The Daily Commute

Plowing With Pigs: You Don't Need a Tractor to Get Crops Planted

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.When I first got into Mulefoot pigs a friend recommended that I ring their snouts or risk ruining my pastures. I decided to forego the ringing and use the pigs to plow up new growing spaces. Take a look at a pig and watch it root -- you'll no doubt agree that their snouts look and act very much like chisel plow shanks as they tear up vegetation, turn the soil and eat all the grass roots, weed roots and grubs they can find. One day, while watching them root, it occurred to me that using pigs as plows would be a great way to break a little sod, get rid of the pesky grass and fertilize the ground in preparation for planting gardens, small fields of small grains and even mangle beets -- that the pigs would happily harvest themselves come fall.

 Planting mangles and corn with a Cole Planet Jr. Planter 

So when I laid out the pigs' wooded pen, I fenced in a dogleg of fine Kansas sod that would one day make a great place to grow corn, wheat and forages that would support the pigs themselves, such as the giant mangle beets whose tops are every bit as palatable as their 20-pound roots. My ancestors used pig-harvested corn and mangles to help make the bacon, so I figured why not try it for myself. Last weekend I fenced the pigs out of the dogleg and planted some crops that will soon support my efforts in the kitchen and that the pigs will also enjoy.

Mulefoot sow and piglet 

Mulefoot pigs are most definitely not the other white meat. They are a heritage breed and they prefer to live outdoors -- which is where they thrive -- not in confinement. They have loins that are too short and far too much body fat for the modern hog industry. But these animals know how to look after themselves and are awesome when used to plow up ground for planting.

  Fencing out the pigs 

Mulefoot pigs don't like getting shocked so they learn to respect smooth wire electric fencing in a heartbeat. Mothers teach their youngsters -- and most pigs only get zapped once. In spite of that, since the pigs formerly had direct access to this planting area, I fenced it off from the main woodland pen with two strands of electric (perimeter shown in foreground has 3 strands) wire -- one at 6 inches and the other 15 inches from the ground.

Hoss Tools wheel hoe at work 

I used my favorite cultivating tool, the Hoss Tools  wheel hoe to loosen the soil and make the growing patch more or less fit for planting. I took this opportunity to remove the few large chunks of limestone the pigs unearthed. To the east of me (in the background) the farm falls off in what can be described as a grass-covered limestone scree slope as it transitions to the 110 Mile Creek drainage.

Loading the Cole Planet Jr. Planter with mangel beet seeds. 

My relatively new Cole Planet Jr. plate planter is one of my favorite walk-behind planters. I used two different plates last weekend. One for the mangel beets and one for the Mandan Bride flour corn.

We've used pigs to plow up smaller planting patches and plan to use them for a future small-grain field. I'll let you know how the experiment works out this year. Stay Tuned.

Photos Courtesy Karen Keb.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Sheridan School War Garden

The students and administrators at the Sheridan School took their war gardening efforts quite seriously. The sign makes this crystal clear:   

 

SheridanSchoolSmall   

 

Trespassers, Destroyers and Thieves 

Beware $100 fine - One year imprisonment 

Dogs are subject to the law-Keep them off. 

Note that it was a windy day when this shot was taken, judging by the flag in the background.  


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Uncle Sam Turns Pied Piper

 

Back in the late teens of the 20th Century, domestic food supply was definitely on the Federal Government’s mind in the United States. This poster depicts an Uncle Sam turned Pied Piper leading a group of children off to fight the war as members of the School Garden Army and planting a garden. School gardens have received some renewed attention in recent years, thanks largely to the hard work of many private organizations. 

the-pied-piper


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

1918 School Garden Army

In the name of growing more food during World War I, the Bureau of Education of the U.S.’s Department of the Interior created the School Garden Army as a means to recruit school children and school grounds to grow food for their communities. Read about a policy that adds outdoor activities and experiences to children's lives. 

 

 School Garden Army 


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Oscar H. Will Victory Garden Collection

 

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.Back in 1944, my grandfather offered a Victory Garden Collection that included wax, string and shell beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, sweet corn, cucumber, lettuce, onions, parsnips, peas, radish, squash, Swiss chard and tomato seeds. Twelve packets, a pound and a half of bean seed, an ounce of beet seed, half pound of sweet corn seed and a pound of pea seed for $1.60 postage paid. The history of the American garden is fascinating and incredibly important, and we're proud to encourage folks to keep it alive and growing.

 

 

 victory-garden-poster 


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Save Food!

