Pigs have been the bane of my gardening existence since 2017 when we moved into our first rural rental. There were a couple of pig pens near our house and they quickly became part of our day-to-day life.
Soon after settling into our new house, I purchased three raised beds and planted my first crop of winter veges in a few years. They were doing really well until one of the farm’s pigs found them. At the time, I thought it was disaster. My veges were eaten and nosed.
It was my first experience with what I’ve come to call the ‘piggy grumps’. That’s how I feel when a pig raids the garden. It’s a weird and uncomfortable mix of sadness, grief, anger, frustration, anxiety and a little bit of murderous intent. It’s not my favourite feeling, but I’ve gotten pretty used to it over the years.
Pigs getting into my garden continued regularly with different pigs and crops right up until we moved last year. The whole experience taught me two important things:
- Unless the pig has eaten the entire plant, the plant will probably survive. Replant it if you have to, plants are resilient.
- A pig won’t forget about a good, productive garden. Ever.
In 2018, we figured ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’, and adopted one of the piglets. We named her Shirley after my grandmother. We loved Shirley to bits. We hand-raised her from 4 days old. She was a marvelous pig (who never raided the garden, for the record). We learned so much from her, and we had plans to breed her. But when we began to consider how we would move her to The Outpost, we began to hit problems.
We’ve been aware of feral pigs at The Outpost since well before we moved. They’re a well-known problem in Northland. Living within a connected forest, they come from all directions. Most of the ones around here are quite small. If you’re used to a ‘commercial breed’ (like Shirley), then you can easily underestimate their age as they grow much more slowly. But they’ve been here much longer than we have.
Shortly before we moved, we had an incident when Shirley was on heat. A nearby tame, handraised boar (who we had known since he was a piglet) escaped his locked and barricaded pen like Houdini to come climb Shirley’s 2m pen enclosure and get in with her. On trying to get him back into his pen, Richard experienced a mild boar attack. It scared the daylights out of us.
This was a pig who is usually friendly. He knew us. Richard could usually take him down with a good belly rub. He grew up walking on a leash through the local shops! But when he was horny, all bets were off. He became dangerous, unpredictable, and difficult to contain.
We stopped to think about moving Shirley. We didn’t know the boars here. They weren’t hand-raised. They were wild, and protecting Shirley when she went into heat was going to be a mission that we were not prepared for. If we were breeding her, we didn’t want half-feral pigs. There’s absolutely no value in that.
It was also a recipe for disaster when you live over an hour from the nearest hospital. We re-homed Shirley with a breeder before we moved.
30-50 feral hogs
Which brings us to now. Since we moved here, we have tolerated the feral pigs. They dig up our race and our paddocks. They’re not great for native wildlife. But they left us alone, so we left them alone. Pigs in Northland come with a fair bit of controversy, and for the most part we didn’t want to stir the pot.
But then in early September, I went out to the garden to do my usual morning inspection and found this.
If you’re a reader of my blog, you may be aware of how precious my garlic is. At the time, I suspected multiple small pigs. I know that the plants will probably survive though. In fact, it might even be good for them. I spent the day uncovering the buried garlic, standing it up, and repositioning the soil. I set some traps, electrified the fence, and went to bed that night exhausted. The next morning, I woke up to this.
These pigs were going to be a problem until we eradicated the knowledge of my garden from the population. The piggy grumps were back with vengeance.
The fact this was happening in the middle of the night was infuriating. Most of the porcine incursions at the rental happened during the day. Chasing them off with a shout and waving my hands in the air was how I dealt with it there. But here, you go to sleep hoping things are ok, and wake up to disaster.
Richard’s dad gave us a little proximity-alarm system. When the smaller part is removed from the main unit, it screeches. They’re usually used on windows and doors, but Richard saw another potential use. We rigged up a trip-wire made out of some wooden pegs, some string, a couple of zip ties, and a hair-tie. True Kiwi innovation.
Last night we set up a "tripwire" alongside the garlic. At 3.30am we awoke to one really big, ugly pig in the garden. Didn't get it this time, but at least we know what we're up against now. pic.twitter.com/2bsR3JmI3N— Kat 👩🌾 (@katjnz) September 5, 2020
We ran it around the two sides of the garlic bed that we knew the pigs were approaching from, and went to sleep, hopeful it would do the trick.
At 3:30am, one of the cats woke Richard up. The alarm was going. We rushed outside and right beside our cabin was a pig at least as big as Shirley had been when we rehomed her. Since this moment in time, this individual has become known as the “Big Bastard”. It turns out, we weren’t dealing with multiple little pigs. Just one very large one.
We didn’t get Big Bastard, but we definitely gave it a fright. The next night, we made sure the alarm was good to go, and at 2am we were awoken again. This time there was no sign of the pig when we went out in the rain. So we had discovered the alarm to be an effective deterrent – particularly when two humans with a big spotlight and a gun appear after it begins screaming.
The alarm was working a treat, but it was only protecting the garlic bed. I began to worry the pig would just start on another bed. I had peas and another garlic bed I’d like to avoid it digging up as well. Plus it honestly never pays to underestimate a pig. It was going to work out our very crude system at some point. The tripwire needed an upgrade.
On Day 4, I rigged up a new tripwire from nylon and a couple of lengths of wood. We set stakes up around the entire garden at regular intervals, keeping the fishing nylon at 9cm above the ground. Then we gave the (indoor) alarm unit a weather-proof house made from an ice cream container, and moved it closer to the cabin.
It was wonderful to get a full night’s sleep, but when I woke up, I wondered if v2 had failed us. When I went to investigate, I was grateful to find that it had not. The pig had not visited the garden. And, in fact, has not visited again since.
Since then, we have got pretty good at getting pigs. Richard’s shot a couple now. I made bacon out of the first one, my brother has taken a whole one home.
The farmer on the big beef and lamb farm next door is a keen pig hunter. The pigs affect him as well so we’ve had him over to chase them around a couple of times.
I’d like to tell you we’ve got the Big Bastard – I’ve been waiting to publish this blog for the moment we did. But we’re pretty sure it’s still around. The grainy photo at the head of this blog is a family passing along one of our paddocks, and the big one is big. We see them occasionally in the distance, but for now, they’re staying far away.
For now, the fence around the garden remains hot. And every time we work in there, we end up setting off the tripwire. We got a dog whose job will be to guard the garden. We’ve got hunters coming in semi-regularly.
The piggy grumps are honestly a horrible feeling, but they’re also a very strong motivator. With a bit of luck, someone will take out Big Bastard. If it’s us, I’ll dig a huge hole for it and plant my mandarin tree on top. I’ll enjoy every shovel-full of dirt as I dig its grave, and I’ll enjoy every single one of the sweetest mandarins we get as a result. Because no pig gets to mess with Kat’s Garden and get away with it.