Here we are beginning of January and I'm already dreaming about spring while planning the garden, fencing, and spring animals. This will be our first spring here at the new house, and true to form I have about a zillion plans that I'm itching to execute. It isn't as easy as rototilling some ground for a garden, or throwing up fencing for animals, as we have a lot of overgrowth. The previous owners of our 200+ year old house as well as the owners before them (dating back to 1967) did not maintain the property in terms of any kind of a lawn, or the fields, and who knows how long before that. What used to be pasture, lined with stone walls, is now new growth forest. Luckily for us, it is newer growth and although there are a lot of trees, they are smaller making them easier to clear. We don't even have much in terms of a "yard" as brush was allowed to grow and creep in, then take over. The area that I had pegged for my garden (as it was the only area that was clear-ish) ended up being partly used for the leech field for the new septic put in before closing. After moving in, we spent a lot of time pushing brush back away from the house, and started to reclaim some of the land. We also dropped trees close to the house for firewood for next winter. When you have that much overgrown and neglected land, every little spot that you open up makes a huge difference. With that being said, big plans are still underway and I look forward to the challenge ahead!
Oh, my garden. I have been struggling with a garden since I moved to Massachusetts. I believe that I was spoiled before, and since I left it has been a battle. As I mentioned above, there was an area that was clearish when we were in the process of purchasing the house that I intended to put the garden. It had a slight pitch, faced south, had a couple of trees to the west that could easily be dropped, and the soil seemed good. I thought I lucked out. Then, the septic failed. And roughly 70% of the area that I had planned on putting my garden became the leech field. I tried to get the location moved, and was asked "where to"? Which was a valid point, there was no where else it could go without extensive work. My only saving grace is that it was a fairly large area and they did not use it all. There is a rectangular area to the west of the leech field roughly 15' x 50' that was not used. Not ideal in size, but there is room for expansion in the future as we clear land. It has a slight pitch south (same as the leech field) which is where it drains as well, so there will not be any contamination issues.
This area was dug up along with the rest of the leech field and filled in with sand and some loam. So, come spring the ground will have to be broken, then dump truck loads of loam/compost brought in and rototilled in. The sand mixed in with the loam and compost will actually be great for soil drainage. With the help of straw and manure from the goat pen, I hope that I will be able to grow some decent vegetables this year. It will take some time, but through composting, I can build the soil up over time to where it needs to be. I hope to make this the first and last year that I rototill and implement the "no-till method" from here-on out.
What spring is complete without chicks? I already have 12 pullets on order from My Pet Chicken to be delivered in April, and I am going to also take a crack at incubating some of my own fertilized eggs. That will bring me up to 21 laying hens and 2 roosters in total (not counting any that I incubate).
I also will be getting my meat chickens in April around the same time as the layers. Rather than doing two rotations of birds like last year and battling the cold months, I am going to get them early and do them all at once so they're all being raised in the ideal summer weather and foraging conditions. I'm going to be doing 50 Red Rangers which I believe will be more than enough to get us through the year. With so many birds being raised at once, that means that our previous shelter will not be sufficient. So, this spring we will have to build a new, permanent structure. I plan on doing a shed-like design and basically filling it with ladder style roosts with an area for a food trough. Because I am only going to be raising meat birds in the warmer months (lesson learned) I will be keeping their water outside, and food as well. However, I do want enough room inside in case there is rain so they still have access to feed without it getting wet and ruined.
Because I am again doubling the number of birds I do at once, I will also have to readdress the pasture. It was plenty big for the 26 Red Rangers I had last year, but not nearly big enough for 50 to forage on and be a significant portion of their diet. I will take down the one side of the fence and push it out to open it up more. How much will be dependent on how much of the fence that I have leftover from last year. I don't think I need to double the size as it is quite large and was more than enough for the 26, but I will make it as big as I possibly can so I don't have to do it again.
Now here is where I'm getting really excited. Piglets are happening this spring!! I cannot wait to get started on this adventure. I have never raised them before, but I am taking it on with enthusiam. I have already started looking around for people who had litters in the fall, anticipating that they will have another in the spring. The only catch is I am going to be doing pastured pork with rotational grazing. I ideally would like piglets that at least have Berkshire mixed for the marbeling in the meat, but I have to be careful about where I get the piglets. Pigs are kind of like chickens in their natural foraging or non-foraging tendancies. Just like Cornish Cross have been bred to be raised in confinement and will sit in front of the trough and just eat grain, certain pig breeds have been bred to do the same. They have lost their natural instinct to feed themselves through foraging. Even if it isn't a specific "confinement type" breed, if boars and sows who know no life other than living in a barn stall and their food being brought to them, their offspring and offspring's offspring down the line will lose the instict to forage.
In the fall we cleared out a large area on the one side of our house up to the property line. It clearly used to be pasture and is lined with stone walls which made for good boundaries. There are a few large, old pines and some oak trees that were loaded with acorns that we left. In between these trees, small saplings riddled the forest floor. We cut these out, opening up the ground and now the sun will be able to break through and allow growth. Pigs do quite well in a wooded setting, there are a lot of nuts, bugs, and leaf litter for them to eat while staying out of direct sunlight. We have the area broken up into three pastures, with the potential for an additional one if we need it. We put the T posts in in the fall so we wouldn't be battling frozen ground come spring, and got the boundaries established. The key will be to let the pigs graze in one pasture until they have cleared and disturbed the soil to promote growth, but move them onto the next before they destroy it. With the number of pastures we have and their size, this will give the area they've moved from time to recover and allow growth, while allowing ample time to break any parasite's life cycle there may be.
This is my first time raising pigs, so I have a lot to learn and I'm sure there will be plenty of hiccups along the way. But, I am very anxious to take another step towards cutting out the grocery store more, and raising my own ethically raised and natural meat whose taste is second to none.
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