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

Rotting oilseed radishes

Dead oilseed radish

When I first read about oilseed radishes, the only negative report claimed that the cover crop stinks to high heaven when rotting in the spring.  I haven't noticed any odor at all from my decaying oilseed radishes, but their dead bodies do catch the eye with their striking poses.

Rotting oilseed radishes

Worm in radishOnce they rot just a bit more than is shown in the two photos above, the radishes also catch the attention of the local worms.  I broke one radish in half and was surprised to see this earthworm tunneling through the decaying center.

Worm action is probably the reason these huge roots disappear into the soil so quickly.  I'll be able to plant into these beds without raking much of anything to the side in just a few weeks, and the soil will be improved by up to a quarter of a pound of dry organic matter per square foot --- not a bad yield for tossing down a couple of cents' worth of seeds last fall.

Our chicken waterer is perfect for chicken tractors since it never spills on uneven ground.

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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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Would you say that oilseed radishes give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to volume of organic matter? Do they stink enough to warrant planting in an area far away from the house? I was thinking you could designate a large bed/area just for planting something like oilseed radishes for the sole purpose of harvesting the leftover organic matter to be used in other beds. But maybe it doesn't make sense to do it that way...
Comment by mountainstead [] Thu Feb 9 11:40:46 2012

Great question. My gut says that oats give me more biomass, but "Managing Cover Crops Profitably" (the free cover crop bible) gives the following data on maximum organic matter:

*Oats, fall planted: 2,000 to 4,000 lbs/acre

*Oats, spring planted: up to 8,000 lbs/acre

*Oilseed radishes: up to 8,000 lbs/acre aboveground and up to 3,700 lbs/acre belowground

Of course, those are maximums, so it's quite possible that oats are living up to their full potential here because they like my soil and oilseed radishes are coming in far below their potential. It's hard to say.

I didn't actually notice any stinking at all.

I don't think it's really worth moving cover crops around, unless you grow a huge winter garden and want to be able to treat it with biomass from cover crops. I like to just slip cover crops into dormant windows in my garden.

One thing you especially might like to consider is that many cover crops combine well with pasture systems.

Comment by anna Thu Feb 9 15:07:25 2012

Makes sense. I suppose I was thinking more along the lines of creating biomass for new beds. As in, trying to figure out if there's a way to create a "biomass garden", the finished contents of which could be moved into more strategically placed beds (sun, proximity, etc) instead of using compost, leaf mulch, and other amendments that must be trucked in off site (i.e., starting from scratch). I'm probably trying to make more work out of something than necessary though!

~ Mitsy

Comment by mountainstead [] Thu Feb 9 15:30:50 2012

I can see where you're coming from, and I do read about people who cut cover crops to add to the compost pile. But it's just so easy to grow them in place...

I think if I was going to grow something to cut and move elsewhere for biomass, I'd grow a grain, thresh the seeds for chicken feed, and use the straw either on the garden beds or as deep bedding in the coop (which would later go in the garden.)

Comment by anna Thu Feb 9 18:32:18 2012
Anna this looks like fun.Whenever I go out to the garden in the spring to dig a can of worms for fishing I always look for old cabbage plants to dig around.Tons of worms and a lovely aroma.I think ill set aside a spot with radishes and mix in oats maybe some crimson clover for colour.Hope my seed guys carry oilseed radishes. Rein
Comment by Rein Thu Feb 9 22:19:29 2012
Rein --- I love the title of your comment. :-) Makes me think maybe there's a way to grow worm "trap crops" and then throw them on the deep bedding of the chicken coop at this time of year to give the flock some fresh wrigglers.
Comment by anna Fri Feb 10 09:49:10 2012

Have you decided to go with an oat cover crop this spring, in the beds you will plant warmer season crops? You've said you mow it then use it as mulch. Does this work well with direct seeding and transplants? I've not used any cover crops and want to start, but I'm worried that a spring plantings roots will leave the soil too hard to work...

Have you done a series or Weekend Homesteader on cover crops?

Comment by David Mon Feb 13 05:16:03 2012

David --- Great question! After least year, I decided spring cover crops weren't worth it. Oh, they grow like crazy, but they don't die. So, unless you're willing to till them in or rip them up by hand, I'd wait until you can sow some buckwheat for the summer, and then oats and oilseed radishes for the fall.

I felt like cover crops were too advanced for Weekend Homesteader, but you can download the free Managing Cover Crops Profitably at

Comment by anna Mon Feb 13 08:22:34 2012

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