SCHOHARIE — Thank goodness it was just rotting radishes.
That was the sentiment expressed by village officials and residents when they discovered a gas-like odor permeating the village was really just radishes.
Village and county officials were able to trace the foul smell to a 13-acre field filled with rotting radishes that ran along Fair Street in the village. It brought a sense of relief to the village and its residents.
“I am pretty satisfied we know the answer now,” Grand Street resident Ben Griffin said. “Once we figured out what it was, everything was fine. It was decided it wasn’t propane, so it’s no longer dangerous. And we [village residents] really don’t mind anymore.”
Devan Smida, a lieutenant at the Schoharie Fire Department, said they were receiving calls about the odor for a month and a half. He said firefighters spent a lot of time out in the village with gas meters trying to detect a leak.
Schoharie County Emergency Management Coordinator Colleen Flynn said the fire department did at one point locate a propane gas leak at The Birches, a yet-to-be-opened 72-unit senior housing development. After it was fixed, they were perplexed as to why the odor was still there.
“Basically, the only way the fire department could figure out what the issue was, was to go around with gas meters and see if they could pick up anything,” Flynn said.
Griffin’s property is just around the corner from the field of radishes. One evening, he and his neighbor, Paul Conroy, were texting back and forth about the smell.
Griffin said he planned to go to Village Hall to investigate. Conroy, who went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for chemistry and worked in research and development at GE, volunteered to go with him.
Conroy said he had been noticing the smell since November, just before Thanksgiving, and that it had a sulfur-like quality. The odor would come and go as the weather fluctuated between warm and cold.
Conway said they were talking with other neighbors and village officials, including Village Clerk Leslie Price, about whether any of the nearby farmers had changed the crops they were growing.
Price said she called different farmers and eventually found one who did add a new crop.
Holloway Brothers Farms Inc., which has an address in Amsterdam, planted the radishes in a 13-acre parcel it leases along Fair Street, according to farm business partner Brian Holloway.
Holloway said the property is used to grow corn, hay and soy beans. Holloway said they used "tillage radishes" this year as cover crop, which helps to enrich the soil and make it more fertile.
Tillage radishes are unlike table radishes; they are white and have a carrot-like shape, according to Holloway.
The downside to using the tillage radish, though, is that when they die and begin to decompose, they give off an odor similar to mercaptan, a chemical additive put in propane and natural gas to make those otherwise odorless gasses more detectable, for safety reasons.
Holloway said they previously used rye as a cover crop but wanted to use the tillage radishes because it would bring them a better result. However, he said they were unaware the smell would be so bad when the radishes began to die.
“If we had known it would have been this bad, we would not have grown them,” Holloway said.
Residents were relieved there was no propane leak. Conroy even reached out to the Cornell Cooperative Extension branch in Cobleskill, where a representative said they were working to find a potential alternative for Holloway Brothers Farms to get a similar result with their crops without having to use radishes.
Holloway said after this experience, they don’t plan to use the plant as a cover crop next year.
“I think we basically learned it’s enough of a nuisance that we will refrain from growing them again,” Holloway said.