Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz – I don’t know about you, but our spring garden is never complete without at least a few rows of crisp, spicy radishes. We love to put them in salads, on sandwiches and, of course, for snacking on while we weed! Common radishes are super easy to grow, have few pests and diseases and can really tolerate the cold, wet weather of the early spring months. Radishes are also among the easiest seeds to save, provided you follow a few simple rules. As a bonus, by saving your own radish seeds you get to enjoy an entirely new round of tasty edibles in the form of the young green seedpods, which are a taste treat in their own right. So don’t pull all your radishes just yet…
How to Save Radish Seed
Radishes belong to the Brassicaceae Family of plants, which includes garden favorites such as Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Turnip, Broccoli Raab, Chinese Cabbage, Chinese Mustard, Bok Choy, Rutabagas, mustards and many, many more.
Radishes are either annuals or biennials and fall into one of three groups:
- The Radiculata group includes all of the small annual radish varieties – also known as common or breakfast radishes.
- The Caudatum group includes annual radishes grown specifically for their fleshy, edible pods. These are often referred to as “rat-tailed” radishes.
- The Longipinnatus group contains all of the long and large biennial radishes including white, Chinese, Mooli, Lo-bok and Daikon types.
It is important to note that all radishes share the same Latin botanical name, Raphanus sativus, and therefore have the ability to cross-pollinate with all other varieties of their kind. In this particular article, our focus is on the common annual radishes, also referred to as breakfast or rat-tail radishes. These spring radishes tend to be smaller than a ping pong ball and are generally round or teardrop-shaped. And although “rat-tail” radishes are grown specifically for their large edible pods, the pods of all radish varieties are entirely edible and quite delicious.
Radishes Have Perfect Self-Incompatible Flowers
As always, knowing how plants pollinate is the key to seed saving success. All radishes have perfect flowers – meaning that each and every flower on a plant has both male and female sexual reproductive organs. However, they are also self-incompatible, which means that the pollen from the male flower parts are not accepted by the female flower parts within the same flower or even on the same plant. Therefore, pollination is achieved by insects that move pollen from one plant to another, which naturally increases the chance of cross pollination between varieties.
To avoid cross pollination Seed Savers Exchange recommends separating radish varieties by 800 feet to 1/2 mile, which most gardeners will have difficulty doing. The home seed saver who is not trying to preserve a very rare type or developing new varieties might get away with 250 feet worth of physical separation as long as there are large physical barriers present between crops. Physical barriers can include a a building, a bank of trees or shrubs or even a different flowering crop attractive to pollinators growing in between two radish varieties. However, only do this if you are saving seeds only for your personal use as cross-pollination is still very likely to occur.
To many, this sounds like a lot of trouble for radish seed, but don’t let any of that discourage your plans for a multi-variety radish bouquet during the spring salad days! Go ahead and grow as many varieties as you like for table use, just don’t let more than one of those varieties go to flower. It’s that simple.
Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds! This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English. Look inside!
How to Space Radish Plants for Seed Production
To save seeds from one variety, select at least 5-10 plants that have nicely formed roots and leave them in the ground past their edible stage. And don’t even think about saving seeds from those scraggly or disfigured radishes that you don’t want to eat because their seeds may carry on that scraggly-root gene! So pick the good ones early on and thin/harvest around them until each plant is spaced roughly 6-9” apart in the row and 24” between rows (or 12” on all sides). Keep in mind that those tiny little radishes will turn into surprisingly large flowering plants in a very short time, so you will want to have a few light-weight stakes and a bit of twine handy to keep them upright as they begin to set fruit.
And set fruit they will! If you have never seen a radish plant in flower, you are in for a treat! In fact, not only are flowering radish plants quite pretty, but they bear an OVER-abundance of pods. There are so many pods on one radish plant that you could never possibly use all the seeds they produce before they get too old to germinate. But the answer to that conundrum is to eat the young green pods or freeze them whole for later on. The younger the pods, the better! They are sweet, mildly radishy, and oh, so crispy! I love to munch on radish pods while working in the garden, but they are tasty in green and even potato salads and are excellent when lightly steamed or stir-fried.
It’s tempting, but don’t eat all of the pods or you won’t get any seeds! And whatever you do, don’t wait for the very last pod to form to start saving seed – let some of the early pods ripen, too.
Harvesting and Drying Radish Seeds
Once the seeds begin to ripen, the pods will start to turn brown. Radish pods shatter easily in the field and daily picking helps reduce seed loss and self sowing. Once a majority of the pods have begun to turn brown the whole plant can be pulled from the ground and hung in an airy shed over a tarp to finish drying. If you don’t want that many seeds (and there will be A LOT of seed!) you can choose to hand pick individual dry pods from the plants in the garden and hold them in a paper bag until you have what you want. If you do this, be sure to harvest equally from all of the seed producing plants. Doing so is key to preserving the genetic diversity of the crop as a whole. If you save from too few plants, you will run into all kinds of trouble down the road. Along that same vein, keep in mind that radishes produce seeds of many colors, including red, brown, yellow and black. Save some of all of the colors for the best genetic diversity.
When processing, keep in mind that radish pods are very hard and broken pieces can be quite sharp. When completely dry, the pods can be threshed by placing them between two layers of heavy tarp and stomping on them, or by placing them in a large, sturdy bucket and crushing them with a blunt object. Once the seeds are released simply winnow away as much as the chaff as possible and store the dry seed in a cool, dry place.
Saving Radish Seeds is a Win-Win for Gardeners
Saving radish seed is not only super-duper easy and a ton of fun for the whole family, but by sacrificing just a few perfect radish roots in the spring, you can harvest a huge crop of new and delectable edibles well into summer AND save on your seed bill for the next six years! Now, that’s what I call a win-win situation!
Happy seed saving!
(Image credits and attributions can be seen by hovering over each image. Many thanks to the contributors of Wikimedia Commons.)
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid GMO’s by saving seeds! This excellent resource for beginning and hobby seed savers takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving your own seed in plain English.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.