Mangelwurzel, mangel wurzel, mangel or sometimes called fodder beet, is something like a cross between a beet and a chard, only the mangelwurzel has a huge root. It's usually grown as animal fodder, but some varieties are yummy for humans too.
Last year we grew these for the sheep. They love this. It's a great supplement to their winter diet as it has a lot of vitamins and minerals that they can't get from hay alone. The roots store well in clamps, but in our case we put them in an outbuilding and smothered them in hay.
Where to get mangelwurzel seed?
My favorite seed was the yellow mangelwurzels from Wallace Springs
. These grew really nice, had a sweet taste to the leaf and the root that is appetizing to humans, and the sheep liked this best. The leaves were sweeter and tender than my chard in the heat of the summer, and the early spring leaves from the roots I re-planted after winter storage are even sweeter. I bet this would be a good plant for forcing winter greens.
There are a few other sources of mangel seed around, but not enough. I've seen it listed in some of the seed exchanges under 'sugar beet', but I suspect it's not accurate. Most common I've seen commercially is mammoth red, which is quite acceptable to the sheep, but not as popular with the humans.
The seeds are a bit bigger than beet seeds, but still work with the two wheel mechanical seeder gadget-ma-thingy. We use the beet seed plate and plant them between the last killing frost and the end of the spring rains (second half of april). We didn't irrigate last year, considering we have virtually zero rainfall these plants grew amazingly well. An average of 5 to 10 pounds per root.
When the mangels are well established we thin out the weaklings and feed these to the sheep (or to the humans) whole. Leaving one plant per foot to grow large. As with any feed, we make the change slowly, spend maybe ten minutes to thin the plants a day, and add the thinnings to the morning feed. As the summer continues we harvest the large, outer leaves like chard, feeding a handful or so to the sheep each day. Some people mound up the roots as they grow, we didn't bother last year.
Starting about a month before the first fall frost, we harvest the roots, a little at a time. Chop off the leaves about half an inch above the root, feed the leaves to the sheep, and leave the root in the sun for a couple of days to cure. We could do this all at once, but I don't like feeding sheep that much mangel leaves at a time as they are high in nitr(ites/ates?) which can prevent the sheep from absorbing some of the minerals in their diets and in rare cases, cause heart issues (especially that time of year when the weather is either too hot or too changing and already puts enough stress on their system).
After the roots are cured, I dust off the dirt, and pack them in loose hay or a clamp. These stored very well into Feb, but we ran out before we could discover how long they would last in our storage conditions. To 'serve' them to the sheep, I either toss them in whole or chop them up thinly with a knife, depending on the age of the sheep.
When cooking for humans, I treat the leaves like beat greens or chard, only sweeter. Raw as a salad green, or blanched and tossed with garlic and sesame oil, or however I feel like cooking them.
There is one possible problem with feeding mangelwurzels to sheep - the nitrites/nitrates (I can't remember off the top of my head if it was -ites or -ates, so I put both).
A while back I read this one study which showed the nitrite/ate level in mangel leaves, especially wilted leaves, which caused serious health issues in sheep. This surprised me since it's historically a very popular foddercrop for sheep. Reading the study further, I noticed that they used a very high level of NPK, especially artificial nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer in their crop - much higher than I understand to be average for growing a crop like chard or beet in an industrial setting. The nitrogen could explain the high levels of nitrites/ates in the leaves (I guess), but more interesting was the phosphorus. Pat Coleby's book Natural Sheep Care, talks about high levels of this used in growing fodder can prevent the sheep from absorbing minerals and weaken their system leaving them susceptible to other stresses. All this made me wonder if the people doing the study were blissfully ignorant of this or were purposefully arranging the variables to prove a point. In the end, I decided I didn't care as I don't use artificial fertilizers on my own crop. But if you choose to on yours, it may be something to look into.
Anyone else out there grow these? What's your favourite variety? Have you tried saving your own seed from it yet? Anything particular you liked or disliked about it?
Dan Boone wrote:I suspect with the summer heat here I'd have to grow these as a winter crop, but I found this fascinating nonetheless. I don't have livestock but I'm interested in robust greens anyway. And anything that makes a big bulk of food is of interest as a potential survival crop in hard times.
These don't bolt in the summer, if the seeds have been selected properly. Mine are only just starting to bolt now, 13 months after first planting the seed. They made a good substitute for beet and chard during the heat of the summer. When most greens start to go bitter, mangelwurzels were still sweet.
The leaves shrivel up with the first moderate frost. Unless protected, the roots are damaged with the hard frost.
Halifax Seeds has an interesting summer green seed, listed under spinach called "Perpetual Spinach (leaf beet)" that I suspect is actually a mangelwurzel not a chard because of the leave shape being more spinachlike. Note to those of you south of the 49th - seeds shipped from Canada to the US seem to get damaged in customs. Even though there seems to be no legal restrictions on importing small packets of garden seed from Canada (at the time of writing this) they seldom make it across the border undamaged these days.
According to the books, chard, beet, and mangels cross pollinate easily. Mangelwurzels may make a good start for breeding a new kind of green crop - Greens from late spring through summer, forced greens during the winter, EARLY greens in the spring from last year's roots. Up off the ground so fewer bugs and less dirt (because of the way the mangels push themselves out of the ground when they grow so big, the leaves stems start about an inch or three above the dirt). I don't think it would take much to breed mangels into an awesome green crop that humans would enjoy. Hope to start on it next year, but this year, I'm just bulking up on seed.
To force greens for midwinter eating (going from books, not actually tried this yet) you store the root in the cellar, or somewhere dark and cool and a bit dampish. You bring one or two roots out 3 to 4 weeks before you want the greens, put it in a pot of moist soil next to the window. Water when soil dries out. Greens will sprout. At least that's the theory. Works for Rhubarb too. Can't wait to try it this winter with the mangels.
Did I mention that mangelwurzels are often used to break up the soil when the field is used for the first time? The roots reach deep into the soil and help break up those big clods of dirt left behind by the tiller. If I was bringing some fallow land back into cultivation, I would grow mangels the first year, favas over winter, and potatoes the second summer.
Mangels deep roots mean they also do well in the drought. We get very little rain (a few mm) from early May through to mid Oct. We did not irrigate the mangels once. I can't imagine how well they would do with actual access to water.
Deep roots, high trace mineral content - this sounds a bit like the qualities of dynamic accumulator... any thoughts on that?
They say they can grow up to 20 pounds each but ours have not ever gotten bigger than 12 pounds. I have to chop them with a knife to feed them but I have seen antique mangel choppers online that would help make the job easier.
The roots are sweet and juicy and the leaves are huge and delicious. I planted some in a mix in a first year hugel and they did fantastically. I usually grow a Red Mammoth mangel( from Baker Creek and Sustainable Seed Co)
Oh yeah.....the voles and gophers love them too!
Dan, just look to the south of you regarding when Texas grows/grew their sugarbeet crop. The season would be the same for sugarbeets and mangels. The sugarbeet industry would have loved to have developed a sugarbeet with the size of the mangel, but there seems to be an inverse relationship between root size and sugar content, so the mangel almost always falls short (in percent sugar per kg fresh weight beet root) when compared to a sugarbeet. For the most part, if you start with a diverse population of sugarbeet and breed for size, eventually the sugar percent declines a bit, you get huge roots, and you have essentially created a mangel, although there is much diversity if varieties of mangels as well. All of the beets, from mangels to sugarbeets to chard to table/canning beets, are great ways to play around with leafy greens and storage roots.