When I first started growing radishes, I stuck with the radish varieties seemed the most familiar to me: Easter Egg, White Icicle, French Breakfast. These are all salad radishes, most commonly sliced thin and used as a compliment to lettuce. They are crunchy, spicy and taste great with creamy dips or salad dressings. Despite these good qualities, I always felt like there must be other ways to enjoy radishes, even in the absence of ranch dressing.
I started reading up on the subject and found that there was a type of radish that I had never even heard of which was enjoyed regularly by millions (or even billions) of people: it's name was Daikon. Daikon radishes are widely enjoyed by many people in China, Korea, the Philippines and Japan. In fact, in Japan, more daikon is grown than any other crop.
Daikon radish is commonly eaten simmered, stir fried, grated, pickled or baked. Its leaves are also edible and can be used in recipes that call for turnip greens and its seeds make excellent sprouts for use on salads or in sandwiches.
Here in the US, daikon radishes are grown primarily in California and Texas and are most often sold in Asian specialty markets. However, they can be grown just about anywhere, including in your organic vegetable garden, wherever it may be. It can be sown in spring for a summer harvest or in fall for a winter harvest. When buying daikon seeds, make sure that you select a variety that is appropriate for the season: some varieties (such as Miyashige) only perform well in the fall and others, such as the appropriately named Summer Cross No. 3, grow best in the spring and summer.
Growing daikon radishes
Growing daikon radishes is very similar to growing any other types of radish. However, daikon radishes take longer to mature than salad radishes do (approximately 60 days, vs. 30). They also grow much, much bigger and, accordingly, they need lots of space. Daikons should be sown in rows 18" apart and thinned to a spacing of 6" in the rows to give them the space that they need. They can get absolutely huge if you let them, but are normally harvested when they are about as big as a typical carrot.
Daikons can be grown organically without too much trouble. However, be ready for attacks by flea beetles, cabbage root maggots and any other insect pests that tend to trouble your radishes. Floating row cover, which is a lightweight, permeable, spun polypropylene blanket that you put over your plants, can help protect your daikon radishes from these pests.
Harvesting Daikon Radishes
Once your daikons are ready to harvest, dig them up with care: they are brittle. If you aren't going to eat them right away, you should wash them, cut their leaves off and store them in your refrigerator where they will keep well for between 1-2 months.
Daikon radishes are great fun to cook with because they will open your eyes to a whole different and type of cuisine. Growing them in your organic garden will enable you to have the freshest, most delicious radishes to use. This is a necessity because many daikon recipes can only be made successfully with fresh radishes--not the ones wilting in the ethnic section of your local supermarket. So if you want to explore the flavors of Asia but can't make it to Tokyo or Seoul just now, grow yourself some daikon radishes. Kimchee anyone?