It's spring when the first radish succumbs with a crispy crunch

For some the first robin is the sign that spring is here; for others, it's the first crocus. But for the committed vegetable gardener, it's the moment when he pulls his first radish.

It's always the best radish of the year --crisp, firm, and mild.

Radishes are easy to grow. For this very reason most gardeners will choose the first packet of radish seeds they spy on the rack, overlooking the fact that these days the choice of available radishes is wide and varied.

The supermarket may offer only small Scarlet Globes, but if you're willing to check around, you can opt for yellow, white, red, purple, black, or pink radishes. You have an option in taste, too. There are more than a dozen very mild radishes, but some are almost as hot as chili peppers.

The majority of radishes require a cool growing season, but there are others, such as Scarlet King, Crimson Giant, White Icicle, and Summer Cross Hybrid, that will stand heat well if they are generously watered.

I like to start the season with the fast growers, such as Cherry Belle, Champion, and Sparkler. At the same time I sow seeds for the slower-growing varieties that have become family favorites -- Round Black Spanish, All Seasons White, and De Gournay, which is an intriguing deep purple shade. As the days lengthen, I switch to the hear-resistant varieties.

Be sure to try Pink Beauty, a delightful pink radish that's ready for the table in four weeks and French Golden, an attractive yellow beauty that has a bit more bite.

There are two esentials for growing perfect radishes. The first is that radishes must grow swiftly. If their growth is retarded, even for a few days, the harvest will be pithy, woody, and misshapen.

Prepare the ground well and add lots of compost -- and don't skimp on water. The soil around the roots should never dry out.

The other important fact to remember is to harvest your radishes as soon as they're ready. Radishes do not hold their flavor when left in the ground and become hot and pithy as they age. Pull them when they're young and tender and then keep planting more for a continuous supply.

Radish seeds are available on every seed rack, but for the more unusual varieties you can ask for a free catalog from Burpee Seed Company, Warminster, Pa. 18991; Gurney Seed Company, Yankton, S. D. 57079; Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 North Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321; and Stokes Seeds, 737 Main Street, Buffalo, N. Y. 14240.

Days to Maturity Flavor Size Shape Color Cherry Belle 22 Mild 3/4 inch Round Red Crimson Giant 29 Mild 1 1/2 Round Red Champion 28 Mild 1 Round Red Burpee White 25 Mild 1 Round White Sparkler 25 Mild 1 Round Red Scarlet King 30 Mild 1 Round Red White Icicle 28 Hot 5 Long White Summer Cross Hybrid 45 Hot 14 Long White Round Black Spanish 55 Hot 4 Round Black Pink Beauty 27 Mild 1 Round Pink French Golden 60 Hot 1 1/2 Oval Golden De Gournay 65 Hot 8 Long Purple

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