The Many Gifts of a Pig

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Sprout and Ginger on a lovely fall day

 

There are many reasons why we raise pigs.  For one, they are fun to have around.  The pigs we raised this year were the sweetest and most patient we have experienced yet.  When walking out to feed them we were often greeted by pigs sitting on their rumps and making a low whining/grunting suggestion, a far cry from the usual screaming and carrying on we have heard from other pigs.

We rotate our pigs on pasture so that they have fresh grass weekly.  While they do turn over the soil and make holes and humps it seems like they are still improving the pasture.  We have a lot of stumps from softwoods that we cleared over the past 4 years that become older and more rotted and loosened with each year’s work from the pigs and chickens.  Pigs also eat the roots of a lot of perennial plants- it appears that the goldenrod population has decreased and desired grasses increased in land visited by the pigs.  Of course they also offer the gift of a lot of fertility, which is nicely dispersed in a pasture based setting.

As much as we enjoy the lives of the pigs we raise- we know that ultimately their purpose is to fill the freezer with tasty meat.  We choose to hire a professional to do on farm slaughtering because it seems the quickest and least stressful way for the pigs to go.  We also butcher at home because it is actually a fun time that we spend with family (though lots of greasy work).  Using the whole hog “nose to tail” is an old concept that is newly promoted by some current chefs and foodies.  To us, using the most that you can from an animal makes economic sense and feels more respectful of the life that was given.

We can not claim to literally use everything nose to tail.  We aren’t using the nose or tail, or skin, or most of the head (perhaps we’ll aspire toward those parts in the future).  We have gotten braver as the years pass and add a new experience to our repertoire annually.  We always make scrapple, sausage and lard.  Last year we tried Guanciale, which is a a dry cured meat made from the jowl or cheek of the pig.  The jowl is fatty and in many ways similar to pork belly.

our first successful Guanciale made in 2013

our first successful Guanciale made in 2013

The guanciale turned out great, it cured down to something that looked like concentrated bacon with loads of flavor.  With our first cured meat experience behind us, this year we are inspired to do more Guanciale, and also to experiment with dry cured bacon and Canadian Bacon.  Our fridge is full of marinating experiments.  We also saved the feet this year as we were inspired by a recipe for a slow cooked beef roast that called for a pig’s foot.  The feet are supposed to be delicious if cooked slowly and the collagen allowed to dissolve.  The final new discovery for the year is using cracklings in cooking.  Cracklings are the little meaty bits that are the left over by product of rendering lard.  We usually feed them to the chickens who greatly appreciate a little fat in the cold months.  This year I started nibbling on them and noticed that I was returning to the bowl for more.  They are tasty little niblets- we want to try adding them to cornbread, roasting them with root veggies, using them on top of a gratin, or throwing them into stews.  We’ll share some with the chickens and ducks too.  We’ll all be enjoying the many gifts of a pig through the cold months ahead.

Thank you Sprout and Ginger!

 

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Lisa’s Farm Gallery

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The gray skies of November have descended upon us.  This time of year it seems like a race to attempt to finish all the outdoor projects that we’d like to get done before frozen soil and snow covered ground make gardening more challenging.  I’m trying to put all of the gardens to bed the way I’d like to- weeded, amended, and mulched.  Usually we run out of time or materials, but perhaps we’ll get there this year.

As the greener time of year is now behind us, it seemed like a nice time to reflect on some images from the growing season.  Our neighbor Lisa Robinson has done a work exchange for vegetables every season for 3 years now.  Some weeks she also brought along her camera and captured the plants and animals as the season progressed.  When Frey and I take pictures around the farm they are usually of a particularly good looking crop, a bed after it was just weeded, or a close up scene that omits the grassy wildness.  Lisa’s pictures aren’t edited in this way- you see it like it is, through Lisa’s lens.  Here is Lisa’s photo gallery full of gardens, flowers, animals and events.


 


Thank you Lisa for sharing these summer moments with us!

 

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Happenings in the next couple of weeks

 

100_6947October 22 we’ll have fresh chicken available in the late afternoon for $5/lb.  Please call or email soon to reserve your birds.  You can also pick them up frozen later, but we’d prefer to move as many of them as possible fresh.

November 1 we are offering a sheet mulching demonstration and free lunch in partnership with the Lunchbox.  The sheet mulching demonstration starts at 11am, followed by a free soup meal using farm grown ingredients.  Sheet mulching involves covering the ground with a barrier layer that will break down within a season (cardboard or newspaper) topped with composted manures and mulch layers.  This smothers weeds, adds fertility and keeps the soil covered. It is a great way to prepare new garden space for next year.  If you’d like to help, come prepared to handle mulch and compost.  Anyone interested in a tour afterwards is welcome to stick around. This is a family friendly event- feel free to come for any part of the day.  Frozen chickens and garlic will also be available for sale that day.

