Radishes: A Guide to Selection & Care

Radishes are often at the top of the list for beginner gardeners, and with good reason. These nutritious roots are tasty, easy to grow, and versatile in the garden and on the plate. In this post, we’ll cover the two types of radishes, growing tips, and how to use the different parts of the plant. It’s not just the roots that are edible!

Spring Radishes

These are the small, crisp radishes you may have eaten in salads. They’re quick growing and thrive in cool weather. Depending on the variety, you can have radishes ready to eat just 24 to 30 days after planting! They may be mild or a bit spicy. Below are the spring radishes we currently carry:

  • Cherry Belle
  • Easter Egg
  • Red Head (Roodkopje) Radish
  • Sparkler White Tip
  • White Icicle (Lady Finger)

Their quick turnaround time makes them excellent for succession planting. When the weather is cool, you can get a crop or two out of bed before switching to a warm-weather crop like beans or summer squash. 

Don’t let the name fool you; spring radishes are also suitable for fall planting. You can enjoy another round of fresh radishes once the weather cools off. 

They’re called spring radishes because they aren’t a good storage crop. Generally, we harvest spring radishes when small, only about 1 inch in diameter. If left in the ground too long, these radishes become woody.  However, a few varieties, like White Icicle, stand up to heat better, remain mild and crisp, and are sometimes considered all-season varieties.

Black Spanish Round Fall Radishes
Black Spanish Round Fall Radishes

Fall Radishes

You’ll also find a few radishes listed on our site and catalog as fall radishes. These radishes are larger, slower growing, and generally more starchy with a more robust flavor. They also have a much longer shelf-life. Unlike spring radishes, these radishes are daylength-sensitive and should not be sown in spring.

  • Round Black Spanish 
  • Daikon
  • Miyashige White Daikon
  • Misato Rose 

You can plant these radishes in later summer for fall or winter harvests. These types keep well in the root cellar or soil in areas with mild winters. Often, it’s best to harvest these larger radishes with a fork or spade. 

Daikon radishes are sometimes grown as a fall cover crop, particularly in no-till systems. These incredible radishes sometimes grow up to 3 inches wide and 24 inches long. Their large roots help to break up and create air pockets in compacted soil. In areas where the temperature dips below 20°F, they winter kill and decompose pretty quickly, releasing nitrogen early in the season. 

How to Grow Spring Radishes 

Sow these radishes in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. They don’t have a long storage length, even in the ground, so it’s best to plant small successions rather than many all at once. Successive sowings can be made through May and again after mid-August. 

Sow seeds about 3/4 inch apart, 1/2 inch deep in rows 8 to 12 inches apart, and thin to 1-1/2 inches apart. For good production, water regularly, keeping the soil moist. 

Daikon Radishes
Daikon Radish

How to Grow Fall Radishes

These radishes are daylength-sensitive, so they need to be fall sown. 

Sow fall radishes about 5 to 10 weeks before the first fall frost. Sow like spring radishes but thin to wider spacing, about 4-6 inches apart.

Harvest before temperatures drop below 20°F.  You can trim the roots and store them for 2 to 3 months in the refrigerator or root cellar.

Radish Pest Issues

Radishes aren’t particularly pest-prone, but like other crops, they are susceptible to a few pests, including cabbage loopers, flea beetles, and slugs. Early spring radish crops often avoid pests because of the cold weather. You can also use row cover to prevent pests.

Diatomaceous earth is an effective organic treatment for flea beetles and slugs, while you can use Bacillus thuringiensis to treat cabbage loopers if necessary.

Cooking with Radishes

While we often think about growing radishes for their roots, you can eat the entire plant. Radish leaves, flowers, and seed pods are also edible. 

Even the young leaves can have a rough, irritating texture, but this disappears upon cooking. Radishes greens can be used similarly to kale or spinach. Try adding them to stir-fries, soups, or pesto.

Spring radishes are sometimes called salad radishes because they’re excellent fresh from the garden and are easy to throw into pasta, potato, and green salad. They’re also good cooked and tasty in recipes like lo mein or curry. 

Fall radishes are starchier and offer a more intense flavor, making them better suited to cooking. They’re lovely roasted with salt, spices, and olive oil or cooked in stews and other hearty dishes. 

The flowers can be used similarly to the greens or tossed into fresh salads to add a touch of color. The seed pods that follow them are also tasty. Some radish varieties are grown primarily for their seed pods. Like the flowers, they’re excellent raw, or you can lightly sautee them. 

