; (White Japanese types) ‘April Cross’, ‘Long White Icicle’, ‘Snow Belle’: (rounded, white, keeps well); (winter types) ‘Black Spanish Long’, ‘Black Spanish Round’, ‘China Rose’, ‘Misato Rose Flesh’. So-called oriental radishes (Raphanus sativus Longipinnatus Group) include ‘Tokinashi’ (“All Seasons’): 30-40cm, white, mild, can be sown in any month without frost; ‘Sakurajima’, (‘Mammoth White Globe’): over 30cm diameter, sweet, used for boiling and pickling; ‘White Icicle’: to 15cm, slender, white mild.

Susceptible to flea beetles and other pests and diseases of brassicas including club root. White blister is a fairly common disease which may spread rapidly enough to be conspicuous; slugs may also be a problem, particularly with winter radishes.

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