[Market-farming] Forage radishes

Marlin Burkholder burkholders at glenecofarm.com
Fri Jan 13 22:50:00 EST 2012

This past fall I planted forage radishes (diakons) on about an acre and a
half of my crop ground after summer crops finished.  Some plots planted to
fall crops like turnips and fall greens got a row of radishes planted
between the crop rows after the crop was up and going.

I was told by other farmers that diakon radishes send down a large taproot
that penetrates 1 1/2 - 2 feet into the subsoil to break up hardpan and to
cycle nutrients deep in the soil profile up to the surface.  As the plant
winterkills the root rots and leaves a 2 inch diameter hole that allows
rainwater to enter and freezing activity in the hole further loosens the
soil as deep as the root penetrated.  Abundant top growth adds biomass to
the top of the soil.  Nice logic here offers an attractive alternative to
the double digging method advocated by John Jeavons in order to achieve deep
tillage and healthy soil organic matter.  A lot of acres in Rockingham
county were planted as a winter cover crop for this purpose this year.

However an interesting thing has occurred.  I have a lot of roots sticking
up six inches or more above the soil surface.  Does this suggest that maybe
those radish roots grew down until they hit the hardpan and, instead of
punching on through, they pushed up at the surface?

In the spring I ran a subsoiler on roughly 3 foot centers for the purpose of
breaking hardpan.  I haven't looked closely yet, but I haven't noticed bands
of radishes without roots protruding above the soil line, suggesting that
they were directly above the subsoiler track and didn't encounter resistance
growing down.

Just curious.
Marlin Burkholder

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