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7 Secrets to a Successful Garden

Candi Johns

Full home garden

I've gardened in several homes and in several cities. Although the locations were different, the recipe for success was always the same.

Having a successful garden isn't hard. I believe that anyone can grow their own food, and it can be done most places (as long as there is a cooperative climate). But there are a few things you'll need to do right in order to be successful.

Here's my Top 7 Secrets for a Successful Garden:

SECRET #1 for a Successful Garden: Start with Good Soil

Raking garden dirt

This was my nemesis when I began gardening. Kentucky soil is one of two categories: lush, dark, and fertile or miserable, red clay.

Unfortunately, my neck of the woods was almost completely clay. And clay is either in the form of concrete or soup. I'm not kidding. When it is dry, it is as hard as cement. When it's wet, it is practically liquid.

I managed to transform this clay nightmare into some great garden soil. Really. Here's how:

Greensand, manure, and compost.

1. Start with the greensand; sprinkle it right on that hard clay.

2. Next, add a layer of manure. Just ask someone who has animals if you can muck out the stalls or clean out the barn or scoop a field/pasture. They'll probably kiss you and bake you cookies.

3. Once the greensand and manure is down, just spread some compost on top. You can make this yourself, buy it, or go to a recycling center and get a truckload for free.

4. Once you have the greensand, manure, and compost in your beds, the worms will do the rest.

SECRET #2 for a Successful Garden: Variety

Full home garden

Plan to grow several different vegetables in your garden. Here in Kentucky, I usually grow up to 50 different varieties. Growing a large variety will offer palate change, food diversity, and interesting new dishes at mealtimes. Planting lots of different veggies will also ensure you have something to eat even if you have a crop failure (or several). If you have a nice variety of plants growing, chances are that something's gonna do well. You've got luck and numbers on your side.

By planting a larger variety of crops, you also may discover some plants that grow well and easily in your area.

SECRET #3 for a Successful Garden: Start Early

Homegrown asparagus

The sooner you get your plants in the ground, the sooner you'll be eating your yard. As soon as the ground is workable, get those crops in the ground.

SECRET #4 for a Successful Garden: Succession Planting

Planting seeds closeup

To get the most food out of a limited space, succession planting is key. I think I have been able to get loads of food from a small space because I am a nut for succession planting. I never leave a bed empty. Never. If it's not winter and I have open garden real estate, it's growing me food.

Succession planting is easy. Whenever you harvest a crop (like your spring broccoli, lettuce, peas, onions, and garlic), immediately plant a second crop in that space (like squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans). Then when those crops are harvested in late summer, plant more crops for a fall harvest (like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts).

SECRET #5 for a Successful Garden: Consider Height

Think about where the sun shines on your garden and plant accordingly. You don't want your tallest plants casting shade on your shortest plants. For vegetables to do their best, they need as much sunlight as possible. In order to give the shorter plants plenty of sun, plant sweet corn and other tall plants on the north or west side of the garden so they won't shade everything else.

Taller plants include the obvious ones like corn and tomatoes, but also can include cucumbers and small gourds if you grow them on trellises.

SECRET #6 for a Successful Garden: Make it Fun!

Full home garden

I think one of the reasons I find such pleasure in my garden is because I think it's beautiful.

A vegetable garden doesn't have to be a barren, empty, patch of dirt in your yard. You can add interest and beauty with trellises, raised beds, pots, and even flowers. Many flowers make great companions to vegetables. Marigolds keep the insects away from the tomatoes. Nasturtiums keep the squash bugs off the gourds.

Anyone can have a beautiful garden. It certainly isn't necessary. A garden will give you glorious free food all year no matter what it looks like, but the pretty ones are my favorites.

SECRET # 7 for a Successful Garden: Plan to Work

There are some tricks and tips that will keep your weeding and watering down to a minimum, but you are going to have to get out in your garden and work.

Mulching will stop most weeds and hold in moisture. Raised beds will prevent you from needing to weed your walking paths. A rainy forecast will nurture your plants so you don't have to water.

But there is still going to be work to do. Like:

• tying up tomato plants
• harvesting vegetables regularly
• pulling up plants and replanting the space (remember succession planting)
• hilling up potatoes (or covering them with straw)
• and even using organic methods to prevent bugs and diseases

Plan to visit your garden at least two times a week. This will allow you to know what is going on and stay on top of problems.

Weeding is easy when the weeds are small. The squash don't get too big if you harvest them regularly. Bugs can be defeated if you get on top of them before they start raising families.

