Side Projects, Swine

Fresh Winter Salad for Humans, Livestock and Wildlife: Austrian Winter Peas

Mother Earth News provided the first exposure to this plant in an article titled Salads All Winter? Immediate consideration was given to grow this plant as a winter ground cover in any vacant garden bed that hosts annual crops. As a legume, the plant fixes nitrogen into the soil and dies off into a vegetative mat that furthers the conditioning of the soil. While the greens of this plant are readily harvested as a pea-flavored salad green, they will die off at each deep freeze (10 degrees fahrenheit for the hardiest varietals: Granger, Melrose, Commonwinter). Each frost killing takes root reserves to regrow greens which isn’t much of a concern when the plants primary role is ground cover. This information is pulled from a very comprehensive resource on Austrian Winter Peas

Also mentioned in the linked Mother Earth News article is the affinity deer hold toward the winter peas and how they can be a major pest. An important concept I hold that is backed in no science whatsoever is that wildlife prefer to harvest food where they feel safe. Following that logic is the reason brushy areas are maintained to satiate predators and prevent chicken kills as well as growing a food plot of austrian winter peas for the deer so they stay out of the garden.

Deer prefer to travel and forage in “edge areas” which are transitions from pasture to forest. A small field persists in the midst of my forest as shown below.

Forest clearing

I’ve struggled with how to use this clearing productively. My dad and I have tried without much success to grow deer plot mixes in the past. We tried conventional soil treatments of lime and fertilizer but the only things that ever germinate are turnips/radishes that die at the first frost anyway or get overgrazed resulting in bare soil for most of the winter. Growing a plot of austrian winter peas seems like the best use of this clearing until a more permanent use is developed. Additionally “An oblong or crescent-shaped plot yields maximum edge where the plot and the forest meet” which makes this little piece of pasture an ideal location for a wildlife plot.

My Plan: Combine Livestock management and Wildlife Management

The destructive nature of tilling and wasted energy put forth to seed production are the main reasons I typically avoid annual plants. However with proper management, annuals can be a useful tool in sustainable farming.

If a straight north-south line is drawn through the pasture pictured above, it lies at a convergence of older growth oak forest to the west and relatively young cedar forest to the east. Persimmon trees line the eastern edge of the pasture.

Therefore my plan is to set up temporary pig pens in the field. Pigs will be allowed to extensively root up the turf in the field while harvesting tree nuts and pasture roots. Each time the pigs are rotated to a fresh paddock, some mixture of ground cover and corn will be planted and mulched with old hay on any bare soil to prevent erosion. Throughout the summer the pigs can be rotated back through to harvest the corn at any stage of its growth, which swine relish, while simultaneously tilling in the straw mulch. For the final rotation of the year, pigs will be allowed to extensively root the ground eliminating as much competitive vegetation as possible.

Deer (as well as other wildlife) will be the primary consideration in the final planting of the year. As each paddock is vacated for the year and the temporary fencing removed, the replanting will consist of a mix of austrian winter peas and grains and/or clovers. As little success has been achieved in the past on this land with clovers, Rye will be the starting point as a companion to austrian winter peas with consideration given to red or crimson clover based on this website’s guide for dry area winter plantings.


Through intensive rotational grazing management consisting of mulching and annual crop plantings, hogs will receive their natural diet (although supplemented with feed) in their natural habitat while increasing organic matter in the soils as well as prepare the ground for wildlife food plotting.


Side Projects

Creating Bat Habitat

The farm needs to be as diverse as possible, both in cultivated and wild species. Bats are a crucial part of the local ecosystem and they provide numerous important services.

While bat boxes are easy to build and could be mounted on the side of the barn, I have a bigger idea.


The tall silo attached to the barn, also endearingly called a “bankruptcy tube” by some in the agricultural community, could be renovated into bat habitat. With a large enough population, I could even harvest the bat manure (guano) from the bottom of the silo to fertilize the pasture. From the linked article:

According to the NPK of bat guano, its concentration ingredients are 10-3-1

Turning pest bugs into usable, nutrient filled biomass sounds like a win-win-win to me.

I have no idea if this is viable, but I have contacted a few relevant organizations to see if anyone is willing to work with me. If you have any suggestions on how to tackle this, please let me know!

Side Projects

Antique Scythe Restoration

I come to you humble as I have never attempted to restore a rusty metal tool. As mentioned previously, I would like to try my hand at manually harvesting hay.

You may be asking why I would want to do such an intensive task manually when there is good machinery to be rented or purchased. Well take a look at this aerial image of my pasture. Would you want to subject expensive equipment to these rocky outcrops?

Aerial 2

About the scythe itself, the wood is in decent shape and the fasteners just need tightened up but everything seems solid. The metal blade has a very resonant ring to it when flicked with a finger, it is just covered in rust.



For restoration, I have been reading posts like this: How to Remove Rust from Old Tools by Lifehacker. However I am weary of any chemical or physical methods that are too abrasive as the scythe needs a razor sharp cutting edge.

Does anyone have an experience or guidance to offer? If so, thank you in advance!

