Editor's note: A memory for a friend with perspective on organically gardened radishes as weeds.

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RADISHES from THE GARDEN SPOT
by Mort Mather

This column is to honor the memory of one of our first friends in Maine. Jerry Lebrun delivered our oil and plowed the roads when the town crew was overwhelmed by a snow storm. It was during the snow storms that our friendship grew most in the beginning. I would listen for the plow to go down the road and then I would go out and shovel a bit until the plow cam back up. He would always stop and I would invite him in for a drink when he was through with the roads. Of course, he would have to pull off the road when he came back and he always did it with the plow down.

Whenever he saw me in the garden he would stop and we would have a fun chat.

"What's that you're planting?"

"Radishes."

"They're just weeds. Why don't you plant something good."

Thank you Jerry for accepting us as your friends.

I like radishes. I know what Jerry meant. First, he didn't care much for them but more importantly they do grow like weeds. I actually use them as planted weeds. Let me explain.

Carrots take a week to germinate in summer and up to three weeks in cool spring soil. Dry soil can delay germination further. When the seedlings do emerge they are very small and slender, difficult to see and easily overwhelmed by broader leafed seedlings.

I like to mix radish seed with the carrot seed when I plant carrots. The radish seed helps me space the smaller carrot seed better in the row so there is not so much thinning necessary. The radish seedlings pop out of the ground in just three or four days. Their baby leaves are broad and it is easy to see them which marks the row for me. This is important for my next job which is to cultivate the row in ten days. Without the radish seedlings showing me where I planted cultivation would be very difficult.

The radish seedlings also shade the row from drying sun keeping the soil moist which improves the germination of the carrots. By the time of the second cultivation, twenty days after planting, the radishes are almost ready to begin harvesting and the carrot seedlings can be seen with the naked eye from six feet away.

Thirty to forty days after planting the radishes are reaching the end of harvest time and the carrots are big enough to want more space. That is when I go in and pull all the radishes just like they were weeds. I also pull any weeds that I might find in the row thought there won't be many since I have been drawn to the row many times to pull radishes and I can't seem to harvest from the garden without pulling a few weeds at the same time just for the fun of it.

Since I usually plant a couple of hundred feet of row of carrots for winter storage I have a lot more radishes than we are likely to eat. Actually, we top and wash the last harvest and put them in a bag in the refrigerator where they hold for almost a month. As a chess player I just love a move that is both defensive and offensive. In this case harvesting radishes and weeding carrots. The carrots, by the way, need no further attention until they are ready to be harvested.

The radishes should be the most common red radishes which mature within four weeks. My favorite is champion.

It is seldom that I pull a radish in the garden, wipe off the soil on my pant leg, snip off the root with my teeth and crunch into the tangy succulence right there in the garden that I don't think of my friend Jerry.

İFebruary 22, 1997

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. He is a consultant for organizations. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate. 

mort@supak.com

 

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