This year, we’re adding a new vegetable mainstay to the garden – not for us, but for the chickens. Mangel beets used to be grown extensively as a livestock feed on small farms; however, usage dwindled in the US as large farms became the norm. Today, it’s being rediscovered on small farmsteads as a great feed for livestock, particularly chickens.
The beets are highly nutritious and have been cultivated as livestock feed for over 1000 years. They’re very easy to produce, grow to immense sizes (10 – 20 lbs.), and store well; making them a good stand-in for fresh greens in winter. Chickens (at least our chickens) love them, and they can be hung in the coop to provide a pecking distraction for confined winter chickens.
It’s about time to plant seeds in our area (soil temperature should be 65°F), but they can be a bit difficult to find. In a quick search of on-hand catalogs, I found that Bakers Seed has Geante Blanche, Giant Yellow Eckendorf, or Mammoth Red Mangel while Johnny’s Selected Seeds has Mammoth Red Mangel and Yellow Cylindrical Mangel.
The beets should be planted in full sun, will tolerate a wide range of soils, and even do well in relatively poor soil. In USDA zones 8a or below, the beets are usually planted in spring, whereas in zones 8b or above, they do better planted in early winter. Seeds should be planted 1/2” deep and at least an inch apart, with thinning to a final spacing of four to eight inches between plants.
The beets should be watered before the soil dries out completely during the growing season, and require at least 63 days to reach maturity depending on the variety. Fertilizer is generally not necessary for growing mangel beets. Once the beets have matured, they can be stored in the ground (in milder climates) or can be stored in a cool, damp place (root cellar) for 4 – 5 months.
Because mangels are so easy to grow, make such a nutritious supplement for the flock, and help to offset winter feed costs, they seem like a natural for anyone with a backyard flock and a garden.