Vineyard on Vineyard

It only makes sense that we put in a vineyard of kiwi vines given where we live. To that end, we had a productive long weekend! The cedar supports for our fuzzy kiwis are in. We have Hayward and Saanichton varieties of kiwis and are hoping to see fruit in the next 6-7 years. When we do, we expect a LOT of it. These still need to be anchored and string the wire. After that, we can put in the drip irrigation and plant our 6 vines. Just to be safe we are going to put some wire around the vines to prevent them from the pigs. The pigs have been safe with our blueberries but until our orchard and vineyard mature both the apple whips and young vines will have an added layer of safety.

Kiwi Update: May 23, 2020

The vines are in and the drip line is set. We’re still waiting on an order of wire vise and for the anchors to settle before tightening the wires. We’re also waiting on some deer wire to cage them in for some pig protection while they get established. Slowly but surely!

How to make a pig water barrel

One random skill I have acquired and become unexpectedly adept at is making barrels into water receptacles for pigs. It is a simple concept but when I first looked into it I found it really hard finding instructions that made sense or worked for me. I love the idea of hooking the nipple right up to the hose but then I would have to fiddle with pressure and plumbing. Not to mention get a hose all the way out to where I need it. I love these because they are simple.

Yes, drinking out of plastic is not ideal, but in my opinion it is a big step up from a more natural option like a stream with giardia in it. My critters get ultra filtered water that even gets run through UV, but these are my back up barrels. These are in the pastures so if someone goofs off and tips over their bowl, there is back up. Water is important for everyone but bigs are extra sensitive and it is peace of mind knowing they have water all the time. Not to mention that at 440lbs and 55 gallons fully loaded, each of these barrels has enough water to last the herd a couple of weeks each. This is a huge bonus for emergency preparedness. We have water stored for our family, of course we store it for our critters too. Otherwise during a crisis I’d be pumping a lot of water through a lifestraw!

So how easy is it? Pretty easy! You just need a clean, food grade barrel (I got 2 for $35 bucks each from Saanich for a student fundraiser), a 1” drill bit, a file (because the size of the hole you need is more like 1.25”), a 1/2” threaded bulkhead, some silicone to seal the bulkhead, a 1/2” pig nipple, and my secret weapon, a garbage picker thing.

The barrel has tiny little bungs at the top so you can’t reach inside to thread the nut onto the bulkhead. The garbage grabber slides in there and holds onto the nut while you screw the bulkhead in. If there is a better way, I have not tried it!

To get the job done:

  1. I just drill a hole and file it down to make it a little wider to accept the bulkhead. I put the hole where weaners and adults can reach it. The little fellas don’t need to use it.
  2. I thread the bulkhead most of the way in using the garbage grabber on the inside and twisting it from the outside. It takes a bit of back and forth but eventually it tightens up.
  3. Then right before I finalLy tighten it I smear a big glob of silicone all the way around the outside. I don’t know if I need to but it has been working with no leaks and I don’t want to find out if I need it or not.
  4. The last step is to add the pig nipple and make sure it is oriented upright.
  5. Once it sets up in 24 hours or so I test it for leaks, lash it down to a sturdy fence, and fill it up.

Trouble training pigs to use one of these? Just add some apple butter, jam, peanut butter (you get the idea) to the nipple. They figure it out, FAST! Within a day they will have no problem using it.

Cold winters? Yup frost will not be your friend. Inside a barn that is above zero I can’t imagine any problems but even if they are frozen during winter they hold up surprisingly well. I left mine out last year – full. We had a week or so of -7C which is cold for Vancouver Island. It made me wonder if the nipple would be okay. When it thawed to 0C+ there were no leaks and the nipple worked just fine. I was impressed? I like having an emergency water (or ice…) supply year round so I choose to leave them full. It’s probably best to bring them in where they are above freezing or drain them. I like to live life on the edge but I also have a bunch of spare nipples just in case!

Pork and Lard

This week we received our first batch of pork back that was harvested last month. It was a lot of pork! The hanging weights on our two hogs were 111 and 127lbs. On the hoof they were approximately 155 and 176lbs, so it worked out to exactly 72% which exactly aligned with the accepted industry standard. Of the 111 and 127lbs, we got 12lbs of lard per hog, about 5-6lbs of leaf lard and 6-7lbs of back fat. We also went for a lovely 20lbs of breakfast sausage and 28lbs of bacon and ham. We’ve tried a little bit of everything so far and could not be happier.

