Fodder beets have a history as far back as the 1500's in Europe both as a animal food source, and in times of need, for people as well. Washington State University has a very nice fact sheet on the history of fodder beets. There was a time when they were the choice crop for livestock farmers with small herds. In the early 1900's yields were reported at 15 tons per acre! But alas, labor saving devices in commercial agriculture lead corn to overcome this valuable root crop.
We start eating fodder beats as thinnings as sauteed greens, adding the roots themselves to the pan when they are marble sized roots. Extras go to our flock of geese as treats. As the beets progress up in size, we continue to eat them, usually by roasting. We find them sweeter and more mild in flavor than the traditional dark red Detroit type.
Today's post actually began last year. We grew several kinds of beets last summer: Sugar, Red Mammoth, Eckendorf Giant, Yellow Cylindrical, and Zendaur Fodder (not all pictured here):
To my eye and taste, the Eckendorf Giant appeared to be a larger version of the Yellow Cylindrical. Both grew well in our soil. In October, we began to harvest choice specimens, trimming back the greens to just above the crown:
By November, the last of the roots were pulled from the garden as the leaves were dying back. Anything not perfect was given to the geese. I had read that the beets should be stored not touching each other to avoid rot. What to pack them in, was a little more varied by source. I chose dry wood shaving. Here the beets are placed into position in dunnage containers:
After backfilling with more chips, they looked like this:
Which were then stacked in our root cellar. By adjusting the various vents, I maintained the root cellar at 35 to 40°F and 85 to 95% humidity.
The trays were moved from the root cellar to the barn about 3 weeks ago to let the roots begin to warm and wake up. Here I've dug them out of the wood shavings (which will be sun dried and saved for this Fall's use):
Very few went to the animals, a couple went to the kitchen and rest are heading to the ground:
Using the biggest of the Yellow Cylindrical and the best of the Eckendorf Giants, I am striving to develop a landrace that thrives in our part of the Great Lakes Region.
After planting, now we just have to wait for seed....
Update February 13, 2019: We found out the hard way just how much deer like to eat beet flower stalks. Sadly, this has set our beet project back another year as we lost most of the population size for a healthy seed line.
In 2019, in addition to our biennial beet activities, we will trial cabbages to choose which varieties deserve our focus. We have two criteria in mind: a) quality sauerkraut candidates both in flavor and texture and b) long term storage in the root cellar.