What’s Growin’ In the Garden 4

Well folks, it truly is turning out to be a hot summer, isn’t it? Frank has long thought the unraveling of our society would come to pass about this time. The uncertainty of life affects us all in many different ways, even the earth is unsettled and behaving quite different. Gardens and pastures in these parts are not growing anything like they usually do. Some things do okay, not great, but okay. Other standard crops are barely growing or doing anything. I have found ONE squash bug this summer. ONE. By now they are normally here by the hundreds and the plants are dead. Instead, we have had many fewer yellow squash, but the plants are happy.

Today we pulled the beets and planted grocery store red potatoes. Yes, it’s very late to plant potatoes and it’s a toss up whether they will grow in the heat of the summer here. We weren’t going to grow any at all, but feel the need to grow more calories and nutrition.

Old beet patch, one new potato patch










More potatoes between the cabbage & sunflowers

                Here is a look at the rest of the garden.

Parsley in the front, carrots and yellow squash


Sweet potatoes on  stock panels are growing well.


Pinto beans, some are climbing and some are not….


Tomatoes are growing slowly with little production


Purple hull peas after 4 plantings


Okra, barely growing, and it’s mid June

Sunflowers for chicken feed


There are a number of cabbages that survived the worms.


Small pepper plants


Planted Thelma Sanders winter squash by wooden stakes today.


Apple with curculio infestation


I was very hopeful of a good fruit crop this year. Our young plums were loaded with fruit, but each had this little brown mark on it. Every plum dropped and now the apples are slowly joining in. I pick up half a dozen or so every other day as they fall and feed them to the chickens. I found a beneficial nematode that is supposed to help control curculio and applied them below the trees a month or so ago. My research indicates curculios may produce up to two generations per year, so I hope the nematodes are established enough to affect the second generation this summer. I don’t know if there will be any apples left to harvest or not, only time will tell.

Rather dismal outlook, isn’t it? It is definitely a strange growing season. As the COVID19 outbreak grew more serious, we decided to grow more food this year instead of less like we had planned. But the way the garden is performing, we don’t know how much food it will produce at all. If we were truly in dire straits and dependent upon this growing season for survival, it would be a very stressful situation indeed. Well. What if this is it? What if our life does depend upon this harvest?


Folks, we are in perilous times. Do everything in your power to have enough food for your family for the long term. It matters not if you grow one morsel, have food for your family. Do everything in your power to provide a safe environment for your loved ones. Between the virus, the economy, the riots, the anger and hatred, our country is a pressure cooker just waiting for the lid to blow. The tentacles of the enemy are long and well camouflaged. Distance is your friend.

Frank has been saying for many months that it is going to be a very hot summer. The summer is upon us with burning and death. There are a couple of videos at the end of this article that may give you pause. If nothing else, I hope they give you something to think about.

Food. You can’t have too much & without it you are dead.

Until next time – Fern



Homestead News, Volume 22

I keep going back to the quote on the last article.

Consider what you would do if you knew [we inserted if you actually BELIEVED] your country had already moved beyond the point of no return.”

When Frank and I discussed this quote, my response was we would keep doing what we are doing, because we do know that we are beyond the point of no return. So, with that, here is the next homestead update and some of the things we are doing to prepare.

We are watering the garden with the water well and a 12volt pump. Why now? It’s time. We have had this well and pump since late 2008. It’s been waiting in the wings. This spring Frank looked on the shelf at the box with the pump in it again, took it down and figured out what we needed to install it. Nothing. We had everything we needed, it was just putting in the time and effort to install it. Since then we have treated the well, pumped out the old stagnant water, treated it again and had it tested twice. The first time there was still one type of coliform bacteria in it, so we treated it again. The second time it came out clean. We’ve been watering the garden in two hour intervals about three times a week. When we started using the pump, we measured the production which is about three gallons a minute. This was one of the first things that came to my mind when we read that quote.

Frank’s next step will to be to install solar panels on top of the greenhouse which he has already configured, installed onto a framework and wired together. These panels will connect with a battery bank which is already installed in the greenhouse with a charge controller, and will be used to run the well pump. He is just waiting for cooler temperatures and some help. It won’t be long. We have some ideas running around in our heads about pressure tanks and plumbing the well into the house, but that is down the list quite a ways and may or may not materialize.
 

Next. Food. We have been canning more tomatoes and tomato sauce to replenish the stock. We canned instead of froze our winter squash. Today we finished grinding the remaining beef in the freezer. A few days ago some of it went to making and canning 14 quarts of chili.

We have plenty of cowpeas on the shelf, so this patch will be picked, left whole in the pod, and dried in the greenhouse. This will be some of our winter animal feed. It will be interesting to see how well it keeps and how well the animals like them. The goats love fresh pods, with or without the peas. The chickens like the fresh or dried peas, but not the pods.