Side Projects

Rendering Fat in Slow Cooker/Crockpot: Super Simple!

Cut up fat.

Heat until fat liquefies out of tissue.

Strain out solids.

The End


It really is that easy. Animal fats like lard, tallow, etc. are my favorite to cook with. After rendering, they are stable in storage, stable up to relatively high cooking or frying temperatures, and an incredibly healthy aspect of a complete diet. Keep in mind that my consumption comes from pasture based animals and that most fat/cholesterol phobias stem from flawed studies that are now being re-evaluated.

I’m getting too off topic now especially since this batch isn’t going to be used for food at all. I am rendering this deer (venison) fat from one I killed on Thanksgiving in order to make soap!

Here is a bag of deer fat next to 2 packages of grass fed beef suet:



Required Raw Materials:

Animal Fat

Required Tools:

Knife and cutting board to trim fat

Crockpot/Slow cooker (or pot for stove top)

Something to stir the cooking fat


Step by Step Guide:

  1. Obtain animal fat. Source from local butchers, farmers, hunters, etc.
  2. Trim any meaty pieces from your fat.
  3. Cut fat into small pieces or put in a food processor or a meat grinder (Ask butchers to do this for you if they are willing!)
  4. Cook over low heat stirring occationally until all liquid has rendered out of animal tissue leaving only cracklings behind (1-2 hours usually)
    NOTE: make sure your slow cooker’s “LOW” setting is actually low! If you are unsure, add some water which will cook off/separate out at the end and baby sit the rendering fat while it is cooking
  5. Strain solids out of rendered liquids. Can strain through a cheesecloth as well for an even cleaner product.
  6. Let fat cool on counter or in a fridge and separate top solid layer of rendered product while discarding lower layer of moisture.

Optional, continue cooking strained cracklings until crispy for a snack!

I wanted to keep the guide as uninterrupted text for mobile or printer users. Here are some pictures that match with each step:

Step 1: Obtain animal fats and equipment



Step 2: Trim off any protein containing tissue from fat:


Step 3: Cut fat as small as possible for more efficient heating


Step 4: Cook over low heat

IMG_20150218_105317 IMG_20150218_112813 IMG_20150218_143625

Step 5: Strain solids out


Step 6: Let cool then separate out solid rendered fat

IMG_20150218_185506 IMG_20150218_184213 IMG_20150218_184227

Even without cheesecloth straining, the final product is pure white and very hard, very much like a candle in consistency and feeling. And for a bonus, here it is densely packed into chinese takeout containers.



I will document how to make this into soap very soon! Eventually, I’ll even show you how to make your lye from waste (ashes) on your homestead!

Side Projects

Revisiting Bamboo as Fodder: Non-Invasive Genus Fargesia

After reading my post expressing my desire to experiment with growing bamboo for fodder, a friend of mine suggested I look into the Fargesia genus of bamboo. He sent me this article titled Non-Invasive, Cold-Hardy Clumping Bamboos/ The genus : Fargesia.

As explained in the linked article the Fargesia genus of bamboo is cold hardy but more importantly the root characteristics are non-invasive. The difference lies in the fact that the roots are clumping instead of running much like the perennial bunching onions mentioned previously. Pachymorph describes this nature of the roots opposed to leptomorph which describes the running rhizomes of invasive bamboo species. The latter is an organism much like turf grasses which both homeowners and gardeners know can be a pain to contain!

Phenomenons occur with bamboo that are still not well understood by man. Bamboo will flower, create new hybrid seeds from the flower pollination then typically die. This makes preserving the parent specimen difficult unless it is clonally propagated before its death. However the result is many new varieties of bamboo from the hybrid seeds. This monocarpic reproduction resulted in the death of the entire population of cultivated Fargesia in the 1990’s but resulted in offspring that vary wildly in characteristics.

Species Selection:

Also pulled from the linked article is a breakdown of the different species and their characteristics that I have condensed. All included species should do well in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia’s USDA hardiness zone of 6-b.

Fargesia denudata:

Arching habit [Green house or garden hoop row construction candidate]

Tolerates not only the frozen winters but heat and humidity

It can reach a height of 15 feet, but normally 10 ft

USDA cold hardiness zone 5-9.

Fargesia robusta ‘Pingwu’ Green Screen™

Very upright

Holds up well in the heat and humidity of the Southeastern U. S., unlike other Fargesia types

Maximum height is 18 ft.

USDA cold hardiness zone 6-9

Fargesia rufa ‘Oprins Selection’ Green Panda™

Extremely cold hardy and heat tolerant

It grows into a large clump (6-8 ft wide)

Arching stems

Maximum height is 10 ft. maximum and culm diameter is 0.5 inches.

USDA hardiness zone 5-9

Grows well in shade as well as full sun

Fargesia scabrida ‘Oprins Selection’ Asian Wonder™

Very narrow leaves and a graceful appearance

Stems show great color, with orange culm sheaths and steely-blue new culms (stems). Culms mature to olive green.