The good news is that working in a garden can be a pleasure. It is also wonderful exercise. Lastly, it will be well worth the work you put in when you eat all that food year 'round!

Happy Gardening!


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XO,
Candi

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 3

Candi JohnsIf you would like to know the good, bad, and ugly of owning chickens, this article is for you. This is actually the 3rd part in a three-part series called "Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book." Here are the links to the first articles:

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 1 — It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 2 — This article gets a little deeper in the land of chicken ownership. Here I discuss predators, illnesses, and why we don't keep water in the coop.

Today, I'm going to tell you why you should put the chicken food in the coop (if you provide the food), and try to set some realistic expectations about the lifespan of your girls (and boys).

First, let's talk about the average life of a chicken.

SIX: All your chickens are gonna die.

Man holding a chicken

I am so sorry to break it to you. It's true. They are all going to die. Some sooner than others.

I always advise people to start out in spring with twice as many chickens as you would like to have this winter, because half your flock will manage to kill themselves in the next nine months.

Why? How? What is wrong with your chicken keeping skills?

It's not me. It's just a fact. Chickens look for ways to die. We've tried everything to keep them alive. We've kept them fenced in, we've let them free-range, we've put out a guard dog, we've used motion sprinklers. For eight years we have had the same experience: We lose half our flock in winter. It's OK. Just plan for it, buy some extras, and don't get too attached. It's a chicken, not a cat.

We have experienced more bizarre chicken deaths than I care to discuss. If you would like read all about them and decide for yourself if I am a chicken murderer, go here.

SEVEN: Put the food in the coop.

As I mentioned in this article, we offer free-choice food during winter for our chickens. In the past we have filled our king feeder (holds 50 pounds of feed) outside the coop, but every night some local varmint would show up, eat most of it, and dump the rest all over the ground. Ugh.

Since I don't have unlimited funds, this consumption of feed had to stop. I am not trying to feed the local wildlife; I am trying to provide sustenance for my chickens. We tried two solutions.

1. Move the feed into the coop. This was my first thought. It worked, kind of. It kept the nighttime visitors from eating and scattering all the chicken food ... but it didn't stop the daytime consumption. Dang it. Dang, stupid, gross, mangy-looking opossums are eating all my chicken food, and eggs! The good news is that this family of opossums doesn't like chicken. They are just eating all my eggs and chicken food. And the chickens don't seem to mind. Come on, cocks! This is why you are here! Can we please get some crowing when a non-feathered critter enters the coop?

2. Ration the stores. Since the opossums are BFFs with my chickens, they are happily sharing their food and eggs with them, and I can't catch them to save my life, we've started scattering a day's worth of feed on the ground each day. The chickens love scratching and pecking at the food, and the opossum can't eat it all. This doesn't stop them from eating eggs, but my feed bill is lower.

Opposum in a trap

Speaking of opossums. I have a story that may or may not have happened last week ...

We were visiting with family and out past dark. DH got home before the kids and I did. If it's after dark, the general rule is: First one home put the chickens to bed. "Putting the chickens to bed" means "go out to the coop and close the door to the hen house."

So, DH heads out to the chicken coop to close the door and saw some sort of commotion scooting away from the coop. It was Mr. Opossum. Probably the one eating my chicken feed and eggs. Busted.

Well, DH owns a pawn shop. You can see it here. Which may as well be called a "gun shop," because that's the majority of what we do. DH always wears his gun — his 1911 .45 caliber.

If you don't speak "gun," I'll explain. A .45 is quite the pistol. It easily fits in a holster on your hip, but it's a pretty powerful handgun. I'm pretty sure you can stop King Kong or a T-Rex with a .45. So DH was at the chicken coop, and he was armed and dangerous — especially if you happen to be an opossum.

DH saw him scurrying away from our coop, where I'm sure he was partaking of all my eggs and feed. Being the loving cowboy he is, DH secured the chickens in the coop first before giving Mr. Opossum his full attention. DH knew which way the varmint went, and he knew what opossums do when they run away: They climb. And one of the great things about iPhones is the flashlight feature. Need a light? You got one in your back pocket! DH used his phone flashlight and quickly spotted Mr. Opossum in the trees.

Varmint vs. .45. Let's just say if you lived in my county, you may have heard a couple of loud gunshots at about 8:00 last Tuesday night. And I have one less critter to deal with.


