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by Gail Kavanagh

Growing seedlings in plastic trays is a tricky business. While separating the seedlings to be transplanted into the garden, they can get stressed and damaged, and the roots can become tangled. But there is a simple solution: sow your seeds in biodegradable pots and plant them in the earth, container and all. There will be no more stressed or wounded seedlings and they grow happily in the soil in which they were set. Here are some ways you can make your own seedling pots from recycled materials.

Egg Cartons

The recycled paper material used to make pulp egg cartons (not the plastic kind) are perfect for recycling again into the garden. Cut each cup into an individual container and place them side by side in your garden tray. Each little cup can be filled with soil and planted with small seeds – two or three is best, to give the seedlings a good chance. Don’t heavily water the seedlings, just gently mist them with a spray bottle filled with water. When they are large enough to transplant, it is easy to just take each cup and seedling and plant it directly into the ground. The cup will rot and allow the roots to grow down into the soil.

Toilet Roll Tubes

Have you ever wondered what use these ubiquitous items have besides making skittles for toddlers? They make ideal seedling pots. Fit several into a seedling tray or tin half as deep as the toilet rolls, and fill each roll with potting soil. You can put larger seeds into these, like nasturtium or melon, one to a roll, and keep lightly misted until the seedling appears and fine roots appear at the bottom of the roll. Transplant the seedlings into the spot in the garden where they are to grow in their cardboard containers.

Newspaper, scrap paper and brown paper

Making seedling pots from rolled paper is quick and easy for fast growing plants like squash, but for slower growing seedlings use a technique similar to paper maché. You can use empty yogurt tubs or plastic drinking cups for molds. Tear the paper into strips wide enough to cover the whole outside of the mold – including the bottom – and long enough to wind around the mold several times. Soak the strips in warm water for a few minutes, then wind around and under the mold. Set the cups in the sun and let the paper dry. Slip them out of the mold and fill with potting soil. These will hold together well, but if a corner goes astray, use a stapler (not glue or cello-tape) to fix it in place.

It is simple to make these biodegradable seedling pots, and you will find that other materials can be used as well. Cardboard can be rolled in a fashion similar to toilet rolls and held in place with staples. Old garments can be utilized as well – pieces cut from woolly sleeves and denim jeans can be stood up, filled with soil, and will work nicely as seedling pots. Large potato or rice sacks can be filled with soil, and openings cut in the side to make attractive strawberry or herb planters. Keep your eyes open and you will see that you don’t need fancy, expensive gardening accessories. Recycling is a frugal option that works even better.

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Pigs on the Homestead: All Your Burning Questions Answered

When I was a little girl, I was absolutely terrified of Grandad’s pigs. In my opinion, they were big, loud, and scary, and not in any way cute! I blame Grandad, really, because he was always drilling it in to me that they could bite my fingers right off if I stuck them where they didn’t belong. No problem, Grandad! I wasn’t going anywhere near those pigs!

As I got older and started out on my own homesteading adventure, I realized that I love bacon! And pork chops! So, one year, I convinced my husband that we needed to raise a couple of pigs for the freezer. We did our research and built a good sturdy pig pen. And then we went out and purchased two little baby pigs to raise.

Well, that’s when the trouble began! It turns out that baby pigs are cute! Like really, super cute! And they can be sweet, entertaining and very smart, too. You really need to remember their purpose, otherwise you’re going to end up with a couple of pet pigs in the pasture, and no bacon or pork chops in the freezer! We had a similar problem with rabbits… but that’s another story!

Over the years, I have learned a lot about raising pigs on the homestead. Here are the answers to all your burning questions!

Are pigs dangerous?

It turns out Grandad was right. Some pigs do bite, and they can really do some damage! And pigs are really big… like 500 to 1000 pounds when grown. Just like any other large farm animal, they need to be treated with respect and handled carefully. Children will need to be taught boundaries, because sticking little fingers through the fence to pet a hungry pig could have disastrous results. Don’t get me wrong, most pigs are very sweet, but they are also very large and very food motivated.

Are pigs destructive?

Pigs have amazing digging abilities, and they love to root. The more room they have, the less destructive they will be, but even pastured pigs will tear up the ground pretty good. You could use this to your advantage by enclosing them on the garden or a field that needs to be plowed under and cleaned up. That’s what we do, and it saves us a lot of hard work. The pigs are happier, too.

What kind of housing and fencing do pigs need?

I like to use a hutch that can be moved around the property. It can be pretty simple, just something to give them shade when it’s hot, and somewhere to go to stay dry when it’s raining. We use straw for bedding in their hutch. They will probably eat the straw and move it around, but you just throw in some more. If you plan on keeping your pigs through the winter, you will have to beef up their shelter a little bit to keep them warm.

For fencing, my preference is electric fence. I use a solar charger so I can move them around. You should start training them to respect the electric fence when they are small. If you decide to go with traditional fencing, you will need to use heavy duty posts and hog panels because pigs are very strong, and they are notorious for breaking out of their fencing. If they do, they can be very hard to catch, and you can probably kiss your garden goodbye, too.

What do I feed my pigs?

Your pigs will eat all of your kitchen scraps, as well as any surplus milk, whey from cheese making, or extra fruits and vegetables you may have around. Pigs raised for meat require a diet that’s high in protein if you want quality meat. You will want to give them a good, high protein, non-medicated pig feed at the rate of 1 pound per day for each month of age, stopping at a maximum of six pounds per day. Divide their feed up into two feedings to prevent waste.

How many pigs should I start out with?

Start with two feeder pigs. Raise one for your own freezer and sell the other one at butchering age to cover the cost of feeding both pigs and processing your own for the freezer. Butchering your pigs at around 250 pounds will give you the best feed to meat ratio.

What breed of pig should I get?

You may have to just settle for whatever is available in your area. Purchase from a local farmer, and avoid livestock auctions wherever possible. If you do have options, go for a heritage breed.

My favorite heritage breed is Red Wattle pigs because they are docile, hardy, and good foragers. If you want to raise your own piglets, Red Wattles make excellent mothers. Just keep in mind that an average litter is 10-15 piglets and they can have two or three litters a year. You could become overrun very quickly if you don’t have a good plan for getting rid of your surplus.

If Red Wattles aren’t available in your area, look for Berkshires. They are super friendly and adaptable. Berkshires are coveted for their delicious meat and they also have great mothering skills.

Other great heritage breeds that are friendly and good on the homestead are Gloucestershire Old Spots, Hampshires, and Yorkshires.

Can pigs be trained?

Absolutely! Much like dogs, pigs are very food oriented and intelligent. They can be trained to walk on a leash and come when called, and I’m sure lots of other things, too. Just be careful of forming too strong of a bond with your pigs. That will make it a lot harder at butchering time.

Do pigs get bored?

Yes, they do, and a bored pig can become destructive and possibly even aggressive! Bored pigs will chew on their pen and possibly even each other. It’s best to never keep just one pig by itself. Try to give them plenty of room to root and forage. Even their food can help to keep them entertained. Provide lots of straw for them to root around in and different types of foods like salt licks, kitchen scraps, root vegetables, chemical free grass clippings and whatever else is available. They will even eat acorns! Providing something for them to chew on, like logs or even really tough dog chews, might help to keep them from chewing on their pen.

Raising pigs on the homestead may not be for everyone, but there’s nothing like having a freezer full of homegrown bacon and pork at the start of winter. If you can manage it, they are well worth the trouble, and can be quite entertaining and enjoyable!

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