Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Florida Permaculture Project's Newest Team Member

Meet Brownie, the newest addition to our homestead (my 7 year old daughter named her, lol):

She is a 3 month old Tamworth hog.  We traded one of our red American Guinea Hog piglets for her.  Like the AGH, Tamworths are a heritage breed of hog.  Heritage breeds are animals that were commonly raised on homesteads before the advent of Big Agriculture, so they were uniquely suited to the needs of the homestead.  Many of these breeds were almost pushed into extinction by the move to more commercially-based livestock operations.  Thankfully, there has been a recent surge of interest in these lost breeds, and they are slowly making a comeback.  The Livestock Conservancy has both the American Guinea Hog and the Tamworth on the threatened list.  I am happy to have both of these breeds on the homestead.

We have been raising AGHs for a couple of years.  I love them.  They are a smaller breed that used to be a common sight on southern homesteads.  They are great foragers, have wonderful temperaments, and are prolific breeders.  They are very easy keepers, and don't require much supplemental feed.  Here is one of our sows eating hay:

I also love the AGH because the meat is out of this world.  It is red and marbled, unlike anything you will ever see in the supermarket!  Check it out:

Look at the amazing difference in the way AGHs and Tamworths are built:

The AGH - Lard hog supreme
The Tamworth - Makin' bacon

This is because the AGH is a lard hog - it has LOTS of beautiful, white, firm fat that renders the most amazing lard you've ever laid eyes on.  Tamworths are bacon hogs - their bodies are long and lean, and produce to-die-for bacon that is lean and fine-grained (supposedly -  I have never personally eaten a Tamworth hog, to my knowledge).  

SO, we are excited to add this little girl to our farm family, and hope to find her a beau some day in the future, so we can make lots of little bacon machines.  In the meantime, what happens when you cross a bacon hog with a lard hog?  I dunno, but I want to find out!

                                                                                                         THE END
                                                                                                 Sorry, I couldn't resist :D

Friday, October 23, 2015

When life hands you poop, make compost

I love compost.  Compost is a beautiful thing.  I always have various compost piles in various stages of decomposition in various areas of the property.  

Before we bought this property, at our old suburban home, I had a proper compost pile.  It had three bins.  Each bin had three sides.  It was ventilated.  I turned it.  It was backbreaking work, but it made nice compost.  

Through lack of time, I have found a better way.  Since we moved the hogs to a confined area on the back of the property, there was a lot of poop piling up.  I wheeled an old wheelbarrow over to the pig pen, grabbed a shovel, and every evening at feeding time, I would take about 5 minutes to shovel as much of the poop into the wheelbarrow as I could.  I figured I could spare 5 minutes.  It went pretty fast.  It only took me about a week to fill the wheelbarrow.  I was intending to make a "proper" compost pile with it in the chicken's area - you know, proper C:N ratio and all that composty stuff.  The idea was that the chickens could scratch it up and incorporate it into the soil, while getting a free lunch.  Of course it never happened, because I have too much on my plate.

So the wheelbarrow sat there, outside the pig pen for a couple of months.  One day I noticed it was looking not so much like poop anymore.  I couldn't help myself - I grabbed the shovel and turned it a couple of times (old habits die hard).  I turned it one or two more times over the next couple of months, and today this is what I have:

Beautiful, fluffy, earthy compost!  And as an added bonus, when I started digging around in it (OK, yes, I enjoy digging through my compost with my hands :-D), I found  these little lovelies everywhere:

That, my friends, is a red wriggler, otherwise known as a composting worm.  How did they get into the wheelbarrow?  Who knows?  As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, life always finds a way.  What I do know is that they were busy turning that pig poop into beautiful compost for me!!  I also found several giant earthworms in there.  

The problem is the solution!!  Yaye permaculture!!  I got pig poop coming out my ears, I need compost, but got no time - perfect solution.  It's even already in the wheelbarrow so I can just wheel it wherever I need to use it.  This batch will be used to plant my fruit trees on my swale berms.  I'm going to have to start looking on Craigslist for more wheelbarrows...... 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Digging the swales

So, after sort of inquiring around, and at the encouragement of another neighbor, I decided to rent a mini excavator and dig the swales myself.  I rented it over a weekend, so paid for two days.  They dropped it off on Friday afternoon and picked it up Monday morning.  

Operating the excavator was easier and harder than I anticipated.  Easier in the sense that working the controls was not as hard as I thought it would be.  Harder in the sense that I found it somewhat difficult to make each cut at a consistent depth and angle.  A more experienced operator probably would not have had this issue, and I did get better at it as I went along.  

Since my property is relatively flat, I made the swales pretty shallow, probably about 18 inches deep and around 3-4 feet wide.  Remember that this pasture used to have pines planted in it, so I had to make some adjustments due to the stumps.  Oh, the stumps!  They slowed me down considerably!

