Photo by Sue Weaver
One day last week, Mom came back from the mailbox with a big smile on her face.
“Look, Martok,” she said. “This is my first heirloom-vegetable gardening catalog for next year!”
Uzzi and I tried to nibble it. It tasted like every other catalog we’ve ever sampled. We looked at each other. Why was she so excited?
Take sweet corn. Mom and Dad love sweet corn as much as we do, so she plants an old-time variety called Stowell’s Evergreen. A man named Nathaniel Newman Stowell of Burlington, N.J., developed it in 1848—more than 150 years ago! Mom and Dad love its huge ears of yummy white corn, and we love the stalks. That’s because Stowell’s Evergreen stalks are 8 to 10 feet tall. They’re tasty eating for the horses, Ishtar our donkey, Ludo and Aiah the cow boys, sheep, us goats and even Carlotta, our pig.
If you want to, you can grow lots of tasty things in your garden to share with your barnyard friends. For instance, chickens love anything green and leafy, like lettuce, turnip greens, collards and chard. They also go gah-gah for melons, summer and winter squash, pumpkins, peas, kale, corn and most any kind of garden refuse you can throw them. We goats love those things, too.
Winter squash is a best bet for poultry or livestock because they’re easy to grow, certain varieties get really big, they store for months under the right conditions, and they’re nutritious and tasty. Or plant something specifically for your animals to eat, like mangels, aka mangel wurzels and mangolds. Mom had never heard of mangels until she read her favorite book, Three Bags Full: A Sheep Detective Story (Tantor Media, 2007). In it, the sheep wondered who would feed them mangel wurzels now that their shepherd, George, was dead. So Mom researched mangels and learned that they were once a staple part of farmyard animals’ winter diets and still could be today.
Mangels are a type of beet with red, yellow or white flesh. They weigh from 10 to 20 pounds each and are up to 2 feet long! Mangels look like humongous carrots while growing, except they grow partway in the earth and partway sticking up out of the ground. They’re very easy to grow and yield a humongous crop. When mature, they’re harvested and stored until after Christmas, then they’re chopped up and fed to livestock as fodder. Heirloom-seed catalogs carry many varieties of mangels, among them Giant Yellow Eckendorf, Geante Blanche and Mammoth Red Mangel, which have white, yellow and red flesh respectively. They stay fresh in storage up to six whole months! Mangels can be stored in a root cellar or in alternative storage containers, such as clamps, recycled refrigerators and freezers, or garbage cans.
So as your spring gardening catalogs come in, think of us animals. Plant a garden for us—or at least plant items we can share!