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XO,
Candi

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 2

Candi JohnsI have all sorts of random chicken-keeping advice swirling around in my head. Most of it is the type of thing you don't typically find in books or magazines.

If you would like to hear my first article on this subject go here. It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).

This article is going to go deeper into my brain and the real world of keeping chickens.

THREE: Good luck getting rid of the fox.

If you get a fox near your hen house, you could be in for a world of hurt. I'm not trying to be a huge downer, but a fox is a problem you don't want to take lightly.

I've been told that once a fox finds your flock they will stick around until they have eaten every last chicken. One of my best friends watched her hens disappear one at a time until the fox consumed every last one of them. When she got new chickens, he ate them, too.

I know another lady who no longer even tries to keep chickens. A fox found her flock and ate every chicken she brought home. She finally gave up.

Foxes are smart. They are sly. They don't fall for traps. They can smell your scent on every hole, claw, line, bait, cage, or trap you set.

How do I know? After keeping chickens completely free range for over seven years, a fox found our flock.

He started with our ducks, because Pekin ducks are slow and easy to catch. He ate five ducks in one week. Then he went to work on the laying hens. He ate a chicken every day. Each night when my son would close up the chickens and count the heads, we would have one less. It wouldn't be long before they were all gone.

Duke the dog

We put our lazy, comatose hound dog to work. As long as he was stationed at the chicken coop on-guard, the fox didn't strike. If the dog took the day off — down went another hen.

Well, I don't have an ending to this fox dilemma. We are hanging in there, we still have a nice flock, but we still see that fox meandering around our property. Mama Fox is here, and she has a baby. We have traps set. We have tried to catch her in the act. She's good at what she does.

I'll keep you posted.

FOUR: Don't put the water in the coop.

Chicken coop

I don't know what most coop floors are made of. Ours is made of wood. We covered it in a laminate flooring to protect the wood from the "eeeew" that would be laying all over it thanks to the chickens. Even with a coat of laminate, I still don't want water in there ...

There are lots of great reasons not to have a chicken watering facility located inside your coop. First, there's the damage to the floor: rotting, molding, yuck. Additionally, cold weather is not what causes most cases of frostbite in chickens. Moisture is. If your coop is soaked, saturated, wet, and humid, it can make your chickens sick. The goal is dry litter in the coop. Whenever I've attempted to keep water inside their domain, it ends up making everything soggy and miserable.

We keep the water outside the coop.

FIVE: Don't buy sick chickens.

We made the huge mistake several years ago of buying some silkies from a girl showing them at our county fair. The chickens appeared healthy and adorable. There was no way to tell that they had been exposed to infectious bronchitis.

Once a chicken has had infectious bronchitis, it is a carrier for life. This means that even though the chicken got sick and recovered, it will contaminate every chicken it meets forever ... those chickens may not recover.

We brought our four silkies home (we have four children — each one got a silkie), and the chickens started coughing and dropping like flies. We had around 70 chickens that year (including the Cornish Rock meat chicks) before the silkies descended and destroyed, and the majority of them died. We were in the unfortunate situation where we had to cull or sell our entire flock in order to get rid of the disease. We talked to vets. We talked to chicken folk. We weighed our options. If we wanted a healthy flock, we would have to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Sadness.

The good new is we had plenty of chicken to eat, and we found a great home for all our favorite hens.

Once everyone had moved out, we cleaned the coop, bleached the coop, torched the coop (used DH's red dragon to burn off any remnants of ick) and then we opened the doors to let all things air out and freeze. Then we got a new flock.

Chicken flock

We have not had any problems with diseases when ordering chicks from hatcheries or buying them from local farm stores. I have bought chicks from numerous farm stores in our area and haven't had any issues. It was only when buying from a stranger that we encountered problems.

Never again will buy a chicken from a person, fair, livestock swap, auction, or other untrusted/unknown identity.

I prefer buying baby chicks from hatcheries and farm stores that I know and trust. I know this means I will always be purchasing chicks and waiting five months for eggs. That is OK with me. Waiting for eggs is better than watching my flock die of an infectious bronchitis aftermath.

No thanks.


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XO,
Candi

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 1

Candi JohnsI often find myself surprising new chicken keepers (and some experienced ones) with these tips on keeping chickens. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have been keeping chickens for a while — eight years, in which I’ve gotten at least 20 years of experience, unfortunately — and our approach is definitely unconventional.

For odd tips that you probably won't find in a book, read on, friends! But keep in mind — this is going to be a series and there are many more tips that will be coming soon!