I started on Friday afternoon and was pretty much finished with the rough cuts by Saturday afternoon.  And I do mean rough:

initial swale cut

I never said my swales were pretty, lol.  I spent the next four days leveling and smoothing the bottom of the swales.  Does this seem excesssive?  It does to me.  Having never done this before, I don't know if that's normal, or if I'm just incompetent.  Hahaha.  So this is what the resulting swales look like:

Finished swale

Much better, right?  Now I am dying to see them in action!!  Unfortunately, I will probably have to wait until next summer before we get enough rain to fill them.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Marking Swales

We harvested our pine trees back in February.  We had been keeping our American Guinea Hogs in the trees, which they liked, but I wanted pasture for our Blackbelly sheep, and eventually a family cow.
Pigs in the pines

We moved the hogs to the back of the property, and razed the monoculture "forest."  As the now pasture area sat fallow over the spring and summer, many grass and weed species took off.  Honestly, it was quite horrid looking.  I noticed my next door neighbors planted a line of shrubs along our fence line.  When I commented that they looked nice, the wife said that her husband didn't like the new view.  Lol.  Strike two with the neighbors.  (Let me just say that strike one involved the hogs and the neighbor's flower garden)

By the end of summer, I was ready to mark out the contour lines for the swales.  I used an A-frame level that I made out of scrap lumber I had around the house.  

I knew roughly how the contour lines would run from using Google Earth, but of course they were not exact.  I ended up marking out only three swales.  They look something like this (the red lines):


I figured I can divide each inter-swale area into two grazing cells, for a total of six.  I will add a seventh area east of the house, so that I can put the animals on a five-day rotation.  That will allow each cell to rest for 30 days.  This also gives me a few days of wiggle room, since the cells are not equal in size and I may need to adjust how long I can keep the animals on each cell.  Ideally I will need to let each cell rest for at least 28 days so they do not become overgrazed.  I don't see this being a problem since we only have six sheep and eventually they will have plenty of fodder to browse in addition to the grass they are grazing.

Why swales?

Swales and dams are probably two of the most iconic permaculture structures there are.  I'm not one to do something just because it's permaculture-y, lol.  I have to have a good reason, especially if it's going to involve lots of money, time, and effort.

Remember, in permaculture the problem is the solution.  I have a couple of problems.  Our property slopes gently, about 1-2% towards the northwest corner.  We live in Florida, which means that we get torrential downpours during the summer monsoon season.  At times we can get five inches of rain in a single day.  When this happens, debris from the front part of our property washes down the slope and gets deposited right in front of our house.  Not pretty.  Not to mention the erosion that is happening on our land.  

The second problem is that our soils are very sandy, and do not hold water very well.  At all.  So, it seemed to me that swales are my solution.  A swale is basically a ditch on contour with a berm on the downhill side.  Rainwater is harvested and held in the swale, so that it can slowly permeate the berm and downhill areas.

from “Gaia’s Garden” by Toby Hemenway

 Score on both my problems.  The swales will stop the erosion and help hydrate the soil.  Since swales are mainly tree-growing systems, I can also plant fruit and fodder trees on the berms.  Now if I add my livestock to the equation, I also have "grazing cells" in between the swales, lined with food on the berms - fallen fruit for the chickens, ducks, and turkeys, and overhanging fodder trees for the sheep.  Function stacking!!!   See why I love permaculture? 


What is permaculture?

Permaculture is a design science that creates agriculturally productive ecosystems that provide people with food, shelter, and energy in a sustainable way. In a nutshell, it is working with nature instead of against it.  It is guided by three ethics:  care of earth, care of people, and return of surplus.  Bill Mollison coined the word permaculture (permanent agriculture), and he and his student David Holmgren developed the concept, however, no one "owns" permaculture.  The permaculture movement has no central structure, but many individuals within it working together to create a better world.  

My love for permaculture is multi-faceted.  I have always loved nature, and the idea of observing nature and mimicking it appeals to me.  No one tills and fertilizes the forest, yet it exists in perfect beauty.  

Permaculture is about function-stacking.  As a busy mom with a full-time job, stacking functions is a must!  

With permaculture, the problem is the solution.  As Bill Mollison once famously said, "You don't have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!"  Who doesn't love that?   

from Bill Mollison's Permaculture - A Designers Manual

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Plan

Here's what the property looked like when we bought it:

Since we knew we wanted animals to be a part of our permaculture homestead, we decided that the planted pine would eventually have to go.  

After taking Geoff Lawton's first online PDC in late 2013, I came up with this design for the property:

As with everything in life, I have already had to tweak this plan a bit, and assume that I will continue to do so as we go along.