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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Black Pigs & Speckled Beans

by John Franson of Soda Springs, ID

Working on a pot of baked beans last fall I felt a familiar disappointment with the requisite bacon. For years I’ve skimped on pork. Too many reservations about tight cubicles crammed with highly specialized incompetent pantywaist psycho pigs given pellets and antibiotics by gowned workers. The whole scenario was disturbing enough that I pretty much gave up on pork products with the exception of a little bacon for flavor now and then. But I kept tendering a determined distant hope of figuring out a better way.

Twice we bought fair pigs. Each was a disaster — so much fat we could hardly find the meat. This puzzled me because I’d read somewhere that modern pigs are typically so lean they may even be missing some flavor. But the 4H program rewards kids on one measure — pure poundage. And competing for the heaviest animal in the shortest time leads young farmers to the bakery where they stock up on old Wonder Bread and Twinkies. So in retrospect the lousy meat had an explanation.

Still, I wasn’t quite ready to raise my own. Hadn’t laid out a dedicated pigpen with shelter and water, nor had I found a good feed source. Because I was reluctant to have any meadowland uprooted and turned into dirt, I figured pigs would need perpetual strict confinement. And I was doubtful too about finding any decently hardy pre-industrial hogs for sale here in the hinterlands of Idaho. A farmer in Maine mentioned that she had traveled to Missouri to pick up her heritage sow.

But the Jacob’s Cattle beans wouldn’t let me alone, so I slowly worked through the contingencies. And when I finally truly rooted around in the swine literature I learned that some breeds are preferential grazers. Given enough space and adequate grass they leave the soil alone. For me that was the critical revelation, because without enough summer rains in our high valley to reliably establish new seed, I’m a little obsessed with maintaining intact sod. I don’t need any more digging beyond what the ground squirrels and badgers already do. And a pig that would take a fair portion of its forage from grass sounded like a step in the right nutritional direction.

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

So we found a few Large Black pigs. These long-eared, long-bodied hogs are a relatively rare breed from SW England. Although in 1900 they were one of the most numerous of the English pigs, they eventually became critically endangered. Apparently after WWII when most American hogs were moved indoors the Large Blacks chafed in confinement. Uninterested in becoming city pigs they refused to cooperate. And they matured slower than some modern breeds. So they were marginalized and almost disappeared.

But as country pigs go the Large Blacks are superb. They are true grazing pigs, thriving on grass and respectful of fences. Protected from sunburn by their dark skin and hair they are tolerant of heat and cold and do well even in rugged conditions. Having retained valuable instincts, the sows are naturally careful, dedicated, and able mothers. The boars I’ve seen are friendly and docile. Litters tend to be large and the pigs are known for longevity.

Next to dogs, they are the most exuberant and self-confident animals on our farm, certainly the most vocal. They love their people and aren’t shy with strangers. Hearing footsteps or a noisy bucket they pile out of their snuggly straw nests and come running. And when the food is dropped they dive in with ambitious gusto, making winter feedings a true pleasure for both farmer and pig. Lately I’ve wondered many times why I waited so long to get them.

Eventually, as the biggest pig matured we scheduled a date with our friend Wes, who also happens to be a mobile butcher. He arrived late one winter afternoon. To make the job cleaner we had withheld food for 24 hours, which seemed like a long time for a pig’s growling stomach. As the pig snorted and happily buried his nose in the bucket to break his fast, Wes placed a single shot to the head and in one quick continuous motion handed me his gun, jumped over the fence, and plunged a long knife deep into the heart. Hot blood found the snow. We pulled out the small bowel into a bucket.

That night we rinsed the casings, turning them inside out and sliding them into salt water to soak. The next day I scraped off the mucosal layer, leaving the collagen underneath. The peach-pink ropy casings got salted again and packed in the fridge to await sausage making.

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Wes ran the fat once through his grinder and set it aside in all its glistening slippery white glory. From there the rendering was simple, requiring only gentle heating in the oven, then pouring though cheesecloth into mason jars. We got just a titch under five quarts of beautiful creamy lard . I thought of giving a couple of pints next Christmas, but must make sure we have enough first.

Unlike the dry cardboard texture and minimal flavor of most modern pork, this was a whole different animal. It seemed the contrast was even more dramatic than that between home grown beef and its alternative. The thick chops easily sliced with one or two passes of a straight knife and minimal pressure — none of the usual hacking and sawing with a serrated instrument. And the cut edges were clean and straight instead of ragged. Juices dripped. The marbled rose-tinged meat had a rich earthy flavor we had never tasted before, generating comments like “wow, I think pork is my favorite meat!”