 

 

Chickens feeding

ONE: Collect the eggs every day.

If you happen to have a lazy child in charge of collecting the eggs, who may or may not collect them on a regular basis, you might want to consider putting someone else (more reliable) in charge of the job — or simply doing it yourself.

When I have two or three dozen eggs sitting on my counter, somehow my children think this is a cue to take the week off from collecting the eggs. I guess they think we have plenty, and it's cold out, and they'll go get them when we run out.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This is a bad idea for many reasons.

Egg size comparison

1. Poopy Eggs: By the time your child decides to bring the eggs in the house, they will be covered in a nice coat of poop. Gag. This is not only disgusting, unappetizing, and gross, it also greatly effects the shelf life of your eggs.

Huh? Yes. A freshly laid egg has a protective coating on it. An unwashed, fresh egg can be stored at room temperature (or middle-east temperature) for three months. Once that protective coating is washed off, the egg needs to be refrigerated and consumed within a few weeks. Poop-covered eggs need washing. Washed eggs need refrigerating. Refrigerated, washed eggs have to be eaten.

United States is one of the few countries that requires eggs to be washed prior to selling them. In most countries, American eggs would be illegal. Other countries ban the washing of eggs so that the protective coating remains on the eggs. In other countries, you also wouldn't find the eggs in the refrigerated section of the store. Believe it or not, unwashed eggs don't need to be refrigerated. If you were in a supermarket outside America, you would find the eggs next to the bread and onions.

2. The opossum will eat them before you do. We have had our share of varmint problems (and then some). Opossums are quiet, sneaky and they don't (usually) bother my girls. The only time I realize I have an opossum problem is when the chicken feed is disappearing at a ridiculous pace or the eggs aren't there. The opossums I typically have visiting my coop are looking for a low maintenance, free lunch. They eat all my eggs, and if it's winter and there's feed available, they'll eat it too.

3. You'll turn your hens into egg eaters. If you leave the eggs in the coop for days and days and days, it's just a matter of time before a chicken decides to peck one open and taste it. Once a chicken becomes an egg-eater, it is a hard habit to break. Really hard. They'll lay eggs and eat them.

TWO: Feed them for free (mostly).

Chickens in yard

If you don't want to buy food (often), there are some ways to feed your chickens for free. This may or may not be possible depending on where you live. Here in Kentucky we can get away with free eggs most of the year.

How to feed your chickens for free:

Free-ranging. For a quick intro to keeping chickens completely free, go here. It's called "Keeping Chickens the Redneck Way" and will have your chickens eating all the wild things chickens were born to eat. If you fence in your chickens or they have limited access to forage, you probably need to supplement with some good quality chicken feed. Our chickens are free with access to pasture, compost, woods, bugs, creeks, and anything else they care to find on our 23 acres.

Kitchen scraps. We are in the habit of tossing anything "organic" into a giant, stainless bowl that lives by my kitchen sink,. By organic, I mean dryer lint, nut shells, scraps from meals, onion tops, lemon rinds, watermelon shells, egg shells (crumbled into bits), beef bones from making stock, old leftovers that never got eaten, any food beginning to rot from the bottom drawer in the fridge, etc. The only thing we don't toss in the "scrap bowl" is chicken. We take this mash of random food and other organic junk and deliver it to the compost pile (which happens to be just outside the chicken coop door).

Garden debris. Any time I’m rotating crops, ripping out plants, clearing a bed, or just weeding my garden, I carry around a five gallon bucket to toss all the matter into. This makes it easy to deliver the goods to the compost pile/chickens.

The compost pile. This is the best tip ever. If you don't hear anything else I said, listen to this: Put your chickens on top of your compost.

You may have already caught on ... our compost pile is just outside the chicken coop. They have access to it and all things composting. This is such a beautiful arrangement. The chickens are going to partner with you to make some the most beautiful soil you've ever seen. There are some considerations and tricks to this, though.

Here's why you want your chickens on your compost:

They will eat anything they like and the rest will turn into soil. I toss all things into the compost — whether the chickens want it or not. The cow manure, old moldy hay, litter from the coop, debris from the garden, scraps from canning, weeds, old (disease-free) plants, rinds, peels, seeds, etc. Everything gets tossed onto the compost pile. The chickens get in the middle of it and eat everything they find appetizing. Anything they don't care to eat will stay put and compost into soil for me.

