Harvesting & handling radishes

Radishes are reasonably easy to grow. Taking only 30 days from seed to sale, and tolerant of cool temperatures, they’re a great fit for early markets. We grow seven varieties of spring radishes, ranging from sweet/mild to spicy. Together, they make beautiful bundles.

Even easy items take care and proper handling to achieve the highest quality, and to make the harvesting and washing process efficient enough to be economic. For root crops, this means getting the dirt off without excessive handling that can damage the item or take too long; we also want the radishes cooled off as quickly as possible to keep them crisp and fresh.

We’re using a new handling method for radishes (and most other root crops) this year: plastic shopping baskets. These are sturdy and washable, and can be dunked into tubs of cold water to wash dirt off in bulk. Handling radishes this way is much, much faster than hand-washing them, and ends up being more water-efficient. Repeatedly sloshing the baskets up and down creates a washing-machine action that sluices most of the dirt off; we can hand-wash the few which don’t clean up well enough. Below, you see two baskets full of radishes being dunked.

Our baskets come from the Good L Corporation, based near Nashville, TN, the last American manufacturer of such baskets. We heard of them through another farmer who has been promoting this method, using factory seconds. This works great, as they have lots of odd misprinted baskets around that they can’t sell, but don’t want to toss. When we called, they were happy to work with us and sent us a shipment of 20-something baskets of all different sizes for us to test. They weren’t cheap, but were cheaper than buying them new, and we’re proud to be using American-made materials. So far we’re thrilled with the results, as these baskets are very sound and sturdy, and work great as harvest containers. I suspect we’ll end up buying many more.

Once the radishes are bulk-washed, they’re spread out on a packing table and sorted by type (we tend to harvest one or two types per basket to simplify this). Any that look too dirty will get a quick hand-washing. Then I start going through and making 4-oz bundles, trying to keep consistent sizes within bundles and to represent as many varieties as possible. We’ll range from 4-10 radishes per bundle depending on size. Once the lower-producing varieties are gone, I’ll start doing single-color bunches for folks who want just spicy or just mild radishes. The bundles are rubber-banded and tossed into a clean container for transport and storage in our market fridges.

We always harvest radishes the day before market, so they’re as fresh as possible. Usually these go from soil to cooler within an hour, so they’re being chilled very quickly and will be very good.

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