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Trials and Observations – Jane’s Garden

November 17, 2012

One of my ongoing projects is growing root crops for the house cow.  The go-along with that project is saving seeds for said roots.  To save seeds I need to conduct trials, and make observations about how the crops perform in the garden, and determine if they are a good fit in the feed room.  Saving seeds is a slow game, especially with biennials.  Two growing seasons from the original planting to the end result and then you have to grow out your own seed the next year to see if you are moving forward or backward.

Roots for Jane

I took advantage of the sun yesterday and dug some roots for Jane.  She is still getting windfall apples for treats but I need to start transitioning her to some roots in her diet before the apples run out, and I was a little curious to see what lies below ground on these crops.  This year I grew three different varieties of parsnip, and two varieties of mangel.  Parsnips do not have a long seed life at all, so I save parsnip seed each year.  However mangel seed will keep years if stored properly, which is good because I also save beet and chard seeds too and these plants all belong to the same family and easily cross with wind pollination.  Mangels for seed are on the 2013 growing plan, following chard in 2012, and beets in 2011.

Parsnip trial 2012

To ensure a good crop in the future, I need a number of roots to plant on to maintain the good qualities of the variety I select.  That helps but isn’t the entire story, sometimes it takes several years for a variety to acclimate or adapt to your own specific growing conditions.  To insure  good results for my vegetable trial I plant the different varieties in the same area in the garden so they are subjected to the same growing conditions.  By doing that I can easily see how the plants germinate, grow and finally perform at harvest.

Guernsey Half-Long

This is the first year for Guernsey Half-long in my garden.  Digging reveals quite a difference in yield from plant to plant.  This leads me to believe that these were grown seed to seed for seed selling purposes.  Seed to seed means the plants are not dug at the end of the first year and selected for the best traits, but left to grow and send up a seed stalk no matter what the root size.  The plants produce seed this way, but especially for the homestead seed supply it’s best to select your seed stock carefully.  Look for uniform roots in the size and shape you want.  Big, small, fat, or slender, you make the choice.

Harris Model

These Harris Model parsnips are from our own seed production and more uniform.


Also from our own seed and the most uniform of the three varieties.

Golden Eckendorf mangel

Parsnips and carrots store the best through the winter, but it’s nice to offer a mixed bag for Jane’s palate.  Mangels aka Sugar Beet  are popular for livestock fodder.  Grown like a garden beet, with medium fertility requirements, they easily fit in a garden setting.

Yum, Yum 😦

One thing I have noticed this year by growing two different mangels that besides size, the gold mangels are preferred by the voles and also by the sheep who have escaped twice and found their way to the garden.  Each time the sheep were free-ranging they ate their fill of the golden mangel tops and roots portions that were above ground.  The voles and sheep have not chosen the red mangels in the same row.

Colossal Long Red mangel

The red mangels grow a little larger, but they must not have the flavor that the yellow mangels do.  Does size really matter?  Maybe, maybe not.  One could reason that the yellow mangels may taste better, but the red ones will yield more, as the homestead  seed saver and food producer you need to decide what is more important to you.  High yield?  Taste?  Livestock preference?

Colossal Long Red mangel

One thing I like about the smaller golden mangels is that they do not have as much root above ground as the larger red mangels.    Mangels are very prone to freezing, and while I normally hill soil over my root crops for winter, the red mangels are just too tall.  It may not be worth it to me to spend the time growing for a higher yield to only have it freeze because I can’t feed it fast enough or protect it from freezing.  Whereas the golden mangels are easier to manage.  Of course, if you have a root cellar large enough to accommodate root crops for a milk cow or other stock then that may make growing the larger red type of mangel.  Like the new to me, Guernsey parsnips, the red mangels are also a new variety this year.  In the same row, with the same care in thinning etc., the size variation ranged from very small roots to the large five pounder on the right.   I have larger Detroit Dark Red beets seeded in late July in my garden compared to these little mangels seeded in late May.  Obviously if I want to grow these I will have to be selective about the roots I select to hold over for seed saving.