It will be filled with tasty chicken treats. The compost pile is always bursting with bugs, beetles, grubs, maggots, rolly pollys, worms, and assorted other chicken delicacies. If we ever need earthworms for fishing, the compost pile is a sure thing. The warmth, ripeness, and rotting food will always produce an insect buffet for your birds.

Those chickens scratch, peck, rotate, and turn the compost. I am not fussy about my compost. I have not attended any classes on composting or even read a book about it, so I don't know what I'm doing. At the same time, I have piles of glorious soil each spring to top dress my gardens. I throw everything into the pile and let the chickens and Mother Nature do the rest. I will add that cow manure is not as hot as other manures and is quick to break down into soil. I have this going for me. Between the manure and the chickens helping, I have been able to avoid "turning" my compost for years

The chickens eat for free and deposit more glorious manure during the process. Yup. As they scratch, peck, and consume all the free goodies from your organic pile they'll be fertilizing it, too.

Chickens feeding

Here's some logistic issues to contemplate as you design the compost and chicken set-up:

The chickens need to be able to get to the compost. If you want to put up a fence to keep your chickens safe, be sure to include the compost pile inside the chicken fence. This way, no matter if they are having a free-range day of exploring the farm, or if they are being kept fenced in, they will have access to all that wonderful compost and goodies.

You need to be able to get to the compost to add to it. If you use equipment (side-by-side, tractor, etc) to move manure and debris to your compost, be sure you have a gate that opens wide enough so that you can get to the pile and dump into it easily.

You need to be able to get the compost out. Consider how you will get the precious black soil out of your compost bin and into your gardens and pots.

Even with all this, I still buy feed sometimes.

There are a couple of months here in Kentucky that we do offer free-choice chicken feed for our girls (and boys). Those would be the deep winter months, when it's tough for a hen to scratch out a living. I find that they still prefer the scraps from the house and any hidden goodies they can dig out of the compost pile. I don't want any girls to go hungry, though, so we have some good (non-GMO) feed available in winter if they want it.

Stay tuned everyone! More unconventional chicken tips will be coming shortly!


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Happy Chicken Keeping!

– Candi

Easy Cast-Iron Apple Pie

Candi JohnsWhat make this apple pie so amazing? It's fast, delicious, and sugar-free. Don't worry, it's naturally sweetened with maple syrup so you'll never guess it doesn't have the white stuff in it.

I have to say, of all the desserts I have made "sugar-free," this one wins.

You would be hard-pressed to figure out there was no sugar in it. The filling is sweet, creamy, and bursting with apple. The crust is flaky, buttery, and crisp on top. If I handed you a slice of this with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, I'm pretty sure you'd be happy.

Apple pie in skillet

Making this pie is as simple as it gets. All you're going to do is:

1. Make the dough.
2. Make the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
3. Roll out the dough and place it over the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
4. Shove it in the oven.

So easy.

If you like apple pie, you will love this.

MAKE THE DOUGH (FOR CRUST)

• 1 cup flour — I use fresh milled, but do not use self-rising
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 8 tablespoon butter, room temperature
• 3-4 tablespoon ice water — add 1 tablespoon at a time until dough comes together
• Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Apple pie ingredients

First, make the crust dough. This will be the top crust of the pie.

Add room-temperature butter (not cold; you want to be able to smash it with a fork) to a mixing bowl. Add flour and salt and cut into the butter with pastry cutter, fork, or food processor. You want pea-sized bits of butter covered with flour. Add maple syrup and egg and stir. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. Wrap dough disk and refrigerate.

Once the crust is made, it's time for the filling.

MAKE FILLING (IN CAST-IRON SKILLET)

• 5-6 apples, peeled and sliced
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2-3 tablespoon flour more or less to desired thickness
• 1/2 egg — scramble, and use half

First, peel and slice 5-6 apples. Gala and Granny Smith are my favorites for pies.

Apple pie ingredients

Toss the apple slices, butter, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon into the cast-iron skillet.

Let cook on medium until the apples are getting soft.

Apple pie ingredients

Stir in the flour. The sauce will thicken. Remove the apple filling from heat and set aside. You are going to place your crust right on top of this filling and bake it. There is no bottom crust.

ROLL OUT CRUST and PLACE IN SKILLET (on top of filling)

Next, grab your dough from the refrigerator.

Apple pit crust

Placing a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap under the dough disk will make it easy to move after it's rolled.

Lightly flour the surface, place your dough, flour the top of the disk, and roll out with your rolling pin. Start from the center and roll out toward the edges. To move pie crust, roll crust loosely over a rolling pin and unroll into the cast-iron skillet. Trim any excess crust off.

