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The Intrepid Homestead

One Family's journey toward a simpler, sustainable, prepared homestead and life

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micro-Farming

Pastured Pork Pros and Cons

We’ve had a few seasons of raising pastured pork and are starting to understand the pros and cons. We aim to share them here for those who really want to understand some of the potential blessings and hardships associated with raising pastured pork.

We love Joel Salatin. It was largely his videos on pigs raised in the forest that got our feeble minds thinking we could do this. Nevertheless, an hour or two of his videos don’t adequately portray the months of experiences one will have raising pigs in a forest, meadow, field, or pasture. Joel Salatin makes it look easy! It isn’t super hard, but it’s not super easy either.

First, the pros…

If you have a good docile breed, your pigs will be very happy in a pasture or woods vs a concrete slab (a common approach). Pigs are intelligent animals that enjoy exploration, space, community, and movement. Pastured pigs enjoy these in abundance.

If you plan on eating these pigs, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing they lived a very happy life (except one day).

Your pigs will taste better than the average pig (assuming you feed them good food). Remember, you are what you eat and you are what you eat eats!

They’ll clear your land of more or less all vegetation minus large trees.

They’ll fertilize your land and any land downstream from your land

If you intend to sell them, there is a potential market for pasture-raised pork.

Your pigs will taste better than any pork you could purchase at the store.

Pigs -especially piglets- are fun to watch and be around.

Pigs don’t require much infrastructure. If you get them young enough to train to an electric wire/fence, you can house them for very little. This is a huge plus compared to other homestead/farm animals. Only rabbits are simpler.

Pigs will make good use of your quality garden and kitchen waste. More of the calories you purchase or grow will end up feeding you if you have pigs.

Example. When we buy bushels of peaches to can, we skin them, can the fruit, then run the skins through a juicer. This gives us peach juice to freeze, can, or use in smoothies, and then some skin pulp and pits. The pigs will eat the skin pulp and the pits, leaving us with zero waste!

Now, the cons…

If you raise pigs in a field, forest, meadow, or pasture, that is where they’ll most likely be when you go to round them up for slaughter. This is NOT an easy task in many cases. Many YouTubers, movies, and bloggers have idyllic photos and videos of homesteaders and farmers frolicking with their pigs. That may be true for about 5 minutes, or on days when you and they have nowhere special to be. As soon as you roll up with a trailer and they see you salivating at the thought of eating them as ham and bacon – you’ll soon find out how belligerent a pig can be!
A pig is a like an impetuous 300lb bodybuilding two-year-old. Catching them requires work and ingenuity. It might also take some nerves. A caught pig makes a lot of unsettling noise. If you have to deliver a live animal to the butcher, it’s going to take some effort. On average, it takes us 70 minutes per pig to gather and place in a trailer. Oh, and that is for 4-5 strong and fit men (over the age of 16)!Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you, and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pigs can feel intimidating, even if nice. They make noises that can be unnerving to some. When they do this while swarming you, especially when over 200lbs each, this can make a gal or fella a bit uneasy. They probably won’t hurt you and are likely just wondering what goodies you might have brought to the party. Nevertheless, this can be a scary experience for new pig owners.

Pigs create mud out of thin air. Seriously. You can have a nice dry patch of woods and inside of a few weeks, it will look like a scene from a National Geographic report on catastrophic mud slides. Pigs create muck and in copious supply! Walking in said muck is tough. Add rain to that muck and it is very easy to be in mud up to mid-calf. In our very wet mountainside, this is discouraging at times. Your “pasture”, unless quite large, will likely be mostly a mud lot when the pigs are through with it.

Pastured pigs take longer to raise (potentially). You can’t go by books written for commercial or economical pig-raising. Pigs raised on a 16′ square of concrete who cannot forage or root are going to fatten up much faster than a very fit and active pig galavanting throughout the forested glen or meadow.

