Seeds are incredible things. They can lay dormant for eons in the most inhospitable soil, waiting for environmental equilibrium and then for no rhyme or reason (perceptible to us big, lumbering bipedal mammals) it will hit that perfect balance of this or that and go Boom! And a living thing will spurt up out of the scrub and welcome the new day. It’s crazy stuff.
The same thing happens once the seed grows into a big, strong, adult, taxpaying plant. The sun and soil send those mysterious vibrations through the ether and the plant goes nuts. Shazam! It sloughs off it’s fruit and abandons any plans to expand it’s meticulously constructed root system and instead builds up and up, higher and higher until it towers above the garden. There, swaying crazily in the breeze it covers itself in flowers and (with a bit of luck) will score some pollination and grow tiny triffid-like capsules meant for the future.
It’s the plant equivalent of leaving a steady job and family and just trucking out to burning man. It’s plants gone wild! And, I’m sorry to report… It’s what most of my garden looks like right now.
The lettuce, mizuna, arugula, heck even the oregano have all bolted big time, leaving them with precious little leafage to harvest. The worst hit, by far though have been my radishes. My beloved French breakfast, daikon and Spanish blacks were all into their second sowing and ready to thin when two months of broiling heat hit. Now, mad with sunstroke they wobble and stretch up to the sky on pencil-thin stalks like mad pole-dwelling ascetics.
The radish flowers are edible and quite pretty. They’re small and range from white to bright purple and the bees really dig them. The radish pods are kind of freaky looking, but also totally edible! They have a crunchy snap pea-like texture and a strong radish flavour.
I asked around the farmer’s market after I found them growing in my garden and I learned that many gardeners will leave a couple plants to bolt just so they can harvest these tasty little pods. Certain types of radish (most notably the “Rat Tail” variety from Southeast Asia) don’t grow a root at all and instead concentrate entirely on pod production. Kitchen Gardener’s International has a fantastic (and mind-blowingly comprehensive) article on radish pods and their cultivation.
Armed with this knowledge, a little pair of scissors and a glass of wine I spent a very enjoyable afternoon trimming the edibles off of the radish stalks and into a couple of Ziploc containers. I trimmed the flowering tips off about an inch from the top, washed them very thoroughly and wrapped them in paper towel. The pods can be pinched off like a pea or bean and stored just the same. The remaining stalks went into the composter because of their super-fibrous texture.
The bright colours and mild flavour of the flowers make them a really nice addition to summer salads or as a garnish. The pods can be munched out of hand, dipped ala crudités, steamed for two minutes and tossed with a bit of sea salt like edamame (my favourite!), added to salads and wraps, or even lightly stir-fried.
So yeah, now there is some empty space in the garden waiting for me to plant something new, and then spend months neglecting it. *sigh*