Cut slits in the crust to vent. Brush with butter. Dust with cinnamon. If you are not avoiding sugar, a cinnamon/sugar sprinkle on top would be wonderful!

BAKE

Bake at 350 degrees F until it's done (about 30 minutes).

Apple pie in skillet

Serve warm with fresh whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or by itself. You'll never miss the sugar, promise.

Enjoy!


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– Candi

A Collection of the Best Flavors of Christmas

Candi JohnsHustle and bustle — this pretty much describes my life this week. I am loving having an entire week to plan, bake, wrap, and savor the days before Christmas. I don't know if it is because Christmas is on Sunday or because my children are getting older and I no longer have to wipe various parts of their bodies anymore ... but Christmas has slowed down a bit and I love it.

I am baking and roasting and decorating like an elf. My Christmas menu is coming to fruition, and it's so exciting. I have wonderful things planned to make for this weekend. I am thinking of mixing things up a bit, yet staying true to the traditions we have around here.

As I was going through all the fantastic flavors I indulge in every year at Christmas, I was thinking of you. Tis the season for giving, and I have some goods for you!

Not only are these ideas treasured in my home, these are some of the hottest recipes off my personal blog. They have been around for years, are tried and true, and are sure to be a success at your table, too.

How to Brine Your Turkey and Why You Should

turkey

If you have never brined a hunk of meat, or do not know what brining is, or think brining is a waste of time, then this is for you — the whys and hows of brining. Once you understand the goal and process of brining meat before cooking it, you can get wild. Make it your own. Add your favorite herbs and be blown away by your turkey. Brining is amazing. You won't be sorry!

How To Roast a Turkey the Old Fashioned Way

roasted turkey

If you're gonna brine a turkey, you should probably go ahead and cook it. Here's the only way I cook turkeys. Mamaw taught me how to do it, and it's a can't-lose. Moist, flavorful, crispy skin and you'll have a pan filled with the most glorious broth you've ever seen.

Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese

Cheesy potatoes

If you want a change from the standard mashed potatoes, this may be the answer. This dish is so good. The best part is that it all happens in one giant, cast-iron skillet. From stovetop to oven to table in one pan. Delish.

Meringue Shell Cookies

meringue cookies

If you've ever wanted to eat an angel, here's your chance. I can eat 20 of these in one sitting (which causes me to have a problem with my pants). These are light, crisp, and they melt when they hit your tongue. There is practically nothing in these but egg whites and sugar. My youngest daughter ate 6 yesterday and said, "Mommy, this is how I like my eggs."

Scramble

Homemade Chex mix

Homemade Chex Mix courtesy of my grandmother. Crunchy, salty, yummy. Feel free to cut this recipe in half, because you will have enough to feed the neighborhood (or county depending on your whereabouts)!

Roll Cookies

Sugar cookies

These are the bomb. I usually like to admire these decorated, covered-in-icing, sparkly cookies. At all bakeries and cookie exchanges, I applaud the artwork, but I don't eat them. It's always a letdown.

But not these. These are rockin’. Buttery, crisp, sweet. Yum.

German Roasted Nuts

roasted almonds

Not only are these the best snack in the world, they are super easy and make a great gift.

Cranberry Sauce

cranberry sauce

This is a festive side dish that will get along with a turkey, a chicken, a leg of venison, or a standing rib roast.

Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie

I don't know if it's because of Bing Crosby, or the songs, or what, but I want a pumpkin pie to pass around on Christmas.

Fudge

homemade fudge

This one can be knocked out in five minutes and saved in the refrigerator for days. My youngest daughter always makes this for special occasions.

Coffee Cake

bundt cake

Christmas morning would not be complete around here without this incredible cake. It's a sour cream cake, so you know it's gonna be moist, soft, and creamy.

Sausage & Rice Casserole

sausage and rice casserole

It sounds so weird, but you must make this before you judge! It's not like anything else I cook. It is so full of vegetables that you'll get your vitamins and not even know it because it's so dang delicious.

Apple Tart

apple tart

If you want a fresh ending to a heavy meal, this is the right dessert. It's light, refreshing, filled with cinnamon and spice, and just sweet enough to be a dessert. Oh, I also eat this for breakfast — you could have this Christmas Eve and Christmas morning!

Wilted Salad

salad

I haven't decided yet on the salad for our Christmas menu, but this one is in the running. It's a classic, and everyone loves it. Cold greens, warm dressing, bacon — so satisfying!

