If I had to choose one foolproof edible for a first-time gardener to grow, I’d choose the radish. Quick to germinate and quick to bulb, the radish (Raphanus sativus) is part of the brassica family of vegetables — up there with broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, and all the things that are good for you.
The genus Raphanus actually comes from the Greek word for “fast appearing,” and indeed radishes are among the first plants to come up in my garden. There’s a deep sense of satisfaction when you see that first little seedling sprout within a few days, and then a whole radish ready that same month. Most varieties can be harvested within 20 to 30 days, and they thrive in the ground as well as in a container.
They also do well in almost any season, save for the hottest or coldest times of year. In my zone 10b garden, I sow a succession of radishes right up until July, when the summer heat stunts their growth, and start sowing again in October after it’s cooled off.
What I love about radishes is their versatility as a vegetable. You can eat them as sprouts; harvest at maturity for the roots and leaves (potato and radish leaf soup is one of my favorites); pickle them in less than a day; and even snack on the seed pods.
These snow white radishes are an heirloom variety called White Hailstone. They’re early spring radishes with a surprisingly sweet and mild flavor, unlike some types that are typically spicy. I like to pull up a globe, brush off the dirt with my fingers, and take a bite right then and there. White Hailstone grows to about the size of a golf ball with a satisfyingly crunchy texture.
To start these in your garden, sow seeds about half an inch deep, and a couple inches apart. (Sometimes, I’ll drop a seed into the soil where I’d just pulled up a radish, so that I always have new radishes growing at different stages.) They’ll sprout within a week and mature in just three weeks. When you’re ready to harvest, try not to eat them all before you bring them into the house!