Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pigs an asset to the garden? You Bet!

Pigs penned in front yard to help convert a lawn area to a garden

I live in central Virginia were the soil is hard and rocky.   Not just a little hard or a little rocky either.  I mean very hard and very rocky.  Wheel barrow after wheel barrow full of rocks have been pulled from every bed I've planted here.   I lived and gardened in Denver most of my life and I thought the clay there was bad but this soil makes that look looming by comparison.  

I've tilled and dug and dug and tilled every year and still more rocks and back aches and now its been pointed out to us that tilling every year isn't the right thing to do if we want to keep what little topsoil is left.  So I am going to no-till beds now.   I am using all the spent hay from the goats, chickens and pigs, for mulch and planting medium on top of my soil.   Along with compost and a base layer of newspaper, I've been assured this will give me an easier, more productive, earth friendly environment to grow anything I want.   (More on this no-till method in another post)

On to the pigs... before I put down the the newspaper, hay, compost and anything else organic I may want to add, I am giving it over to the pigs.  With their powerful noses they are amazing little tillers.  They eat the weeds and grasses and then root down 12" - 18" leaving me an area to start with.  The difference is you only need to do it once before you start your no-till beds and pigs don't grind the soil to a dust the way a tiller does so it either erodes or blows away.  It is broken up into clods so roots of the plants you deem worthy of planting there can get in easily and deeply.   It also feeds the pigs.  Once an area is broken up I move them to another spot.   I do this by using hog panels for their pen.  You can get them at Tractor supply or feed stores.  There easy to move and make rotating the pigs fairly easy.   Or you can use electric netting which is also easy to move.

We have American Guinea Hogs which are a small homestead pig that aren't known for their rooting ability but are doing a great job none the less.   These guys are smaller than most pigs and very friendly. They are a rare breed and on the endangered breed list of the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Night time shananigans

Last night - chicks and child asleep on the floor

Chicks today

Things are different when you buy 25 day old chicks from a hatchery.  Even when you hatch your own in larger numbers things are different.  We've done it all ways, bought the required 25- 1 day olds, hatched  in large numbers and hatched just a few at a time and found when you hatch just a few they bond to you.   And like last night, when they are large enough to come visit that's exactly what they want to do.  They call to you just like the big chickens do, when they call  to you and  to each other and  they want to be near you.  

They'll be outdoors in another couple of weeks.  

Friday, March 19, 2010

Walking onions

Walking Onions

My walking onion plants arrived in the mail today wrapped loosely in a plastic grocery bag with damp peat moss tucked all around the roots, then placed into box which had been priority mailed to me.  I had been wanting these for sometime now and am thrilled to not just have found some but to have actually gotten them already rooted and growing.

Walking onions or Egyptian onions grow like a regular onion but when they get large they produce onions on the end of the stalk something like a spider plant grows new plants.   You can just harvest the top growing ones as small onions or green onions or you can start new plants from the top onions.  Mother nature will do it for you if you if you just let them go.  As the top gets heavy it bends over allowing the onion on top to make contact with the soil so it can then root itself.   You can also harvest the onions on the bottom but if you don't they will just keep growing as any perennial does.   They like moist looming soil and since they are a perennial I want to plant them in the right place the first time so mine are going into a clay pot until I find just the right spot for them.   Cool huh?  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Baby Chicks, Gardens and Goats

Chicks hatched this morning

This morning we were blessed to have 3 baby chicks hatch.   We had started with 8 eggs so it wasn't a great hatch but we were pleased none the less.   Last year I purchased hatching eggs so this was the first year we've hatched from our own chickens.  A couple weren't fertile to begin with when I candled them.  Don't know what happened to the others.  The ones that hatched were really pretty.    I was blown away with the coloring of the 2 darker ones.   This was a cross with a blue Orpington rooster and a buff Orpington hen.   One looks almost orange and the other chocolate.   The silver one is between two blues.  

Chicks are so much fun.   They haven't learned to be afraid and come right to you.   I think they are looking for a mother and you qualify if you bring them food and water.   They are so curious and so very chicken already.  They peck at each other and the smallest speck on your hand or a dish.      We cleaned out the incubator and added another 8 eggs to it. 

I started planting vegetables today.   I got pea's, spinach, lettuce, radishes and collards in.    Last year I missed most of the planting season so it was great to be on top of it this year.   I've been using the old hay from the goat house for mulch and also in the compost bin.   I am doing a few area's of no till beds using hay as well.    I need to get pictures as it progresses.   I am hopefully optimistic about using this method as it's just so much easier and better for the soil structure as well.   And it's a great use for all the wasted hay from bedding etc.   Goats are notorious about wasting hay so it feels much more tolerable knowing it's helping improve the soil.

I tend some years to get carried away with trying too many new vegetables that I don't use in the end so this year I  decided to stick for the most part with the things I use regularly... tomatoes, peppers of all varieties, onions, pea's, beans, pototoes, celery, spinach,  cucumbers and eggplants.   I think that's about it.   I also have an area out by the road I'm preparing as a no till bed.    I am going to use that area this year for lots of squashes and pumpkins.   I must have seeds of  4 or 5 varieties of winter squashes  and 5 or 6 different pumpkins so it will be great to have a large area to just let them roam.    I did bid on some walking onions on ebay tonight.   I've never tried them but they sound great and low maintenance to boot.   I'll post a picture if I win for any one that hasn't seen them before.  

Then next problem to contend with is the chickens in the garden.   I think they will have to go into the goat yard until the seeds sown have germinated and become established.   Last year the few things I did get planted the chickens pulled up the same day or the next day.   I love having them free range but they can really wreck havoc on a new garden.

After planting I went to work on the goat house.   I put down both lime and  dry stall for the ammonia smell from urine and laid new hay on top.   I smelled so much better; cleaner.     While I was doing it I looked at Passion who I was sure wasn't pregnant and I am now not so sure.   She wasn't having any part of Elvis while he was here but I think that may just have been while we were watching because she looks like she's getting bigger.   I won't know for another month but I do believe we'll be having two does kidding instead of just one.   I had been thinking  I may sell her as soon as Tina kidded and just yesterday I said I might put her on Craigslist now instead of waiting until Tina kidded.   I am really delighted  and hope she is in fact pregnant.   Time will tell.

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