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Archive for the ‘Winter Garden’ Category

A life surrounded by animals is full of surprises. But just when I think I’ve trained myself to expect the unexpected, something even more unexpected catches me off guard.

About three weeks ago, a great debate started in the backyard barnyard. It began with a fat pig.

Albert said,”I think that pig might be pregnant.” And I came back with, “No, she’s just fat.” Once the thought was wedged into the back of my mind, though, I scrutinized the pig’s belly every day looking for signs. And, a week later, I grudgingly admitted (to myself) that she was probably going to have piglets, and began to mentally prepare for the possibility that the number of animals in the backyard could quintuple.

A week later, when I checked in and fed the pigs in the morning, the big pig was not interested in food and was slowly dragging straw underneath her massive body with her front feet, building a nest. And later that evening when I came by after work, there were three wiggling shapes in the straw, glowing white in the dark. Piglets!

I had no intention of disturbing the new mother pig, so I had no choice but to wait until morning to check in on them again.

In the morning, three white-pink piglets were exploring their world on wobbly legs, sniffing at everything, practicing their grunts and squeals. I pulled on my rubber boots and hopped in the pen with the pigs to add some more bedding into their shelter and they began burrowing under the straw until they were completely covered and all I could see was a pile of straw shaking and bobbing.

So, the pig count jumped from 2 to 5 overnight. Though it was a surprise, once I mentally prepared myself for piglets, I thought there could be up to ten. It would have been chaos–funny, but probably too much for me to handle. It’s all for the best that there’s just three healthy happy piglets. Now I just have to figure out what to do with them. Until then, I’ll just enjoy the unexpected gift that they are, and try to enjoy the next surprise that comes my way.

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The pigs have moved in, and they have chickens for housemates. I set up a corral made out of used pallets in the backyard, so that it also functions as a chicken run. The chickens have been taken down a peg; they have to sneak good food (cheese and bread) when the pigs will let them. At first they seemed puzzled by these weird creatures, but now I think the chickens are enjoying their farm company. They’ve actually been laying eggs more regularly, and have stopped their early morning screeching. They sometimes eat food off the pigs’ backs – maybe one day they’ll ride around on the pigs’ backs like the birds that travel on the back of hippos. Well, probably not, but it’s funny to visualize.

Anyway, the pigs are growing and eating at an alarming rate. They’re getting about a five gallon bucket of food waste every day and I think I’m going to have to find a way to increase their rations. Nearly everyone I know in the food service industry here in New Orleans is helping me save food scraps for them, but I’m going to have to ramp up the scraping. The whole goal in raising these pigs for my own consumption is to take a waste product (leftover or unusable food from restaurants) and turn it into a high-end, consumable product (meat for me and friends).

These pigs are moving beyond the cute phase and moving quickly into the smelly and gluttonous phase. They are quite entertaining to watch rooting around, making snorting/squealing noises, or just sleeping after a rigorous morning of eating. But, I have to say that these are the first animals I’ve raised that I (so far) don’t have reservations about eating. At this point, they may be putting on almost a pound of weight a day, and all I can think about are the chops, ham and bacon that is effortlessly being produced. I can’t help but notice, every time I look at the pigs, that they’re getting nice shoulders, rumps and bellies. They are so stout that they remind me of giant sausages with four legs poking out. I look at the pigs and I see meat.


Now I know that may sound callous to the animal-lover (I do count myself among that group, even though it may be hard to see beyond the the fact that I’m going to eat my pigs). I respect their personalities too, and I’m glad that they have some space to root around in the dirt, nap in the sun, and just in general, be pigs.

They like to be scratched a lot and they like to rub up on anything coarse to scratch themselves on, and they come straight at me with their dirty noses every time I enter their pen. But I had no idea that seriously, the way to truly let a pig just be a pig is simply to give it as much as it possibly wants to eat.

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Graceful Winter Live Oak Trees

Graceful Winter Live Oak Trees


This blog, like my yard, has gone dormant for the past six weeks. The crepe myrtle trees and the blueberry bushes have finally turned red and gold and are finalizing the process of losing their leaves, the bees are holed up in their boxes, only venturing outside on sunny days, and the duck condo sits empty. In my absence from the blog world, Christmas has come and gone, and Mardi Gras season in New Orleans is now upon us.

But in my blog-dormancy, there was some very unusual, un-New Orleans like winter weather where I saw snow flurries that blanketed the neighborhood. And an event like snow in a sub-tropical place like New Orleans means that you will see plenty of unusual juxtapositions like snow on bananas, palm trees and Creole Cottages.

Bananas in the snow!

Bananas in the snow!

Cold neighbor - Ms. Betty

Cold neighbor - Ms. Betty

Anyway, now that the days are getting longer again, it’s time to get back to work: there’s fertilizing to be done, tomatoes and peppers to be started inside and digging squirrels to do battle with. There is a squirrel family that lives in the water oak in the backyard who insists on hassling me every chance they get. When I sit on the deck chair, they throw sticks and half-chewed acorns at me, and even worse, they dig up the raised bed that sits at the base of their tree. They make craters in the carrot and lettuce patch and chew through the Swiss chard, then throw the wasted leaves, uneaten, on the ground. Vermin! Rats with bushy tails, undeterred by the vinegar soaked rags or Cayenne pepper that is supposed to offend them! Grrrrr… So, it is time to be vigilant and to hit the ground running. And I’m ready to refill the poultry pen.

Snowy Cabbages and Swiss Chard in the Front Yard

Snowy Cabbages and Swiss Chard in the Front Yard

Satsuma tree in the snow

Satsuma tree in the snow

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