How to Understand Winter Farming: Think Like a Radish

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Holly A. Heyser


One of our harvesters, Andrea, brought in all the radishes that she could find of a certain size. "No hay mas," she said. No more.

The bunches sported unblemished pink roots adorned with quite short leafy tops. She could barely get them to hold together in a bunch with the rubber bands we use. But they were cute and sold out quickly on the farm stand table.

The radishes, after we ripped them off the turnip leaves, we gave away. At least they could be cooked, even if, upon thawing, they went limp.

It is winter after all, and a miracle that we can grow anything. The weathermen, at the start of last fall, forecasted a drier and warmer winter than usual. Dry it has been, but colder also. Oh well, 50 percent on target is better than zero accuracy, I reckon—in weather forecasting and in farming. When someone asks us what we will have two months down the line, we usually say first: "maybe nothing." We are hesitant to forecast anything.

Of course that is a negative look on life at worst, but also a practical assessment. Any scenario about the future of a crop depends primarily upon the weather, over which we have absolutely no control. It's almost futile for weather forecasters to predict how a winter will be. But we pay close attention to their prognostications anyway. We can't see into the future three days by looking out the window.

We are far past the winter equinox now, and days are longer, but this winter we have experienced at least three hard freezes every week since November. These repeated spells keep the ground cold, the soil microbes dormant and perhaps shivering, and the sun hidden behind clouds many days, which results in the crops chugging along as best they can. Shortened tops on radishes and carrots are the norm.

We spend half the week uncovering plants so that they may experience a bit of sunshine and then the rest of the week recovering them to protect them from the damages of predicted frosts.

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Carol Ann Sayle

The radishes have experienced both row cover coddling and brave exposure to all the elements. Even on the market table.

On a particularly cold market day recently, with temperatures that would not leave the twenties until after market closed, the small amount of radishes Andrea was able to put on the market tables froze. They stuck to the leaves of the white turnips against which they nestled. Romaine lettuce leaves darkened. We encouraged our customers to buy quickly and hurry to their warm cars, so they could take the produce home in an almost perfect state.

The radishes, after we ripped them off the turnip leaves, we gave away. At least they could be cooked, even if, upon thawing, they went limp. Folks like something free, so they were accepted eagerly.

I laughed as I told Andrea to think like a radish. How would she like to live like the radishes, out in the field, often without even a layer of spun-polyester covering to keep her a few degrees warmer? And then be plopped, naked of the insulating soil, onto a cold table next to equally suffering turnips?

She shivered her shoulders and replied, laughing a bit nervously, "No-o-o-o, Seño, no me gusta el frio!" I don't like the cold.

Sigh. Neither do the radishes.

Presented by

Carol Ann Sayle is co-founder and co-owner of Boggy Creek Farm, a five-acre urban, organic farm in Austin, Texas.

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