MANGEL-WURZEL, or field-beet, a variety of the common beet, known botanically as Beta vulgaris, var. macrorhiza. The name is German and means literally " root of scarcity." R. C. A. Prior (Popular Names of British Plants) says it was originally mangold, a word of doubtful meaning. The so-called root consists of the much thickened primary root together with the " hypocotyl," i.e. the original stem between the root and the seed-leaves. A transverse section of the root shows a similar structure to the beet, namely a series of concentric rings of firmer " woody " tissue alternating with rings of soft thin-walled parenchymatous " bast-tissue " which often has a crimson or yellowish tint. The root is a store of carbohydrate food-stuff in the form of sugar, which is formed in the first year of growth when the stem remains short and bears a rosette of large leaves.
If the plant be allowed to remain in the ground till the following year strong leafy angular aerial stems are developed, 3 ft. or more in height, which branch and bear the inflorescences. The flowers are arranged in dense sessile clusters subtended by a small bract, and resemble those of the true beet. The so-called seeds are clusters of spurious fruits. After fertilization the fleshy receptacle and the base of the perianth of each flower enlarge and the flowers in a cluster become united; the fleshy parts with the ovaries, each of which contains one seed, become hard and woody. Hence several seeds are present in one " seed " of commerce, which necessitates the careful thinning of a young crop, as several seedlings may spring from one " seed."
This plant is very susceptible of injury from frost, and hence in the short summer of Scotland it can neither be sown so early nor left in the ground so late as would be requisite for its mature growth. But it is peculiarly adapted for those southern parts of England where the climate is too hot and dry for the successful cultivation of the turnip. In feeding quality it rivals the swede; it is much relished by livestock pigs especially doing remarkably well upon it; and it keeps in good condition till midsummer if required. The valuable constituent of mangel is dry matter which averages about 12% as against 1 1 % in swedes. Of this two-thirds may be sugar, which only develops fully during storage. Indeed, it is only after it has been some months in the store heap that mangel becomes a palatable and safe food for cattle. It is, moreover, exempt from the attacks of the turnip beetle. On all these accounts, therefore, it is peculiarly valuable in those parts of Great Britain where the summer is usually hot and dry.
Up to the act of depositing the seed, the processes of preparation for mangel are similar to those described for the turnip; winter dunging being even more appropriate for the former than for the latter. The common drilling machines are easily fitted for sowing its large rough seeds, which should be sown from the beginning of April to the middle of May and may be deposited either on ridges or on the flat. The after culture is like that of the turnip. The plants are thinned out at distances of not less than 15 in. apart. Transplanting can be used for filling up of gaps with more certainty of success than in the case of swedes, but it is much more economical to avoid such gaps by sowing a little swede seed along with the mangel. Several varieties of the plant are cultivated those in best repute being the long red, the yellow globe and the tankard, intermediate in shape. This crop requires a heavier dressing of manure than the turnip to grow it in perfection, and is much benefited by having salt mixed with the manure at the rate of 2 or 3 cwt. per acre. Nitrogenous manures are of more marked value than phosphatic manures. The crop requires to be secured in store heaps as early in autumn as possible, as it is easily injured by frost.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)