Guacamole

guacamole

This is the easiest appetizer to pull off. I usually eat it in warmer months, but love it anytime. If you want to set out something for your guests to munch on while you finish roasting the turkey, then this is incredible.

Pumpkin Bread

pumpkin bread

Yes, I think pumpkin goes just as well with Christmas as it does with Thanksgiving.


I have lots of cooking and baking on my agenda this week.

In addition to living in my kitchen, I will be spending my afternoons selling assorted firearms at our pawn shop, because “Nothin' says ‘love’ like a new gun."

Oh, one more thing, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you this Christmas. I am so blessed to be a part of the GRIT blogger community.


I am so thankful for everyone who has followed along to hear all my shenanigans in raising food, adventures in farming, and delightful, tasty recipes. If you aren't following yet, you should! I send out a post or two a week. It's totally fun, usually helpful, and always free. Topics I generally rant about fall into three categories:

Growing Food (vegetarian style): garden, roots, herbs, berries, veggies, fruits, and everything else

Growing Food (carnivore style): farming, raising livestock, small animals, feeding, fencing, housing, keeping, processing, etc.

Enjoying all Your Food: cooking, preserving, freezing and canning all your hard-earned groceries.

You can expect all things homesteading and lots of fun from this blog. Go here to send me your email address, and I'll put you on the list.

Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Have a great week!

XO,

Candi

Can You Eat Potbelly Pigs?

Candi Johns

 

 

 

 

Can you eat a potbelly pig?

This is a great question.

Potbelly pig

I have owned potbelly pigs. Not too long ago, I had twelve.

My sow was your run-of-the-mill, standard potbelly. My male was something else entirely. He came with papers. He was a Juliana micro-mini potbelly pig ... who weighed 200 pounds. The story of my boar is unusual; go here to see it.

It wasn't my fault he weighed 200 pounds. Like many potbelly pigs, he was intended to be a pet, indulged on too many groceries ... and ended up being homeless. He lived on a couple of farms before making his way to our place.

The world of potbelly pigs is adorable and sometimes sad. I love those cute, tiny pigs. I want one in my living room! The problem is that without constant management of their caloric intake, those tiny piggies can get large. This is where the problems happen. More potbelly pigs find their way to animal shelters than people realize. Poor pigs.

I know there are many people who raise, keep, and love potbelly pigs. These pigs are typically pets. They live, sleep, and dwell in the living room alongside the family dog, or maybe in the yard, but they fall in the category of "pet" not "food." I'm not suggesting you eat your pet pig who thinks they are the family dog.

There are also people who don't eat meat, or maybe they do eat meat, but not pork. If you fall in that category, you will probably also not want to eat a potbelly pig. This post isn't a consideration on whether or not to eat potbelly pigs; this post is not trying to decide if eating a potbelly pig is right or wrong. This post is not determining whether or not potbellies are Kosher. I'm pretty sure they aren't.

For the purpose of this post, I'm assuming you eat pork ... Your pig is not your dog ... And you just want to know if you can eat the meat from a potbelly pig.

Or maybe you've already decided to eat it and you would like to know how it's gonna taste. Should you have the whole hog made into sausage? Can you get bacon? Is it gamey? Is it weird? Does it taste like chicken?

Well, here we go!

Farm life is an ever-changing adventure. There's a blurry, fine, almost non-existent line between pets and food at our homestead. Our dogs and cats are probably nervous. The chickens are probably in a constant state of panic. There is just no telling when we may wake up and decide to eat someone.

When roosters turn mean — we eat them. When there's not room for seven rabbits in the four-rabbit habitat — we eat them. When you have 8-inch tusks and charge my baby — guess what? You're dinner.

So why would someone want to eat a potbelly pig?

I can think of a couple reasons. I'm sure there are more that aren't coming to mind.

Potbelly pig

Price: Potbelly pigs can sometimes be purchased for 15 dollars (or free); a "feeder pig" can cost 90 dollars or more.

Small Space: If you have a small homestead or just a little area for pigs, potbelly pigs may be a good fit. They don't get as large as most feeder pigs.

Small budget: because potbelly pigs are smaller, they generally don't require as much feed. They can be raised on garden scraps, vegetable scraps, grains, milk, and many other inexpensive food items.

Size: If you want to raise a pig that won't get too big, a potbelly could work.

Temperament: If you have potbelly who turned mean and aggressive, eating them can be a viable option.

