Although The Scale Is Different Farmers And Gardeners Use Similar Techniques. For Example This Regenerative Farming Technique Is Pure Permaculture Gardening.

Across the valley from me several fields of a strange looking crop are growing. And they drew me to them like sirens luring  Odysseus to the wave lashed rocks. But of course, though it was raining there were no wave lashed rocks. Just several fields of a crop I immediately recognised though it is not a traditional agricultural crop. And I recognised it because I grow it in my garden and greenhouse.

What Was This Strange Agricultural And Gardening Crop?

It was fodder radish Raphanus sativus. Which is essentially the same as the daikon, aka mooli that I grow in my garden. Other names include oilseed radish,  forage radish, fodder radish, and tillage radish.

Why Grow Fodder Radish or Daikon?

The reason in gardens and farms will be essentially the same. In gardens we grow daikon to eat and I’ve written elsewhere how to grow daikon. Ditto on farms but here the livestock eat the crop, or at least the tops of the crop as the roots go very deep into the soil and sheep etc can’t dig it out. But that doesn’t matter as then it serves a second purpose. One related to another name for it .. soil ripper.

The thing is the root goes several feet in to the soil and helps break up any “soil pan” . This is the hard layer that is formed when heavy vehicles compact the soil or when machinery such as ploughs or cultivators smear the soil. Fodder radish is also used to increase organic matter in the soil and to form natural drainage channels that get left as it decomposes.

What Can Farmers Teach Gardeners? fodder radish crops in Devon

The seed can also be harvested as a constituent of wild bird seed mixes.

Fodder radish can also act as a nurse or cover crop that helps to protect other species planted with it. For example it could be sown with grass seed in autumn and will help the grass establish.

Lastly it can be used to anchor the soil on slopes, where winter rains might otherwise cause erosion. Because it is so fast growing it can protect the soil very quickly. And it’s not just the root, the leaves provide a canopy that protects the soil from heavy downpours that can damage soil structure.

I wrote lastly .. but there are other reasons to grow this type of radish. See below under Plant Nutrient Storage.

Plant Persistence

Fodder radish is an annual brassica. The theory is that the frost kills it. But I’ve seen it survive quite a lot of frost in the last few years.

Plant Nutrient Storage

What Can Farmers Teach Gardeners? fodder radish penetrates deep in to the soil and retains nitrogen overwinter.

Though not a legume fodder radish can hold residual nitrogen in the soil, which it will then release as it breaks down over time. When sown in autumn it scavenges any nitrogen in the soil. Then it holds it as vegetable matter over winter. As the plant dies and decomposes in spring or early summer it releases the nitrogen for the next crop. So it acts as a nitrogen reservoir and prevents nitrogen being washed away by winter rains.

As a measure of how fast it grows, and takes up nitrogen, it can produce a rosette of basal leaves and a flowering head in 6-8 weeks from sowing.

Killing Fodder Radish To Recycle The Nutrients

In theory fodder radish and mooli aren’t very frost hardy. But the crop I could see across my valley was thriving in April and had overwintered from a late sowing. So the theory that several sharp frosts will kill it off is rather suspect in my view.

But it can be cut to ground level in spring and will not survive the grazing if it is in grass. If the land is to be cultivated that will also kill most of it. But what about in gardens?

Destroying Fodder Radish Or Mooli In Gardens And On Allotments

Cutting, hoeing or light rotovating will kill it. As would grazing with livestock or poultry if hit hard enough.

Fodder Radish Lessons For Gardeners

What has any of this to do with gardens and allotments?


Rather than leave soil empty overwinter, or worse still in my mind, sheeted down, grow a crop of fodder radish or daikon. It will increase organic matter, aid drainage, retain nutrients and do a lot of good. It will work in traditional systems or in No Dig as the plant doesn’t know the difference!

What Can Farmers Teach Gardeners?

So back to the original question. What Can Farmers Teach Gardeners?

In this case a lot.

The methods that regenerative farmers are now using hark back to a past age when this was general good practice. Today, in gardens, we call it one of the aspects of permaculture. Whatever the name it makes good sense to me. And it is easy to grow and costs little if you can find a farmer willing to part with a handful of seed.

Tag: What Can Farmers Teach Gardeners?

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