Several of you have asked about the amaranth experiment. The spring planted crop is still producing even after four cuttings. I have learned to let the heads turn an almost rusty, golden, brown to make sure they are ripe to pick. The heads dry in the greenhouse, then I remove the seeds, winnow the chaff and save the stems and chaff for the goats, which they are eating quite well. They like it.
 

The summer planted amaranth crop has not done well at all. They grew very slowly, then started falling over. Turns out the pigweed weevil loves amaranth stems. Amaranth and pigweed are in the same family and wild amaranth, which is called pigweed, grows here quite well. All over the garden, in

fact. It’s just that I didn’t know what it was until this year when I grew amaranth and right beside it was this weed that had leaves exactly the same. Interesting, the learning opportunities that come along. Well, after the weevils came the cabbage moths, or I think that’s what they were.

Many of the plant’s growing heads became covered with sticky webs, small worms and black clots of eggs. I picked these heads off and fed them to the chickens. This batch of amaranth is just now starting to show seed heads even though some of them are much taller and thicker stemmed than the spring crop. They won’t have time to mature before frost. We plan to pull these plants and hang them whole to dry for winter animal feed. We’ll see how that goes.
 

Amaranth seed heads drying in the greenhouse
Wheat on the left, amaranth on the right


The amaranth seed we have been able to harvest is going into our bread. We tried the seed whole a few times, then started grinding it with the KitchenAid grinder on the finest setting, otherwise the grains are so small they fall right through the grinder. I like the additional nutrition this adds to our bread. We have not tried eating any of the greens even though we have read that they are edible in both salads and cooked as greens. Maybe next year. 

Our focus has been on increasing the food supply for our animals and ourselves. We consider our goats and chickens to be an important part of our food supply. Our garden has now become not only our food supply, but some of theirs as well. Since writing this article and running across the Ice Age Farmer, we feel it is wise to grow or store as much food as is practicable. The Ice Age Farmer had a couple of interesting videos out yesterday about cooler temperatures affecting crops this year due to the solar minimum and about some scientists saying we will have to rely on cannibalism for protein in our diet to help with global warming. Folks there are some very strange things going on with food and food control. Some people have some very perverted, dangerous ideas they are actually presenting to the public, not in some dark, back room. The more we can rely on ourselves and what is on our shelves, the better off we will be.

Wouldn’t it be great to be wrong? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit back and watch trash stuff on television and eat ice cream out of the carton (as long as someone

hadn’t licked all over it and put it back on the shelf in the store)? Wouldn’t it be grand to be clueless, hopeless and caught totally unaware when there are no more cell phone signals, television signals, talking boxes that can answer every question you ever had, a myriad of devices that can watch, track and record your every sound and move, in every room in your house, even in your bedroom? Wouldn’t it be great to know that there will always be food on the store shelves, gasoline for your car, Amazon delivery right to your front door and free stuff from the government? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends to count on in the event of a collapse that wouldn’t come and kill you for your stuff because they were the grasshoppers while you were the ant? 

Wouldn’t it?

What would we do if we knew that our country had already moved beyond the point of no return? We have been doing it most of our adult lives. Preparing. Learning. Practicing. It’s why we became reserve police officers before Y2K, became EMTs in remote Alaska, lived on a homestead where financial resources were focused on creating a sustainable life, learning what grows here, and how to care for animals that will help feed us. And now we’ve been drawn to this place, this world of the internet to share with those that might listen and that will teach us in return. Every last thing we can learn, practice and practice some more, will help us in this journey as we all fall off the cliff of civility and normality. Stay safe.

Until next time – Fern

SHTF Animal Feed

How are we going to maintain our animals in a SHTF situation? Good question from Leigh over at 5 Acres & A Dream. She and her husband continually work to improve their land and self-sufficiency goals, so this in an interesting question. This article has quite a few links to previous articles that discuss some of our efforts at providing for our animals. A lot of what we do now is based on how things have developed since we moved to this homestead. Here is Leigh’s question.

“Here’s a preparedness question. I would really like to know how you are feeding and managing your goats. Feed self-sufficiency has been one of my goals for as long as we’ve had goats, but I keep being thwarted and frustrated at so many turns. We grow some of our own feed and hay, but not enough and I’m constantly feeling time pressured to achieve this goal. I have to say I’ve learned a lot from research and experimentation; and made huge changes in my feeding philosophy, but I’m not there yet. I’d love a blog post on how you’re managing this.”

We currently buy grain from the feed store for our goats and chickens. Along with that, they all have access to forage. Right now we keep the chickens penned up until about noon or early afternoon, then let them out to range. If we no longer have access to grain for them, we will let them out each morning to ‘fend for themselves’. We also supplement with garden scraps, comfrey and amaranth leaves when available.

Our current Nubian goat herd consists of three does, eight wethers and two bucks. The males and females are separated into different pastures. Our ten acres is cross fenced into four pastures which is way more than enough for the number of animals we have. We rotate them between pastures during different times of the year for grazing preferences and to help control intestinal parasites. One of the main things we use for parasite control are copper boluses. We have acquired a large supply that will more than last our lifetimes in a SHTF situation, and hopefully will be adequate to help maintain the health of the animals. We also grow a number of plants that help deter worms. I don’t pick and feed them daily like I used to, but they are out there if we need them. After we started using the copper boluses, the goats have been very healthy most of the time.


