Living The Radish Breeding Dream

In the fall of 2006, I went to Maine to see Frank Morton speak at the MOFGA Farmer to Farmer Conference. I had discovered Frank’s Wild Garden Seed work the previous year, and it had blown my seed saving mind.

I came home from the conference ready to breed plants with intention!

Top of my list was to create a black winter radish with red flesh.

This is the story of how breeding dreams come true.

The Initial Cross

In the fall of 2007, I selected some Black Radishes and some Watermelon Radishes to be the parents of my cross.

I overwintered these radishes in the cold room.

In 2008, I planted 5 or 6 Black Radish besides 5 or 6 Watermelon Radish. They quickly bolted and the bees went to work.

In August, I harvested the seed. I kept the Black Radish seed separate from the Watermelon radish seed.

I should have planted this seed out in 2009, but I got distracted by Brassica rapas and didn’t seed my radish project that year.

In July 2010, I planted 25 feet of the crossed Black Radish seed and 25 feet of the crossed Watermelon Radish seed.

Most of the seed that grew from the Black Radish seed was Black Radish. Most of the seed from Watermelon Radish was Watermelon Radish.

But some of each planting was not!!!!

Black x Watermelon Radish F1

I had a dozen clearly crossed up roots.

They all looked fairly similar.

Purple skin, purple flesh and a bit of black on the outside.

This was not the radish I dreamed about.

I overwintered these radishes in the cold room and planted them in the summer of 2011.

That summer I made a point of harvesting the radish seed by the third week of July so I could sow that seed before August 1.

That fall I had the first glimpses of what radish dreams were possible.

The F2 Generation

A bonanza of radish diversity with different skin colour, different rind colour and different flesh colour.

This was amazing.

And in there, were a handful of radishes with black skin and red flesh. There were also a couple with black skin and purple flesh.

I now knew that the radish of my dreams could be a reality.

Years Of Selection

In the summer of 2012, I planted the roots that had black skin and either red or purple flesh.

I harvested another diversity rainbow of radishes. I had more roots with black skin and red or purple flesh, but it was still less than 10% of the population.

I continued saving what I liked and growing it out.

This year we harvested our F10 seed in July.

We sowed the F10 seed in early August and harvested F10 bulbs in mid-October.

0ver 70% of the population now has black skin and red flesh.

I have another population that is over 70% black skin and purple flesh.

It’s time for a name!

The Sweet Night Radish Series

Here we have good old spicy Black Radish with its new friends Sweet Crimson Night and Sweet Amethyst Night.

These radishes are sweet like Watermelon Radishes; and though the black skin is spicy, the inside has a much tamer bite.

If the germ test pans out, we should have some seed available from the Tourne-Sol seed store in January.

Of Course, The Radish Goes On

Now I can imagine that my plant breeding readers have been wondering about all that other wonderful genetic rainbow from the F2 generation.

Well yes, I have also been saving seed from the whole rainbow.

I have been nursing a couple dozen radish breeding populations.

It has been a challenge to keep them isolated. And it has been disorienting and confusing about exactly why I’m keeping some of these radishes.

Here are some of the more stable lines I’m working on.

Purple Radish To The Core

Pink Radish To The Core

Long Cylindrical Versions Of My Round Radishes!

Somewhere in the journey I also crossed in a few long cylindrical radishes in to my populations to introduce more shape diversity.

Skunk Radishes

This is one radish that I’m not sure will have any market appeal. But they bring me such visual joy.

Can’t wait for next year!

This is not the end of the story.

In the last 2 years, some completely new radish combos have been appearing in my populations.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when I grow those out!

And yes, you will be reading all about it!

How are your breeding projects maturing?

17 thoughts on “Living The Radish Breeding Dream

  1. Wow!!! 😀 . You said “It has been a challenge to keep them isolated”, how did you achieve that?

    1. I grow out groups of plants in pots in different corners of the farm.

      Because these plants are in pots they need to be watered which can be a challenge in some locations.

      Also due to the number of populations some wind up not being incredibly far from one another. In these cases I try to limit populations are close together to those that have things in common or are earlier in the selection process.

  2. Have you try to cross a green fleshed radish with a red fleshed radish, and see what happens ? I might try it next year !

    1. I have begun to cross some green fleshed radishes but I haven’t had amazing results yet. I’ve found that the green flesh and the red flesh are different in the way they express themselves. The red flesh is pretty constant in its expression from top to bottom of the radish. While the green flesh seems to fade as it goes towards the bottom of the radish. I might also not be using the most intense strains of green radish!

  3. This is awesome! Just getting into radish selection and eventually breeding. Been working on red podded peas for 10-12 years, so I feel your joy and pain.

    Any chance of breeding these sweet and colorful fall radishes to be spring radishes? I only just learned there are fall planted radishes (that fail if planted in spring).

      1. Awesome. Just planted some sweet purple skinned spring and sweet yellow skinned spring radishes next to a traditional Chinese sweet red fleshed fall radish.

        Not sure if you are already an OSSI member or if these are pledged or not, but we would love to have you talk about your breeding projects on the OSSI supported Open Source Plant Breeding Forum. Hope to see you there!

      2. Dan I’m working on paper with former radish color genetics from the 1930s. I think I’ve discovered something interesting when it comes to black and yellow radish genetics. Please email me so we can discuss it in more detail. Keen101 (at) gmail [dot] com.

  4. This is deeply cool!! I’ve selected back my favorite tallest French marigolds for years but always assumed, for some reason, that all other plant breeding involves like mating bearded irises or pollinating and covering squash blossoms.
    Radishes, you can get so many generations in a growing season! I love hearing more about this!

    1. Plant breeding can be so much easier than covering squash blossoms if you have a bit of patience!

      One thing to not about radishes is that though they only take 4 to weeks get a mature radish from seed, it actually takes the whole season to get a radish to the go to glower and produce mature seed. In the end you can still only select one generation a growing season.

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