The weather warmed in late March, and despite the snow that still remained on the ground, we suddenly had t-shirt weather! As soon as the soil began to release the suspended moisture it had held over the winter and wrung it out like sponge, we prepared to move the 3 pigs out of the hoophouse. They had grown into immense beasts over the winter, and while they weren’t bigger than me, they were pure muscle; dense little hulks around 200 pounds each. The three girls’ snouts were as strong as bulldozers and they had had begun digging a deep crater in the newly soft clay surface inside their pen. All we’d see when we entered the hoophouse was their butts sticking up out of the hole as they worked on it. We’d planned to set up a spacious paddock for them outdoors with extra hog panels, but couldn’t remember if we should pound in 2 posts per panel, as well as at the corners, or just one. To be on the safe side, we went for the extra posts, and even though it was harder work, we felt it was better to be safe than sorry and avoid having pigs on the loose.
After their new paddock was set up, we nervously realized we had no clue how to move such monstrous animals. We had about 500 feet or so between where they were and where their new paddock was. Pigs are not that easy to herd or move, and you can’t just put a leash on them since they don’t really have necks. We deliberated over how to do the move, and came up with using 3 panels, wired together into a sort of triangle, and to use that as a “pig shuttle.’ It would have to be quick, and we’d have to convince them to move rapidly, while also dragging the heavy triangle pen as we did this, but it seemed our only option. We still had the snow to help glide the panels, and so we went for it, before we had a mud fest to deal with.
The move went surprisingly well, although it was stressful for the nervous pig movers, our piggies were up for an adventure. They trusted us and were very curious as to what the heck was going on. We set up the triangle pen next to their existing pen in the hoophouse, and opened one side of it. They immediately went in to check it out, because they smelled new opportunities. Trudging backwards through the snow, we dragged the pen with the 3 pigs in it over towards the new paddock. When they hesitated, the back of the triangle pen pushed on their bums and they “giddyupped” forward. When we arrived at their new location and let them out, they were ecstatic and leaped and bounded through the snow, digging immediately into the soggy soil beneath. Seeing such happy pigs felt like the ultimate reward after all our stress and worry.
Back in the hoophouse, we now had more space for the ducks, but we had to rearrange things in there so that we could also start using the hoophouse to start our plants. Andrew made planting tables out of plywood and 2×4’s, which were high enough to prevent the ducks from leaping up and attacking our baby plants. We had many flats of seeded veggies sprouting in the “grow-room” in our house, some of which were cold hardy and ready to move outside. On Andrew’s planting tables, we seeded more flats of lettuce, kale, broccoli, chard, scallions, parsley, onions, and bok choi, getting them started as our first outdoor transplants. Because the nights were still frosty, we covered the flats with sheets of plastic at night to help insulate them.
We also separated abut 1/3rd of the space in the hoophouse from the ducks to prepare for planting our tomatoes and peppers. The dirt surface of the hoophouse was mostly subsoil clay, after all the leveling it had taken to set up the structure on the level, so we didn’t have the ideal planting surface or medium. As the snow outside dissipated, we saw mounds of dirt nearby that had been previously part of a hippy-like pond setup. One load at a time, we shoveled that dirt into wheelbarrows and moved it into the newly defined tomato and pepper planting area in the hoophouse. The dirt was more clayey than we’d have preferred, but we were quickly learning we had to use what was available. We then discovered the previous owners’ compost pile, and started digging into that, trying to mix it up with the excavated clay soil before forming the new hoophouse garden beds. It was funny all the relics of the past that showed up in that compost pile- 100’s of avocado pits, plastic fragments of children’s toys, polyester pants and even a semi-decomposed purple painted rabbit hutch.