That is PORK! Look at that colour and all that marbled (tasty!) fat!

We love knowing where our pork came, it was humanely (and dare I say, lovingly) raised, fed an ethical, nutritious, vegan diet, and will pass on the health benefits of being raised on pasture, including increased levels of omega 3 in our diet. Especially in today’s global economy, it is satisfying to know that on very little external feed we can raise enough pork to feed our family all year with just 2-3 pigs. Self-sufficiency takes an initial investment, daily commitment and a little bit of work, but the rewards are priceless in our eyes.

Today we are rendering half the lard we harvested. It will go into jars for cooking, baking, and for making soap (more on that to come!). Lard conjures quite a bit of controversy. It all stems from what Corva Bella Farms describes as a “Corporate Coupe”. They had Crisco to sell and lard was demonized to make room in the market for their processed alternatives. It sounds rather sensational and I won’t attempt to review the entire history in this post but if your interest has been piqued, I’d highly suggested popping on over and seeing that original post, “Praise the Lard“. Despite the bad press, the nutrition of lard is undeniable. I had to research this a lot because let’s face it, this is quite a paradigm shift for me too! Even the BCC agreed with the nutritional benefits of lard. Lard shows up as number 8 on the BBC’s list of 100 most nutritious foods. It is listed up there with swiss chard, pumpkin seed, perch, and almonds. I will still add the caveat that while nutritious for a FAT, it is still a fat! Fats will continue to make up a small portion of our diet. This is not a superfood that will imbue you with magical health but when I do need to choose a fat to cook with, you better believe I will reach for the lard first!

Back fat on the left and leaf lard on the right, low and slow.

Here we’ve summarized our favourite points from “Seven Reasons Why You SHOULD Eat Lard“, added a few of our own, and synthesized a further explanation as well as information on how to render lard from Mommypotamus.

  1. Lard is high in Vitamin D: Lard from pastured pigs contains anywhere between 500-1000 IU vitamin D per tablespoon. This is dependant on sun exposure and diet and why this is a unique quality of pasture vs. commercially raised pigs. The only dietary source higher in vitamin D is cod liver oil.
  2. Lard is Heart-Healthy: How can a saturated animal fat be good for my heart? Lard is in fact classified as a monosaturated fat. It’s about 45-48% monounsaturated fat (oleic acid – which is ALSO found in olive oil), 40% saturated fat and 12% polyunsaturated fats. Monosaturated fats are the ones responsible for lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol while sustaining “good” HDL cholesterol.
  3. Lard is a great cooking fat: The smoke point is 370F. You can bake, saute, and deep fry at these temperatures which is a huge perk in our kitchen.
  4. Lard can be ethically, sustainably, and locally produced: Outside our back door does not get any closer!
  5. Lard is economical: At $5 a lb for nutritious pasture-raised lard, it is just a few dollars more than the generic lard you may find in at a commercial chain store.
  6. Lard is easy to make and store: When rendered down the fat is easy to store in a jar in the fridge, freezer, or canned in the cellar. In its pure state it can last up to a year.
  7. Lard is what grandma used to use: In a diet that gets back to eating simply, lard is a standout star of traditional and simple fats.
  8. Lard does not have a strong taste: Don’t worry, it won’t make everything like bacon.

Orchard update

Spring has sprung! This is our first spring on the farm and we have been working hard to get everything set up so we can enjoy some harvests in the next 3-7 years. The sooner we get things in the ground the fewer years we will have to wait to hit full production. In the meantime, we will be enjoying fruits this year from our Gravenstein apple, Bartlett pear, and Italian Purne plum. All three got a pretty intense pruning this spring and we hope they appreciated it! There are a few faster-producing bushes and canes we are hoping to see production beginning on this year too. Namely, the blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, figs, and mulberries. Production should only ramp up on those over the next few years. Especially with the help of our secret weapon, llama poop! Those beans are black gold. They don’t need to be aged and make an awesome “tea” for the plants. All the trees and bushes got their first dose this spring, except for the blackberries, they don’t need ANY encouragement!

Mama needs a truck! There were seven 7’+ trees and six 3′ vines in that compact SUV.

Trees we will be waiting on will be our hazelnuts (Jefferson and Theta), pears (Clapp’s Favorite and Flemish Beauty), and fuzzy kiwi vines (Hayward and Saanichton 12). It could be several years before some of these varieties fruit but there is no time like the present to start!

This isn’t quite orchard related, but tomatoes are a fruit so we’ll let it slide. Yesterday we reused some old PVC that was left here in the bushes and crafted a tomato cage with 100% reused materials. Homeschool took place in the form of measuring, counting, planning, and celebrating our earth and society by using what we had. The string will go in later when the tomatoes go in. We opted for a 5′ structure since our indeterminate heirloom tomatoes will be too hefty for those tiny little cages. Is it just me or can you all hear the Arrogant Worm lyric “uncage your tomatoes” from “Carrot Juice is Murder” when you think about tomato cages? We don’t mind laughing at ourselves. LOL.

Nettles… for dinner!

This is our first spring on the farm. Pea shoots are starting to rear their heads, the garlic is up, and our first harvest of the season is in. Stinging nettles.

This was one of those, “we hope the internet is right” moments. The nutritional benefits of nettles are widely accepted but after you have been stung it is hard to imagine touching them with your tongue. Good news! The internet did not fail us on this one. Just a few minutes of steaming and there were no problems. In fact, they were tastier than the spinach we typically use in our tofu, spinach, peanut stirfry. YUM! The kids were about as impressed with them as cooked spinach. One scarfed them down, one wailed at the idea of having to eat with us, and the other begrudgingly tried some. So the usual, lol.

Scroll through the gallery to see the harvest, preparation, and cooking process. This will be a springtime treat for years to come! I will finally see stinging nettle and get excited instead of annoyed. I was grateful to go out on a limb and learn to appreciate these delightful treats.

An apple a day…

Special delivery!

I think we are all looking to keep the doctor away lately. What an apropos time for our apples to arrive. Saltspring Apple Company delivered twenty beautiful apple trees today. We are so grateful for their knowledge, vision, and dedication to growing heritage varieties as well as modern, naturally disease-resistant varieties of certified organic apple trees.

To our orchard, we have welcomed what we think is the perfect balance of well-loved heritage varieties and modern, university-bred, drought and disease-resistant varieties to give our it diversity and longevity in our ever-changing environment.

Among our heritage varieties we have:

  • Gravenstein (1669) – we already had one, but one is never enough!
  • King of Tompkins County aka King (1750)
  • Belle de Boskoop (1856)
  • Egremont Russet (1872)
  • Winter Banana (1876)

Our modern varieties are represented by:

  • Airlie Red Flesh (1960)
  • Gala (1965)
  • Karmjin de Sonnaville (1971)
  • Sweet sixteen (1974)
  • Jupiter (1981)
  • Williams pride (1987)
  • Topaz (1990)
  • Pristine (1994)
  • GoldRush (1994)

For more details about each apple, you can check out our produce page.

More pictures to come as we get these trees in the ground!

Here’s what we’re hoping it will look like. Each semi-dwarf tree is 8’ from the fence and they are 15’ apart.

Pigs and Figs

Spring is just around the corner and things are starting to pick up here. Everyone is enjoying the longer days. We can get more done and everything around here is becoming more productive. Mike is a pro gardener now. He spent last weekend grafting a patch onto our girdled mulberry tree and time will tell how well he did. Those little voles were tenacious and did quite a number on the trunk over the winter. Mike’s new skills will be handy for propagating more fruit trees over the next few years.

Planting and grafting!

The pigs were in good spirits this morning. It is common to see them lounging and spooning up a storm in the sunshine. I caught a quick video today of calling the girls up for breakfast. Listening to their daily oinks is still a highlight of our day around here. While the ladies had breakfast, the boys explored a new field full of yummy spring grass.

Breakfast! Nobody comes late for breakfast around here!

As for the figs, we went to plant them today and found that over the last week all their leaves had come out and that there is a 1.25” fig on the Vern’s fig tree already. A fig!!! In February! This whole indoor solarium idea is something we might play with for a few of the plants. Who knows, we might get one of those elusive second crops of figs that we hear about further south. A fig tree or two can keep our limes and lemons company. Space is limited though and our climate is forgiving, so most of the figs will be destined for transplant this March.

Snow Pigs

This is our first official big snow since starting this adventure in the summer. Fortunately for us the fences are holding, the shelters are strong, and the pigs are hardy! These particular piggies have brothers and sisters who scoff at -18 weather so they are no stranger to Canadian winters. We are pretty spoiled here on the island and can’t complain too much at a week of -5 every now and then. We are grateful the air doesn’t hurt our faces at this temperature, but it is still enough to cause infrastructure havoc everywhere.

A nest suited for Big Bird! These little piggies know how to build with straw!

The pigs cope by nesting to stay warm – we are talking big bird proportioned nests – and by eating some alfalfa hay instead of foraging through the day.

The ladies and barrows were sensible this morning and took a hard pass on getting their undercarriages cold in the snow. They waited more patiently than I have ever seen them as I poured all their dishes.

The boars were less bothered by the snow and cared a lot more about making sure I didn’t forget I was there to feed them. Those stinkers always toss a couple of feed pans into the field for me to hunt down in the morning and today it cost them in time. We found one pan quickly and I took a video of us on the prowl for the third… which eventually showed up tucked in their nest in the back of the shelter, ha!

Playing, “Find the feed pan in the snow”

Who is who at the zoo!

I wanted to take a second to introduce our two of our lovely gilts (at the time of these photos) and boar, Cedar, Willow, and Forrest. For breeding reference and herd improvements, I find it super useful to visualize each animal as they grow out as well as the phenotypes of their parents. This dynamic post is something I will refer to over and over again over the years.

Cedar

WN Jenny AKPR 12244 (Mahia Love/Jenny x Te Whangi /Rona) at 10 months

Gunther (SIRE)

Rainbow Te Whangi 1+ x USA Rona 1

Emilia (DAM)

USA Mahia Love 63 x USA Jenny 133

Willow

WN Wilsons Gina AKPR 11033 (Andrew/Kereopa x Te Whangi/Wilsons Gina) at 10 months

Princeton (SIRE)

BVF Andrew 32 x SHF Kereopa 5

Kyra (DAM)

Rainbow Te Whangi 3 x USA Wilsons Gina 6

Forrest

WN Boris AKPR 14440 (Boris/Aria Giana x Andrew/Kereopa)at 8 months

Boudin Noir

KKP Boris 12 x NZ Aria Giana 1

Serendipity

BVF Andrew 32 x SHF Kereopa 7

The herd has arrived

Waiting in the rain for the MASSIVE double-decker transport semi to arrive.

Monday afternoon was an exciting time for us. My whole body was full of adrenaline wondering how we would complete the unloading portion of this journey. Five little piggies travelled from as far as Quinte West, ON and Carstairs, AB to arrive at our farm. These beautifully and mindfully selected pigs have been raised for growth and pork quality. They will be the foundation of our breeding program and we are so in love! What sweethearts. A huge thank you to Kelly at Whispering Winds for making this dream a reality!

Welcome home!

My family were rock stars and helped managed doors and load pigs. It was efficient, safe, and a huge relief! Everyone had a safe night and were dry in the barns and are now out grazing this morning. Life is good. The gilts deked me out once and hid in the barn while I looked for them in the lower field to show them where the barn was – in a panic! When I got back up top I’m sure they all had a good laugh at how silly their new human is. They had no problem navigating an acre and finding the barn and water on their own, thank you very much.

Among our ranks, we have a Jenny x Te Whangi gilt, a Wilsons Gina x Andrew gilt, and a Boris x Kereopa boar. There are two sweet little piglets that came to keep our boar company while they grow out. All five of these little piggies are without names still, so if you have an idea, let us know. We have a special place in our hearts for Maori names as a nod to their heritage.

From back to front, Pango, Pai and their new little friend (WN Boris boar line)
Here we have from left to right, a WN Wilsons Gina gilt, WN Jenny gilt and two WN Ru barrows.