Radishes and Buckwheat


I planted some radishes ‘way early’ this year. About 50 days ago. They were “watermelon radishes” from an old seed packet. I needed to either pitch the packet or see if they were still any good. I chose to plant them and a very large percentage grew.


A very strange radish with a root that is red on the inside and white on the outside.

The weather then was alternating warm and cold with heavy cold rains.

The unexpected result? My radishes have still not made an edible bulb (though they have had enough time and enough ‘degree days’). Instead, they are bolting directly to seed.

What does this mean? It means that in their short lives they decided they had grown in the fall, then overwintered, and now it was “spring” and time to go to seed in the ‘second year’. Basically, they have said that in their expert opinion, March was “winter in California”. I’d tend to agree.

As I wanted to do ‘seed saving’ from this batch, this is a feature to me. I get to collect seeds a year early. For biannuals I will sometimes dig the roots, put them in the fridge for 2 weeks, then plant them out, so simulate that winter period. The plants can detect winter fairly well, but they don’t “tell time” in the refrigerator all that well. (All their usual cues are gone. Temperature cycles, light cycling, water cycles. After a couple of weeks they just set the “winter flag” and wait for spring.)

The net of all this is that it’s not a normal year. It’s a cold dark year.

As I type this, the day is cool and overcast. I was in the garden earlier and got “sprinkled on”. The record high for this date is 83 F in 1914 while the record low is 44 F in 1896. Must have been some powerful “global warming” between 1896 and 1914. All those horses and “horse do” being done… ;-) “Normal” is 69 F and we are presently at 63 F at about 3 PM (the hottest part of the day). So as days go, today is “a bit cooler than ‘normal’ but not spectacularly so”. Still, this isn’t the Global Warming I was promised. It was supposed to be pushing those 80 F ranges, not dragging along at “barely tomato pollination” temps at the hottest part of the day. Nights will be too cold to pollinate tomatoes reliably. I deliberately held off planting any, based on expecting just these conditions. Did not expect it to be so cold that the radishes would bolt, though. (The good news is that my lettuce, which ALWAYS bolts in the heat, is not bolting At All. I’ve got nice “saladings”.)


Just an “honorable mention” for the virtues of Buckwheat. It has been used for generations as a “catch crop”. When the main crop of wheat or barley doesn’t germinate, or gets drowned, and you just don’t have enough time to start a whole new crop, folks would plant Buckwheat as an emergency food. To “catch” what they could of a productive season.

I had an old packet of buckwheat seeds. Label says “Darwin’s Garden 8/2008. Grown under corn and runner beans from old commercial buckwheat.” Yeah, 3 years is not THAT old for seeds kept in the fridge. But still, these had not been frozen and were a few years into it. Not knowing their normal “shelf life” (that can run from 1 year for onions to ‘several’ for large seeds like beans and corn) and it being a small seed, I figured I ought to give them a trial.

I put some in a “6 pack” just to test germination. Sometimes the “Darwin’s Garden ™” selections don’t thrive as well as the ones grown with an easy life… That was all of about 4 or 5 days ago. I’ve already got sprouts. (One popped up in about 2 days!) So a bit later I’ll be finding a “nice spot” for these guys to grow.

I alternate a stress interval with an “easy growout” interval where I select for desirable traits. Originally I just hit seeds with stress. The end result after a decade was a tomato that would grow anywhere and make fruit. The problem was that it was sparsely leaved, grew long and spindly with stiff hairs, and made only a few fruits that were about 2 cm in diameter and undistinguished in flavor. But it was durable ;-) I think it needs some “breeding out” into a more juicy flavorful line now 8-0

At any rate, I’m once again impressed with the virtues of Buckwheat. I suspect more of us will be rediscovering buckwheat pancakes and soba noodles if the cold, wet, dark trend continues. I also found some “cream of buckwheat” breakfast cereal at Whole Foods. Has a decent flavor (mild) and a nice metabolic uplift from a modest serving size. If you are planning for “seeds to save for a rainy day” (literally!) make sure you have some Buckwheat in the jar. I got mine from the “bulk buckwheat” section of Whole Foods several years back. (About a decade ago).

