When Cindy Jeffers invited me to see her garden, hogs, goats and chickens on her 9.6 acres north of Plant City, I couldn’t wait to get there. Her property is mostly wooded with five acres of shady wetlands, ideal for raising Hereford hogs, a heritage breed I hadn’t seen before.
She only moved here three years ago and her brother, Curt Clause, joined her about a year and a half ago. Working with nature instead of against it, they’ve made amazing strides toward self sufficiency even though Cindy also has a full-time job.
The house she built is beautiful and the vegetable and herb garden is full of autumn crops, including kale, cabbage, broccoli, beans, onions, lettuce and Mesclun. Several kinds of both sweet and hot peppers were produced all summer and are still going strong. If the weather stays warm enough, they could last for several years.
In the part of the woods where some sun comes through and Curt has removed the understory plants, there are great swathes of Calabaza squash. One fairly large plot grows edible turmeric and yellow Hawaiian ginger. Comfrey grows everywhere. They also have olive trees and other fruit trees.
Sixteen hens of various breeds provide eggs and one gentle rooster rules the roost. The chicken house and courtyard are well-fenced, even over the top, to keep out foxes and coyotes. They’ve seen a bobcat on the property and enjoy the wildlife as long as those coyotes don’t have chickens in their mouths.
The two Nigerian dwarf goats will eventually produce milk, and Cindy’s plan is to make soaps and cheeses. At the moment the goats are charming pets, also carefully and successfully fenced in. When we had goats, they got out no matter what we tried.
The woods of oaks and wetlands with cypress trees make a perfect place for a heritage breed like Hereford hogs to thrive. Cindy started with three young gilts and this spring had 18 babies born outdoors with no trouble. They’ve been raised in a natural environment their entire lives. They live happily and healthfully eating fermented grains, hard-boiled eggs from the chickens, commercial feed pellets and whatever the owners are able to grow for them on the farm. They especially like large squashes and Daikon radishes.
Hereford hogs still thrive on earthen pastures where they can forage, dig and otherwise express their “piggy-ness.” They enjoy wallowing during the rainy season and love frequent showers from the hose in dry times. Their meat quality is excellent. The ones we saw have had no growth hormones, antibiotics or such. When all our kids were home we raised and ate two hogs a year and the quality was much better than we eat now.
More than half of the hogs are already promised, but a few are still available. If anyone is interested, email me and I will reply with information on cost, butchering, weight, etc. and provide Cindy’s phone number.
Needless to say this garden visit put me in hog heaven.
Today’s pick is the penta. I’d never seen this flower before I came to Florida but it’s one of my favorites because it’s easy to grow in full sun to partial shade, will grow from a cutting to a shrub in no time, and blooms 365 days a year unless we have frost. If that happens, just take cuttings before the cold comes and start over if need be.
You don’t even have to deadhead pentas and that’s a good thing, because they have dozens to hundreds of clusters of little star-shaped flowers of red, white or shades of pink or purple when they get larger. Butterflies of many kinds get nectar from them. They’re also good in bouquets.
Now’s the time to ask if anyone has a photo of a snake in the garden that we could use. I’m working on a column about good and bad critters and when I see one it doesn’t always wait for me to get my camera. And often getting my camera is that last thing I think to do. I’ll always remember the sight of those beautiful but nasty yellow jackets all over my britches and stinging through. But I got out of the britches and the garden very quickly at the time and did not go back with a camera until the man came to remove the nest.
Don’t forget that Myrtle Cail will open her garden to visitors Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 811 Knowles Road, Brandon. She’s the lady I featured in this column last year who makes the lovely glass pieces for the garden. She will also have some plants for sale. For directions, call (813) 685-8141.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.