From the Ground Up: Radishes aside, sometimes ‘user error’ isn’t the issue

Several weeks ago, I wrote about my first (failed) attempt at growing radishes. The plants grew way too tall, with an abundance of leaves and with no ball-shaped, radish-y root. My theory was that I’d planted them in soil that was too rich in nitrogen.

Sharing that experience drew a reply from reader Don Knabb, who wrote, “I believe your radishes were planted too late. I have found over and over that when I plant my radishes early in March they do fine and make nice round radishes. If I plant too late, [the plants] get large and don’t form a radish bulb.

“This year I planted some early and they were great. Then I planted more, not at the same spot, but the soil in our boxes is pretty much the same everywhere and I used the same seed, and they grew like your radishes.

“I think that is all there is to it. I’ve seen it happen like this in other years also.”

So, with this advice in hand, next year I’ll try to get my radish seeds into the ground much earlier.

The non-results with the radishes were “user error,” but Knabb related another experience, one that points out that sometimes it’s just not your fault. In his email he went on to say, “I am having trouble getting green beans to sprout this year, very odd. I only get about 30% germination. I bought some new seed and started over, planting my regular Roma seed and some Blue Lake that I just bought to see if the seed is the problem. My guess is that it was not quite warm enough for the beans to sprout before they rotted in the ground.”

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It turned out that in fact the problem was with the seed. In an update, Knabb told me that, “I have the answer to the bean germination problem I mentioned in my email. In the picture below the front half of the bed is planted with seeds from a new packet of Blue Lake beans. The germination is excellent. The back half of the bed, in front of the Napa cabbage, was planted at the same time with Roma seeds from (my usual source). Zero germination. It is really unusual to get bad seed from (this company), but that must be the answer.”

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