We have always had a plan for standing hay. It’s warm enough in our location that there is usually something green growing most of the year for the goats to graze, and if not, there is still a lot of forage of the standing dried variety. If we are unable to buy the small amount of hay we use each year for bedding during the birthing season, that is another issue. We currently do not have a solution for that, it’s something we would have to work out. We have plans, but not finalized plans because it is something we have never done.


We realize our milk and kid production would decrease substantially since the does would not be receiving a milking ration of grain. The same would be true for the chickens and their egg production. To hopefully offset some of that, we have some things growing that could be used to supplement the grazing. We have a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes and comfrey.


One crop that grows very well here is cowpeas. We would increase our planting and dry some of these in the greenhouse for winter supplement. There are parts of the country that grow them extensively for animal feed for their protein content. We also have Austrian winter pea seed that has remained viable for about a decade, that loves the cold weather. It doesn’t make a ‘pea’ per se, but the foliage is edible for man and beast and is very nutritious.

The scraps from the garden and winter greenhouse are always saved and taken to the animals, usually the chickens. We were talking about how to save the corn stalks for silage the other day. We haven’t tried it yet, but that might also be doable.

Another crop we are trying for the first time this year is amaranth. So far so good. It is growing very well, we will just have to wait and see how it produces. The plant can be dried and chopped for the goats. It’s highly nutritious and I got the idea from Leigh after reading about it years ago on her blog.

I haven’t concentrated on SHTF animal feed in quite a while, but it’s a good reminder to do so. When we moved to this homestead 11 years ago there were many things to do to increase our self-sufficiency and prepare for the collapse. Now that many of them are in place I am much more peaceful about our preparedness level. The current challenge is our aging bodies and what we can still physically accomplish. We continually reevaluate what we need to downsize or alter to continue to accomplish our goals.

We have watched others try to grow non-mechanized grains and hay. This is something that has always been too labor intensive for our life styles. And now that we are older, this could never be a consideration for us. We have downsized our herd of goats to a more manageable level as we realize our limitations and how they will continue to affect our abilities in the future whether there is a collapse or not. We have to be realistic. Adding in the belief that the SHTF sooner rather than later, we add our aging bodies and waning physical abilities to the equation and adjust accordingly.

Thank you for the question, Leigh. It is a good review for us and helps to refocus on how we might be able to continue providing for our animals, which in turn will provide for us. Milk, meat, and eggs will go a long way toward sustaining us.

Let’s hear from everyone. What other recommendations or experiences do folks have to share? Again, we are all in this together.

Until next time – Fern

Pig Tales, Volume 1

Guess what? I think I like our pigs. Really. They’re funny and not one of them has tried to bite me or chew on my shoe or anything scary. You know what else? I’m a pig catcher. Yep. I can catch a little pig, but they are fast little buggers. I’ll tell you more of my pig catching story in a minute.


We kept the pigs in the stock trailer in the barn for about three and a half days. That was a very good choice. They were enclosed, protected from the weather, and kind of in the middle of all of the barn activity. This gave them the opportunity to hear the other animals along with Frank and I when we were there doing chores. It also allowed us to observe them closely without worrying about escapees.


By day two, I was scratching everyone on the back while they ate. The largest boar likes touch the least, but he is finally coming around as well. The gilt had been handled much more than the boars and she doesn’t mind being scratched at all. One of the smaller boars, which will probably be our breeder, is becoming quite friendly, too.

While they were in the stock trailer, the pigs were introduced to cabbage leaves, comfrey, carrot peels, green beans, goat milk and whey, canned okra and some old squash and tomato relish we need to replace from the garden this year. They weren’t really sure about the leafy fare at first, but now seem to enjoy it. They don’t attack it like they do the grain or whey, but 

they are eating them. We have also been giving them the corn and sunflowers we grew and dried last summer. They are really enjoying chewing the corn off of the cob. One thing we have already noticed is how quickly they put on weight. We weren’t exactly sure how much to feed four little pigs, so we are cutting back on their portions. At first we    

gave them more grain to help tame them down, but now we will be giving them a green bean can full each day and that is all. We don’t want them to be too fat, which can cause problems. I’ll be talking more about that in a minute. Even in the stock trailer, I sprinkled the grain around on the hay for them to root around for.

By the end of day three, the stock trailer was getting rather stinky and the flies were getting thick, so it was time to move them into the pig pen. We have our doubts that our original pig pen will hold these small pigs. It is made of stock panels that have two rows of smaller openings, about 2″ by 6″, on the bottom rungs, but then it expands to 6″ by 6″ for the rest of the way. They can probably still squeeze through that third rung for now, so we chose to put together the other pig pen. You may be wondering why we have two pig pens, but no pigs. The original pen was built to house two feeder pigs about four years ago. They didn’t even get large enough to produce bacon before we took them to the butcher. I hated them. I was afraid of them. But this was their pen. We never considered letting them out to graze like we are these pigs. So that’s why we call this large pen the pig pen, even when we use it to wean baby goats.