Pigs that are being raised in the cold will dedicate some of their calories for staying warm rather than growing larger. This means it takes more feed. If you’re raising pastured pigs, you’re most-likely using quality feed, which means you will need MORE of it. All around, this makes for a more expensive pig. That’s okay! Just be realistic about it.

Pigs we start in October are ready in May. Pigs we start in July are ready in late Fed/March. This is a slower approach than most approaches geared toward solely economics. If you’re buying pastured pork, keep this in mind and don’t haggle with your farmer over the price. Pastured pork is more resource-intensive to raise to maturity

The majority of people who might want to buy your pork are used to grocery store prices. Most of those people will not understand and therefore purchase your more expensive pork. All most consumers will think is that the sale paper pork is way less than yours. Ah, but you say you can raise them cheap!  If your feed is entirely free – maybe.Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs might eat anything/everything, but it doesn’t mean they should or that eating a pig that has eaten everything/anything is a good idea! Don’t get pigs thinking you’ll feed them the scraps from your town or community. Yes, they will eat it and get fat doing so – but you will be eating them and therefore eating the same scraps. Feed pigs quality feed and they’ll give you quality meat.

Pigs cannot always be butchered when you need them to be. Butchers have busy schedules and many butchers have seasons they do and don’t butcher pigs. Getting your butchering done when you and the pigs are ready might prove challenging. Select your butcher and understand their schedule before bringing home your pigs.

All in all, raising pigs has been a great experience – one that we intend to keep doing. However, it’s not without its challenges and knowing these beforehand can be helpful. Have a question or comment about raising pigs? Chime in below!

Land/Auction Update

Just realized today that we neglected to post any updates regarding our recent trip to auction to bid on a 37 acre farm.

Well, we went there ready to bid. We set a price we all agreed on. We were ready to go.

The bidding quickly got beyond our max price. We never even got to bid. That’s a good thing because we learned enough about auctions to know NOT to bid until certain times, and also never to go over your max amount. We felt good that we didn’t do anything stupid. As it was, the winner paid about $100k more than we would have. That’s about $100k more than the land was worth. That buyer is gonna have a hard time getting a bank to finance the deal and/or will have more invested in their property than the property is worth.

So… this farm was not for us. At least not at this time. We have no idea what Jehovah has in store for us. We’re content with the outcome. More than that, we’re excited about the relationship opportunities that happened because our consideration of this endeavor. When people think about doing something like this, there HAS to be some intense discovery and conversation about one another. For me (Andrew) that was the big reward of this experience. Way more important than getting land. We were able to work together, lay aside petty differences, past hurts, future fears and a whole lot more and still decide that we could love one another despite those things. Truly amazing! I don’t care if we ever get land if we can keep growing in those kind of relationships!

So, we’re still looking for viable land and the means to acquire it. In the meantime, we’re endeavoring to help one another live simple, pleasant, and rewarding lives together. We’ll keep you posted!

Sprouts – add this tasty super food to your emergency meal planning

Sprouts: Fresh produce all year long – no garden required!

Many people (ourselves included) who value eating healthy, organic, nutritious foods and who also concern themselves with securing a sustainable food supply will eventually ask themselves the question “How will we continue to eat healthy foods when we cannot harvest from the garden?”. There are many natural and disastrous circumstances that could keep one from  growing healthy produce – namely Winter!

We’re big fans of freezing, canning, root cellaring, cold storage, etc. However, those options don’t provide the participants with fresh green produce (typically). Enter sprouts! Sprouts are just what they sound like – sprouted seeds of vegetables, beans, grains, or grasses that are just days old when harvested and consumed. Sprouts are a wonderful addition to a simple, sustainable, healthy, and prepared lifestyle. Sprouts are super-easy to grow, offer superior nutritional and health benefits, require little to no energy to produce, can be eaten fresh, and require little investment.

