If you’re a neighbor, you may have seen our gigantic apple trees. These trees have been here for decades, feeding farmers, then cows, bears, deer, and birds. There are three different varieties: Gloria Mundi (big green), King of Tompkins County (the two on the corner of Phillips and Shambrook), and Wealthy (little red/yellow striped). We harvest as many apples as we can for pressing (juice available at our farmstand, Saturday 9-11), and the rest we feed to our pigs until they’re all gone.
Our pork is not the same as you’d find in the grocery store – there’s more marbling, and a thicker rind of vitamin D-rich fat on the edge. Heritage breeds, a varied diet, fresh pasture, and the Sooke sun&rain work their magic on our pork; our butcher completes it through careful cutting, smoking, and brining. Our pork chops are thick-cut, for juiciness, and our hams usually have a bone inside, so you can finish enjoying your ham by adding the smokey flavoured bone to beans or soup.
But apple-finished pork.. there’s a reason that’s a thing.
Want to try some? We have no sides available right now, but you can order packages for the next few weeks. If we sell out, we’ll close up our farmstand for the winter, but we may have enough to keep going for a little while.
Every year, we look forward to apple season. And then it arrives, and we are buried in apple season, our pigs are buried in windfall apples, and we can’t wait for the Sooke Apple Fest. And then, before we know it, it’s mid-October, and the rains have come, and all is cool and moist.
But not yet. There is still time to savour the rare-variety apples, buy a slice of pie, pick up some fresh-pressed, boxed apple cider, and hear Gord Phillips sing songs we forgot we all knew.
It’s a good time. Hope to see you there! Erin will be volunteering at the apple sales tent, and Tony will be selling boxed apple cider in the vendors area. Come say hi!
(Also, sides available soon, for people interested in trying apple-finished pork! Check it out here!)
We have raspberries, and they’re huge and flavourful. We grow our raspberries on the proceeds of a few years of raising rabbits – I had no idea that rabbit manure made berry bushes grow so tall and lush, but since under brambles is a rabbit’s safe hideaway, I suppose that makes sense!
We’ll have raspberries for sale on Saturday mornings, 9-11, during our summer farmstand. They’ll be here for most of July, but the best ones are always the first few weeks.
We have lots of pork, and are just about to get resupplied with ground pork and ribs (the only things we’re out of). Want a summer ham, to eat cold at a picnic by the beautiful Sooke river? We’ve got you covered!
Farmstand is 9-11, Saturday mornings, and you can always place orders through email at email@example.com. See you on Saturday!
I have noticed that, often, people will show the beginning of the process of installing a new system, but not the whole thing. I’m hoping to give you a couple of mid-process snapshots, and then eventually a retrospective, talking about how it’s working and how it changed from our initial plan.
You may remember from a previous post that we are working on a solid pig rotation system. (Here! https://castironfarm.ca/2023/03/21/pig-pasture-version-5ish/). We are aiming for something is a little less haphazard than we have been doing. We keep our pigs on grass, and previously the pasture location has been more determined by where we want to get blackberries removed, or where is easy to move pigs next, instead of in a solid system that is easily repeatable. Now that there are no more blackberries in our closer fields, we decided to put the pigs in a nice holding pattern, so that when we have work for them, we can move them out, but they’re also ok to stay put.
In our initial design, we planned to have our pastures done partly with permanent fence, and partly with electrics, but we decided instead to do the whole back in electric fence and to transition to permanent fence if it became necessary. Let’s hope that was a good idea! So far, it means that the sheep can access the pig field because they aren’t at all bothered by electric fencing.
We are mid-construction with the house, and the pigs are quite cozy in a truck canopy until they get access to their new digs. Their old house, is literally “digs” – they dig themselves a nest under the canopy, we give them hay for bedding, and when I go out into the field when it’s dark, I can hear them softly snoring in their earth-sheltered home.
These pigs have been delighted to welcome our ram in to eat with them. Initially I was concerned, because the pigs seemed to be trying to taste poor Miguel, but they quickly sorted out who had which armaments, and now they eat together. Pigs get bored, if things are always the same, and the ram gives them something new to think about. He is kicking our white tape electric fencing, though, on his way through, so we may have to fence him out if the pigs decide he’s giving them a good escape route.
We are overseeding and watering our old pig pastures, with the idea that each set of pigs will go through each pasture once or twice, with a couple of months of recovery time in between visits. We aim for not much bare soil, but the pigs have different goals, and love sticking their noses in the ground and seeing what they find there.
We are seeding our pastures with a mix of grasses, including sheep pasture mix, winter rye, buckwheat, clover, field peas, and vetch. As the seed grows, we are also finding volunteer tomatoes and squash, planted by the pigs!
