Skip to content

Farmstead Gardening

February 6, 2013

You know it’s bad when you garden for a cow.  Certifiable if you save seeds for cow food.  It’s still winter but the parsnips in the garden are just starting to show signs of life, and the threat of any kind of deep freeze hurting the mangel seed stock is nil.  In fact I think the roots I have carefully selected for seed stock will fare better in the garden where they can begin the process of utilizing that succulent root for seed feed, than they will languishing in storage.  Time to plant.

Harris Model parsnip

Harris Model parsnip

Gardening on farmstead time is more of a long-term proposition.  The parsnips  I planted last spring, are feeding us this winter and will, fingers crossed, yield seeds this summer for next year.  Next year, the gardeners lament; some of my crop plans span 3 years, a perpetual garden of eatin’ if you will.

Roots for Jane

Roots for Jane


In my garden plan I usually earmark one single row for seed saving of biennials for the year.   I plant in long straight rows for ease of working my soil, planting, weeding/cultivating, and harvesting.  Following in that vein, I want my seed stock in one row so it won’t be in my way when I am initially preparing the garden for planting this spring.  I also don’t want it in my way should I decide to irrigate.  I dryland garden for the most part, but when we get those 100°F weeks in August I want my options open for possible irrigating, and I don’t want to get my seeds wet.  So if you’re planning on some seed crops, keep irrigation plans in mind.  I outlined our thoughts on seed saving for our garden here.

I’m selecting seed stock that meets my criteria.  I’m growing parsnips mostly for Jane, so a long and slender type is not what I am selecting for.  I want more bang for my buck, parsnips are wicked hard to dig, that is why they fell from favor for a crops for cattle back in the day.  Here is an old post detailing that a little more.  I am selecting for large parsnips.  It’s just as much work to grow a little one as a big one, and if they don’t have to struggle to grow, they are tender and not pithy at all.  When I made this cake last winter, I got a chuckle out of the 1 ¾ cup of grated parsnip (about 4 medium roots) since it was about half of one of our garden parsnips.

By August this newly replanted root will yield seeds.

Turga parsnip - 2012

Turga parsnip – 2012

Golden Eckendorf mangel

Golden Eckendorf mangel

My chickens have been making better use of my mangels this year.  I am not liking what they do to Jane’s digestive system… .  But I have some really nice roots that are well acclimated to my growing conditions so while I don’t need that many for my hens, I am certainly going to grow these on for seed.  Beets are wind-pollinated so I usually do a seed saving rotation of beets, chard and mangels since they freely cross.  This year is the year of the mangel.

To plant my beet stecklings and parsnip roots I just raked aside the mulch on the designated seed row and dug a deep trench, planted on one foot centers.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Now all we have to do is wait.  Come on Spring!


9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2013 12:20 am

    I have it bad then. I am planning our planting for our chickens and alpacas for next year – providing we can get the alpacas to eat other things, it will be an experiment.

    It has warmed up here, it is hovering around freezing at the moment, not nice! Give me proper winter or spring, not this halfway house. 😦

    • February 6, 2013 6:27 am

      J, I know – last year we got a huge amount of snow in early March after limping along all winter with dribs and drabs. I’m waiting on lots of things despite a 50F day here or there. Too early for me to do much gardening except tasks like this.

    • February 15, 2013 12:16 pm

      Here in Calgary, it’s hovering around 0 all the time and it feels like Spring has come, but as any Calgarian could tell, we’re nowhere close. I wish! Sooner or later a cold snap will come down on us… Planting can’t really begin until April at the earliest up here. Late March if you’re feeling ballsy, but that’s almost never a good idea.

  2. Tara permalink
    February 6, 2013 7:57 am

    You are doing what I want to be doing. We recently purchased a farm. We are both strongly committed to leaving this land better than we found it and to truly being sustainable.

    To that end, we are raising solely grass fed beef animals (Highlands). We also have a bred Jersey heifer, some Large Black/Berkshire pigs and laying hens. We’re looking at bringing meat rabbits on board as a protein source for humans and animals alike.

    I am unhappy with buying grain for a multitude of reasons. I have been asking all of the old farmers around here about using mangels and roots in a feeding program for our animals, but they just click their tongues and smile at me like I’m nuts (well, even more nuts than they already think because we let our cattle on pasture instead of in a confinement barn). My open minded farming friends have all told me that the time and energy needed is astronomical in feeding root vegetables (including the “chipping” of the vegetables??).

    Please tell me if there are books I can read on this subject. I’ve been taking out old farming books and reading things online, but most of it is just an account of what they were doing, not the HOW to do it. I need the nuts and bolts of it all.

    We live in Canada. We have a foot of snow on the ground right now. I thought that might be useful information. 🙂

    • February 6, 2013 4:09 pm

      Tara, so glad you have snow and I don’t!

      I like your plans 🙂 I do have to agree though that growing vegetable crops to replace grain is a headache. It can be done, but I’m only growing roots for my dairy cow, and extra greens for our small laying flock. I’m only saying it’s a headache because root crops are basically a garden crop and require a lot of attention to soil conditions. Basically you are vegetable gardening for a 1000 pound animal. On a larger scale if you have crop land on your farm and it has a good seed bed, and you have the equipment to keep it cultivated, I would say go for it. My general advice to folks wanting to grow roots for their milk cow, is to grow enough root vegetables to take your family through one winter and see if that is a doable thing for you to take on. We only grow pasture and hay for our beef animals, and add roots to the milk cows diet. The roots do need chopping though to avoid choking, I use a root chopper or for small amounts I use a knife. One thing that makes it easier is my climate, our soil doesn’t freeze so I don’t have to bother root cellaring or doing a large harvest at crunch time.

      See if you can find a pre-1950’s Feeds and Feeding by Morrison, lots of useful information about feeding livestock.

      Cheers 🙂

  3. Ben permalink
    February 6, 2013 3:12 pm

    I think I’ve asked you before but I can’t remember your answer; do you select the roots as you dig them all winter and put them back in the ground and dig them later when you want to replant, or do you store them somewhere else until you replant them? For some reason I feel its an easy question but I can’t write it down without it seeming complicated!

    • February 6, 2013 3:55 pm

      Ben, don’t feel bad, I can’t remember what I told you either! I select as I dig for the size or characteristics I want, I don’t have too worry too much about roots freezing, but I do need keep them from breaking dormancy so sometimes they go in the fridge instead of a bucket on the porch. If I had to dig for root cellaring I would select all my seed stock at once and put them in cold storage. I did find a few more parsnips the other day when I did my weekly dig, so I just added those to the row. About 25 parsnips makes a good amount of seed, and it doesn’t keep well so I do this every year. For the mangels I planted 10 roots which will provide several years worth of seeds.

  4. February 7, 2013 10:59 am

    I need to dig parsnips myself…you BEET me to it. OK. That was pretty bad.

    Dad let some parsnips go to seed a couple of years ago. The next year some others went to seed in the same place. From then on we have had a constant supply of parsnips in that spot and almost nothing else. We are probably selecting for smaller and smaller parsnips as we only harvest the ones we can see.


  1. Winter On My Mind | Throwback at Trapper Creek

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: