November 25, 2014

Pigs and Goats in the Garden

Polly and Waldo rooting in last summer's sweet potato bed. 

This year I decided it was time to do something different in the garden. For the past several years we've tried permanent beds in hopes they would be a work-smarter-not-harder gardening option. No-till with tons of mulch for weed control makes sense, doesn't it? Well, that was a fail.

My sad story is that I cannot keep up with wire grass control. In the beginning it goes okay and then two things happen: 1) I run out of mulch and 2) harvest and preservation commence and there's no time for anything else at that point. Except for picking (and watering as needed), the garden is pretty much neglected.

October photo: Wire grass taking over once well mulched black turtle beans.

For those who don't know, wire grass (Cynodon dactylon, also called devil grass) is an uncultivated bermuda grass. It is the plague of the southeastern United States, even worse than kudzu. If you've read my gardening posts over the years, then you know I've been battling wire grass ever since we got here. I've learned that the best I can hope for is to try to stay one step ahead of the stuff.

In comparing till versus no-till, I have to say that tilling gives me some advantage because I can rake out a lot of the rhizomes. That slows it down. This fall, however, Dan and I decided to let the pigs have at it. They did such an amazing job with the ground ivy that we wanted to see if they could make a difference in the garden.

Strawberry bed in front. Electric netting separates the pigs from the perennials

To keep them where we wanted them, we bought electric netting. The netting is a little more expensive that regular electric fencing, but I wanted to make sure we could keep not only pigs and goats out, but chickens too. It definitely works. For the charger, we went with solar.

Of course I couldn't let the goats miss out.

Gruffy, Randy, & my little Supergoat. I left the amaranth, popcorn, &
okra plants for them, also the green bean and black turtle bean plants

The Billy Boys are closest to the garden at present, so they are the ones who get to share in this treat. They will actually eat the wire grass, both fresh and dried as hay, but they can't control it. Actually, I don't know if the pigs can either, but I'm willing to let them do their thing. It isn't no-till, but it is natural till, and I'm okay with that.

The electric netting will enable us to subdivide pasture areas as needed to let them rest, for soil improvement, and growing other crops or new pasture. Seemed a better idea than more permanent fences.


Mama Mess said...

I think it's a great idea, they will naturally till as you said, and fertilize as they go, and perhaps they will break up the root system enough to slow things down? I'd say after several years of doing it this way you'll make great progress!

Unknown said...

Death to wire grass!

I think the pigs will do a good job. Waiting to see.

Renee Nefe said...

looking good! knocking out two birds with one stone...feed the critters and they pull the win. :D

I hope your veggies love it.

Mama Pea said...

Yep, here's hoping the little piggies will root around enough to get the very roots of the wire grass out. For your sake, I sure hope so. I don't know if I could keep from tearing my hair out (or sitting in the garden crying) if I had to deal with that awful stuff!

Simply Handmade Farmhouse said...

Great idea I think they will do a great job. Pulling weeding is a dreaded job in my garden. This summer I was able to till in between rows. We have crab grass and it takes over so quickly.

Kris said...

So tell me, how is electric netting differ from electric fence/tape? Where did you get it and is more costly? And that solar charger. I'm really interested. Wonder if it would repel deer.... (always hopeful).

DFW said...


Can't wait to see the results from the pig control. I'll definitely be looking into that electric netting, thanks.

Woolly Bits said...

I know how it feels - with ground elder over here and couch grass:( as soon as you turn your back on it for 20 secs - it comes back with a vengeance:( and because spraying it isn't an option (I'd have to spray the whole big garden several times a year - and probably would poison everything else while doing it - never mind the prohibitive cost) the only way for me is to pull, pull - and pull some more (no pigs around here:). I've resigned myself to think that I'll be pulling the stuff out until one day I'll keel over and die - probably just when I am trying to clear the veggie patch:)

Mark said...

I'll be interested to hear how it goes. We have Quack Grass and Crab Grass here in Indiana and I fight the same seeming losing battle. Not ready for pigs yet, but if pigs turn out to be the best answer I might have to get ready sooner rather than later.

Farmer Barb said...

The only things around here that don't move are the berries and the fruit trees. I am a believer in the pig-erator model introduced to be by Joel Salatin. I would just like rental pigs. Borrow them for a field or two and then give them back. The opportunistic weeds here are too numerous to count. I pull or chop the ones the girls don't like and let them have at the ones they do.

In California, I just had four foot high raised beds that I could weed standing up. There was no soil there before--it was a cement slab! I am grateful for the big pink sky over the big weedy property I have. I was put on this earth as a weed controller.

Leigh said...

I've been busy cleaning today for Thanksgiving and haven't had time to check comments or return blog visits!

the Goodwife, it's fun to see exactly what they do. They've already done an amazing job on the old potato and sweet potato beds. The goats have gotten a lot to eat too and everybody has round bellies. :)

Lynda, amen! Even if they just enable me to pull of the stolons out I'll be happy!