Next comes the mulch

Sheet mulching with a class from Sterling College

November 2 we are hosting a hands-on skill share with the NEK VT Permaculture group.  We’ll be making bone salve, an herbivore repellent for trees made from the marrow of bones. It has supposedly been used in Austria and perhaps other parts of Europe for a long time, and has recently been popularized by permaculturist Sepp Holzer.  The meeting starts at noon with a potluck. We will demonstrate the set up and burning of a fire to make the bone salve, but it won’t be complete until the next day. Anyone who wants to try some of the finished product can get some at the next NEK VT Permaculture meeting at the Craftsbury Library, November 13, 6-7pm. While we are waiting for the fire to burn we can look at and discuss other winter protection methods for trees such as guards. If there is remaining time and interest we can work on some terracing/hugel bed making nearby.  We are still looking for another cast iron dutch oven that is 10 inches wide. If anyone has an old one to donate to the craft of bone salve making please let us know soon (755-6336). It shouldn’t be used for cooking for humans afterwards, so it is a sacrifice pot. We have some marrow bones to use, but could use more if anyone has access to fresh or frozen bones filled with marrow.  Here is a link with a lot more information about bone salve making and its uses.  All are welcome to this skill share and the NEK VT Permaculture Group meetings which happen monthly on the 2nd Thursday at the Craftsbury Public Library from 6-7pm.

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New Garden Pioneers

 

100_6763When creating new garden space via sheet mulching it is always advised to wait at least a few months for the bed to start decomposing before planting into it.  However, each year we find ourselves wanting to plant more space than we have prepared.  We inevitably decide to do some more sheet mulching, knowing that we can plant right into it with the old stand-by- winter squash.  It is a bit of a pain to cut through freshly laid cardboard, but winter squash seems to do just fine.  We have chosen to use them as pioneer plants in fresh beds because they are large transplants which need a lot of space, therefore you are making less holes than other fine seeded types of plants.  Winter squash also likes a lot of fertility, and grows quickly to cover and smother the area.  We rarely have to weed a winter squash planting in fresh sheet mulch.  The good leaf cover helps to discourage weed growth and by the following year the beds are in pretty good shape for other crops.  Some years we have planted garlic right after the winter squash.

This year we used winter squash in 3 different types of new beds:  swales dug by hand then planted, cardboarded and mulched, a fresh sheet mulch, and a terrace that was newly finished.  More details about the swale planting can be found here on a previous post.  This is what it looked like in August.  The white blooms are from daikon radish gone to seed. It was seeded into the swales along with various types of clover to cover the ground, add nitrogen, and in the case of radish to make water penetration easier.

100_6289For two years now we have also tried planting sweet potatoes into fresh sheet mulch, and the results haven’t been half bad.  As far north as we are near the top of Vermont, we don’t expect to get a lot from a warm loving crop like sweet potatoes- especially without using black plastic to warm the soil.  We were pleasantly surprised both years by how many sweet potatoes we got, though not enormous, even with all that mulch that most people say keeps the soil cold.  They also have the spreading vines that smother and cover a new area.  Next year we won’t put pumpkins next to sweet potatoes though- a little too much smothering and covering of each other went on.

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The Results are In! Tomato and Garlic Tastings 2014

Visitors at our open farm day start to dig in to tomato and garlic samples

Visitors at our open farm day start to dig in to tomato and garlic samples

It was exciting to have many new faces as well as some more familiar friends visit our farm on September 7 for our Open Farm Day and Tomato/Garlic Tasting Event.  We offered the event mainly to get people to visit the farm and so we could talk about our farming practices and show some of the abundances and challenges that are visible on a September tour.  An additional goal was to share the diversity and beauty of vegetable varieties that exist out there.  While some visitors were tomato and garlic aficionados looking to try more varieties, others were blown away by the fact that tomatoes come in other colors beside red and that garlic comes in more than one variety.  In reality our small taste testing represents the microscopic filament on the tip of the iceberg.  There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes and garlics out there.

The fun of growing a rainbow of different varieties of crops such as tomatoes, winter squash, peppers and beans is part of what inspires us to farm.  Of course a variety’s flavor is just as important as how cool it looks.  A taste test offers the chance to compare the flavor of vegetables side by side unhindered by the pressures of having to make choices based on price, size and appearance.  Allowing visitors to rate our veggies based on flavor adds an interesting perspective to our variety choices for future years.  On a daily basis we are evaluating our favorite varieties as we pick, sell and eat them.  Factors such as yield, marketable size, uniformity and lack of cracks and disease, and the appearance that most customers desire all effect our choices.  The funny thing is that when tasted side by side, most of those marketing factors don’t match up with the favorites from the taste test results.  For instance, the top voted tomatoes are orange and green (green when ripe).  We had been really excited about a new tomato this year called Gypsy because of its productivity of uniform medium sized blemish free fruits, but it came in last in the taste test.  That being said, the sample size of data was pretty small, with the average number of votes for each variety being around 12.  You can find last year’s taste test results here.  Some of the same varieties were tasted last year but many are different and the results are quite variable.  I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves, here are the results of the taste test for tomatoes.

