September 28, 2014

Go Pigs

Ground ivy has been taking over our back pasture. Also known as creeping charlie, gill-over-the-ground, or run-away-robin, Glechoma hederacea is dreaded by lawn lovers. It is aggressive, invasive, and spreads rapidly wherever it can find a bit of ground to send its stolons over. It gets so thick that it chokes out everything else.

All things considered, I think it's an attractive little plant. Personally I wouldn't mind if it did take over our front yard "lawn", so that we wouldn't have to waste our time every couple of weeks knocking the seed heads off the weeds with the lawn mower. It would make a lovely, easy care ground cover. The suburban crowd hates it, however, and apparently the best of their weed poisons can't get rid of this stuff.

It was brought to my country as a medicinal plant by early settlers from Europe. Medicinally it has been used as a diuretic, astringent, tonic, and mild stimulant; traditionally used in kidney diseases and for indigestion. Nutritionally it is said to be a source of vitamin C. It's culinary uses include cheese making (as a vegetable rennet, which I'll have to try), in tea, soups, salads, as a pot herb, and in beer making.

The problem is that livestock won't eat it and, as we're experiencing, it can totally take over and destroy good forage. We did, in fact, try to eliminate it with a front end loader two and a half years ago, when we prepared the area for pasture. The grasses and forage were doing fairly well until we had a long dry spell during the summer. Those began to die back and the ground ivy took advantage of the opportunity. It's discouraging to see it come back with a vengeance like it has.

I had been contemplating what to do. Herbicides are out, but there has been some promising research on using boron (i.e. borax) to kill it. My hesitation about that (as with vinegar for weed control) is #1, pH. Natural substances which kill by pH change can also kill things we want growing. #2 is not wanting to put too much boron into the soil because that can kill plants as well. (Both of these are considerations when using laundry greywater for irrigation.) So, what to do? Hand pulling difficult and nominal at best; likely a waste of time.

Enter the pigs. This is what I found in the pasture just the other day.

I could see ground in the ground ivy!

The Waldo and Polly had been rooting there and uncovered a whole lot of soil. They'd gotten their snouts under the ground ivy's shallow roots and rolled it up so that it looked like bunting to hang on a balcony as a parade decoration.

It was easy to pick up and remove.

Go pigs!

Since it's time to plant winter pasture, I'd better get busy. I know the ground ivy will be back, but hopefully I can get some good winter forage growing for now.



Quinn said...

Pigs are my favorite tillers. And hens do the sifting and deseeding really well. So satisfying when your crew is working where you want the work done!
What are you planting, Leigh?

Frugal in Derbyshire said...

What pigs were born to do and a perfect example of synergy on the smallholding.

Tami said...

I need to get me some pigs! (Do you think the neighbors would mind?) @;)

Leigh said...

Quinn, the pigs and chickens really make a great team, don't they? I'm planning to plant a mix. I have a deer plot forage (from TS, cheaper than pasture forage and a good mix for goats too) containing annual rye, wheat, oats, winter peas, red clover, and rape. I'm going to add a orchard grass for my perennial along with ladino clover seed. Also herb seeds I've grown myself: yarrow, thyme, and chicory. The concern for goats with red clover (from what I read) is that it is high in copper and be a problem. Considering we have a copper shortage and it will be heavily diluted with other seed, I'm not going to worry about that and hope for less signs of copper deficiency.

Gill, "synergy" I love that word! We're looking at getting electric poultry netting to help focus rooting where we need it. Should have more on that soon.

Tami, actually, the pigs are the quietest critters on our homestead! Not that they don't "talk" (grunt) all the time. They do occasionally squeal (especially if pestered by one of the bucks), and will bark at me if I'm too slow with dinner, but I doubt our neighbors even know we have them. :)

Unknown said...

Got to love those pigs.

Renee Nefe said...

Some Pig!

Woolly Bits said...

pity that we have too many plants (aka shrubs and trees) in the ground - or I'd get some piggies and let them take out the ground elder:) I'd have no shortage of that....

Cassandra said...

Excellent! We have a lot of creeping charlie in the bed next to the back of the house. I've mostly gotten it under control, though it has taken lots of hand weeding.

