If you have never been to Central Texas, it might be hard to understand what “bad soil” means. Lots and lots of limestone. Where there isn’t limestone, we get a mix locally known as “caliche” (Spanish for “soil that sucks”) It is limestone mixed with harder rocks, some sand and some clay. That is what, in Central Texas, passes for soil. Know what they use for a shovel around here? A Jackhammer. Planting things in this part of the world would be a lot easier if the government wasn’t so picky about letting people have access to explosives.
Now, however, I have a new tool for getting through the limestone and caliche (caliche is marginally better than limestone. Kinda like the difference between being hit by a bus and being hit by a car). Even better, it requires almost ZERO labor, and I get to eat it when it is done doing the work of digging through the stone.
Introducing the Diakon Radish, Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus.
Yup, a radish. But what a radish. First, it has all the qualities of any other radish. It doesn’t require a lot of nutrient or pretty soil to do well. It doesn’t seem to need a lot of water either. It’s milder than your average radish, it is up to 14 inches long (I’ve actually had larger), and a 100 gram serving has only 15 calories, but 30 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.
So, what’s the big deal? Another veggie.
The big deal is this is an organic drill. Seriously! I planted these in a 5 inch deep raised bed, placed over the caliche soil. I pulled out radishes more than 14 inches long. That means it drilled an additional 9 inches into the soil for me. Well, lets say 5 to 6 inches into the soil. As you can see, as hard as it worked to drill down into the soil, it reached a point where the rock was just too hard to penetrate. So, when it hit the bottom, it started pushing it up out of the ground, as you can see in the picture. What’s also obvious is the huge hole it left in the ground. For free, with no labor on my part.
The caliche and limestone are miserable to have to dig through myself, but this wonderful, edible tool did a great job of doing it for me. Next planting, the diakon will have softer soil to grow in, and will penetrate it even deeper.
Now, I want to focus on preserving water, since we’re still in a drought here in this part (well, most of) Texas. Caliche doesn’t hold water, it sheets it off like a just-waxed car. I have a plant that requires little help in terms of water or nutrient, that breaks up bad soil to a good depth, making it hold water. Caliche is also very low in organic matter. So while I can eat them ( my wife has been having fun finding all kinds of delicious recipes for diakon), I can also leave them in the ground to rot. Composting them in place adds that organic matter, which improves the soil, which allows it to hold more water, which improves the soil, which …. well, you get the idea.
And I can’t emphasize it enough….the labor cost of this plant was to drop some seeds in a 1/2″ deep trench, cover it with soil, and 45 days later, I have a ready to eat tasty radish, or I just leave it there and let it dig a great hole dug into the ground.