Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Harvesting Kale : All Season Long

Kale is one of my favorite greens to grow. While showing people around Our Little Backyard Farm I am always amazed at how many people are surprised at how I harvest my kale.  Many people see kale as a lettuce type of green and will typically harvest the whole plant similar to a head of leaf lettuce. While it is perfectly fine to do it that way,  that would require successive plantings in order to continue harvesting tender greens for longer than a few weeks at most.  
Instead of successive plantings, let me explain an easier method.  
A kale plant, if allowed to grow for an entire season, will get between two and 3 feet tall. The leaves on the bottom will have been browning and falling off, the middle would be light green with tough leaves and the top few leaves would be tender. (And of course a mix of those traits in between)

You can get by with only a half dozen kale plants in the garden if you are only feeding your family.
After the plant has grown to a size where the leaves appear ready for harvest, take a blade and begin removing the leaves from the bottom up. Some people bend and snap the leaves which leaves a small stem remaining on the plant. This is just a place where bugs can hid out, so I like to cut close to the stem instead.  Notice I said "close".  
Continue taking leaves until there are only a few leaves remaining on the plant.  Now all of the energy will go into growing just a few leaves, instead of a whole plant, There will be less places for bugs to hide out, and you will never have to harvest anything but tender leaves. (Providing you keep up with harvesting)

This last picture is what the plant should look like after harvesting for the day.  The stem will continue growing taller and stronger giving the appearance of tiny palm trees. The best part the end of the season, you will be harvesting at waist height instead of ground level. Win Win Win!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Pastured Pork : Cheap and Easy

Pasturing Pigs is probably the most cost effective way to raise pork.  Contrary to what many believe,  you do not need to have a solid wall, made of brick, stone, or expensive livestock panels to raise pork.  In fact,  the paddock we built required an investment of  about $140.00 total. 
All that is needed to keep this future bacon contained is a single strand of hot wire fence.  (I use two,  just in case, but one is all that is needed) Having worked at a farm where we did this on a more commercial scale,  I can attest to the fact that this works GREAT!.
I helped to build paddocks for breeding stock as well. Most of the sows went well over 500-600 pounds. One single strand of 14ga. electric fence kept them in check at all times.

There is also another benefit to pasturing instead of confinement.  The SMELL!  It is barely a fraction of what you would smell commercially,  if you can even smell it at all.
Sometimes when we walk down to the pasture, my wife might catch a whiff of manure, but typically, the stench is non existent at Our Little Backyard Farm. (Keep in mind, it is only 3 acres)

When pasturing,  pigs are free to do what pigs do.  They will root up all kinds of food, and even trash that you never new was there. They will supplement their diet with wild forage and I guarantee you will notice the difference in taste from pork raised in confinement.

The first week or two WILL require a partial containment while the pigs are being trained to the hot fence.  During the first day,  you will hear a bit of popping and squealing.  But after after a few days or a week, they will be few and far between.  

The reason for the partially contained paddock as the picture below shows, is that you will need to run a small stretch of electric fence about 2-4 inches away from the walls as a training line.  Young pigs,  when hit by the fence, will typically try to run THROUGH it, instead of backing away.  The wall behind the wire, prevents the breakthrough and trains them to jump back when hit.
Since the pigs are very small at this stage,  the need for a very strong wall behind the wire is not warranted.  We just happened to have this stronger pen available from a time when we raised pork from start to finish in the same pen. Now, they only spend a few weeks in it.

 After a few weeks of training, the pigs are ready to go to pasture.  You can either move them with a trailer, or try to walk them.  I will express a great deal of caution at this stage.  When you open the pen,  the pigs have been used to a wire containing them (not the wall behind it)  Even when you take down a wire,  it can take time for the pigs to muster up the courage to "break" the imaginary boundary.  Food sometimes helps to coax the timid ones, but typically, TIME is the only thing that really works.  They will go when they are ready. Pushing them will spook them and make this step much, much harder. Just relax and chill while they do their thing.
Having food and water already in the new paddock will help hold them tremendously, especially if they can see it.

 The need for fancy posts and fencing is not required when it comes to electric fencing. I use 10' sticks of rebar, cut down to 3 1/3' and even saplings, and small trees for corner posts. the reason I like rebar is that I can buy the adjustable wire connectors and slowly raise and lower the lines when needed. The wire should always be at the pigs "eye level" 


Depending on the number of pigs you have, or the amount of space they have in the paddock,  you may have to build more than one in order to allow rest time for the pasture to regrow. 
Obviously putting them side by side is the best option for this, and by utilizing handles such as the ones below, you can drop the lines, move the food and water, and let them take their sweet time without having to oversee the process this time. Later, after the pigs have finally braved the boundary, you can replace the handle so that they cannot return to the healing paddock. 

Our paddock is about 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre and is divided equally between tall grass meadow and timber.  The pigs LOVE the timber. The point is, as long as there is forage for them to eat, it doesn't matter what type of landscape you have,  the pigs will adapt. However, if all you have is open field, you do need to provide at least a covered area where they can retreat from the midday sun and storms. 
Well there you have it.
Who new that raising pork could be so simple.