Thanks for sharing the medicinal info. I'd wondered about that, as it always smells so strongly when crushed. A good smell, but strong.

Farmer Barb said...

Why invest so much in electric netting when a "Hog Square" is easier to cope with? I use hog panels and quick links to move the sheep along. with only two pigs, you could get away with half panels, so it wouldn't be so heavy (I cut them with bolt cutters). Did I say CHEAP? $40 for the two panels and the quick links (if you go stainless they cost more) but you need eight, total. I just shake a grain box to lure them into the square, put the grain in a bowl and then close the square on them. I use a snap bolt to hang a bucket of water and a piece of old tarp with snap bolts for shade. You can't beat it for total destruction. They don't have anything else to do, so they get EVERY LAST BIT!

DebbieB said...

Glad to see the pigs are working for their keep. :)

Izzy said...

Gotta Love those Pigs!!!

Leigh said...

Lynda, it's amazing, isn't it?

Renee, spoken like a true Charlotte!

Bettina, yeah, there are some areas I would like, but can't, let them into for that very reason.

Cassandra, it does have a strong smell, doesn't it? It's a member of the mint family.

Barb, we want the netting to be able to subdivide areas for rotational grazing of all critters. We figured it would be cheaper in the long run rather than permanent fencing. We talked about cattle panels for that, but would still have to use t-posts or else the goats will knock them down. Chickens too, need to be kept out but can easily hop through cattle panels at least.

Debbie, it's great, isn't it?

Izzy, absolutely!

Chris said...

You've really put into context, why we need animals - they really keep nature in balance. While they may never kill it off completely, what they will do is keep it in check.

Every year, if you let them go over the problem areas, you should see less and less of it. The way animals disturb the soil, is really quite a gift, because they leave fertilizer behind in their wake too.

Nature doesn't try to outright kill nature off, like we have traditionally been known to do through modern agriculture - but it does work at disturbing the balance in favour of species who "work" the land.

DFW said...

Well done piggies!

Harry Flashman said...

What noble pigs! I asked my wife is we could get a small pig like yours, and she was not enthusiastic. She reminded me of how well the goat project worked out. (not well at all.)

I hate ivy style plants because snakes get in them.

Mark said...

Oo-Rah pigs! What a great solution. We don't have stuff like that on the ground here, but do get wild grape in the trees.

I am sooo looking forward to the time when my work situation allows for goats, pigs, and maybe some meat sheep. You and Dan are definitely and inspiration!

Mama Pea said...

Yet another plus for raising pigs! Don't you just love it when "natural" solutions to a problem (at least temporarily!) are found?

Ed said...

Back when I lived is suburbia and had a creeping charlie problem, I did find an over the counter chemical that would kill it but you had to spray it on while it was blooming in the spring and wasn't going to rain for the next 24 hours. Surprisingly hard to do some springs. But I was able to go from a lot like what you had to none in about three years time. But it is chemicals which aren't for everyone. Now that I live out on the edge, I have adopted a live and let live policy with the creeping charlie. I've also gone from a quarter acre to over two which makes a lot of difference too!

Leigh said...

Chris, that's exactly it, well said. It is all about balance and the problem seems to be that human goals differ from what nature does. Learning how to cooperate with all things together has been an amazing thing so far.

DFW, I agree!

Harry, maybe you should try a different approach, LOL. I'm sure you learned from the goat fiasco. Somewhere I think I read that pigs will eat snakes(?) Not real sure about that, though.

Mark, I just can't imagine life without animals and feel fortunate to be able to be home full time for their care. They are amazing partners.

Mama Pea, it's exhilarating, I admit it. And it seems the effect animals have is different that what we humans try to do. Like the chickens in the compost. I'm amazed at how much quicker it makes than my old way!

Ed, very true about chemicals, especially with grazing animals. I honestly wouldn't mind if the stuff took over the front yard. Maybe I should transplant some and let it go, LOL

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Ground ivy is really a problem for us too. Maybe I should get a couple pigs! LOL Since my hubby won't even let me have a couple chickens I don't think he would go for pigs!! Nancy

small farm girl said...

Pigs can do wonders....