Trials and Observations – Jane’s Garden
ne 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Farmstead seed saving can be a rewarding experience, many times making your garden successes much greater.