The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Oilseed radishes

Radish cover crop

This week is our last chance to plant oilseed radishes, so I made a lot of hard-nosed decisions.  For example, I ripped out all of the older beds of beans and just kept one to enjoy until the frost --- I'd rather miss out on some subpar beans than lose a whole season of cover-cropping.  Similarly, the oilseed calendar is the main reason I harvested my sweet potatoes this week, since I wanted to be able to put cover crops in the tubers' place.

Radishes under blighted tomatoes

Meanwhile, I slipped oilseed radishes into gaps where fall crops didn't come up, and I even pulled back the mulch and tossed down seeds around sweet corn that will be done bearing this week and around tomatoes that look too blighted to last much longer.  Since my new method of cleaning up after large crops involves cutting the spent plants at ground level and leaving the roots in place, removing the finished vegetables won't disrupt the radish seedlings.  And I figure the oilseed radishes won't get big enough to compete before the corn and tomatoes are done.

Oilseed radish

Since Mark talked me into splurging on 25 pounds of oilseed radish seeds, I'm trying out some crazy experiments too.  I seeded an entire chicken pasture in oilseed radishes and planted some radishes around the base of a young apple tree.  I'm not too thrilled with the pasture planting --- I think the shade set the cover crop back -- but the apple has sparse enough leaves that I think it might coexist quite well with the radishes.

Sprouting oilseed radishes

Unlike buckwheat seeds (which get eaten up by cardinals in short order if I don't sprinkle a light coating of straw over top after planting), radish seeds don't seem to be enjoyed by wildlife. So I simply scatter the radish seeds on the soil surface by eye, often ending up seeding thicker than I really should (like in the photo above).  I figure it's worth a bit more seed to keep effort to a minimum.

Young oilseed radish

All told, I used 12 pounds of oilseed radish seeds this year, which cost about $43.  If I figure I planted about 5 pounds of that in 27 beds in the garden (with the rest going into the pasture), that comes to 66 cents per bed, compared to maybe 83 cents per bed if I overwintered the garden by mulching it with straw.  Of course, it would be considerably cheaper to use oats as our winter cover crop, but we wanted to give oilseed radishes a more serious try this year to see if they're worth the extra money.

In case you haven't been following along for the last couple of years, here are some relevant posts about oilseed radishes:

Hopefully that'll inspire you to try out some cover crops in your garden, if not this year, then next.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Great ideas for the oilseed radish. I used some for the are patches in our garden and had great success. Chad

Comment by Chad Fri Sep 7 16:49:36 2012
Chad --- Glad to hear you're enjoying oilseed radishes too!
Comment by anna Sat Sep 8 11:52:39 2012
Got my experimental cover crop sown today: I am using Record Rack "Tonnage" seed mix: a blend of Mino Daikon Radish, green globe turnip, barabas turnip and rape. The idea is add biomass to my no till garden plot and harvest a nice healthy crop of venison this winter ;)
Comment by Phil Sat Sep 8 15:38:55 2012
Phil --- I hope you'll take some photos, and also check back to let me know what you thought of the various components of the mix. I haven't tried any but the radish as a cover crop and am interested to hear how much biomass the other species produce and whether they winterkill.
Comment by anna Sat Sep 8 19:09:15 2012

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