Vegetables for pigs scheme (80 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

Welcome to the Mummy pigs’ field!

It’s a small, scruffy survivor: a little corner of a prairie which used to be lots of other, human-scale fields like ours. These rented two acres lie immediately below our house but, until yesterday, had been a vegetable-free zone and the exclusive domain of the Mummy pigs. While their daughters and I work the big field together over there, these bristly, barrel-shaped matriarchs have been methodically turning the clay car park of soil down there.

Their peace was disturbed yesterday when I rolled up with a barrow full of kit. They grunted disapprovingly through the electric fence as I unpacked inedibles such as plastic mulch, big staples and a mallet. Although appreciative of the new ground I’d given them access to the day before, they didn’t feel the same way about this strange plan unfolding on their old patch. He isn’t even stopping to scratch our ears, they said (maybe).

Since last October, when the animals’ grain went up to 35€ per 100 kg, I’ve been brewing a plan to restrain this overhead. Once upon a time I’d been attracted to the cosy idea that a patch of land could support entirely the animal and human population living upon it. I then read that this was not, in fact, at all desirable because it would merely amplify the deficiencies of the soil and all present would end up in a dietary spiral.

So some grain imported from somewhere else is a necessary thing. But so is the need to keep costs to a minimum. Around the same time as the grain price went up 15%, the Jerusalem artichoke harvest came in. Then throw into the mix a fuddled memory of the strip grazing I’ve seen the local farmers do with their cows hereabouts and leave to ferment for a few months…

The resulting plan which emerged from this mental soup actually only took an hour to execute.

I pegged down the plastic at one end and laid it out on the floor. I then inserted plant labels through holes I’d cut in the fabric (for last years’ cauliflowers) and rolled the plastic back up again. At each point marked by a label, I loosened the soil. I then unfurled the sheet of mulch again and secured it with some rocks and a few staples. (Don’t worry, by this point the pigs had also gone to sleep due to the tedium of it all!). I then selected 25 of my biggest, ugliest tubers from last year and planted them through the mulch.

A similarly constructed, 20 metre bed of pampered artichokes on the big field gave me 50kg of tubers last year. I’m going to plant three times as many this season. And, when the pigs have completed the cultivation of the next strip I’ll be doing the same thing again, but with mangel-wurzels instead. And so on. The pigs being followed across the field by archaic vegetables and the plastic holding back the weeds which – on this newly-turned Breton soil – could throttle even a Jerusalem artichoke at birth. It’s a lot of fuss for a fodder crop, I suppose. But the only expense is my time and that’s a small price to pay if I can dilute that grain bill by 50% using home grown rooty things…

But that’s enough time and thought devoted to growing stuff for non-humans for today… the production line of more edible vegetables seems to have seized up somewhere around the greenhouse stage. Better go and sort it out…

ADDENDUM: After the mangel-sowing season is completed, I could plant out some of those big, stalky kales you see outside the houses of old people around here. A succession of fodder crops – how exciting is that! Hello? Hello??