Believe it or not, rat-tail radishes are not used explicitly in large, bubbling, black cauldrons by evil-doers who are looking to cast a spell. In spite of their rather unfortunate name, they are quite a lovely vegetable plant.
While most radishes are harvested as edible root vegetables, the unique rat-tail radish is grown for its crispy and mildly peppery flavored pods that grow off the stem of the plant. The mature and ready to eat pods look just like a green or purple rat’s tail, which is how they got that funny name.
Rat-tail radishes have been a staple for many gardeners throughout time. They are indigenous to Southern portions of Asia, and they are a versatile plant. Their adaptability has allowed them to be enjoyed in regions from the tropics all the way up to some rather chilly locations in the North.
While their popularity hit a slump here in the U.S. in about the 1950’s, they are making a comeback. For heirloom variety enthusiasts, the rat-tail radish is a unique option. And for the everyday gardener who might be looking for an easy to grow, abundantly productive, and pretty vegetable plant, the rat-tailed radish fits the bill.
How to Grow and Care for Rat-tail Radishes
The rat-tail radish is a hardy plant. You can sow the seeds direct in early spring, because like all radishes, rat-tails are cold tolerant. Choose a full sun location, and plant the seeds 1/2 inch deep in good garden soil.
Amend the soil with a handful or two of compost. Thin the seedlings to space your plants about a foot apart. You can toss the tiny seedlings into a garden fresh salad for a slightly spicy flavor.
Your rat-tail radish plant will grow to between 3 and 4 feet tall. The plant will need a support for its weight as it begins to produce. It will develop small, lacey-looking yellow or white and pink flowers that will develop into pods within about 50 days.
Keep the ground around your rat-tail radish cool by watering frequently. Mulch around the base of your plant to retain moisture. Provide an inch of water a week. Unlike other radishes, the rat-tail radish will keep right on producing through the heat of summer.
You can harvest rat-tail radish pods when they are about as thick as a pencil and 4 or 5 inches long. Rat-tails should be harvested sooner than later to keep the plant producing. They are also tastiest when harvested young. They will begin to lose their tenderness and become fibrous as they grow and mature, so pick them early.
Rat-tail radishes are a yummy treat straight off the plant. Or they add a flavorful bite to a salad. They can be cooked and used as an alternative for pea pods in stir fry and other dishes. You might even enjoy them pickled.
Rat-tail Radish Pests and Problems
Rat-tail radishes are resistant to most diseases and pests. The biggest pest threat for rat-tail radish plants are aphids. So, you might want to watch out for aphids late in the season. Ladybugs are helpful at warding off the unwanted pests. A steady spray of water will often discourage aphids too, at least for a while.
Want to learn more about growing rat-tail radishes?
Don’t miss these helpful resources:
Rat-tail Radishes Produce Delicious Seedpods from The Oregonian
Discover Unique Varieties of Radishes for the Garden from Mother Earth News
Radish Aims to Please in a Pod from The Washington Post
Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of Fallywalker Farm