Closer to finished! Open for ventilation on top, and oriented so that pigs get the morning sun but are sheltered from the south and west sun. Buy some pork, help us buy metal for the roof? We love scavenging material, and are really pleased to say that we have recycled, refurbished, or found everything that was used for this shelter except for the fasteners (probably even some of them!), but we have not yet succeeded in finding a way to do that with roofing metal.
So! So far, we have learned (again) that projects often take a little longer than we planned them to. We learned that overseeding pig pasture works great, except that buckwheat looks a little like bindweed (and caused me a tiny panic). We have learned that mill offcuts are great for animal shelter walls, if we rip the edges so they’re more straight. We learned that pigs and rams don’t mind eating together (the pigs get a lot of veggies, and that’s what the ram is after) but that the ewes and lambs are (understandably) too nervous to share a dish with pigs.
All learning, all good. We’ll have sides available in 6ish weeks, so we’re taking orders for large and/or special things now. We’ll have all the usual things available in a couple of weeks. Got any questions? Send us an email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Wondering what’s going on at Cast Iron? We’re working on a new pasture rotation system!
When it’s complete, we’ll have spring and summer pigs rotating through 8 (9, including a week in the loading pasture) pastures with a central hub for food, water, and napping in the shade. The sheep will go through first, for a day or so, to take the juicy green tips off the grass, then the pigs for about 2 weeks, and then either chickens (or TURKEYS!!) to add their nutrient and disrupt the life cycles of any pest insects that remain. And then, blessed rest for the pasture, to allow the incorporation of nutrients, and the growth of green, green grass.
The pastures will include elements of silvopasture. We’ll have sweet chestnuts for pigs to forage in the fall, in a decade when the trees are producing. The front pastures will have a row of raspberries, which makes sense for anyone that has grown raspberries.. Pigs, sheep, and poultry can make sure the raspberry canes stay in their appropriate place, and gleefully gobble up any damaged berries that we pick. We’re going to trial a few small trees in with the raspberries, to see if we can add diversity to the space without causing the raspberries to suffer. We’ll irrigate the pastures with well water, to make sure that we’re growing grass even through the dry summer – we want to make sure the critters all have a lovely sweet pasture to live on, and that we sequester as much carbon as possible in the grass roots.
It will take us a little bit to get the whole system up and running, but we’ve got a good start!
Our winter pig system is already up and running – we’re looking forward to including those last little pasture divisions, so that we always have something for the pigs to look forward to, and some pasture that is resting. We keep our winter pigs on the well-drained edge of the sandy slope, because while pigs are very clean and tidy creatures if dry space is available to them, they also love to dig and the nature of pasturing pigs during our wet, wet winters causes a lot of mud. We like to keep our winter pigs in a barn beside the sheep, so that they can benefit from the hay that the sheep throw around (profligate wastrels!), and are close to electricity so we can run their water barrel de-icer. The winter pig pasture will have the whole summer to recover, and we are excited to plant some corn and squash in there for them to play with next fall.
Our current pigs are on grass, too, but we are looking forward to a simpler system, that allows the pasture even more rest and has a consistent, easy rotation. Farming, for us at Cast Iron, is always chasing the next best, clever, shiny system, and we expect to learn a lot about what goes well (and what doesn’t!) in this new one.
We’ve got a little bit of pork still available, and more coming in a couple of weeks. Check out what’s currently available here (hint: it’s sausages!!)
Easter is coming, and thoughts turn to ham. Actually, I think about ham a lot. We love ham, and tend to cook it with an eye towards a few meals: roasted ham, then leftover roasted ham, ham bits as part of an egg scramble, then ham soup. We have two primary ham-chefs, here at the farm, and recently I asked them for their favourite recipes.
Chef #1, and the most likely to make ham: Christiana! She uses her family recipe, and it’s simple, reliable, and so very good. She will often substitute jam for the fruit juice.
Chef #2 is Jeremy, who enjoys cooking big cuts of meat, and bringing us all to slow-roasted flavour-town for dinner. Last time he made ham, he used this recipe for inspiration.
Once we’ve feasted on ham, it’s time for the leftover-artists to take their turn!
Chef #3 is Erin, who doesn’t tend to cook a whole ham, but loves using leftovers. Last time she used ham, she used a ham bone to make broth, and then added the broth and remaining ham to cooked black beans, with onion, garlic, crushed tomatoes, salsa verde, peppers, and a mix of cumin, coriander, oregano and bay. This makes a thick smokey bean dish, inspired by flavours far to the south of Canada, that is lovely on rice bowls or in burritos.
Chef#4 is Tony, who makes a killer split pea and ham soup. This one is a staple here, and can be made with a ham hock, leftover ham bone, or whatever bits and pieces of smoked meat is hanging around needing to be used.
