A diverse mix of plants performing many functions together, we do not til our beds, but rather mulch heavily. We fork the garden to aerate the soil. Companion planting is an important strategy when growing without pesticides – it confuses bugs, attracts predatory insects, and prevents disease from spreading from one plant to another.
Every year the Wright family joins together to make apple butter from apples harvested from the property. Three generations of Wrights put their labor toward this family tradition. Steph and John also make our own medicine from plants (salves and teas), can our tomatoes, make baskets from bark, ferment beverages, make bee boxes, and all kinds of fun activities!
We dry herbs, flowers, roots, and fruits using the power of the sun in our homemade solar dehydrator.
In this example, we first made compost piles in the place we wanted new garden beds. We put the chickens on the compost piles at various points throughout last year, and made multiple piles multiple times. The soil was black with nutrient by the time we were ready to prep our beds. We made hugel kulture beds – described below – while digging a pond and channel alongside at the same time.
This series shows how we install new beds into sod. We start by plowing and tilling the ground to work the soil up into beds – this is the only time we disturb the soil. Rototilling kills complex microbiology – the flora, fauna, and mycorrhizal fungi that healthy soil builds up over time. Instead, we use mulch to protect the soil, smother weeds, and retain moisture. We add compost to our garden beds once or twice each year. When installing new beds, we rake the loose soil into mounds (whatever size your body is most comfortable with – 3 or 4 feet wide, usually). We put our mounds on contour with the land, so that water will settle in between the beds rather than in the beds. Then we mulch the mounds. Mulching can be done with newspaper or cardboard and any dry brown natural material – hay, straw, wood chips, dried grass clippings, leaves, etc. Last, we plant started plants into the beds by parting the mulch. In some beds, before mulching, we broadcast seed across the bed with our hands, and then lightly cover the seed with mulch. We do this for salad mixes, and plants we want to direct seed.
A growing method we use at Red Beet Row is Hugelkultur! Hugel = “mound” in German. It is a permaculture technique popularized in the United States by Austrian Sepp Holzer. Indigenous cultures across the world grew food in mounds for centuries. A hugelkultur bed is a raised bed with rotting wood as its base (like the creamy center of a twinky). The wood gives structure to the bed, allowing it to drain well during wet weather. Wood also retains water longer than soil, thus reducing the need to water your garden during dry weather. Hugel beds are a lot of labor initially, but they last for 10+ years. To learn more about Hugelkultur, attend one of our workshops on the topic.
We are currently experimenting with a passive solar greenhouse design. Mostly inspired by Mike Oehler’s $50 and Up Underground House book, we built the greenhouse with wood and donated windows. We then bermed up the sides with dirt dug from a new pond. Plastic is used to keep the walls of the greenhouse dry. Plastic is also used to keep the dirt within the hill itself dry.
In 2017 we built a storage building for our farm. The frame is made entirely of waste pallet wood! We receive shipping skids from a family HVAC company – a waste problem for them – and store them up until we have enough to build! In this example, we combined light construction techniques with timber framing, as the lumber is 3 inch oak.
We are blessed to live so close to Lake Erie. Summer beach time provides us relief from the heat. During the winter, the Lake freezes and turns into an icy tundra. So cool!!
We treat our animals like family. They provide us with valuable fertilizer, labor, and food. Our ducks are free range. They spend most their time swimming and diving for grubs in the water. Chickens are an important source of labor for us – we use chicken tractors to clean up our garden beds, and mobile housing & fencing to keep our larger flock moving their fertilizer around the farm. Goats provide us valuable nutrient-rich milk. They, too, are in a mobile structure so we can move them around the property.