By the Numbers: Early Scarlet Radish

Early Scarlet and Long Red Cincinnati radishes
Early Scarlet and Long Red Cincinnati radishes

Little red and white slices in salads, or perhaps just tiny bits.  The last vegetables left languishing in the vegetable tray, only included for color.  This is the fate of radishes in modern America, but it wasn’t always so.  Radishes were grown and valued in ancient times — even used as currency — and medieval reports state there were radishes as large as 100 pounds.  English colonists brought this native of China with them to North America.  In the early 20th century, they were a favorite snack  to go with beer in the northern United States, shipped up from the Deep South all winter.  Radishes have even spawned their own festival in Mexico.

I don’t care much for radishes myself, but this household includes someone who lives to sit and snack on radishes by the pound, so I intimately know that a 12 ounce bag costs $1.69 at the grocery store and almost never goes on sale.  So in the brief window of cool late winter/early spring weather, I grow our own. The garden is mostly empty by late winter, and radishes take very little work.  If there is a vegetable that comes close to instant gratification, it’s radishes: they will be ready in as little as 25 days.

But are radishes cost effective to grow on a home scale?  Let’s find out:

Variety: Early Scarlet Radish. 

  • Seed: $1.50
  • Fertilizer, Irrigation, Pesticides: None.
  • Row cover and other tools: None.
  • Labor:  Plant seeds.  Minor weeding.  Harvesting.
  • Space: 60 sq. ft
  • Yield: 137 ounces of cleaned, edible roots parts.  (The greens are also edible but not included here.)
  • Cost at retail: $2.25/lb. x 8.56 lbs. = $19.26
  • Gross value per square foot: $0.321

So, for $1.50, minor labor and a fairly small amount of space, I grew $19.26 worth of radishes.  That’s a very solid ROI — even more solid when you consider that part of the $1.69 per bag is trimmed off for eating.

Unfortunately there is only a small window in spring and (sometimes) fall where we can grow radishes in this area, and the timing varies.  By using succession planting with this fairly cheap seed, North Alabama gardeners can try starting them a little early and going a little late until it becomes clear that the season is over.  During the unusually mild winter of 2012/2013, we were able to grow radishes nearly the whole winter using rowcover when the temperature dipped below 20F.  We were not so fortunate during the 2013/2014 winter.

Radishes get a financial thumbs up: if your family eats radishes, this is a crop that pays back dividends.

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