 A number of years ago we bought a pig pen that was made by the students of one of the local agricultural programs. It is made of 2″ by 4″ heavy stock panels, welded to square metal tubing to create four panels, one of which has a gate on one end. Putting it together is kind of like a tinker toy puzzle. The puzzle is which ends fit together. Each end of each panel has a hinge of sorts that long metal rods fit through to hold them together and create a corner. The pictures will show you much better how this works than I can describe. After trying to put the first two panels together and realizing it was a little more complicated, Frank measured each end, had me write down the measurements, then we compared the numbers to determine which ends would fit together. The panels were a little heavy, but we maneuvered them into place without much trouble.


After we had the pen constructed, we hitched up the trailer and pulled it out into the pasture by the pig pen. We’re glad we brush hogged the grass and weeds down by the pen, it is so thick and tall, it’s hard to walk through. So, now it’s time to catch the pigs in the trailer and move them into the pen.

Remember, up until this time I had only caught one pig in my life, four days earlier. Since I had that experience, I now knew to carry them by their back feet. Well, one little boar was nice enough to just walk up to me. That one was fairly easy. Next, the gilt, she wasn’t difficult either. I had put a little feed in their pan to draw them together so I could grab a back leg. Of the two that were left, one of them kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we bought them. I wanted to try to catch him while he still had company, but they are fast little pigs and it took me a while. Frank recommended I catch the other boar first, since he 

would have been much easier to grab, but I kept trying until I finally got the one I was after. I had to stop and laugh a couple of times at my efforts and their speed. If you had been able to watch, I’m sure it would have been quite comical. But now, I am a pig catcher, since I have caught all of five pigs in my life. One of Frank’s recommendations was to catch them by the front legs since they tended to face me to watch what I was doing. But that goes back to my fear of pigs. I was afraid they would try to bite me since I would be grabbing them. I opted to wait until a back leg presented itself.

 

 

After the pigs were placed in their new home, Frank backed the trailer up to turn around, and so we could clean out the hay and ick it contained. That tall, wet grass and weeds? Yep, he was stuck. The tires kept spinning on all that vegetation.

  
Now, out comes the tractor. We hadn’t had to do this before, but with Frank’s instructions and me behind the wheel of the truck, he had us out in no time. Ladies, this is one of those things I mentioned recently about having a good man by your side. Putting the pig pen together, I couldn’t picture in my mind what Frank was seeing, and how it would work, so I just followed his directions and it went great. The same thing happened with pulling out the truck. We tweaked a few things according to his directions and everything went fine. There is no substitute for having a good man. None. It’s the way God intended it.


While Frank had the tractor out, and I was cleaning out the stock trailer, he brought several loads of dirt into the corral to place in a low area under the gate that leads to the pig pasture. We will be adding some rocks to fill this area in, which will prevent the pigs from coming into the corral once they have free rein of the pasture.

Now, we have a pig pen within a pig pen. The pigs will stay in the smaller pen until the grass is gone, or we are comfortable letting them have access to the larger pen. We will eventually dismantle the interior pen, reassemble it next door to the original pen, and use it for farrowing when we have litters of piglets. This will prevent the boar from pestering the gilts when they birth. Well, that is the plan for now anyway.


Speaking of the gilt, her name is Liberty, by the way. The man we bought Liberty from had two sows give birth this spring. Liberty’s mom had four piglets, but two of them were dead. The other sow had two piglets, but one of them was dead. The breeder has raised pigs most of his life, but didn’t know why this happened. He was also disappointed with the low number of

piglets in the litter. This sounded a little odd to us, but we took him at his word. After we got home and had time to think about this and discuss it, we have come to the conclusion that we need another young gilt, just in case Liberty’s genetics don’t lend to becoming a healthy, productive sow. The vet was here this afternoon and we asked him what he thought about Liberty’s probability of being a good sow. He told us that if a pig has less than four fertile eggs developing, it will reabsorb these eggs and breed again. A sow will always have a minimum of four piglets. So we have some questions about the gentleman’s story. There is another breeder in a different area that we have been in contact with that has a litter of piglets that will be ready to wean around June 1st, so we will be adding one more piglet to our herd. By the way, I looked up the names for groups of pigs. When the pigs are grown, I can call them a passel of pigs. I like that one, it’s funny. I hope five pigs will constitute a passel, because that many adult pigs is more than enough for us.

The vet and his wife work together which I think is great.



While the vet was here, he cut the piglets teeth. Because we are keeping three boars, two to eat and one breeder, we have chosen to have their teeth cut to prevent injury if they chose to fight over food or the gilt at some point. It may not have been an issue, but we would rather prevent a problem at this point until we know more and have more experience as pig herders.

