From the ground up: when easy-to-grow veggies aren’t

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This year I planted radishes for the first time. There were two reasons for this. First, when we first started dating, my husband told me about eight years ago that he liked radishes — the crunch they add to salads along with that tangy flavor. Now it finally seemed like a good time!

Second, my understanding was that radishes are super easy to grow. Since those crunchy, bright red roots are on everyone’s list of the best vegetables to grow with young kids, that second reason makes perfect sense, right? So I’ll tell you what happened.

About a week ago I drove out of town to visit my family. Before leaving, I let my husband know that the radishes should be ready to start harvesting while I was gone. When I came back I found that no radishes had been pulled. I was also surprised to discover that some of the plants were now a foot or more tall, which is not common. I immediately pulled out a few of the largest plants and found that while the roots displayed that “radish red” signature, the roots weren’t the round radish shape I was expecting at all, just slightly bulbous, elongated hints of what they might have been.

What went wrong with this “super easy” vegetable? My first thought was that there is probably too much nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen promotes leaf growth, which is perfect for leaf-dominant things like lettuce and corn, but not root crops. I had planted the seeds in one of the new raised beds, full of fresh potting soil and nutrients. Big rookie mistake on my part.

But as I searched for answers I discovered that there is another cause that may be at work and that is distance. I thought I would have allowed at least two inches between seeds, but in fact some of the spacing was narrower than that. I remembered planning to thin out the plants after germination, but I was more urgent from an onslaught of others Things got distracted and didn’t come back to the radishes until weeks later, after I should have attended to that bit of — and I do mean little — duty.

I have learned that there is a third way to explain poor root growth and that is pH. From what I’ve read while searching for information on the internet, radishes are fine in neutral soil (pH of 6.5 to 7.5), but might in slightly acidic soil, ie a pH of around 6, flourish better.

I’m pretty sure that too much nitrogen is the culprit in this case, possibly compounded by the other two factors.

Overall, this only goes to show that even with “simple” vegetables, it is worth reading and understanding the ins and outs of growing them, and shows that even an experienced gardener can make mistakes. Also, errors can lead to unexpected results. In this case, I learned that “raw radish greens make a peppy pesto, a flavorful substitute for lettuce in sandwiches, and a great addition to the salad bowl.” Radish leaves are also a quick and easy side dish when sautéed with garlic and oil.” Something new to try. (https://foodprint.org/blog/how-to-use-radish-greens-and-daikon-greens/)

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener living in Kimberton. Email directly to [email protected] or mail to PO Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Share your gardening stories on Facebook under Chester County Roots. Pam’s nature-related books for children and families are available on Amazon at Amazon.com/author/pamelabaxter.

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