Valley Bounty: Radishes

When Derrick Mason planted his cucumbers and squash three weeks ago, he planted a set of radishes alongside them. Mason, one of three brothers who own and operate the communally managed Moss Hill Farm in Russell, sees radishes as an essential tool in the everlasting struggle to keep crops clear of predatory insects. “The theory is that the radishes help protect those types of plants against the beetles that love to chew them up when they’re young,” Mason told me during a recent conversation.

Cucumber beetles are tiny yellow insects that love to feed on crops from the cucurbit plant family, including cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and gourds. These pests are easily identified by the black stripes or spots that cover their thorax. The adult beetles spend the winter tucked away at the edges of farm fields, under the cover of leaves and other debris. As the weather warms throughout June, the beetles emerge. Cucumber beetles are attracted to a unique chemical emitted by plants from the cucurbit family and quickly swarm to the fresh plantings of cucumbers and squash that farmers are putting in across the Valley this time of year. Farmers like Mason hope that intercropping a mixture of cucumber beetle repellent crops, such as radishes, in with their cucurbits will reduce the damage to vulnerable transplants.

Another pest management technique is to strategically plant a small number of plant breeds that are highly attractive to cucumber beetles slightly away from the main cucurbit beds. These ‘trap crops’ lure the beetles away from the cash crops, where they can be more easily controlled using vacuuming or insecticides. Or, as is the case on a small farm like Moss Hill, farmers can do their best to crush the beetles by hand as they work their way through other chores.

On Moss Hill Farm, radishes are more than just a tool to combat pest invasions. Mason enjoys pickling sliced radishes to be savored as a snack throughout the year. Even better, he says, is enjoying radishes fresh. “We’ll eat them raw right out of the garden or we’ll take them into a kitchen and slice them up to be mixed in with a salad or stir-fry. They’re great raw and crisp almost any way you want to eat them!”

Noah Baustin is the Communications Coordinator at CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)