Circumstances: Somebody was given a potbelly pig and they don't want it any longer.

But can you eat a potbelly pig?

Short answer: "Yes. It's a pig. You can eat it."

It reminds me of the movie Home on the Range. The cow was explaining to all the other animals that the farm owner was going to have to sell them. Then the cow explained to the chicken that if she (the chicken) is sold, she will most likely be eaten. To this, the shocked and offended hen replied, "Who would eat a chicken?"

Ha! Everyone! Chickens are about as close to the bottom of the food chain as you can get.

So the answer to the question, "Who would eat a pig?" is, "Lots of people."

"Who would eat a potbelly pig?" Lots of people.

Some even boast that they are the tastiest, best, cream-of-the-crop, most fabulous pork you'll ever eat.

I'm no expert; I'll stick to my experience and what I know. We have eaten Berkshire crosses, Yorkshire crosses, Poland China crosses, standard farm pigs, and potbelly pigs. I have not raised a full-bred Heritage breed, quite frankly because I haven't been able to find a breeder near me. I would love to.

There are many different breeds within the category of "potbelly." I hear some potbelly pig breeds are more suited for eating than others. I wrote an article about "How to Buy a Cow" last year. In it, I talked about buying meat in bulk and things like that. Go here to read it. I also discussed a variety of livestock and how much eating meat you can expect from different animals.

One of the remarkable things about pigs is the sheer amount of usable product you can get from a feeder pig. Whatever your hog weighs "on the hoof," you can expect to get 71-78 percent of that number back in the form of meat inside vacuum sealed packages. This means that a 250-pound hog can yield 195 pounds of pork. That's impressive! When you compare the "usability" of the hog to other animals (deer, cow, lamb, etc), it wins without any competition.

Our experience has been that potbelly pigs do not fall into the same "consumable" category as feeder pigs. They are heavy on the fat and low on the meat.

Does this matter? Not really. It doesn't make them any less edible. It doesn't make them any less yummy.

It did effect the bacon & lard situation for us. Where the bacon should have been there was nothing but fat on the potbelly. This meant two things: less bacon and more lard.

I have also read that if you raise the right potbelly pig breed and feed it the right diet, you can get bacon and not just fat.

Potbelly pig

How do they taste?

Like pork.

My processor falls into the wonderful, beloved category of "lived 70+ years and has earned the right to say whatever he wants." For more on that and why some of my favorite friends are over the age of 70, go here.

When we showed up at our processor, he took one look at the massive, potbelly boar with 5-inch tusks and said, "You're gonna wish that one fell off the truck."

I said, "Can't you just throw the meat in with the others when you make sausage?" (We were having 2 feeder pigs processed at the same time.)

He said, "I don't recommend it. He'll ruin your sausage."

I said, "OK, so should I just have the potbelly ground into sausage and packed separately?"

He said, "I would."

So, we agreed. I didn't want to ruin 100 pounds of wonderful sausage by mixing in a bunch of strong, gamey boar into it. If the boar sausage turned out horrible, I could deal with it separately. Our processor marked all the "boar" sausage so that we would know which was which.

A couple weeks later, when I picked up my pork, he explained how strong the boar smelled during processing. He said it was awful. He said it was probably gonna taste as bad as it smelled. Then he looked at me and said, "You're not gonna be able to stand to be in your kitchen while you're cooking that boar."

Then he told me to be sure to call him as soon as we ate some of the boar sausage and let him know how bad it was.

I cooked some that night. I had to know.

Truth?

It tasted like sausage. Seriously. It was great. And I didn't have to leave the kitchen to cook it.

Just in case you think I've gone "taste-blind" to normal food and my taste buds have become accustomed to eating all things weird — I don't think I have. I do not like gamey meat. I don't eat "old" bucks (deer). The bigger the "rack," the less inclined I am to eat it. I am super sensitive to that "gamey" flavor and smell. Ick. No thanks.

The boar sausage wasn't gamey. It wasn't strong. It tasted like sausage. It tasted like pork. It was more "fatty" than the sausage made from the feeder pigs, but the flavor was the same. In the future (if I process another potbelly), I would probably try to get more cuts (chops, steaks, hams, or other cuts).

There are lots and lots of people who would find it disappointing that a potbelly pig found his fate as food. But I am not one of them. If you want to roast your potbelly pig, I am behind you. If you want to raise a potbelly to eat, it's OK with me! It's a pig ... you can eat it.


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XO,
Candi