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Dual Purpose, Permaculture Lite, or Hidden Farm?

November 26, 2011

I’m not all that enamored with dual purpose animals, because usually they end up being single purpose, like a dual purpose milk cow, in lots of cases the cow only gives enough milk for her calf, which really needs all that milk to grow into a healthy bovine, once humans start sneaking milk milking the cow for household use, the calf gets shorted.  Not enough for house, and not enough for the baby.  But dual purpose in the garden is a much easier do, it just requires a little more planning, or letting go of our produce aisle notions of vegetables and how they look and perform.

Golden Eckendorf mangel.

I think Eliot Coleman of Four Season farm calls it the hidden farm, and permaculturists call it stacking, I am especially enamored with Joel Salatin’s take on stacking of animal species.

It may seem like I have unlimited space to garden, but that’s not really true.  To enlarge my gardens I would have to take out pasture, which I am not willing to do.  So I have to make more use of my space.  I do a lot of succession planting, but after a while that gets to be a job in itself.  I have taken a more passive approach by thinking of multi-use varieties, or rather vegetables that serve more than one purpose.  I can grow mangels for the chickens and milk cow, and I can use the tops in the place of chard.  I grow chard and beets too, but if I was hurting for space I could rely on only the mangels for my chard type greens, leaving the roots for winter feed for the stock.  Mangels not your thing?  Consider Lutz aka Winterkeeper, or Early Wonder Tall Top, both beet varieties grow nice roots and luxurious tall tops for greens.

Brilliant celeriac.

Another stacker in my garden is celeriac.  Usually seen in stores with the roots and tops trimmed, you almost wouldn’t recognize this ugly duckling turned kitchen swan in its natural state.  Not as fussy as its succulent cousin celery, it does real well in my dryland/low irrigation garden.

Celeriac has an extensive root system which allows it to forage for water without much more than an initial mudding in at transplant time.  I use the tops for cooking every day, making the top portion almost more valuable to me than the roots.  It’s a good cold weather keeper too, sometimes surviving the winter, at least here on the wet side of the Cascades.

Sometimes the dual purpose comes into play with our farm workers.  While we dined on brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving, the hens got the rest of the plant.  Earlier in the fall we dined on the tops cooked like collards or other hardy greens.  I always top the plants in late summer to encourage the sprouts to even up as they finish growing.  The tops are tender and delicious!

Charmant F1, second harvest.

This cabbage plant above looks a little rough, but it has been in the garden since June.  I harvested the main head for kraut some time ago, and by leaving the plant it has mustered eight more tiny lateral heads in the leaf axils, looking like brussels sprouts on steroids, they are delicious too.  After harvesting these mini cabbages I can pull the plants for hens or leave it for fertilizer for the garden.  Is the yield as high as succession planting?  Probably not, but no labor is required, and these cabbage plants are well established and do well during our dry summers, coming into their second wind during the cooler fall temperatures.

Be flexible, and observe your plants…that bolted broccoli that looks so unkempt in your garden may just be the last meal a honeybee gets before the cold weather sets in, or some good greens for your chickens, or even an unexpected meal for you if you wanted to harvest the seed pods.  Just sayin’.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2011 3:31 am

    As always, I learn something from your posts 🙂
    Where do you get your mangel seed? Do you grind these or chop them for your cow? You also feed your cows carrots and turnip? What else would you recommend? I have had my pigs rototilling a new garden space for spring. I would like to grow more forage for my animals and have the space. But I need something that doesn’t need a lot of tending. Because I’m working full time off the farm I just don’t have the time to spend hoeing and tending garden plants other than a minimal amount on the weekends. I’m thinking I’ll put in a 1/2 acre of field corn for them as well. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
    I hope you and yours are well!


    • November 26, 2011 7:43 pm

      Hi Deb, I got my seed from Shumway and Jung (same company) carries them too. As does Johnny’s. I’ve been chopping them with a knife lately, even though I have a root chopper. Jane is a young and isn’t really needing too much extra, when the grass goes I’ll be adding more roots. My standby roots for the milk cow have been parsnips and carrots, Jane’s mom didn’t really tolerate mangels too well, so they went to the chickens. Jane seems to be a different story…she loves them and they don’t seem to irritate her digestive system. So she gets a mix of whatever is in the harvest bucket for the barn. I hear you on the not spending too much time, the mangels are about the easiest, taking the same care and fertility as beets with just a little more thinning detail. Corn sounds good too!

