the unknown radish
Tags: aesthetic gardening, amending the soil, Beauty, flowering radish, growing spring crops too late, growing vegetables, heavy clay soil, Japanese eggplants, kitchen garden, organic gardening, planting squash seed, prepping the soil for planting, productive vegetables, radishes bolting, South Carolina spring, the beginnings of the Victory Garden, the unknown radish, work in the garden is never done
Let’s take a break from November’s comings and goings and travel back in time, to the very beginning of our Victory Garden.
When F. decided to break ground, it was already the third week in April. Now, he moved very quickly, doing the initial deep digging for each bed in the span of a single afternoon. But he still had classes to teach, research to do, and frankly, no one wants to spend day after day doing the heavy labor equivalent of digging ditches — even out of love. It’s incredibly taxing work, especially in the temperatures and humidity that were already spiraling up, up, up at the end of a South Carolina spring.
Plus, once he’d finished the first layer, the clods of moist russet soil had to be broken down further with the sharp tip of the spade, and then a hoe was used to further loosen the heavy clay soil, while amending it with organic manure*, compost, and garden soil, and finally the bed was shaped and smoothed with the aid of a large metal rake.
Typically, I was the one doing the latter stages of prep work, and it could take me an entire morning to get a small 8′ x 8′ section of the garden ready. (And sometimes “ready” only meant ready to get out the shovel to work in more organic fertilizer, to be honest with you. I quickly learned that gardens are never, ever finished, but for sanity’s sake, one must find convenient little resting places to pause and recognize some measure of accomplishment.)
Meanwhile, I was slightly frustrated because, if I’d known we were to have a real garden, I’d have wanted to dig and prepare it in cooler weather, without ending the day with my hair wet with sweat, and I’d have definitely planted lettuces, spinach, and radishes, and probably potatoes. It was really far too late for that, with the transplant date for tomatoes nearly upon us when the first beds were ready. Any but the most heat-tolerant of lettuces would have wilted on its very first day in the late spring sun, and radishes would never have time to make before bolting.
But on a trip to the local farmer’s market, I found, in a forgotten corner, a six-pack of radishes. The variety was not labeled, and the plants looked terribly weak and cramped in their cells, with fat red radishes poking their crowns above the soil line. On impulse, I carried it with me to the check-out area and timidly asked the woman overseeing the transaction if she thought they would make anything at all this late.
She eyed my arms full of tomato plants and fresh produce (including a huge basket of the most amazing strawberries) and said, “I doubt it, but I’ll give them to you for free.”
So that is how the unknown radishes came to be the first plants put into the newly-prepped soil of the kitchen garden. They made two radishes almost too spicy to eat, a woody thing that would barely yield to the knife, and lots of frothy white blooms on long, swaying stalks that pleased my eyes as I buried zucchini and squash and bean and basil and flower seeds and transplanted the first tomatoes. Not a very productive start — but perhaps auspicious in that I was already finding beauty in the nearly bare garden.
Of course, before those flowers could set seed I removed them to make way for the Japanese eggplants, which gave new meaning to the word productive.
*Note: Only use organic manure, if you plan to use manure at all in your garden. Here’s where I briefly explain why.