 

This whole tooth came out. They are very small at this age.

 

Of the three boars, we were planning to choose one of the two smaller ones to keep for a breeder. Lance, the largest boar that kept trying to escape the pet carrier when we were loading them up, was going to be the first to grace our dinner plates. But after we talked to the vet about growth rate for producing meat for the table, we chose to castrate the two smaller boars and kept Lance for our breeding boar. I will just have to work with him a little more to get him to be as tame as the others.

 

For now, our pigs are doing quite well. Once they calm back down and quit running away from me again since we have moved them, then cut their teeth, and castrated two of them, I think they will work out fine. We’ll keep you updated with further tales from the pig pen. Now it’s your turn. Not necessarily to get pigs, per se, but to seek out a new experience that will benefit you and yours in whatever situation you find yourself. Be it homestead, city lot, apartment, where ever you are, you can learn and develop skills that will increase your chances of survival in the coming days, weeks, months and years. We would have never even considered getting pigs if we didn’t know that

great changes are upon us and that we will probably have to fend for ourselves. Pigs have never been part of our equation until now. Are we comfortable with this new venture? No. Are we working at it diligently? Yes. That is why I said in the previous article that I have decided to like, and not be afraid of pigs. It is a conscious decision I have made to increase our food supply. The article I wrote about women and survival indicated my belief that one of my major responsibilities in a collapse scenario will be to keep food on the table. These pigs are part of my efforts in that direction. Frank supports me and helps me when I need it, with anything at all, but his role when the time comes will be different. He will be our protector, community

communications leader, and will be working at making sure the infrastructure of our homestead is functioning well. All of these things will allow me to concentrate on food, clothing, and maintaining the hygiene we need to be healthy. We have been blessed with the natural inclinations of a man and a woman to perform those duties that will support a safe, productive home, and we chose to fulfill those roles. 

Until next time – Fern

Getting Ready For Pigs

We spent part of today getting ready for the arrival of our American Guinea Hog piglets. The original plans included doing some of this work yesterday while the sun shined, but a relative’s unscheduled hospital stay, changed our plans. We were glad we had the opportunity to visit him for a while. So today before the rains arrived again, we rearranged some of the goats, brush hogged down some wet, wet, tall grass and weeds, and got ready for the pigs. Well, not really before it rained, because we got some light showers shortly before dawn. Thus, the grass was extra wet, but sometimes these things just can’t be helped, and you make do with the circumstances you’ve been given.

American Guinea Hogs. I had never heard of them until I read an article from Leigh at 5 Acres and a Dream last June. I had no idea a pig could grow so small. That is what captured my attention and started a slow,

gradual bit of research that has landed us in the current predicament, the adventure of becoming not only goat herders and chicken cluckers, but pig farmers as well. We can only pray it is not the misadventures of becoming pig farmers. If you have read here very long you have probably run across a statement from me saying something like this. “I hate pigs.” And I did. I just hope I don’t anymore. Part of that sentiment is because I am afraid of pigs. I think they will bite me. It’s kind of like being afraid of dogs. It’s just a fear that I have decided I want to get over, because the benefits of raising American Guinea Hogs can far outweigh this fear.

I am including a number of links throughout this article so you can see where my research has taken me. The first thing that captured my attention when reading Leigh’s description of her new pig was that they only grow to be about 200 to 250 pounds full grown, even the boars. I was very surprised. I had never seen anything about pigs being less than 800 to 1000 pounds or more full grown, and I didn’t want anything to do with animals that large. So I read the link she provided and thought it was very interesting that these pigs are naturally small. They aren’t miniatures, dwarfs or midgets of any sort, they are just naturally smaller than most commercial pigs.

Then I started looking up more articles, and found that another characteristic of these pigs is their docile, friendly nature. Well now, how is

a person that is afraid a pig is going to bite them going to handle a pig that wants to run over and be petted and scratched? I’ve decided I’m going to treat them like a dog. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But if a dog does something that is unacceptable they get corrected and trained to exhibit behavior that is acceptable. I plan, or hope, to do the same things with the pigs. I’ve read that they may try to jump up on you like a dog, but are easily trained not to, so their friendly personalities are another plus.

The next major plus from my perspective is that these pigs thrive on pasture and do poorly if they are confined and only fed grain, or fed too much grain. That’s great! We have been trying to produce more and more of our animal feed, and if these pigs are healthier and happier grazing in

a pasture, then wonderful, we have plenty of room for them to graze and grow. Another example Leigh has given me is that she feeds very little grain, and what she does feed, she sprinkles on the ground for the pigs to forage and root. I thought that was a great idea and will be doing the same. I will also now have another bucket to take to the barn at feeding time. The pigs will get whey from our cheese making projects as well as garden scraps and other kitchen waste. For instance. Today at lunch I emptied a jar of beets, and told Frank that after the pigs arrive the water from the beet jar will go into the pig bucket instead of down the drain. They will get all of the scraps that don’t go to the chickens or dog, and that will be great.

