Tillage radishes long on soil penetration
By DEAN SHIPLEY
Whoa! Those are some radishes. White, thick, with tall leafy green tops, these are radishes which look to be on steroids.
But they’re not. They’re called tillage radishes and can grow up (make that down) to 20 inches in length. While some of that length protrudes above ground, the rest of it thrusts its way into the earth.
That’s what they’re supposed to do: push, plunge, propel their way down into terra firma. That growing-to-new-depths action is a natural, eco-friendly way for farmers to till their soil without using a mega-ton tractor and tiller to accomplish the same task.
That’s just what Madison County farmer Audie Howard wanted to avoid when in 2011 he sowed the radishes and Australia peas into 200 acres in Union Township. That tractor and implement compact the soil as they course over it. When it comes to soil prep, compaction is not the farmer’s best friend.
So when the county soil and water conservation office put forth a program to promote cover crops, Howard thought he’d give it a try. He said he had also read about it in a farm publication. The radishes were sown along with Australian peas—sown to benefit the radishes—on 200 acres in Union Township. Julia Cumming, director, said the district encourages farmers to use environmentally friendly means of accomplishing a task and reduce any amount of carbon footprint trod by a diesel-fuel burning tractor.
“We have programs that promote cover crops,” Cumming said. We have incentives, the environmental quality incentive program. If farmer want to try cover crop, he would apply to and we give them an incentive payment to try it,” Cumming said. “They have to try it.”
Howard was not part of the incentive program, but tried it “on my own.”
The radishes performed as expected.
“It breaks up the ground without machinery doing it,” Howard said. “As big as they are, they heave the ground.”
While the radish is heaving the ground, the pea plants, which are legumes, are infusing the soil with nitrogen Howard said.
Howard harvested neither crop, but left them in the ground to decay, giving the earth additional organic matter.
To plant growth, that matters.
Following the tilling radishes decay, Howard planted corn on the field. Despite the drought, the corn, while diminished by the lack of rain, grew well.
He said the tillage radish “experiment” was worthwhile.
In other fields at the end of the growing season Howard revived a method of replenishing the fields from long ago: he sowed rye as a cover crop.
(Dean Shipley is a staff writer for the Madison Press.)