Getting started with sprouting

Making sprouts is easy and requires little investment. While you can sprout seeds in mason jars, clear plastic or glass containers, etc. we chose to buy a sprouting kit. The kit below was a small $12-$14 investment was well worth it and allows us to sprout up to three kinds of sprouts at once with just a few square inches of counter space, a few cups of water, and a few days. To sprout three trays of sprouts probably requires us about 30 minutes of total time investment.

A great, simple sprouter
This great little sprouter is available for about $12-$14 at Amazon. Click to see.

The sprouting process is simple. You place a small amount of the sprouting seed (more on that in a minute) on the tray, fill the top reservoir with water, and let it trickle down through all the layers of seeds, wetting each layer of seeds. Do this twice a day and in about three to five days, keeping the sprouting container in a well lit area of your home and you’ll have fresh sprouts ready to eat. How’s that for quick and healthy food?

Sprouts as a survival/emergency food

Sprouts should be added to the food strategy of anyone looking to create a secure and sustainable food supply. Firstly, sprout seeds are vegetable seeds so they can serve the dual purposes of sprouting for food, or growing to fully mature plants in the garden. Secondly, seeds are easy to store. As long as they’re clean, dry, cool, and dark, they should hold up in storage for a between 1-10 years! We consider them sustainable because we can plant the seeds, harvest harvest the crops from those seeds, keep seeds from the crop and store them again and again (if using non-GMO, non-hybrid seeds that is). They’re also great because the don’t require much space, require no real “labor” to speak of (compared to gardening), very little water, and tolerate most indoor temperatures. In summary, sprouts are hard to mess up!

Sprouting seeds – a smorgasbord of flavors and variety

If all you know of sprouting is alfalfa sprouts you can buy in the store – it’s time to expand your horizons! There are tons of varieties of sprouts to choose from. Leafy sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, and arugula. There’s “Bean” sprouts such as mung bean, garbanzo (chick pea), pea, lentil and peanut. Then there’s Brasicca sprouts such as broccoli, radish, mustard and more. Perhaps you might like Grasses (wheat, barley), Grains (spelt, quinoa, kamut), Nuts (almonds, sunflower), or Allium sprouts (garlic, leek, onion). There’s not shortage of things to sprout! You cannot sprout everything (ie. never sprout nightshades like tomato, potato, and eggplant).

When we got started, we were not sure what we’d like, so we purchased a 12lb variety pack (seen below). It’s been a great way to add to our emergency food supply as well as discover what we like. So far, the clear winner in our home are lentils!

This is the 12lb organic sprout seed sampler we purchased. It's a good way to get a lot of seeds, and also discover what you like.

Ancient wisdom with modern repercussions

Sprouting seed has been around for a loooong time! Take a look at this scripture verse:

“Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. – Ezekiel 4:9

I don’t know about you… but if there were a food that I knew could keep me alive for 390 days eating nothing else, I think I’d add it to my emergency food supplies. In the verse above, God instructed the prophet Ezekiel to make a bread from sprouted grains and eat it (exclusively) for just such a duration. It’s no wonder… take a look at the nutritional value of sprouts:

  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K
  • Calcium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Chlorophyll
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • All Amino Acids
  • Trace Elements
  • Protein: up to 35%

Do we want to eat sprouts/sprouted bread for 390 days? Of course not. However, it’s nice to know that there are simple, healthy, inexpensive, and sustainable foods that can sustain our lives and the lives of those we love. Heh, sprouting was worthwhile enough for God to instruct Ezekiel to give it a shot – maybe you should give them a try too?!

Please post your own thoughts about sprouts in the comments below.

Time to think about gardening!

It’s snowing furiously outside at the moment. It probably seems crazy to think about gardening this time of year, but this is when we start to plan for the upcoming season. Where we live, the growing season us typically from the end of May til the end of September. Gardening, like most things worth doing, takes preparation and advanced planning. There are seeds and stock to buy, beds to build, repair, and manage, plants to start, and much much more.

