Today at 0530 I got up to pick 30 bunches of radishes for Robin at Veg Shed. This is a great day of fulfilment for us at the farm – our first bulk harvest for a customer this year.
I actually began to well up as I knelt by the bed and again and again eased plump radishes from the mini forest of green. They were growing so thickly, forming a lush green carpet, with strong flashes of pink and red showing through. Even though radishes are small, the abundance of them in the bed connected me with the bounty of the land that we have nurtured. And picking 350 of them in one go with all their variations in size, shape and colour emphasised to me their individuality and vitality.
Here is the story of our radishes.
Many many seeds
On Friday 10 March, two of our volunteers (Milo and Liz) planted a 3m bed with ‘cherry belle’ radish seeds, at a 5cm spacing. Each of our beds is 90cm wide, and allowing for the edges tailing off a bit we get 16 on each row. The bed is 3m long, so that’s 60 rows along the bed. How’s your mental maths? 60 x 16 is 960 radish seeds planted one by one.
Why don’t we scatter the seed along a line and thin it out later? We favour the careful sowing now over the pain of thinning out later. It is worth putting the time in now rather than later.
The bed was then covered with clear plastic to keep the moisture in and raise the temperature a bit when the sun shines. By the following Thursday the two strong green germination seeds were showing through for about 90% of the plants. Radish is rewarding!
Slugs and snails
We have had ducks roaming our market garden beds over the winter, but there are still some slugs around and as soon as the tasty green leaves started to show, so did the slugs. We don’t use pesticides to get rid of them. To focus my energy to the maximum I waited a week and then one night went out after dark – about 2130 – with a head torch and some tweezers. I collected about 30 very small slugs that were feeding on the leaves. I got a similar number from our other bed of radish planted at the same time. A week later I did the same thing and got a similar number. The ducks had a nice surprise when i got them out in the morning – slugs on their doorstep.
It’s fiddly getting the small ones, and it’s a pain having to go out in the evening, but I’d rather catch small ones than big ones!! It is interrupting the life cycle of the slug at the best time (before they’ve done lots of damage and before they have reproduced). Also, at night they seem to be up on the leaves and easy to see and catch compared with any other time. So it’s efficient on time and effectiveness, which makes it worthwhile.
It would be good to do this slug patrol once a week and maybe reduce to fortnightly if numbers are down. I’ve not actually been out to check again because I don’t see so many when watering them in the mornings. Lesson for us to learn – put a reminder in the diary to make these important observations so you can be sure what is really happening.
We also leave bricks at the end of each bed – having seen slugs finding shelter under these during the day, it seemed a good idea to offer that shelter. We are encouraging our younger members to go slug hunting when they visit. It is again something we need to put in the diary as a reminder as we keep forgetting.
We have our own spring on site, so we have plenty of water and in dry weather I gave the bed a 10 litre watering can every morning. Since then we have sorted out a tank, a pump and some sprinklers, so there is much less effort for us on watering each day.
We have been taking a few radishes from the bed for the last two weeks. Picking out the big ones. They are crunchy, refreshing and flavoursome. A bit peppery, but it’s a gentle heat. They make shop-bought radishes taste like crunchy water by comparison.
It was exciting to harvest such a large number in one go. Certain patches of the bed were a forest of perfect radishes with hardly any gap between them – the 5cm spacing has worked well. Very few weed seeds had germinated amongst them. So far we have pulled about 400 radishes. There were about 50 that were too small to sell. There are about 150 to go. That is approximately 2/3 of the seeds we planted we get to sell.
We like to work out the numbers – we need to learn from our experience each year.
It is interesting to me that some of the radishes bear the evidence of the attentions of woodlice or slugs. About half of them have some surface blemish. I was shocked at first. I said to Adam “We can’t sell them like this!” but he challenged me – would I eat it? – of course I would, I’d just cut of that little surface blemish. This is the reality of real food. I realised that I have become conditioned by the supermarket standard of every item of produce conforming to an imagined perfection. As I now grow my own, I am getting used to the reality of organic produce. And anyway, as time goes by we will continue to reduce the slug and snail population by our physical methods and the damage they cause will be reduced.