Crow’s Nest: What’s that smell?

January 4, 2023

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

I might have hoped to start off a new year (this weblog is starting its 18th year) with profound thoughts about nature and experience. But here is where we are:

As many visitors and neighbors have asked, “What is that smell?”

A layer of mist settled over a valley with hills beyond

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Some say it smells like something died, others say it smells like chicken manure spread on the farm fields. One person noted that it smells like sauerkraut; I simply say that it’s an unusual combination of an earthy, yet sharp, odor. It’s highly localized, and somehow I notice it most when driving by in the car (with the windows up!).

The answer is simply that the Daikon radishes, used as a cover crop to enrich the soil of some strips of farm fields here, were killed by the extreme cold last week and now with the warmer weather, they are rotting. This is what they are planted to do here. They raise the amount of organic matter in the soil, since they aren’t harvested but compost in place. The space they occupied creates divots in the soil when they are gone, and that helps trap moisture.

Diakon radishes used as a cover crop at Crow's Nest Preserve.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

As they rot they are a little pungent. And the process is occurring earlier this year than last due to the extreme temperature fluctuations. The temporary smell is a small price to pay for the benefits the radishes provide.