Radishes too. They grow fast. In a “famine foods” situation you can eat the leaves and seeds. Radish sprouts are nice too… so if they ‘bolt’ it’s still not a loss. Oh, and ‘purple pod green beans’. The leaves are eaten in Africa as a “pot herb”. I’ve tried it. Not bad, but spinach has nothing to fear… The purple pod types sprout even in cool soils and can be up and growing in shorter season areas. So everything from pruning a few leaves, to the green bean, to using the extra for cooking dry beans.

Lentils are a very “fast crop” and can be ‘up and done’ in weeks. Yeah, lentils with buckwheat and radishes may not sound all that “nummy” but if you are hungry, having it all in 1 month instead of 2 or 3 is very important. Add in the “8-Ball” or Ronde du Nice squash that is pumping fruit at 40 days, and you can have “food from the garden” in a very short season indeed.


The crop plant, common buckwheat, is Fagopyrum esculentum. Tartary buckwheat (F. tataricum Gaertn.) or “bitter buckwheat” is also used as a crop, but it is much less common. Despite the common name and the grain-like use of the crop, buckwheat is not a cereal or grass. The grain is called a pseudocereal to emphasize that the plant is not related to wheat.

Buckwheat plants grow quickly, beginning to produce seed in about 6 weeks and ripening at 10 to 11 weeks. They grow 30 to 50 inches (75 to 125 cm) tall.

This genus has five-petaled flowers arranged in a compound raceme that produces laterally flowered cymose clusters.

Within Fagopyrum, the cultivated species are in the cymosum group, with F. cymosum L. (perennial buckwheat), F. giganteum and F. homotropicum.


Eriogonum is a common chaparral plant throughout western North America, especially California, where it is the largest genus of dicots and at least 70 species have been cataloged. The flowers have six petals and occur in cymes.


The agricultural weed known as ‘wild buckwheat’ (Fallopia convolvulus) is in the same family, but not closely related to the crop species.
Buckwheat is a short season crop that does well on low-fertility or acidic soils, but the soil must be well drained. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, will reduce yields. In hot climates, it can only be grown by sowing late in the season, so that it will bloom in cooler weather. The presence of pollinators greatly increases the yield. The nectar from buckwheat flower makes a dark colored honey. Buckwheat is sometimes used as a green manure, as a plant for erosion control, or as wildlife cover and feed.

Got to find me some of those wild California buckwheats… I’d figure them as ideally adapted to the area ;-)

Also you simply must love that description as a ‘cold crisis’ food plant. 10 weeks, or 70 days, to grain. Month and a half you have ‘green grain’ for really famine like conditions. Likes crappy soil and cool times. Pollinators will mean more yield, but the implication is that they are not strictly needed (so a ‘bee crisis” would be a pain, but not a catastrophe).

That “perennial buckwheat” sounds interesting too. Always have a ‘soft spot’ for something I can plant once then just harvest when the time rolls around…

They are kind of pretty, too, unlike real wheat. Flowers are always nice in the garden (and usually edible if the species itself is edible).

Fagopyrum Esculentum Edible Buckwheat flowers

Fagopyrum Esculentum Edible Buckwheat flowers

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Even the seed pods have a pleasing look to them.

Fagopyrum Esculentum Edible Buckwheat seeds

Fagopyrum Esculentum Edible Buckwheat seeds

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Heck, you can even make beer with it. “Just because it is a disaster, that does not mean we must suffer, no? -E.M.Smith”

Buckwheat and beer

In recent years, buckwheat has been used as a substitute for other grains in gluten free beer. Although it is not a cereal, buckwheat can be used in the same way as barley to produce a malt that can form the basis of a mash that will brew a beer without gliadin or hordein (together gluten) and therefore can be suitable for coeliacs or others sensitive to certain glycoproteins.