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.During World War I, the United States Food Administration encouraged folks not to waste any food. Today at least 40 percent of the food we produce goes to waste. Imagine if that was not the case! Click here to learn more about minimizing food waste.

save-food-poster 


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

Oregon 40V Max Cordless Chainsaw: Preliminary Test

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.(1)When the folks from my favorite chainsaw bar and chain company asked whether I would be interested in testing their 40V Max cordless chainsaw this winter, I jumped at the chance. While I was somewhat skeptical of the utility of a machine such as the Oregon 40V Max cordless chainsaw, I am always interested in discovering just how far battery-powered technology has come. I will say from the get-go that the Oregon 40V Max cordless chainsaw is impressive. My saw is a Model CS250-E6, which essentially means that it is the 40V cordless, 14-inch bar saw with the 2.4 amp-hour lithium battery and charger. In fact, my kit came with a pair of batteries, which makes the tool even more useful -- the extra battery is not included with the retail kit, however.  I would not hesitate to add a cordless saw like the 40V Max to my collection of gas powered saws (Husqvarna and Echo) and with an MSRP of  $499 with the higher capacity battery, the price is completely in line with the Oregon quality and serviceability that we expect from the brand.

Oregon 40V Max Cordless Chain Saw with Load of wood 

On my first outing with the saw, I went to work on a pile of black walnut, Osage orange and maple trees that were downed about three years ago. The wood was pretty dry, but not cured in the way that shorter billets might have been. Over eager to begin cutting, I took the 40V cordless saw out with a single battery and left the other on the charger. I figured I'd get a couple of armloads of wood cut to stove length (18-inches) before the thing ran out of juice. I filled the bar oil reservoir with oil, tensioned the chain with the included screwdriver (a large wing nut tightens the bar making the traditional chainsaw tool largely obsolete with this machine) and lit the the 40V up. Well, I didn't really light it up -- I simply depressed the trigger lock and squeezed the trigger and the saw came to life. The 40V Max is quiet -- no ringing ears, even without hearing protection -- and it made short work of several walnut and maple limbs in the 4 to 11-inch diameter range. I next moved on to some 6 - 9-inch diameter Osage orange limbs -- one of the most dense woods in North America (it makes my gas chainsaw chains spark on occasion) -- and noticed that the saw was laboring and making smaller chips. Time to take a break to sharpen the chain, or to install a fresh one, right? Nope! The 40V Max comes standard with Oregon's very effective, built-in PowerSharp sharping system. Again the skeptic that I am didn't expect that simply running the saw without load and pulling back on the sharpening lever would make much of a difference, but I gave it a shot. Suffice it to say that the saw motored through a couple more Osage Orange cuts before the battery was out of juice.

In the final tally, the saw made about 25 cuts total on the single battery that first time out. That amounted to about 3/4 of a 6-foot-wide tractor loader bucket full of wood that when split yielded a bit more than 1/6 of a cord of firewood. Obviously 24-inch lengths would have yielded even more firewood with the same number of cuts, but my stove likes 18-inch billets well enough. In the hour that it took me to cut, haul, split and stack that wood, the second battery was fully charged and I repeated the entire process. It turns out that the battery I first charged was not fully discharged because it took about 2.5 hours to recharge the battery that I drained by using the saw. In subsequent uses, I've noticed that it takes between 2 and 2.5 hours to recharge the battery.

Firewood stack. 

The 40V Max cordless chainsaw isn't the saw you want to bring to the woods for a day of heavy cutting -- even if you have a truckload of charged batteries. It is a perfect saw for those lighter cutting and trimming duties and as I've come to learn, it is an almost ideal saw for relatively short firewood cutting sessions. I can totally imagine spending an hour or two a day or every other day using the 40V Max with an extra battery to create all of the firewood we need by adopting the slow and steady approach to the process. With two batteries I can cut and split a bit more than a third of a cord in around an hour and 45 minutes. that leaves plenty of time to do the other chores and work on other projects as daily life demands. The fact that the saw starts instantly in any weather, is relatively quiet and produces zero in the way of gasoline or exhaust fumes, and that it is so easy to keep sharp makes it tough to beat for short and sweet sawing sessions.

I plan to put the Oregon 40V Max Cordless Saw through additional testing through spring. I will let you know how I like it after a few months of living with it. In the meantime, if you are in the market for a good chainsaw for those spontaneous trimming or smaller cutting jobs, waiting for batteries to charge is a small tradeoff for a machine that performs and is ready to go the instant you need it. Stay tuned.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .