Daikon radish, Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus
Raise your hand if you think you can identify a daikon radish and not get it confused with a turnip, a white carrot, or even a regular radish. I can’t neither. Why? This nutritious root vegetable is not super-popular in the United States, but elsewhere in the world it’s a common market staple. In fact, this deep-rooted radish is one of the most wildly used vegetables in East Asian cuisine. And it turns out, daikon radish is easy to grow, chock-full of healthy properties, and very versatile in recipes. You may not be able to easily find it in stores (unless there’s an Asian market near you), so the best way to get your fork on some is to grow your own.
Please keep reading to learn how to grow this underrated root vegetable:
Also known as Japanese radish, Chinese radish, white radish, and many other names, daikon originated in the Mediterranean before traveling to Asian regions where it became ubiquitous. It is in the Brassica family right next to mustard, spinach, kale, and other leafy green vegetables. Typically, this root looks like an elongated white radish (thus one of the common names), but it comes in many sizes and even skin colors (think red, pink, black and purple).
Hardy between USDA Zones 2-11, daikon is a quick-growing winter radish and thrives in cooler temperatures, although it can get damaged by a harsh frost. Most varieties will produce something to harvest within 50 days, so before planting, think about your frost dates and plan to get them in the ground in early fall for a winter harvest.
If you live in a dry and hot climate, you can also start your plants from seeds indoors 2 to 3 weeks before planting; just remember to harden off your seedlings before planting outdoors.
The key to successfully growing daikon is adequate soil prep before planting. Make sure your soil is well-draining and loose (and organic, of course) because if your soil is compacted, the root won’t grow to its full potential and may get stunted. Also, because you want more root growth than leafy greens, limit the amount of nitrogen you add.
When planting your seeds, place them 1/2 inch deep and one inch apart in loose, moist soil. Once the seedlings sprout, you can thin them to about 6 inches (remember, you can also eat these little seedlings).
Pro Tip: If you’re a radish lover, plan on reseeding for 2 weeks so that when you harvest your first batch, you will have another in the wings growing.
- Both the leaves and roots of daikon are edible. It can be hard to know when your plants are ready to harvest, so mark the maturation date according to the variety you planted. When ready, grab the greens above the root and gently pull.
- Daikon can be grown successfully in containers with adequate drainage. Just read the label to see what variety you are choosing. If you have a small container, chose a squat growing type.
- Daikon is less spicy and peppery and a bit sweeter and juicier than your typical radish, making it excellent when eaten raw in salads and sandwiches. You can also add it to recipes that call for radishes, carrots, or turnips. (Pro Tip: The skin is nutritious so instead of peeling it, give it a good scrub.)
- These roots are high in vitamin C and low in calories and are said to be antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral; plus when eaten raw, this plant’s enzymes aid in digestion.
Keep It Alive
- Grow daikon radishes in full to part sun. Some varieties have been developed to grow in even shadier conditions.
- Plant starts or seeds in very wel- draining soil as it is a root after all and needs to grow down more than up.
- This radish likes soil to be neutral in pH, ideally somewhere between 5.8 to 6.8.
- Daikon does like water, but not soggy, standing water. Under-watered plants will produce small roots. In areas receiving minimal winter rain, water your plants once a week and aim to get the water to the root area and not the leaves.
- Mulch to preserve moisture.
- If invading pests become a problem, place row covers over your plants to keep the hungry beasts out.
More on root vegetables, see:
- DIY: Stalking the Delicious Wild Radish
- 10 Easy Pieces: Potato Growing Kits
- 5 Favorites: Quick Germinating Seeds to Plant Now in Your Vegetable Garden
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