For Jane

Chore time 

Farmstead seed saving can be a rewarding experience, many times making your garden successes much greater.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2012 1:18 am

    I’m just getting into seed saving and enjoying the process. My main problem is remembering which seed came from where, with leek, spring onions and onion seeds all looking the same by the time I’ve finished collecting them. I guess I am going to have to trial a few to see what I’ve got :D. I hadn’t realised that the difference in root size was due to the way the seed is grown, I will definitely watch for that next year as I have a go at growing roots for seed again.

    I did have one problem with some beets I grew that I wanted to save for seed, they grew and grew but never once put out a flower shoot. Any ideas?

    • November 17, 2012 6:45 am

      Joanna, it can get crazy with seeds everywhere 🙂 I have a backup plan – my garden journal, to double check myself and keep me on the right track. And I know its not the end of the world either, if a plant grew well enough for me that I saved seeds from it, it will be fine without a label 🙂

      I’m guessing you lifted the beet roots and replanted the next year…because it is the second growing season that they put out the seed stalk and bloom.

      Just a note to other readers too, if you have a biennnial root that bolts the first growing season, do not save the seeds from that plant as that is an undesirable trait. Just enjoy the smell of the flowers, but don’t save the seeds.

  2. November 17, 2012 1:18 am

    What does jane eat normally, and what do you switch to in the winter?

    I understand she grazes; do you add grain or alfalfa or whatever to supplement the forage?

    Do the root vegetables mess up her rumen? We hear a lot about cows on feedlots being fed grains, and how that messes up their gut — what happens with the roots?

    I’m asking because I have ready access to thousands of pounds of roots; mostly potatoes and carrots, but really any vegetable you can think of, and I’ve got my dairy cow on a grass diet now. Will I mess her up if I give her veges?

    • November 17, 2012 9:41 am

      Bruce, Jane is pastured full time, and is now eating about 2/3 of a bale of our grass hay a day plus a flake of eastern orchard grass in addition to whatever she can glean from the pasture. At milking time she gets 2 pounds of dry COB with about a cup of molasses that I add. The eastern hay, grain and roots are all in the supplementation department. The bulk of her feed is our hay or pasture depending on the season. Long stemmed forage is the key to rumen health.

      The roots and the grain can mess up the rumen, or any change of feed can for that matter. It takes 5 days for the rumen flora to adjust to a new feed, so if possible it’s best not to be changing their diet too much. Too much grain can make the rumen more acidotic and can lead to many health problems, not to mention the possible risk of increased bad e coli bacteria. A good balance of protein and energy is what your looking for, too much the either way can spell trouble. An all protein diet, alfalfa for instance, can almost be as bad as an all grain diet.

      I would offer her any roots in small amounts, we foundered some beef cattle on free-choice cull carrots years ago. I’m not sure of potatoes if they need to be cooked or not to make the starch more available. All the brassica family too is relished by cows, but keep in mind when your milking, the taste of whatever you feed may taint the milk.

      • November 17, 2012 1:39 pm

        Thanks for the reply.
        What sort of portion of roots do you feed her? Is that wheelbarrow a daily portion of for her? Do you ramp up to the final portion, or is it fairly abrupt?

        • November 17, 2012 1:45 pm

          Bruce, she’s getting about 5 pounds of misc roots, greens and apples per day, any more than that and the manure goes south, especially with the mangels, they need to cure a bit before they eat too much at one time. That wheelbarrow will last about a week. At 5 pounds you could just give that to them without any fuss, I think. Your cow will be bigger so she might need/tolerate more than Jane. The manure patties should look like pumpkin pie, a little solid, and well shaped.

  3. November 17, 2012 4:36 am

    I’m just starting to learn seed saving. I’ve heard of growing mangels for livestock but I’s still struggling to grow enough for our family. Do you feed your livestock pumpkins? I’ve heard many of the animals love them.