We’ve recently bought nearly 100 types of seeds not counting seed potatoes and sweet potato slips that we’ll start ourselves this weekend likely (see prior post on growing sweet potatoes). This year we aim to grow several thousand pounds of produce. Yes, you read that right several thousand pounds. Why so much? We aim to grow as much of our own foods as possible. This includes food for immediate consumption throughout the growing season as well as food to store for the winter. We also like to share with others and this gives us the means to do that.

Here’s some of what we’re growing (multiple varieties of each):  Amaranth, Beans, Beats, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Burdock Root, Butternut Squash, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Eggplants, Jerusalem Artichokes, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Melons, Onions, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Pumpkins, Rutabaga, Salad Greens, Salsify, Scorzonera, Shallots, Spinach, Squash, Tomatoes, Turnip, Watermelons, and Zucchini.

As you can see, that’s not your average salad garden! We’re not sure we’re finished procuring all we’ll plant either 😉 We enjoy variety, color, and diversity in our diet. Many of these items can be consumed this summer and fall and many will be canned, frozen, or sent the root cellar for keeping through next winter.

While we are big believers in organic and open-pollinated seeds, we do not exclusively use them. Why? Because we want to strike a balance between open-pollinated seeds and a good yield. If we grew only open pollinated varieties, we’d likely have less yield. That’s because hybrid plants have been selectively bred to resist pathogens and disease. If we could devote ourselves full-time to this effort, we could get good yields with open pollinated varieties, but it would take time that we cannot commit at this time. A combination of organic, heirloom, open-pollinated and hybrids is the best combination for our needs. We purchased nearly all our seeds from Johnny’s and Baker’s Creek. Both companies offer great selection of beautiful seeds with good germination rates.

We’re having a local nursery business start much of our seeds for us this year. This benefits the local economy and spares us the space and expense of starting seeds. It’s not as easy as many might think. Hopefully, we’ll move to a suitable property where we can expand and setup a small greenhouse to start plants. Until then, having a professional start them for us is a cheaper alternative.

We have several large garden plots on our property as well as several raised beds. To accommodate all we want to plant this year, we’re going to add about 10 4’x8′ raised beds and some additional plot space. There are many benefits to raised beds;  they make managing the soil easier, weeding easier and less frequent, erosion control, they can help control the delicate air/water mixture needed for good yield and a host of other benefits. Additionally, they don’t require digging and can be filled with a growing medium works for our environment. We’ll likely be building ours out of engineered decking planks. These offer rot resistance without chemicals leaching into the soil that could be harmful and should be easier to acquire than cedar.

How bout you? What steps do you take this time of year to prepare for gardening season?

Harvesting Broccoli

Today we pulled our first head of broccoli out of the garden for our dinner. We thought it would be a good topic to cover.

Broccoli Ready To Harvest
Broccoli Ready To Harvest

Knowing when the broccoli is ready
There are a few ways to determine when broccoli is ready to harvest. First, it must have a head of broccoli of course! Second, the florets (the smallest part of the broccoli that you eat) should be about the size of a match head. Lastly, the color of the florets should be a dark green. If the florets are mostly yellow, your broccoli is either not ready to eat, or it has a nutrient deficiency or disease. If the rest of the plant looks healthy, assume that it’s just not mature yet. The picture below shows what a “ready to eat” head of broccoli looks like. We had hoped for larger heads of broccoli, but we’ve had a weird growing season and our soil was not in prime shape.

Cutting the head of the broccoli
Cutting the head of the broccoli

How to harvest
Harvesting broccoli is very easy. With a sharp knife, make a quick clean cut 5-6 inches below the florets where the stems gather into the main stem of the plant. We like to have an inch or so of the main stem  on the cut piece. This makes it easier to handle and store until used. Once the head of the broccoli has been removed, you’ll likely notice that the remaining stem is hollow. This is normal.

The remaining broccoli plant
The remaining broccoli plant

What do to with the remaining plant
Some might assume that the remaining plant has no further use. Others might assume that the remaining plant will re-sprout a new head of broccoli. Neither is exactly accurate. Assuming favorable conditions (sun, water, temperature), the remaining plant will sprout additional smaller heads of broccoli from the side of where the main head was removed. These are perfectly edible and make a fine addition to salads, or cooked as a side item. These generally will not be very large.

Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets
Cabbage Worm hidden among the florets

Things to watch for
In our neck of the woods, we have to deal with Cabbage Worms, which are actually not a worm at all, but a caterpillar. These are the larvae from cabbage moths which are actually not a moth but a butterfly. Confused yet? Anyway, we could spray for those I suppose, but they’re just as easy to pick off the plants (this is referred to as “mechanical” pest control). We take the worms and feed them to the chickens who despite not liking broccoli, enjoy these pests! We like this because we use the worms to our advantage to keep the chickens happy and healthy.

After you harvest your broccoli, check for cabbage worms. They’re easy to spot. They’re dark green and contrast well with the stalk of the broccoli. Just pluck them off. You could also try filling a bowl or pot with water (a little at a time) and inserting the head of broccoli upside down into the water. This should make the worms climb up the stalk where they’ll be easier to remove. If you do this too fast, you’ll just drown the worms and then they’re harder to get off. Of course, you can also look for them after cooking, depending on how you cook. That’s admittedly not such a nice experience ;-).

Growing and Harvesting Sweet Potatoes

Today we had the fun experience of harvesting sweet potatoes. Here in PA, we aim to harvest them before the first fall frost which is still nearly a month away. We could have waited a few weeks to let the potatoes get a bit bigger, but sometimes we just harvest when you get the itch!

Getting started growing sweet potatoes
Growing sweet potatoes is very easy, but it requires some patience and forethought. We started back in Feb/March during the winter by visiting our local grocery store and selecting a few small sweet potatoes. Next, we place them in mason jars that with water covering about 1/3 of the tuber. To keep the tuber still, we placed large skewers (broken into smaller lengths) like one would use for grilling into the top of the tuber so that the tuber’s weight rested on these skewers keeping the bottom of the tuber off the bottom of the jar. This is because some of the slips that begin to grow do so from the bottom. It’s just a preference of ours.

How long will they take to sprout!?
After several months (like 2-3), we had healthy slips growing from the submersed tubers. It will seem like forever before they start to grow. They might not grow, but give it a chance! About 1-2 weeks before you intend to plant the slips, remove them from the submersed tuber and place them in their own jar of water. They will re-sprout “water roots”. These will be important for getting the plant established.

When to plant outdoors
When the soil is good and warm (sometime in May for us) , mound up some well cultivated soil into a pretty large furrow. You want the mound to be deep enough to allow for some good tuber growth. Make sure the soil is well cultivated. We added a little bit of composted horse manure and also some peet moss as well. Next, cover the mound with black plastic or landscape fabric, then punch 1″ or so holes about every 18″. We only ended up with 6 usable “slips” from the above process, so we spaced ours out a bit more. Use a stick or something similar to drive through the holes in the black plastic/fabric down into the soil a good 12″ or so. Place a slip in each one, then lightly pack the soil back around the slip and water each slip well. Over the growing season, be sure to occasionally side-dress the tubers with some fertilizer (we use fish emulsion). In several weeks, the slips will start to expand and voraciously cover the surrounding area. It will be somewhat invasive at times, so bear this in mind when choosing a location to plant!

How long do they take to grow and how do you harvest?
Most varieties take from 95-110 days to mature. When that much time has elapsed, or just before the first fall frost, pull back some of the black ground cover and paw around the base of one of the plants. You should find some nice-sized tubers!

This is what a cluster of tubers will look like when you start to paw around
This is what a cluster of tubers will look like when you start to paw around

To harvest, remove the top ground cover of the plant, pull back the black ground cover and gently start to paw around where the base of each slip had been planted. You should find collections of 6-10 tubers where each slip had been with occasional tubers in between or at the edges. We use our hands to harvest and it’s something nearly the whole family enjoys. Harvesting tubers is a very kid-friendly thing to do. You’ll want to encourage your children not to pull on the tubers too hard, and not to use tools that will pierce the potatoes. Aside from that, it’s kind of like digging for treasure.