When I realized how small these pigs grow, I like to think of them as small, even though a 200 pound animal isn’t really very small, I thought about having another source of meat on the hoof. That’s how I think of our

goat wethers. They are just meat walking around in the pasture waiting to make it into the freezer. Frank and I can handle butchering a 150 to 200 pound pig, and it would be another great source of meat. But not only that, Guinea Hogs are well known for the quality of their lard, like some old heritage breeds used to be. These hogs will not only provide us with meat and lard, they don’t require a lot of feed to do so. The lard will provide us with a natural cooking oil, and we hopefully will also be able to use it in our goat milk soap recipe. The smaller carcass of these pigs will mean less meat to preserve before spoilage if we live in a grid down situation, as well. Just like with our goats, I view a smaller carcass to be to our advantage.
 
The breeders in the area that I have talked to all agree that these pigs are healthy, friendly, easy to manage and very productive. They don’t require vaccinations or worming, even in our area that is known for wet years that are very conducive to the worm population, like this year. Guinea hogs will have litters of six to eight piglets about three times every two years on average, according to my research. This is yet another benefit to raising this small, heritage breed pig.

These are the reasons why we are embarking on the adventure of adding pigs to our homestead. These animals don’t grow very large, they thrive on pasture, they are naturally healthy, friendly and easy to manage, the meat and lard are well known to be of excellent quality and we will be able to butcher them ourselves. A concern I have, and will for a while, is if they will stay in their pasture. Our fencing should hold them just fine according to all I have read, but this is my biggest concern so far. We’ll see if more arise after their arrival.

Friday, if the weather cooperates, we will be bringing home two boars and one gilt. This is new vocabulary for us. I had this vague notion that a male pig was a boar because you hear of wild boars being hunted in these

parts, but that was about it for my pig vocabulary. One of these boars will become a barrow when we have it castrated to raise for meat. We will keep them both intact for a while until we decide which one we want to keep for a boar. The gilt, or young female, will become a sow when she has her first piglets. We have debated back and forth about whether to get one gilt or two, and actually thought we had been able to line up two boars and two gilts that we could pick up all in one trip from two different locations. Then when I called to make the arrangements, I found that one of the gilts had been injured, so there was only one available. I don’t know if you ever have these feelings, but I felt like that was an answer to our question. God answered our question by only having one available for us at this time. It’s interesting how things happen sometimes.

I hope to have a report for you Friday or Saturday, with pictures and hopefully no mishaps. I freely admit we are entering this adventure with a little trepidation and doubt, especially on Frank’s part, but entering it we are. Fear is a powerful thing. It can control nations, it can preclude success, it can tear down dreams. But only if you let it. There is a quote somewhere that says something like, courage is fear in action. Maybe that would be a good name for a pig…… I wonder what the goats and Pearl are going to think. That should be interesting.

Until next time – Fern

It Was a Very Good Day

I guess I could say our day started at 2:00am when I went to the barn to check on Lady Bug to see if she was in labor. She wasn’t. It always takes a little while to get back to sleep after a nighttime trek to the barn. I intended to get up at 6:00am to check on her again, but I just couldn’t talk myself into it. We’ve been at this middle of the night routine for three nights now with no end in sight. It does wear me down. Anyway, I rolled out at 7:00am, got the milk buckets ready, enjoyed a swift cup of coffee and headed out to the barn and the morning.

One Stripe and Copper enjoyed their typical morning routine. Penny now likes to stand around and talk very loudly to anyone that will listen. I hope she becomes more content soon because she has an irritating voice, and she needs to turn the volume down. Especially in the morning. But this morning was especially noisy because once I finished milking One Stripe and Copper, I did not let their babies out of the baby pen. They remained there awaiting their move to the weaning pen.

Penny was next up on the milk stand and so far has been very cooperative. She was followed by Cricket who is doing well at day two post delivery. I have some concerns about her boy I will share in a few days after I see how things work out. Lady Bug got to eat in her birthing pen, the lone pregnant doe now. She is pretty interested in the other babies. 

After the milk was strained and breakfast was cooked I debated about starting a batch of bread and a batch of cheese. I’ve been waiting for Lady Bug to deliver so I won’t have to worry about cheese sitting in the pot too long, or not being able to work or bake the bread when needed. Today we decided we had been waiting long enough. The sourdough starter has been out on the cabinet being fed for at least a week in preparation to make bread, and the frig was overflowing with over five gallons of milk.

So I ground some wheat and stirred up the sourdough bread and set it to proof on top of the frig where it’s warm. Then we started a double batch of cheddar cheese using up four gallons of milk. One thing about cheddar, is it needs attention in frequent intervals all day long. It’s now set to press for 24 hours and will be ready to remove from the presses tomorrow evening to dry for a few days before it is waxed. This is our first cheddar of the season. It won’t be ready to eat until about the middle of July at the earliest, for a very mild cheddar flavor. 

