It's the end of August. I have started digging main crop potatoes, the sweetcorn is ripening and apples are swelling in the orchard. Unmistakable signs of a disappointing summer turning into a rather wet and chilly autumn.
I wore long trousers yesterday for the first time in months and it feels that I will be stoking the fire in the loft sooner rather than later. I am tempted to write the year in review blog post. I want to humblebrag the achievements of the year, and talk a bit about the calamity of the tomatoes. But with four months of the year remaining, it is probably all a bit early for that. And who knows, maybe the toms will have a second blooming.
(They won't. Tomatoes don't do that!)
But, it is definitely time for an update on the piggies, and this involves talking about the biggest transformation project of the year - the vineyard.
Last year, I asked for support for feeding them, but made it clear that the hope and the intention was to be able to grow all that they need to eat. Unfortunately, they went and growed didn't they? Tony and Brunhilda now easily stack the weigh-bridge at well over 100 kilos. Marilyn is not far behind. I don't know exactly what any of them are packing, but I do know I can't lift them. There is no shame in not being able to lift a pig, but I can't even budge them. A pig which does not want to be moved cannot be moved. When they decide to anchor their four pointy-trotters into the mud, they become as one with the entire planet. Good luck trying to put a pig somewhere where a pig does not want to be.
Unless you have a bucket of food. Then you can literally take them anywhere. I am the pied piper of the barracks when I have a bucket of food.
The best way to feed a pig is to let them feed themselves.
A pig which is feeding itself will destroy the land you leave it to graze on. This might be exactly what you want.
The plan to build a vineyard comes from the earliest days of the barracks. Maybe even a little before that.
Growing grapes for wine is incredibly climate dependent. And, you may have heard, the climate is changing. I get super confused with people who want to do something similar to what is going on here at the barracks - either building self sufficient communities, or or in some way attempting to divest yourself from the unsustainable world - and they go to currently hot places to do it. Portugal, the South of Spain, costal France.
Everywhere, the weather is going to get hotter and more extreme. If somewhere is currently hot and dry, it's destiny is desert. If you're by a large expanse of ocean, you're going to get wet. If you have the perfect climate for growing grapes now, you are not going to have the perfect climate for growing grapes soon.
And if you live somewhere near to great grape growing places, but it's currently too cold by a few degrees, then in five years time, you might find it's going to be just right. And as luck would have it, it takes about five years for grape vines to mature. So let's get them in the ground now!
First step, dig up 1400 m2 of fresh pasture.
This is far too much work for me to do, but just about perfect for three little pigs.
Do you remember how little they used to be?
I was looking through their old family photo album recently (well, for this blog post in fact) and I had forgotten how incredibly tiny they were. On this photo, they were already over a year old. I thought they might not get a lot bigger after that. And yet, they have more then doubled in size since then.
Where Fat Tony is standing, he now fills that space completely. If one of the others wants to get past, there is much shoving and a little squealing.
Putting the Drei Wollies to work, digging up the wild and overgrown area which is to be the future vineyard necessitates some preparation work.
Last year, Vincente and Emma started the job off by strimming the area and removing the largest of the rocks that were in the way.
Next up, it's going to need a proper fence. Something solidly rooted into the ground that they cannot get out of rather than a bright orange and rather flimsy thing which sparks their little snouters if they touch it. No more electric fence.
Proper wildzaun like they have in the forest to keep the wild boars and the rabbits and the deers out of certain new-growth areas is expensive. Around 60 euros for 50 meters is quite a lot, but the fence posts themselves are 15 euros a pop. And I need about 60 of them.
I bought three rolls, and fortified the wooden perimeter fence at the back of the vineyard. You have to have at least two proper fences between wild boars and house-piggies. They aren't allowed to touch noses. So, I'd need to enclose all four sides of the vineyard, I can't "reuse" the perimeter fence of the barracks.
Fortunately, I have a great deal with the universe and earlier this year, I was chatting with the forester and somehow we drifted into a conversation where he was asking me to dig up about 600m of fencing for him. He doesn't have the manpower for that sort of task any more, but in exchange, I could have the fence, and the posts.
So we got on to that. Roland, Sara and Tara, three volunteers came in March and spent over a week doing just that. Heroes.
A bunch of other willing helpers then aided in the digging of holes, stomping the posts in, and hanging the fence. I am sure I will forget someone, but huge thanks go to Roland (second mention in dispatches!), Aga, Kalle, Martin, Paulien and Sara (different one!).
I added up how many hours we spent on the minor job of taking down one fence and putting it up somewhere else. It's not finished yet. I have to get the rest of the posts form the forest before the forester gets cross with me, and build one, possibly two, proper gates.
Even though I might actually be secretly hoping for another visit from my Zimmerman friend Max and his big bag of tools and skills!
I think we are running at about 180 hours so far.
Has it been worth it? Absolutely it has. The pigs have never been happier. When they are not sleeping, they are wandering around like a herd of dwarf elephants, digging up the ground and actually getting fatter. I was worried that they might not be able to find enough for themselves, but I should learn to trust them more. Clever piggies. And for as long as it is warm enough for them to sleep out in the open, they can stay up there and feed themselves.
They will go back home again for winter.
Will we have a Barracks Vintage white wine in five years?
Actually, I'm not sure. The guy I was supposed to be doing it with has gone very quiet on the subject. So if not? Well, a self sufficient farm needs wine. That much is for sure. But maybe we don't actually need the 365 bottles a year which was going to be my one-third of the harvest that I claimed as my own. It's a good number for sure, and just the right amount, but maybe I'll just plant a few vines of my own, and the piggers can stay up there next year as well.