Reviewing our food production model, we have: sunlight, the source of all life energy, from fertility to food to fuel and beyond; leaves, which collect that energy and make it available to the rest of the planet; the lactating ruminant, eating those leaves and converting them to proteins, fats, and sugars appropriate for consumption by virtually all of the animals on the farm, humans especially; and, for storage of the bulk of surplus milk from the ruminant, there is the pig, otherwise known as the diary woman’s best friend. Milk — skim milk, buttermilk, and whey — add to a pig’s diet the proteins that are otherwise missing in a purely vegetarian offering. Milk is the game-changer. You can raise out a pig on nothing but milk and hay if you have to; but you don’t have to, and your pig will thank you with pork chops when his dinners include the mangel-wurzel.
Now, if you are going to grow a crop just to feed the pig, some important considerations are in order, vis: it needs to be easy to grow, meaning both that it wants to grow for you and under your conditions, and also that the cultivation of the crop needs to be simple and minimal; it needs to produce prolifically; it needs to store passively; the animals need to like it; and, ideally, it needs to be a possible human food as well. The mangel fits all these requirements.
Easy to grow: plant and cultivate like a beet, which is what it is, a big, up to 20 lb. sugary root. Not too early — around last frost, maybe a little earlier. Cultivate between the rows a couple of times while they roots are getting established; thin to every six to eight inches or so and weed in the row once. After that you can lay it by (forget about it) if there’s no more time for weeding — the patch won’t be your show garden, but it’ll grow mangels. Easy to harvest, just rock and pull — most of the root is above ground.
Production; in our heavy clay soil, low on organic matter, we still get two to three thousand lb per tenth of an acre.
Storage: mangels will root cellar into the next May for us.
Palatability: pigs love mangels, chopped or whole.
People food? Mangels are just big beets, boring but tolerable. Very sugary.
So: for food independence on a shoestring, plant mangels, cultivate two or three times, and stand back. Get that pig.
Next we’ll talk about tromboncino.