What should you do with that patch of radishes (or turnips, carrots, lettuce etc…) when they start to flower? In our garden we practice integrated pest management (a fancy phrase for a set of strategies designed to raise healthy plants and minimize pests and disease using natural cycles, proper site and plant selection, and limited chemical input). One key strategy of IPM is to have a variety of plants flowering throughout the growing season. Why is this?
Children are attracted to flowers. They smell them, grab them, eat them, and are driven into physical expressions of pure joy near them. Insects have similar reactions. Butterflies flutter through the garden looking for choice specimens and bees industriously seek pollen and nectar, dancing all the way. Flowers drive cycles of insect life, with different insects favoring certain plants. The more variety that we have in our plants, the greater diversity we see in insect populations. This increase in diversity help to control populations of “pest” species while maximizing the productivity and beauty of our space. Thinking about the full life cycle of your vegetable plants might seem daunting, but have no fear!
Back to those radishes. The next time that you have a patch of something starting to bolt, leave a few and let them flower (even let them go to seed–what’s so bad about having some volunteer vegetables coming up in a few months?). You can then plant around those flowering vegetables as though nothing is amiss. The presence of the taller plants will actually help seeds to germinate (the flowering plants will create a microclimate that is damper and has a little shade), and most transplants will benefit from a bit of shading until they get established. By the time that your new seedlings need the space, the larger plant will, most likely be finished up.
Here is an example from the ESY:
Flowering radishes in the back with lettuce, calendula, onions, and kale throughout. We will continue to plant in this bed as holes open up.
Soon the season of flowers and summer vegetables will be upon us and the food and habitat that we provide our insect friends now will result in a more resilient, productive, and beautiful garden!