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Gardening with Kids: Radishes and lessons on optimism

We planted a late bed of radishes this fall. We always seed heavily when planting, for two reasons; the kids enjoy thinning seedlings, and they tend to accidentally drop tons of seeds. Radishes do best when they are spaced a few inches apart. Too close and the roots co-mingle, resulting in stringy radishes. Too far apart, you don’t grow as many radishes. We’ve grown them too close and too far apart, many times each.


Asheville had an unusually warm fall and timely rains. The kids thinned the radishes when the sprouts emerged, measuring the distance between plants with a two inch twig. The girls started out fine but were soon yanking radishes out willy-nilly. They were given shovels and redirected to the compost pile.  

Radishes might be the most gratifying vegetable to grow. The sprouting leaves are visibly larger at the end of each day and seed to harvest is just five weeks. Near Halloween, the bed brimmed with white, purple and red globes.

Harvest time at sunset- everyone wants the same basket, 'she got to pick more radishes than me and the leaves have spikes!' They do have spikes dear. Some tears and a lesson later, we’re rinsing tiny pebbles out of long roots and dinner is close.

Weeks later and the first frosts had come. A few dozen radishes were left in the bed. How did we miss them? Maybe we were just sick of radishes.

Plants often stretch to reproduce. One radish was doing just that,  all the others looked a bit too chilly. On a proud stalk, a flower head emerged. Sparse flowers in the November garden guaranteed the kids’ daily attention to the radish plant. More flowers opened, ready for pollen but none came. Some plants can pollinate themselves, but the radish doesn’t. It needs another radishes’ pollen.

Our late blooming radish is still alive now, after Thanksgiving, blooming all alone. It led to a conversation about optimism. Why doesn’t the radish just die or give up like the others? I couldn’t answer that when the kids asked. With frosty mornings, short days and no partner in sight, the lone radishes’ optimism is futile. It won’t produce seeds nor ever have baby radishes and really, that's its' one job. One of the girls noticed that the radish seems happy, nevertheless. And that observation brought us to a lesson:

The lesson: optimism beats futility because the journey to failure can at least be pleasant.