Caveat: at Cast Iron Farm, we generally use recipes as inspiration, not flavour prison. These are some good starting places, so take the recipe that calls to you, and adjust as you like.
Share what works, because I’d love to hear! (Due to excessive spam, I’ve disabled comments, but you can always email us, or participate in the discussion on Facebook!)
Our pigs live happy, outside lives from the moment they come to us. Our aim is to have pigs able to express their whole piggy nature: they have earth to dig, friends to play with, sunshine to bask in, and a warm place to sleep.
We get our piglets primarily from a small breeder in Cedar, who has her pigs on a large green pasture with access to a pond. Babies are born in a barn, to keep them warm and safe, and are kept with their mother until we pick them up at about 7 or 8 weeks old. The mother is free to move around as she pleases within the barn, unlike in big commercial operations. The piglets are a Berkshire Hereford cross, which we find make lovely pork – not too fat, not too lean. When these piglets are not available, we have a list of small breeders that we check with to make sure that we have our piglet needs taken care of: all these breeders have strong, healthy pigs that live outside.
When we bring our piglets home, we find that the best housing for them is the canopy of a pickup truck stuffed with a couple of bales of hay. The piglets love nesting in the hay when they’re sleepy, and when they want to play they run in through the side window of the canopy, and out the front, around and around. So cute! We give them primarily kibble when they’re younger, and as they get bigger we transition them to grocery store seconds: bruised fruit, with bread soaked in milk or yoghurt are favourites! We feed them apples from our trees in the fall, and they eat some of our hay in the winter and spring.
Our piglets grow to market size in about 3-4 months. As they get too big for their baby house, we move their sleeping spot into our barn, where they have nice clean hay to nestle into. We transition them to new pasture once or twice while they’re with us, and they are always so happy to have something new to explore. We flatten and mulch over areas that the pigs have left as soon as we can manage, so that soil is left bare for the least amount of time possible (given the limits of a 24 hour day filled with competing priorities!). We are currently working on planting chestnut and pecan trees around some areas that will be in permanent rotation as pig pastures. These trees will provide shade, nuts for people and pigs, and help to hydrate the air during hot summers by bringing water up through their roots and out their leaves. Plus, carbon sequestration! Trees are magic.
When it’s time for the pigs to leave us, we work to keep things as easy as possible. We transport them in a trailer that they have gotten used to sleeping in, so everything is familiar. We close them in the night before, so there is no concern about stressing a pig trying to figure out how to load him when he doesn’t want to go. In the morning, when the pigs would usually still be sleeping, we drive them for less than half an hour to a small, friendly abattoir in Metchosin, where they are met with a calm barn, and the sounds of some other pigs quietly socializing. Pigs are curious, and usually leave the trailer quickly to see what is going on. The staff assure me that everything is quick, calm, and professional, and that the pigs have just one surprising moment at the end.
Running a small farm is a labour of love, and we started pasturing pigs because we learned too much about grocery store pork to feel comfortable feeding it to our families. I am very happy with the evolution of our pig systems, and feel that the world is a better place due to the work we’re doing.
I hope that you can taste the sky, earth, and sun of Sooke when you try our pork, because it’s all in there.
We are making a trial opening for free contactless deliveries to our Sooke neighbours, but how does that work? Easy – we take your order, pack it up using gloves, and on the day that we are to deliver you forward us payment through e-transfer. We are happy to deliver within Sooke in our electric vehicle (The Aphid, which is LURID GREEN!)
We currently have eggs, and a wide selection of pork products. Bacon, sausage, ham.. much deliciousness.
Is there any other way we can help feed you? Let us know! The best way to contact us is through facebook and email – our phone is currently experiencing difficulties.
Thanks again (and always) for supporting your local farmers.
Hey – were you one of the lucky people that got our apple cider last year? This year’s pressing has arrived, and is SO GOOD. We use heritage apples that produce a juice that is tart, sweet, and full of flavour. As usual, we have our apples pressed in a VIHA-certified facility, and our 5 litre boxes are shelf-stable for 6 months (or 3 weeks in your fridge after opening).
$20 for the first box, and $15 for every box after that. For orders, contact us on Facebook, via email, by phone: 250-642-5445, or come to our regular farmstand on Saturday mornings between 10 and noon <3
(for the record, pork roast cooked in diluted apple juice is AMAZING!)
You’ve probably heard about an ecological footprint, but have you thought about your handprint? If you focus on your footprint, the best you can get is zero, meaning that you take up no space at all (impossible, and no fun!). If you focus on making your handprint bigger than your footprint, the world is better for you having been in it. What are you doing, to make your handprint bigger than your footprint?