So I think it would be a good time to start rediscovering the joys of “buckwheat cakes” …

As a footnote:

This site has an interesting list of all the food crops used as “famine foods”. Things folks might not like eating during good times, but that ARE known to be edible if you really need something.


You can spend hours there discovering things like the fact that bean leaves are edible as a “pot herb” or that Chrysanthemums can make a nice addition to a salad…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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6 Responses to Radishes and Buckwheat

  1. R. Shearer says:

    Ah shoot, your post reminded me that the 90+ year old Rocky Mountain Seed Company had just liquidated all of its merchandise; seeds, bins, etc. I missed it. Sad really.

    Anyway, here in Colorado I find that seeds remain viable for many years, probably due to the low humidity. In any case, I have to fight the urge to put out tomatoes too early. There’s nothing like a surprise May snowfall to kill otherwise healthy seedings.

    Normally by early April, feral asparagus can be seen around irrigation ditches and the side of the road. I haven’t seen any yet. The flowering trees are just reaching full bloom, however, and what a beautiful sight. Cheers.

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    @R. Shearer:

    Seeds life is extended with the ideal (non-zero) humidity (IIRC it’s about 5% to 10%) and cold (down to liquid nitrogen levels).

    It is shortened by high temps, high humidity, or number of “cycles” from cold to warm.

    (This does not include recalcitrant seeds like apple where freezing kills them and they don’t keep long at all. Dessication kills them too. Mostly fruit trees.)

    Monsanto and friends are trying to monopolize ownership of genetics. (All thanks to a gene patent law…). Expect to see all traditional seedsmen driven out of business or bought and closed. Very sad.

    The EU Law on seed saving is, IMHO, criminal.

    There are folks fighting this trend, but it’s not easy.


    Buy a freezer. Get some jars. Put seeds away for future generations while you can.


    Folks prattle on about saving some variety of wild plant to no end, but do not mourn at all when 1000 lifetimes of careful genetic selection is alowed to die each year.

    FWIW, buckwheat has some medicinal values as well (from the wiki):

    Medicinal uses

    Buckwheat contains a glucoside named rutin, a medicinal chemical that strengthens capillary walls, reducing hemorrhaging in people with high blood pressure and increasing microcirculation in people with chronic venous insufficiency. Dried buckwheat leaves for tea were manufactured in Europe under the brand name “Fagorutin.”

    Buckwheat contains D-chiro-inositol, a component of the secondary messenger pathway for insulin signal transduction found to be deficient in Type II diabetes and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It is being studied for use in treating Type II diabetes. Research on D-chiro-inositol and PCOS has shown promising results.

    A buckwheat protein has been found to bind cholesterol tightly. It is being studied for reducing plasma cholesterol in people with hyperlipidemia.

  3. dearieme says:

    “Famine food” indeed: one summer we experimented with eating snails from the garden. They’re OK as long as you have the necessary garlic, parsley and butter. Now if you can suggest a butter-substitute for us….?

    (We need a more practical butter-substitute than the one we read about when we lived in Queensland, which ran along the lines of “If you find butter expensive in these hard times, try rubbing your bread with avacado…”.)

  4. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, I don’t think it will ‘cut costs’ any, but I like to cook in a mix of 1/2 butter 1/2 olive oil.

    One could likely make a 50 / 50 mix and chill it. As olive oil solidifies in the fridge, the result ought to be a ‘soft spread’.

    I’d use the cheap olive oil, not the ‘extra virgin’ as you wan’t less olive flavor, not more.

    It would likly work with other high melting point oils as well. Maybe I’ll try some and see….

    FWIW, I also rather like bread just dipped in Olive Oil (though again, I actually like the more plain cheaper grades for this).

    It also depends a bit on “for what purpose”. If it is in cooking you can often make substitutions. Sometimes an oil, sometimes a fruit.