Maximum height is approximately 16 ft

USDA zone 5-8

Prefers sun to partial shade

Again, all credit for the information in this post is retrieved from here and due to:

Susanne Lucas, Horticulturist

Pioneer Plants, LLC.

9 Bloody Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360 USA

[Note, I think her address is badass!]

I don’t really have a preference for species. For fodder any of the plants will provide the goats and other animals with the fun of browsing vegetation 10 feet tall. For building materials it would seem that the tallest species at maturity are the best choice. I am going to find what is available locally or by mail order, then make my decision.

Garden, Side Projects

Subterranean Aquaponics? (Brainstorm Session)

Season extension is typically the first step market gardeners take to increase productivity. On my farm, the garden production will be kept simple for the first year but that doesn’t stop brainstorming future innovations.

Aquaponics has always fascinated me. Being a very low input system, the fish feed the plants and can in turn feed me or be processed into fish meal which is the most expensive part of the chicken ration. Chickens can also be directly integrated by using their litter to feed composting worms, which in turn can feed the fish. So if economics ever shifted that placed higher commercial value on tilapia than the chicken, the model can easily be scaled to place fish into the lead role the aquaponics model.

Unfortunately winters here in the Shenandoah Valley, and the rest of Virginia west of the tidewater region, can be harsh. Any economic gain from aquaponics is quickly negated by energy expenditure to provide heat to keep the fish healthy.

Recently, my friend Brauck shared some innovative gardening practices. Plans for a $300 Underground Greenhouse that produces year-round sent the wheels in my head into motion.

The gist of the plans are to dig wide trench 6-8 feet deep in a southern-exposed location, pile the removed earth on the north side of the trench, and seal the trench with transparent greenhouse plastic. A visual representation is pulled from the link above:

Using geothermal energy (thermal mass of the earth) to regulate temperatures while adding trapped solar energy give such potential to this design. Even in winter a tiny solar arrangement could supply power to pumps. If this arrangement provides a stable enough environment while reducing or eliminating energy needed for heat, aquaponics may move from fantasy to viable to profitable.

Garden, Side Projects

Forbidden Fruit 2: State by State Legality of Gooseberry and Currant Berry (Laws regarding plants in the Ribes genus)

Since I have been unable to locate a full and recent list of state legality regarding plants of the Ribes genus, I compiled my own comprehensive list. Like the laws themselves, this list is dynamic so please contact me if any of the information here is out of date. Please check with your local extension office for confirmation before getting involved with the Ribes genus in any regard.

Summarized: Ribes plants really are forbidden fruit to some people. Residents of New Hampshire, North Carolina and West Virginia are completely out of luck as those states enforce a statewide ban on all Ribes species. Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island enforce a permit system. Most other states ban Ribes cultivars that are not resistant to the White Pine Blister Rust (WPBR) pathogen but below is the complete breakdown.

All the sources provided are from state legislature, extension offices or state universities.



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  • “European Black Currant, Ribes nigrum prohibited state-wide
    The sale, transportation, further planting or possession of plants of the genus Ribes (commonly) known as currant and gooseberry plants, including cultivated, wild, or ornamental sorts is prohibited in the following Counties in the State of Maine, to wit: York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, Waldo, Hancock, and parts of Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, Piscataquis, Penobscot, Aroostook, and Washington”





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New Hampshire

New Jersey

  • 2. The possession or movement of plant cultivars and hybrids of European Black Currant (Ribes nigrum L.) into or within New Jersey is only allowed under special permit issued by the Department.
  • 3. The possession or movement of red currant and gooseberry plants (Ribes sp. and Grossularia sp.) is allowed into or within New Jersey except the following municipalities, constituting a protective area: Montague, Sandyston, Walpack and Vernon Townships in Sussex County; West Milford, Ringwood Borough and Wanaque Township in Passaic County, and Jefferson Township in Morris County.
  • 4. Currant plants and gooseberry plants other than the European Black Currant (Ribes nigrum L.) may be moved into and within all other points in New Jersey by complying with the general requirements of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture for the movement of nursery stock (N.J.S.A. 4:7-16 et seq.).

New Mexico

  • No Restrictions Found

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

  • No Restrictions Found


  • The current Ohio law (Regulation AG-71-85.01) to
    suppress and control White Pine Blister Rust Disease is
    as follows:
  • (A) The European black currant, Ribes nigrum L. or any
    variety of this species is hereby declared to be a public
    nuisance, and it shall be unlawful for any person to
    possess, transport, plant, propagate, sell, or offer for
    sale, plants, roots, scions, seeds, or cuttings of these
    plants in this state.
  • (B) Recognized varieties, e.g., “Consort” produced by the
    hybridization of Ribes nigrum L. or a variety thereof
    with a resistant or immune species, known to be immune
    or highly resistant to the White Pine Blister Rust
    fungus, (Cronartium ribicola, Fischer) are exempt from
    the restrictions imposed by paragraph (A) above.
    Note: Ohio law does not prohibit the planting of red
    currants or gooseberries within the state.


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Rhode Island

South Carolina

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South Dakota

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West Virginia


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