Radishes Growing

How Do I Save Seed from My Radishes?

If you plan to save seed from your radishes, it’s best to isolate your varieties. Isolate a minimum of 1/8 mile for home use. For pure seed, isolate from wild and cultivated radishes by a minimum of 1/4 to 1/2 mile.

You also want to think about population size for viable seeds. It’s best to save from at least five plants for home use, but if you’re going to maintain a variety over generations, seed from 20 to 50 plants would be better.

Radishes may be annual or biennial, depending on the variety. After flowering, they produce seed pods, which become brown and dry when mature. Thankfully, they don’t split quickly, so you can wait to harvest until they’re fully dry. 

The pods are difficult to thresh. You may want to shell them by hand if you’re only preparing a small amount. Threshing radish seeds takes a lot of force. Some folks put them in tarps or old feed sacks and drive over them with a vehicle. 

Thankfully, radish seeds are usually much heavier than the chaff and are generally easy to winnow.

The Scoop on Collards

Collards are one of our favorite greens here at Southern Exposure! They’re tasty garden workhorses that can handle the heat much better than many other greens. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have gotten the same love that kale, spinach, moringa, and other greens have gotten, as we’ve seen a resurgence in local food. 

This is so sad because collards have so much to give. In addition to being easy to grow, they contain impressive levels of calcium and vitamin K, both of which are essential for bone health. They’re also culturally significant. 

Utopian Seed Project Founder Chris Smith got it right when he said, “It needs stating explicitly: We owe thanks to the enslaved African Americans who, robbed of their freedom and their homelands’ foods, adopted the collard and integrated it into gardens, kitchens, and therefore Southern foodways.”

So today, we’ll dive into the types of collards and how to grow and enjoy them!

Types of Collards

A collard is a collard? Generally, growers divide collards into six general categories. Though they are similar to grow, they have a few unique characteristics. Understanding these can help you find a suitable variety for your garden and taste.

Georgia Cabbage Collards
Georgia Cabbage Collards

Cabbage Collards

Cabbage collards typically have large light green or almost yellow leaves with large petioles. While they don’t create the same heads as cabbage, these varieties will often begin to form loose heads if left in the ground for an extended period. You may find that these varieties also have a more cabbage-like flavor than other collard greens. They make lovely sauerkraut! Many of these cabbage collards are from the Carolinas. 

A great example of this type is Georgia Cabbage Collards (pictured above), an Heirloom Collard Project standout, originally from Bobby Prevatte, whose grandparents grew them near Lumberton, NC.

Alabama Blue Collards (left) and Variegated Collards (right)
Alabama Blue Collards (left) and Variegated Collards (right)

Colored Collards

Any variety of collards may have some unique color variation in its leaves, leaf veins, or petioles. As such, this category can overlap with the others. However, certain heirlooms were kept and known for their particularly unusual or vibrant coloration. Most commonly, collards are shades of green, greenish-yellow, or blue-green, but some varieties have rarer colors like red or purple. 

Alabama Blue Collards (above left) and Variegated Collards (above right) are good examples of this type. Alabama Blue features green, blue-green, and purple leaves adorned with white, pale green, and plum-colored veins. Variegated Collards change color in cold weather. At least half the plants’ leaves become a beautiful green-and-white during the winter. 

Hen Peck Collards
Hen Peck Collards

Curly Leaf Collards

Most collards have large, broad leaves with fairly smooth edges. These heirloom curly-leaf types usually have serrated edges that give them a more kale-like appearance. 

Hen Peck (above) is one of these interesting varieties. It’s a North Carolina heirloom from Benny and Vickie Cox that features unusual toothed leaf margins that appear as if a bird had nibbled on them.

Green Glaze Collards
Green Glaze Collards

Glazed Collards

These collards share a glossy or glazed look. This appearance is caused by a gene mutation that controls the normal, waxy substance that covers the leaf surface. These glazed varieties appear shiny because they have less wax than other collards.

A great example is Green Glaze Collards (above), which were introduced in 1820 by David Landreth. Green Glaze features smooth, bright green leaves.

William Alexander Heading Collards
William Alexander Heading Collards

Heading Collards

Just as the name suggests, heading collards tend to start forming loose, cabbage-like heads as they mature. They tend to have shorter petioles than other varieties, which allows the leaves to curl into a head easily. 

We are currently offering William Alexander Heading Collards (above). This heirloom was one of the first releases from the Collard Project. It comes from 79-year-old black farmer William Alexander, who got the seeds from his father. The leaves have a rich, mustardy taste with a hint of sweetness.

Tree Collards

These unusual collards elongate more than other collard varieties and can obtain great heights over multiple growing seasons. They may even grow taller than you! They are an excellent year-round source of vegetables in milder climates.

We recommend visiting the Project Tree Collard Website for more information on this type. 

Join the Utopian Seed Project’s Community Seed Selection Project

In 2020, The Utopian Seed Project (Asheville, NC), along with eight other trial sites (including Southern Exposure Seed Exchange [SESE]), grew 20 collard varieties as part of a nationwide collard trial for The Heirloom Collard Project. The Utopian Seed Project also grew “Lottie” Collard, bringing the heirloom total to 21. 

During the winter of 2020, the collards survived lows of 8°F, and in spring/summer 2021, seeds were saved from the surviving plants. Given the obligate outcrossing nature of Brassica oleracea and the randomized two-block design of the trial, we can be assured that there was a high degree of inter-variety cross-pollination. These seeds represent massive genetic diversity, firstly because the original heirloom collards are genetically diverse and secondly because they’ve cross-pollinated with each other. 

Utopian Ultracross Collard
Utopian Ultracross Collard

Collard grower and Heirloom Collard participant Melony Edwards described them as an ultracross: this is not a technical term, but it captures the spirit of these collards!

By purchasing and growing a packet of these seeds, you will have the option to join our Community Seed Selection (CSS) project. A CSS project allows a wide group of people to come together and grow a crop with a shared seed selection goal. The Utopian Seed Project, with support from SESE, will provide guidance and education for the process of selective seed saving. Our objective is to save seeds from the most cold-tolerant and tasty collards while preserving a wide diversity of types and colors. You can also save seeds based on your own selection criteria or not save seeds and simply enjoy the unknown wonders that these seeds contain! Once you’ve purchased a packet of seeds, we’ll be in touch to see if you want to participate in the Collard CSS Project. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the already-established Whidby White Okra CSS Project (Facebook Group, YouTube Playlist, and Website).

50% of all packet sales go straight to supporting the work of The Utopian Seed Project.

How to Grow Collards

Collards are easy to grow. You can direct sow them or start them indoors. To direct sow, plant 2 to 4 weeks before your last spring frost date. Plant the seeds in flats or pots about 1/4 inch deep.

For indoor planting, start seeds 4 to 6 weeks before your last frost spring date. Plant seeds outdoors about 1/2 inch deep.

Note: if you’re planting for a fall garden, sow 2 to 3 months before your first fall frost date.

Collards thrive in rich soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. Adding compost to your bed before planting is a great idea.  Collards grow to be surprisingly large plants. Give them plenty of room to grow, with plants about 12 inches apart in rows about 2 feet apart. Mulch around young plants.

To harvest your collards, use scissors or garden snips to clip the leaves near the base. It’s best to harvest leaves that are less than 12 inches long; larger leaves may become tough and stringy. 

White Mountain Cabbage Collards
White Mountain Cabbage Collards

How to Eat Collards

Collards are versatile greens that you can easily incorporate into your own recipes, like stir-fries and stews. However, there are also some classic, tasty ways to prepare them if you need inspiration!

  • Micheal Twitty, one of our favorite historians, has an excellent recipe for Kosher/Soul Collards on his website. 
  • The Heirloom Collard Project also shared a wonderful collection of collard-inspired beverages. They have a drink for everyone, from alcoholic cocktails to a nutritious green smoothie. 
  • Often we cook collards but they can also be tasty fresh. For a tasty summer side, try this Juneteenth Collard Green Salad from Black Girls Who Brunch. 

Valentine’s Day: 10 Red or Pink Crops

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! Hallmark holiday, though it may be, we decided a little celebration was in order, so we compiled a list of ten of our favorite red and pink varieties. These beautiful red and pink vegetables, flowers, and herbs are sure to leave a mark on your heart.

Sweet Valentine Romaine Lettuce
Sweet Valentine Romaine Lettuce

Sweet Valentine Lettuce

We couldn’t have a Valentine’s list without including Sweet Valentine! This romaine lettuce has deep red leaves and is the sweetest lettuce we offer. It’s perfect for spring planting, and the heads hold long into the summer heat without bolting. 

Scarlet Runner Bean
Scarlet Runner Bean

Scarlet Runner Beans

Easily recognized for its scarlet red flowers, these beans look just as at home in an ornamental garden as in a vegetable patch. Scarlet Runner beans are a timeless heirloom that dates to pre-1750. Early colonists grew these beans after receiving seeds from Native Americans. They are beloved by gardeners alike.

They’ve got more than good looks, though! Scarlet Runner beans produce 8-12 inch pods with mottled reddish-purple beans. Harvest these versatile beans as snap beans when pods are small, or use them as green shelly or dried beans, each offering a unique culinary experience. Dried beans from the Runner Bean possess a delightful nut-like flavor.

For optimal growth, be aware that high temperatures over 90°F may limit pod set. If grown for consumption, expect pod production primarily during late summer or early fall in the Mid-Atlantic and southward. A bulbous root is produced in mild climates, allowing for fall digging and spring replanting.

Oxheart Tomato
Oxheart Tomato

Oxheart Tomato

These heavy-yielding tomatoes produce large, pink fruit weighing one to two pounds! Their distinctive oxheart shape resulted from a genetic mutation, probably around 1925! They have firm, meaty flesh with few seeds and mild flavor.

Beaujolais Spinach
Beaujolais Spinach

Beaujolais Spinach

The fantastic folks at Uprising Seeds recently bred this OSSI variety. Beaujolais has glowing magenta or red veins, much like Swiss chard. However, its smooth, tender leaves are milder than baby chard. We’ve found that it bolts sooner in spring than Bloomsdale types but has good survival of winter freezes.

Pink Zinnias
Pink Zinnias

Pink Zinnias

These stunning pink flowers are new to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange listings for 2024. Pink zinnias are easy to grow and produce a smorgasbord of pink flowers on tall plants. They have a lovely mix of single, double, and semi-double flowers. 

One of the best features of zinnias is that if you keep up with deadheading, zinnias can bloom until frost!

Crosby Egyptian (Early Crosby Egyptian) Beet
Crosby Egyptian (Early Crosby Egyptian) Beet

Crosby Egyptian (Early Crosby Egyptian) Beet

Beets are, without a date, one of the most intensely red vegetables we have! Before the advent of chemical dyes, beets were often the red dye of choice for cloth and food. 

These Crosby Egyptian Beets are one of our favorite historical varieties introduced in 1880. Their parent strain originated in Germany in 1865. Crosby Egyptian beets grow predominantly on the surface of the soil. They grow 3 to 5 inches wide and have a unique flattened shape. They have a rich red interior. 

Lipstick Sweet Pepper
Lipstick Sweet Pepper

Lipstick Sweet Pepper

Bred at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, these bright, sweet peppers are one of our earliest varieties. They’re great for short-season areas because they’re ready to harvest in just 55 days! Lipstick produces chunky, triangular peppers with flavorful, juicy flesh. The plants grow about 4 feet tall.

Thai Red Roselle
Thai Red Roselle

Thai Red Roselle

This hibiscus species produces bright red calyxes you can use to make “zingy” tea, sauce, syrup, jam, or even candy whole for a unique treat. Historically known as “Florida cranberry” in the 1890s, this plant offers edible flowers and young leaves with a citrus tang, perfect for Burmese cooking!

Thai Red produces beautiful 3 to 5-foot plants with striking red stems and leaf veins. These plants thrive in warmer climates and need plenty of space for good production.

Cherry Belle Radish
Cherry Belle Radish

Cherry Belle Radish

Cherry Belles are our sweetest spring radishes! Ready in just 24 days, they bring a lot of color and flavor to the garden early in the season with their round roots, bright red skin, and firm white flesh.

Cherry Belles are less susceptible to developing pithiness than other varieties and were the 1949 All-American Selection winner. 

Bowling Red Okra
Bowling Red Okra

Bowling Red Okra

This heirloom was stewarded by the Bowling family of Virginia since the 1920s and was one of the best varieties in the Kerr Center’s trial of 30 heirloom varieties! The early, productive plants have beautiful red stems, red-veined leaves, and long, slim, tender red pods. 

If you’re ordering yourself a little Valentine’s Day seed list, be sure to add a splash of red or pink! These stunning varieties will bring a lot of color to the garden and table in the coming season.

Saving the Past for the Future