    Fruit Purees
    Fruit purees can also work as butter substitute for certain recipes. Homemade apple sauce can work as a butter substitute in baking, specially in case of sweet recipes, as it will add sweetness to the recipe, so you can easily cut down the amount of sugar. Purees of other fruits like pineapple, banana, etc. can be used. ½ a cup of fruit puree is a sufficient substitute for one cup of butter.

    So for baking you can go one way with some flavor changes, for saute and other cooking a 50/50 mix with oil cuts the consumption in half (and I like the flavor as well or better) and on bread, well, that depends on how Italian you wish to feel ;-)

    (Though I have to say that right now Avocado and really good Olive Oil cost more than butter from Walmart…)

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, a “quick turn in the kitchen” and I’ve got a 4 ounce batch of each of two “butter extenders” cooling in the freezer.

    One is 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 butter. Extra Virgin as that is what is in the dispenser on the stove. In the liquid state it’s “not bad” with a bit of an olive overtone, but I’d be happy with it in cooking and on bread.

    The other is 1/2 Grape Seed oil and 1/2 butter (as that is what is in the OTHER dispenser on the stove…). Much more neutral taste. Nice, very nice.

    It will take about 5 to 10 minutes for them to “set up” and then I’ll move them to the fridge and try it as a solid spread on bread.


    VERY carefully heat the oil on the stove. I just dumped 4 Tbs into the pot, and hit the warm button, while chopping 4 Tbs of butter into chunks the size of a bean. Add the butter and stir slowly. When the butter starts to melt, kill the heat. You do NOT want to cook the milk solids in the butter and you do NOT want to drive the water out. Just barely melt it enough to mix. When 80% or more of the butter is melted, I set if to the side a while. If needed: apply a bit more stove time. But for me “residual heat’ melted it all together.

    Pour into 4 oz canning jar (or cup). Refrigerate until solid.

    I suspect that adding just a touch of salt (to make up for the fact that the butter is salted but the oil is not, so the salt is cut in half) would help the flavor. I think it doesn’t really need the salt, but to “match butter” and for various recipes it would be needed. I’ll look that up in Joy Of Cooking when I post the final taste test results in an hour or so.

    FWIW, lard was once used as a “spread”, so as odd as it might sound, one could substitute salted lard in many recipies.

    I have Palm Oil Vegetable Shortening and Canola oil in inventory. If the first test is promising, I’ll try them as variations (in a day or two).

    So it’s not a complete butter replacement, but a “cut by 1/2” isn’t bad…


    OK, both of those are pretty darned good on bread. The olive flavor is muted when cooled.

    Per JOC, one adds 2 tsp or 10 ml of salt to a lb of sweet butter (or up to 3 tsp / 15 ml if desired). That works out to 1/2 tsp / quarter or a shortage of 1/4 tsp salt in each of my 1/4 lb “sticks”. Easy to remember that… Metric folks will need to figure out how to measure 10/8 ml of salt… 1.25 ml? Really?

    At any rate, it’s a bit soft even when cold (though may harden a bit more over time). I’d likely add a small amount of Palm Oil Vegetable Shortening to harden it for regular use. Maybe 3 Tbs Olive or Grape oil, 1 Tbs Palm shortening, 4 Tbs butter and 1/4 tsp salt. Gently mix / melt together and cool.

    I think I’ll call it “Smitharine”… so folks can say they “Smitharined” something ;-)

  6. Joanie in Carlsbad says:

    We collect some “wild California buckwheat” when collecting desert junipers for bonsai. It grows at an elevation well above sea level ( a couple of thousand feet, I think) in the high deserts. It has a defoliating bark, and tend to grow twisted in interesting ways. Once you learn how to spot it, it is all over the place down here in So. Calif (San Diego County)

    Because of its interesting trunk, we do try to keep it as a bonsai, but eventually it dies. Probably because it doesn’t like being in a pot… :) My employer has one that has a trunk diameter of perhaps 6 or 7 inches. It must be quite old. He will be displaying it at the next bonsai show.

    We trim off the flowers before they can go to seed, as we understand that they sap the strength of the plant. Kept in this way, the buckwheat remains green and hardy all year.

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