Making cheese means washing all of those jars the milk was in.

And washing up the cheese press that hasn’t been used in a while.

After the cheese reached the point that we had about a 30 minute window, we went up to the barn and moved the babies into the weaning pen. There was still some commotion, but not a whole lot. We have weaned babies before that screamed and hollered for their mommas until they were so hoarse they didn’t hardly have a voice left. These guys were running around playing some of the time and didn’t seem to be very stressed, which is great.
 

Frank drilled a couple of holes in each of these so the rain would drain out.


Frank had a great epiphany recently about the garden. We have kept enough room between the garden and the house to drive around the house if we needed or wanted to. He was standing outside looking at something the other day and thought, why don’t we forget about driving around the house and expand the garden into that area? It will make the garden a third again as big and allow us to grow a whole lot more food for us and the animals. Great idea! We have been thinking about how to incorporate an ‘animal garden’ into one of the pastures, but we use them pretty regularly. We have four pastures that connect to the corral at the barn and right now there are goats in three of them. When we add pigs to the mix, that will use them even more. Frank’s idea of increasing the garden size where it is will give us another way of increasing food production now.
 

This green grassy area is now becoming part of the garden. 2014 picture


So with that in mind, as we were leaving the barn, Frank brought the tractor down to start tilling up the ‘new’ garden spot. Right off the bat the shear pin broke on the tiller. So we replaced it. He went back around to start tilling one end of the garden which is very, very rocky, and immediately broke the shear pin. So we replaced it. This time he started at the other end of the garden down by the herb bed. He made it the whole length of the garden back into the rocky area just fine. Then he turned around to come back down the other way and immediately broke the shear pin. That’s when he announced that he was finished with the tiller for the day. We still have at least one, but now we need to get some more shear pins.

While Frank was busy breaking shear pins instead of the soil, I was trying to get some manure tea started. There is a new piece of garden we have already tilled up in front of the herb bed where I planted turnips, spinach, lettuce and swiss chard. This area has not had all of the great barnyard, ashes and such added to it, so it is not very rich in nutrients compared to the garden. Some of the spinach leaves are turning yellow. I wanted to give this bed a boost, so I took a couple of five gallon buckets to the chicken house, collected a deposit of manure and hay, filled the buckets with water, put on the lids and set them out in the herb bed where I will be using them. I’ll let them steep for a number of days before I begin side dressing the plants with tea. I won’t water them directly with this tea because I don’t want to burn the plants. I will also give them some wood ashes we have saved in the ash can from the woodstove, and some whey. 

After about 35 years of mowing our lawn with a push mower, we finally broke down and got a riding mower, which is a pretty green color and runs like a deere. It arrived yesterday but we were too busy to do anything with it then, and it was trying to rain. Today after Frank returned the tractor to the barn, he brought the mower down to try it out. In the meantime, I’m in the house working the cheese again. When I got to the point that I had a few minutes to go outside, I tried out the mower as well. It’s interesting, and since we have never had one before, it’s different. I do like it though. It will make it easier to keep some areas from becoming a jungle and needing to be brush hogged with the tractor in the summer. So I played on the mower for a while. Then I went back in and worked the cheese. Then I mowed a little more, returned it to the barn, checked on Lady Bug who refuses to have babies, and went back to the house to work the cheese.

Now one of my goals today was to get some more things planted. I didn’t. It’s all still sitting there waiting on me with rain coming tonight and tomorrow, and a chance of more every day this week until Friday. But maybe I can still get a few things planted over the next few days if it doesn’t get too wet.


Since we are weaning the older babies that means I will now be milking One Stripe and Copper twice a day and getting two gallons of milk a day instead of one. That means every two days I will have enough milk to make a double batch of cheese. But I still need to get things planted…… And then when Penny, Cricket and Lady Bug’s kids, if she ever has them, are two weeks old and I start penning them up at night, we will get more like three gallons of milk a day. Am I sure I need or want to milk five goats every day? Hmm……something to think about. But before long we hope to get those pigs and they will be happy to drink milk or whey everyday.

The old way to store whey.


And speaking of whey. Frank had a great idea. In the past when we made cheese, we put the whey in old peanut butter jars and sat them on the floor in the kitchen. There is way too much to fit in the frig with all the milk coming in. We feed one jar to the dog and cats each day, and two jars to the chickens morning and evening. Frank recommended we get out the water bath canner and just put all of the whey in it and dip it out into a jar as we need it. Great idea. Simplifies things. If we get overrun with whey, I will use it to water some of the garden plants. They love it, too.

So, now the animals are fed and tucked into bed, the cheese is doing it’s thing in the press, the bread is baked and sampled, and this blog post is now written. It has been a very good day. We enjoyed the warmth of the sunshine, each other’s company, the quiet peace of a country life and the blessings that work brings. Peace, joy and contentment. We pray that the season of Easter, with the renewal of life, brings much joy and happiness to you and yours.