With the bacon curing it will soon be time to soak some Jacob’s Cattle beans and bake them, bringing us full circle. It was, after all, a craving for those wicked good beans that finally plunged us into this rewarding and overdue endeavor.

Black Pigs and Speckled Beans

Spotlight On: Crops & Soil

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

Winter Production of Fresh Vegetables

by:
from issue:

Any claim about winter production of fresh vegetables, with minimal or no heating or heat storage systems, seems highly improbable. The weather is too cold and the days are too short. Low winter temperatures, however, are not an insurmountable barrier. Nor is winter day-length the barrier it may appear to be. In fact most of the continental US has far more winter sunshine than parts of the world where, due to milder temperatures, fresh winter vegetable production has a long tradition.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Carrots and Beets The Roots of Our Garden

Carrots & Beets – The Roots of Our Garden

by:
from issue:

Carrots and beets are some of the vegetables that are easy to kill with kindness. They’re little gluttons for space and nutrients, and must be handled with an iron fist to make them grow straight and strong. Give the buggers no slack at all! Your motto should be – “If in doubt, yank it out!” I pinch out a finger full (maybe 3/4” wide) and skip a finger width. Pinch and skip, pinch and skip, working with existing gaps and rooting out particularly thick clumps.

Soil, Vegetation, and Acidity

From Dusty Shelves: Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide teaches us about soil acidity.

Prairie Grass A Jewel Among Kernels

Prairie Grass: A Jewel Among Kernels

by:
from issue:

Years ago, my brother advised against plowing the patch of prairie on the back forty of our Hubbard, Iowa farm. “Some day,” he predicted, “that prairie will be as valuable as the rest of the 40 acres. We know how to grow corn; but that prairie was seeded by the last glacier.” Left untilled by generations of my family, the troublesome treasure has now become a jewel among a cluster of conventional crops on the farm.

Planting Calendar and Other Diagrams

From Dusty Shelves: A 1943 calendar for seeding your vegetable garden.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 1

by:
from issue:

There are three general divisions or kinds of graftage, between which, however, there are no decisive lines of separation: 1. Bud-grafting, or budding, in which a single bud is inserted under the bark on the surface of the wood of the stock. 2. Cion-grafting, or grafting proper, in which a detached twig, bearing one or more buds, is inserted into or on the stock. 3. Inarching, or grafting by approach, in which the cion remains attached to the parent plant until union takes place.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

Open-Pollinated Corn at Spruce Run Farm

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from issue:

The old way of selecting seed from open-pollinated corn involved selecting the best ears from the poorest ground. I have tried to select perfect ears based on the open-pollinated seed corn standards of the past. I learned these standards from old agricultural texts. The chosen ears of Reid’s average from 9 to 10.5 inches long and have smooth, well-formed grains in straight rows. I try to select ears with grains that extend to the end of the cob.

An Introduction Into Plant Polyculture

An excerpt from What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden
Companion Planting for Beginners

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

How to Grow an Acre of Potatoes

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from issue:

Heretofore potato production in this country has been conducted along extensive rather than intensive lines. In other words, we have been satisfied to plant twice as many acres as should have been necessary to produce a sufficient quantity of potatoes for our food requirements. Present economic conditions compel the grower to consider more seriously the desirability of reducing the cost of production by increasing the yield per acre.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Cultivating Questions Winterkilled Cover Crops for a Mild Climate

Cultivating Questions: Winterkilled Cover Crops For A Mild Climate Part 1

Our mild climate makes it too easy to overwinter cover crops. Then the typically wet springs (and, on our farm, wet soils) let the cover put on loads of topgrowth before getting on the soil. Buckwheat is the only crop that I can be certain will winterkill. Field peas, oats, annual rye and crimson clover have all overwintered here. Any suggestions?

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 2

by:
from issue:

Budding is the operation of applying a single bud, bearing little or no wood, to the surface of the living wood of the stock. The bud is applied directly to the cambium layer of the stock. It is commonly inserted under the bark of the stock, but in flute-budding a piece of bark is entirely removed, and the bud is used to cover the wound. There is every gradation between budding and grafting proper.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

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from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT