Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pig Wranglers and a Sweet Potato Jungle

Last Friday, our big afternoon project was not out in the vegetable field, but with our young pigs.We played pig wranglers with our youngest batch for several hours-they almost made us tear our hair out! The pigs in question are twelve piglets we purchased form Warren Wilson College about 6 weeks ago. When we first get piglets we keep them in a corral because they are so small they will slip through all but the smallest gaps in a fence (several of these actually developed a habit of worming their way through the gaps in a pallet we use as part of the fence!). After about a month of eating they are big enough to learn about electric fences. We string up a double line and hold training sessions. We let them into their electric fence area and watch to make sure they don’t run through the fence. After about 3 practices they generally know what the fence is and they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Now they are ready to go to a paddock in the woods. So we trimmed back some of the brush that has grown up this spring and strung up some electric line. Now comes the fun part; moving the pigs to their new home. Usually pigs herd relatively well. We can get them all moving in one direction out of their old area and toward their new area. Not these pigs, they wanted to go in every direction except the one we wanted them to go in. To top it all of many of them confidently explored the woods alone. It took us about one and a half hours of crashing through brambles to move these little guys thirty feet to their new paddock! Every time we got them close to their paddock they would decide that that was the least interesting part of the woods and scatter in all directions around us. Boy was it frustrating!But in the end they got tired and a little more cooperative. Now they are happily rooting in the woods.

He looks innocent now!

This week we also planted sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are an interesting crop because you actually grow miniature plants from last year’s roots to transplant. It all starts the previous fall when you save out your best potatoes for “seed” potatoes. You then store them in a dry cool area with some airflow until about April. In April you “wake” you potatoes up by allowing them to get warmer. Once the outdoor temperatures are safely above frosting, place the sweet potatoes in a pile of mostly decomposed mulch or very loose soil. Within about a month small green sprouts will begin appearing. In about another month there is a sweet potato jungle! Each sweet potato will send out up to a dozen sprouts, called slips, from one end of the potato. Once these slips are about 6 inches tall (ideally anyway, Mine are always bigger because if you neglect them for a week they grow from 6 inches to 16!), snap them off at the potato and plant. The little slips typically have begun to send out small rootlets of their own. When placed in the soil and watered well they will establish themselves in about a week. After that, watch out, because sweet potatoes are related to morning glories and they will take over! They are a long season crop that appreciates warm weather, so after about three months of patient waiting we should be able to dig up our sweet potato treasure.

Harvesting spring onions

You can't see the forest for the dill!


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