Until next time – Fern

Two Kinds of Comfrey – Which one is right for you?

2011

Back around 2009, when I began my serious research into what kinds of herbs I wanted to establish in a permanent herb bed, I began reading about comfrey. Well, we originally read about comfrey sometime back in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s in our first herbal book, Weiner’s Herbal (this link goes to the new edition, ours is much older). So I knew when I started my new research, that this was something I wanted to consider. Well, I ordered a plant or root sometime in 2009 or 2010 and got started with one plant. I didn’t do much but let it grow. I knew it was something I would eventually use, but my focus was on increasing my gardening, canning, goat raising and cheese making skills at that time.

Original plant, True Comfrey, 2011

Since then the goats, cheese and garden have fallen into place as more routine ventures, and my focus has again returned to the herb bed. For three reasons. As spices and seasonings, as medicinal herbs and as animal feed. A couple of years ago I began occasionally picking some leaves from my comfrey plant and feeding them to the chickens and goats since I knew they were very nutritious and high in protein.

New Russian Comfrey roots, May 2014

Last spring I ordered six new comfrey roots to increase the production of animal feed. Some day I plan to make comfrey salve as well. It’s kind of an herbal antibiotic salve. But more about that when I get around to making it. These six new plants were planted at the end of the herb bed in an unused space. Lucky for the

The same 6 roots, September 2014

comfrey, a few years prior we had dumped a good amount of barnyard in this spot with plans to disperse it elsewhere, but it all  remained right there. I knew this would be a rich, loamy soil and had high hopes for these new roots. Little did I know they would grow and grow. Initially, I didn’t intend on harvesting anything from these plants the first year because I wanted them to become well established. But after the leaves became profuse and two feet long, I started picking six to eight to ten leaves a day and feeding them to the chickens. The chickens loved them and got to where they would stand at my feet waiting for a leaf to eat.

With the great success of these roots last year, I ordered 20 more this year to extend my comfrey bed and production. I plan to incorporate the leaves fresh into the chicken, goat and pig (when they arrive) feed all summer, and hope to dry some for additional nutrition in the winter. The new roots have arrived, but for now they are sprouting out nicely in tubs waiting for the ground to dry up enough to work. They will also have to wait for us to kill and remove the brushy weed trees, briars and vines that currently reside in their new home. I will also add a deep layer of barnyard before planting to try to replicate the success of last year’s new bed.

Original True Comfrey
New Russian Comfrey

I noticed last year that the new plants and the original comfrey were similar, but different. The original plant’s leaves are much smaller and it is more prone to blooming. They are beautiful blooms, I might add. Because the new plants grew much bigger leaves, which provided more animal feed, I preferred this type of plant. I didn’t take the time to look up any information about the two kinds, though, until I received a question in an email recently. I just love questions. They prompt me to do more indepth research and learn. It turns out that the original plant I got is a true comfrey. It propagates from seeds, has smaller leaves and tends to be taller, about two feet. The new plants are Russian comfrey. The leaves tend to be much larger, it flowers but they are sterile, and it propagates through root division.

Here is a better explanation from Horizon Herbs. “What’s the difference between this plant [Russian Comfrey] and true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis)? The Bocking 14 cultivar of Russian Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) is a sterile hybrid that will not self-seed and is extremely robust and vigorous.  The true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) is a bit less vigorous of a grower, has more elongated leaves and (I think) prettier flowers, and does indeed make seed.  Although both types of comfrey (Russian and True) are useful for making medicine and making compost, in an ideal world one would use the bocking cultivar for producing large amounts of biomass for permaculture gardens, composting, and animal feed, and one would use the true comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) for medicinal purposes.  Again, both types (and other species as well) are used interchangeably in agriculture and in medicine.” 

The roots I bought last year and this year came from Horizon Herbs. I am very pleased with the quality of their comfrey, as well as their price. I have no affiliation with them, I’m just a satisfied customer. After reading the paragraph on their site about the two different types of comfrey, I’m glad I have both, one for animal feed, the other for medicine, but I can use them interchangeably

So the next time I went out to the garden, I took a closer look at the comfrey I planted last year. It is already coming up very nicely, and I have picked a few leaves for the chickens twice already. Guess what? Each of the six roots I planted last year have multiplied! Most of them by at least four or five times, meaning my plants haven’t just doubled in one year, they have….what would you call it? Quadrupled or quintupled. If I had realized that, I may not have ordered so many new roots. I still would have ordered some, but probably not 20. With this multiplication rate, I will be able to have many more beds of comfrey and a whole lot more feed for my animals. What a great bonus!

I wanted to share what I have learned about comfrey, just in case you may be thinking of getting some, or like me, you may already have some, but didn’t realize the difference. I guess this is one case where ignorance has been bliss. I had no idea I would be blessed with such an abundance by choosing a different variety of a specific plant. There are so many times that life can throw you a loop, and sometimes it pays to grab hold and see what that loop may hold. You may find a very pleasant surprise. 


Until next time – Fern