    • November 17, 2012 10:13 am

      OLA, that’s my rule of thumb, if I can grow enough ______ for the humans, then I proceed to growing that same thing for animals. Pumpkins take up too much space and don’t keep very well so I don’t grow any for the stock, I do grow seed pumpkins and the cows get the pumpkin when I’m done extracting the seeds. They love them, I just don’t have the space or inclination to grow enough for them 😦

      • November 17, 2012 10:53 am

        We have a south-facing hill that can’t be used for much and I’m going to try planting some pumpkins on it this year.

  4. Bee permalink
    November 17, 2012 6:43 am

    I envy you your success with biennials. I do fine with the annual seed-saving of most things, but I’m still struggling with the biennial ones. I suspect it’s related to my innate lack of patience…Do you replant the roots after you harvest to let them go on and develop seeds or are these plants that have already developed seeds and now you’re pulling them?

    • November 17, 2012 10:17 am

      Bee, I harvest the roots I want for seed saving and hold them over for replanting in the spring, the second growing season they bolt and grow the seeds. The root is stored energy for feeding the seed stalk, we just intervene when we eat the roots of biennials. 😉 By the time the plant has made seeds there is not much left of the original, think of seed potatoes.

      It takes a fair amount of space to save seeds from biennials, depending on the vegetable you may need 25 good roots and they get about 6 feet plus tall, and then there is the conundrum of not irrigating…

  5. November 17, 2012 8:22 am

    Will post comments for seed. Especially the Colossal long red mangel. Found them at several online vendors I haven’t tried previously and will be placing an order for next spring…unless you hook me up. lol

  6. November 17, 2012 11:31 am

    I’m new to your blog and have been loving it… learning so much already, like what mangels & turgas are and which varieties voles & sheep prefer, the time involved in seed stock evaluation… and what “HFS” means, which I had to look up. Awesome!

  7. November 17, 2012 1:43 pm

    I don’t think I would choose either the gold or the red Mangels. I would read up on Mangel beer, and keep both. This year both seemed to have done well; will that be true every year? Since they have slightly different growing habits, I would rather have both, hoping that both don’t disappoint on the same year.

    Do vole, or the wire skeleton gopher, traps work for you?

    • November 17, 2012 2:18 pm

      Brad, I probably will grow both just for bet hedging, we do have the right climate for easy beet growing, and beet seed production so not really any worries there.

      A friend of ours is having some success trapping voles, I think our posse of cats does the most good, they hunt in the garden rows all the time.

  8. November 17, 2012 9:05 pm

    Thanks for this post, great timing! I planted a few root crops this year, at your suggestion, to see first what I could grow for ourselves. They did well, but now I see how much space I would need to grow enough for Bella, the cow garden will have to wait! I did leave some in the ground to go to seed, I didn’t realise I could dig them up and replant them. That makes so much more sense, as otherwise I just leave whichever plant is at the end of a row, or out of the way, and not necessarily the best plant at all. Now my only problem is that being sub-tropical, I grew the roots from autumn and harvested through winter (frosty, but no snow) and into spring. I will have to try keeping the roots in the fridge over summer (hot/humid), I guess that’s one reason to just leave them in the ground. When I see your garden I always think that mine is too small, but it seemed so big at first! Any suggestions for my climate?

    • November 18, 2012 2:16 pm

      Liz, if they have just started to re-sprout then you’re good to go, I would maybe lift them with soil to see if the roots are the size you want and then plant in another row together so they can share pollen. They have already went through their dormant stage and are ready to put on seed now. You want warm weather for seed growing.

      My garden looks too big (weeding time)to me sometimes and too small (seeding time) sometimes. But I don’t really want to expand into pasture to make it bigger so I’m tapped out for space.

  9. November 18, 2012 9:40 am

    What a lucky cow Jane is to have a mama who grows a garden just for her! That’s a beautiful wheelbarrow of roots!

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