Friday, February 24, 2012

Can Radishes Save the Bay?

The daikon radish, a staple at sushi bars worldwide, is helping Maryland farmers fight Chesapeake Bay pollution.

Some farmers are experimenting this winter with using the radish as a cover crop, which are planted in the fall to absorb excess fertilizer and prevent it from running off into waterways where it can cause oxygen-robbing algae blooms. Wheat is most often planted, but some farmers are experimenting with the slender, white, deep-rooted radish.

The radish's roots help break up compacted soil and reduce weeds, and the plants break down even if the radishes are not harvested. That means spring planting can be done without plowing under the cover crop and without weed killers, according to the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension service, which provides technical assistance to farmers.
Every couple of weeks, some new idea to reduce nutrients, or otherwise fix a problem with the bay comes out and makes the circuit around the media in the area.  This is the first I've seen of this one, but I'm sure it will be popping up in other publications soon.  Some of these ideas must work, but generally they disappear without a trace.  Cover crops are nothing new, but one that works better might be a small advance.
However, the experiment has not been without hiccups. In western Maryland, rotting radishes are being blamed for odors reported by some near the Antietam National Battlefield.

Farmers say the radishes are convenient because they can be seeded by air in the fall.
  Maybe a smelling field of rotting radishes will be coming to a field near you soon.

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