Renee, I hope so. Someone once told me that his best gardens were the ones planted where pigs had been. :)

Mama Pea, seemed like this year I just felt like giving up. That's when we decided to get the fence and try the pigs! That is a lot of the reason we got them (and sausage).

Teresa, oh my, crab grass is just as bad. I think most of the grasses are gardeners' worst enemies.

Kris, well, the netting has small enough openings to keep chickens out. Quite a few places sell it, Premier1 for one, but I bought it from Kencove because they were most economical. The charger, I bought at Tractor Supply Co. It went on sale and then I got a 10% off coupon on top of that so it was a good deal. I'm not sure about electric fencing for deer but it would be worth researching.

DFW, I'm curious too. It's all part of our work-smarter-not-harder scheme, which we'll definitely need as we get older. :)

Bettina, I think those invasive ground covers will outlive us all!

Mark, more grasses, oh woe is us. They are a losing battle and a discouraging one at that! I've really been happy with our pigs and am glad we went with the American Guinea Hogs. A good size for us, good grazers, plus friendly!

Barb, a weed controller! Yes, I think that about sums it up. I like your idea of rent-a-pigs. Maybe I should go into business, LOL

PioneerPreppy said...

I have had the same problems more or less with the mulched garden/Eden type method. It works well until the dreaded rhizome type weeds get into it. Up here it is Morning Gory - Bindweed and Johnson grass.

Johnson grass is similar to what you describe and the pigs will eventually kill it off, so will the goats, but you will have to leave them in the area over at least one complete planting season I imagine. I doubt even the pigs will get down far enough to kill all the rhizomes but in about one season they will starve em out.

I also use the very same electric fence chargers for moving my sheep around and lessening my mowing duties. They are handy and nice but the batteries tend to die within the first year. Replacement batteries are about 40 bucks each too. Not sure how long the replacements last though.

Leigh said...

PioneerPreppy, welcome! And thank you for that. This is our first year for pigs and we've been very happy with how they impact the place! We have morning glory and Johnson grass too, but they haven't taken over like the wiregrass has. I read pigs will eat morning glory roots (the goats will eat the vines) and so far the Johnson grass is only in a few spots. I usually cut it back and dry it to add to the goats' hay because they really like it. I'm doubting even pigs can eliminate the wiregrass, but if they can knock it back I'll be happy!

I wondered about the battery in that solar charger. I understand all those solar batteries are pretty expensive. One step toward freedom but never off the consumer merry-go-round!

Su Ba said...

I'm finding that my number one weed is a grass with underground rhizomes. I haven't discovered its name yet, but I can identify it by sight. It's one hard bugger to control without resorting to a chemical herbicide. I've been removing any roots I can find while digging and tilling, but it's been a constant battle. I'm wondering now if the piglets could root out the rhizomes for me. I like your idea of the electro mesh fence. I think I'll give it a try.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Hi! The pigs and goats seem like a good idea. I hope it works for you. Glad we don't have that type of problem here. I had never heard of electric netting before. Great idea with the solar. Nancy

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

LOL. The pigs are co cute!

Anonymous said...

Where we live the soil just isnt suitable for gardening.

small farm girl said...

I was wondering about getting some electrical netting. I've already got the solar charger. I wonder how well it would work on sheep? lol

Quinn said...

Very interested in your experiments in electric fencing, Leigh! I've heard such horror stories of goats getting their heads or horns tangled in the netting style (and then either panicking and injuring themselves or youngsters just standing trapped and getting shocked and shocked and shocked) that I'm afraid to use it. At some point I may have to run a hot strand or two inside a field fence, but (touch wood!) I've managed to avoid it so far. Any expense I can avoid is a good thing right now!

Leigh said...

Su Ba, I think the grasses are one of the hardest to control. I'm curious as to how well our pigs manage with it in the garden. Next summer will tell.

Nancy, you're lucky to not have it!

MTS&M, I agree. :)

Country Wife, that would be tough. Do you attempt to do any gardening? Either bringing it in or by making compost?

Small farm girl, it's supposed to be for sheep! I think their noses have to touch for them to "get it." :)

Quinn, well, Dan tested the fence out on himself by grabbing it with his hand. He said it was a shock but not all that bad. Unless their noses touch, I don't think they fell it much through fur. It is cheaper than permanent fence, although it takes some doing to get it installed and put up. Time will tell whether or not it was a good investment!

Unknown said...

I just stumbled upon this article in attempts at eradicating Johnson grass.
Did the pigs help with your wire weed?
Is there hope to slow down a rhizome and seed spreading grass...?
Thank you!!!

Leigh said...

Hello and welcome! No, the pigs did not eradicate our wiregrass. :( They helped clear out ground ivy, but unfortunately that grew back again with vigor. Of our Johnson grass, I cut it and add it to the hay pile. It only needs to be avoided after drought or from highly fertilized fields. Otherwise it makes a fine addition to hay.