      Glad to hear from you! Be well 🙂

  2. DEE permalink
    November 26, 2011 8:48 am

    I know you can get mangel seeds at They have three different varieties. Very easy to grow.When we lived in MI you could pick up sugar beets along the road in harvest season that had fallen from the truck. My question is do you cook the beets for your cattle? I often find that the sheep and cows won’t try something new although the goats will be a bit more adventurous!

    • November 26, 2011 7:51 pm

      DEE, yep that is where I got my seed, I find that the Golden Eckendorf is easier on the cows digestive tract. I do feed them raw, and chopped to avoid any choking. The easiest way (I don’t recommend this, don’t ask…) to introduce you stock to new flavors is to leave the garden gate open 😀 You’d be surprised what they eat when they think no one is looking!

  3. November 26, 2011 2:37 pm

    Thanks for the great post on stacking! I’d been thinking about doing something similar with brasicas next year. The mangels and tall top seem like some good ideas, though!

  4. November 26, 2011 4:19 pm

    I understand nothing is left standing in my garden. In my absence the woodrat has made the final harvest down to the roots. We gave up cleaning out his storage area in our shed. Just didn’t have the heart to make it a long, hungry winter for him or her. – Margy

  5. Evey Frerotte permalink
    November 27, 2011 4:52 am

    Do you need to chop mangel roots very small for chickens? Any ideas on other feeds for chickens, layers and meat, that could be grown and harvested by hand?

    • November 27, 2011 7:29 am

      Evey, I don’t chop the roots for the chickens at all, they just peck away at the tops and roots, and don’t leave a trace. I have heard of nailing a mangel to the wall for chickens but that seems like a quaint idea that just adds a step. I just put them on the ground for them. I have a sneaking suspicion that chickens like every other animal should eat with their head down as they do in nature…

      I would have to say kale is the easiest to grow for chickens, it keeps on growing and cold hardy and really provides them with some good greens, and if it survives the winter will regrow in spring and make delicious shoots that chicken keepers and chickens like 🙂

    • TBirdsMomma permalink
      November 27, 2011 7:39 am

      A funny mystery: my chickens refuse to eat carrots. I had given up on giving them raw — they even refuse the peelings from the kitchen. But the other day, after my final carrot harvest, I cooked up a couple pounds of the rejects — split, worm spots, etc — and then mashed them, and then mixed them with leftover rice (the ladies go MENTAL for rice). I was all, “heh heh heh you’ll eat carrots now!” as I brought this orange-and-white delicacy down to them in the morning… When I went back down in the evening, every single grain of rice was gone, and they had left every single little bit of carrot mash still in the pot. Whaaaa!? That took some skill on their part. They are really trying to tell me something.

      • November 27, 2011 9:09 am

        TBM, that’s when I give up…and try to be flexible 😉 I don’t have enough carrots to feed my chickens, they just get spoils here 🙂

      • Karen permalink
        November 28, 2011 10:03 am

        THAT sounds like something my KIDS used to do!

        • January 23, 2013 10:56 pm

          And yet our chickens love the carrots! Good job as they often get them in the peelings we throw out or rather throw their way

  6. November 28, 2011 10:11 am

    Well! I am glad I read this — what are the chances that my husband and I drove past a field this weekend and were totally dumfounded about what was planted in them. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and now low and behold, after reading about magels on here, I am pretty sure that is what was out in that field!

  7. November 28, 2011 10:47 pm

    Wonderful post with real-world examples of stacking!

  8. December 1, 2011 1:23 pm

    It is amazing that the plant parts usually ending up in the compost make great chicken food! Our ladies will eat just about anything, and if they don’t eat it then you can bet that the geese and ducks will, or our dogs. We have a lot of vegetable loving animals here.


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