Once harvested, allow to sit for 6-8 hours in the sun, then move indoors to a warm (70-80℉) room for another week or so before placing in storage. Sweet potatoes should hold up well in a cool dry place for the winter (root cellar, garage, basement, etc).

Gotchas!
We found that deer really like to eat the sweet potato greens. See our previous post about deer repellent to read how we prevented this. Also, it’s important to regularly inspect the area surrounding your black ground cover. It’s quite common for burrowing rodents to sneak under their and harvest your tubers for you! Perhaps a cat could help with this task 😉

How about yield?
Only 5 out of our 6 slips survived because one snapped while planting. For each slip planted, we grew approximately 6-10 tubers averaging about 3-4 lbs. of tubers per slip. Next year we’re planning on planting quite a few more slips and planting them closer together which would have given us a higher yield. For our family of five, we grew just about the number of potatoes we’d eat over the winter months. We might use 3-4 tubers in one meal and eat them every other week or so at most, so this is sufficient yield for us. We would prefer to grow about 20-30% more than we require to share with others, account for spoilage, and also to set aside some for next year’s seed.

Our harvest of Sweet Potatoes from 5 slips
Our harvest of Sweet Potatoes from 5 slips

What about the greens?
We’ve read that some people harvest and eat the sweet potato greens as well. Apparently in Japan, their quite common. We’ve never done so. Today, we fed our greens to the chickens to give them some nutritious snacks.

Keeping the deer out of the garden – and people too!

Several weeks ago, we noticed that despite our efforts up til that point (ie. a four foot fence), that deer were still gaining access to one of our gardens. They were unfortunately helping themselves to the green leaves of our beets which ended up making the yield lower. When they tired of beets, they moved on to the sweet potato greens next.

Frustrated, having spent hard earned resources on the now impotent fence, I looked for other options. Do a google search and you’ll find some pretty strange solutions from CD’s to human hair, etc. I had recently been given some deer and rabbit repellent in a small spray bottle but there was no way that would cover the entire garden area. Further, we didn’t know if we really wanted to spray that stuff on something we were going to eat. After some research, we discovered that the Deer and Rabbit repellent version of Liquid Fence was just natural ingredients like eggs, garlic, pepper, etc. More on that in a second.

Liquid Fence Deer and Rabbit Repellent

Earlier in the summer, we ventured into using Fish Emulsion as a natural, organic fertilizer. This was the recommended product of the producers of much of our seed stocl. It’s good stuff as fertilizer, but boy does it stink! See where we’re going with this? 😉

Alaska Fish Emulsion

So because we apply the fish emulsion every other week or so, we decided to add some of the liquid fence into the mix and put it all in a sprayer to make it easier to mist the leaves of the plants that the deer were becoming fond of, and also side dress the other crops. The combination of these two ingredients would likely raise the dead to life  it’s that potent! If you value your neighborly relationships – use wisely! We found that after letting it sit in the sprayer for two weeks, it’s even MORE potent. We hope we’ve not ruined hunting season for our area hunters by sending all the deer away.

The benefits of this are two fold 1) critter repellent and 2) fertilization. Adding the two together assures that we keep the smelly stuff coming as often as the fertilizer and provides compelling reasons to go out every two weeks to do both. Drop the ball on the fertilizing, and you not only make the plants suffer, but weaken their defenses against critters. It’s proven to be a valuable symbiotic relationships thus far.

As a side note – we also picked up some bath soap from a surplus-sort of store for $.40/bar or so. We cut these in half, drilled holes in them, then hung them on every fence post. The combination of these two things has given our garden a welcome break from deer, rabbits, even children ;-). If they continue to work so well, we may try going fenceless next year!

If you’ve got your own recipe for some world-class anti-critter stink, post it in the comments so we can try it!

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