Tomatoes were ranked based on both taste and sweetness.  Here are the rankings from highest to lowest based on the averaged taste and sweetness scores: (I’ve included links so you can click the variety name to see a picture and seed source, though many of these tomatoes were grown from seeds we saved ourselves last year)

1.Honey Drop

2. Aunt Ruby’s German Green

3. Solar Flair

4. Rose de Berne

5. Pork Chop

6. Raspberry Lyanna

7. Orange Strawberry

8. Golden Jubilee

9. Super Lakota

10. Paul Robeson

11. Amish Paste

12. Purple Russian

13. Gypsy

Comment and scores left along with the oil spots at the garlic tasting

Comment and scores left along with the oil spots at the garlic tasting

The garlic was chopped and served in olive oil on crackers.  Being such a strong flavor when eaten raw, differentiating between the varieties of garlic poses a challenge.  Garlic varieties were evaluated for flavor and spiciness.  Despite similarities some distinct favorites did emerge, and the results were quite different from last year.

Garlic taste test results from highest to lowest scores based on the averages of flavor and spice:

1. Romanian Red (by a landslide)

2. German Extra Hardy

3. Elmer’s Topset

4. Phillips

5. German Porcelain (it should be noted that the low score for this variety indicates that it is the mildest and that may be desirable for some people)

The standout preference for Romanian Red was a surprise for us.  We have grown it for two years now and don’t have any to sell as we are building our seed stock, but will be sure to continue to expand our plantings after seeing these results.

Thanks to all who came out and participated in this event!

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Freedom Rangers

 

100_6486We are raising meat birds for our first time this year.  We’ve started with 52 Freedom Rangers (the two extra chicks that were sent made it, yay!).  We chose the Freedom Ranger variety over the standard white Cornish Cross because they are said to be better at grazing and foraging.  They grow at a slower rate, but seem like the healthier choice.  We haven’t experienced it first hand, but have read that the Cornish Cross chickens often have leg problems by the time they are 8 weeks old as their bodies grow so quickly.  Since we will not be slaughtering our Freedom Rangers until they are 11 or 12 weeks old, we will probably be spending more on grain because of the extra time, even though they are getting some of their diet from the pasture.

The Freedom Rangers are being fed organic grain, veggies and sprouts from the farm, and whatever they find to eat as they roam around during the day.  We still have a few chickens available.  They will be slaughtered in October.  Contact us if you’d like to reserve some birds.  We are selling them at $5/lb.

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Nurturing the Wild Edges

 

100_6210When we first moved to our property 4 1/2 years ago the lawn had been mowed regularly, and edges trimmed.  Walking around the first spring we found a few wild black raspberry plants that yielded a taste or two, but not much.  This year we have been picking black raspberries 6 quarts at a time every couple of days from wild patches.  So, what happened in between?  A little bit of “nurturing” and a lot of neglect.  Basically I assert that by keeping some “wild” edges and un-mowed spaces near the house we’ve created some prime habitat for one of my favorite edible crops that requires no work, expect for harvest.  In some of the patches the nurturing has involved a little more than that.  We have cleared around some berry patches to allow them to grow and helped keep them upright with fencing.  One particularly large fruiting plant was found growing out of the side of a honeysuckle bush by chance.  The fruit is the size of a domesticated raspberry, much bigger than your average black raspberry.  So, we cut down the honeysuckle which takes over the wild edges around here and is not edible.  In order to try to prevent the honeysuckle from suckering we covered it with thick cardboard, then piled a bunch of logs and wood pieces that were laying around on top.  The big fruited plant had bent over and rooted where it touched the ground in several places, so we were able to cut them and make more plants in a supported row.

100_6211When I look at all of the wild berry bushes that have grown and flourished, this common theme of a pile of logs or an old stump nearby prevails.  Berries seem to love rotting wood and the moisture and fungal associates that is brings.

So, we have done a little nurturing to our most productive bushes in the forms of tying up, adding some manure, and wood piles.  There are a couple of spots that we have done nothing to except not kill them, and they are doing great too.  I think this is the key to developing an edible landscape working with what comes naturally in the landscape.

100_6250Some areas in our fields have patches of wild blueberries.  We have done nothing to these except, let them grow.  We thought they probably indicated a good spot to plant domesticated blueberries and have planted around them.  Generally they are too tedious to pick lots of, but they are good for a nibble.

There are many other useful plants in our hedge rows and infrequently mowed fields.  The Choke Cherries and Hawthorns flourish more each year, and plentiful blooms of Yarrow, St. Johnswort, Valerian and Clover support local pollinators and offer medicine for the picking.  Nature is plentiful!  Let’s hear it for the messy yard.

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