Animal husbandry is an important part of Red Beet Row. We treat our animals like family. They provide us with valuable fertilizer, labor, and food. Our ducks are free range – they have two ponds to choose from. They spend most their time swimming and diving for grubs in the water. Chickens are an important source of labor for us – they till our garden before we plant, clean up our garden after the season is over, and have a good ol’ time running around our green fields in between. They are moved frequently in their mobile coop to ensure they are always picking through clean soil, void of their own waste. Goats provide us valuable nutrient-rich milk that all the animals benefit from (including us). They, too, are in a mobile structure so we can move them around the property.
Our garden is a diverse mix of plants – flowers to attract pollinating insects and provide beauty, annual vegetables and herbs we eat all season, and perennial plants that will live for years in the same place. We do not til our beds, but rather we mulch heavily to smother weeds and keep the soil loose for annual plantings. We fork the garden each year to get air down into 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. We let annual plants flower and go to seed so we can plant the seed the following year – thus building increasingly stronger plants over time.
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.
We dry herbs, flowers, roots, and fruits using the power of the sun in our homemade solar dehydrator.
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.
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.
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 utilize all waste on the farm, including our own. Humanure helps us build fertility in our otherwise-depleted clay soils. We let this waste decompose in plastic tubs until it has transformed into healthy compost. Also depicted is a rainwater catchment system – we collect the rainwater from the roof of this homemade porta-potty and use it for hand washing.
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.
Harvests from the garden provide us valuable food, medicine, and seed for next year. Depicted here are some meals we cooked, tomatoes fermenting to save seed, and jewel weed being prepared for what will eventually be a healing poison ivy salve.