The lot is about two and a half acres and sat vacant for a few years after we bought it simply because we didn't know what to do. The economy had crashed and we were unable to secure a construction loan to build a home there. In February of 2011, with the property mostly overgrown with weeds, we heard our neighbor girl's 4-H goats talking to one another. I suggested we get some goats to keep on the land and graze it. My husband agreed.
After researching what types of goats there are and what they're used for, I discovered that goat poo is really a fantastic fertilizer. This started the process going. After we got our goats, I created a Test Garden to see if anything really would survive our harsh desert climate. Beneath the shade of a mesquite tree, that garden took off. So I expanded. And we had more and more ideas.
Markou Ranch is located in the Arizona Sonoran Desert and falls partly in a riparian zone (specially designated area of land that supports local wildlife and indigenous plants.) There are red-tailed hawks, quail, dove, ravens, racoons, rabbits, cardinals, javelina, bobcats, and coyotes in the general area as well as many mesquite trees. We have very little cactus, maybe two or three plants. In the spring, wildflowers go rampant and the mesquite trees fill up with green leaves. It's a beautiful place to be.
The mission of the ranch is to follow the principles of permaculture by creating usable soil and a place that sustains itself and provides food for us, our restaurant whenever possible, and the animals on it. We endeavor to have little to no waste by recycling anything and everything we can.
WHAT WE HAVE AT THE RANCH
GOATS: The goats provide fertilizer for the garden, milk, cheese, and goat milk soap.
MESQUITE TREES: The trimmings from the indigenous mesquite trees provide firewood which can be used by us, sold or bartered. The wood is great for grilling meats as it leaves a rich flavor in the food unlike any other.
ALPACAS: Our alpacas provide us with fiber for spinning into yarn and some nice, dry pelleted poo that they drop in the same location. They are gentle, quiet animals and we enjoy their peaceful presence. We are not in the business of breeding/selling/showing. All of ours are males, and they are our pets.
CHICKENS: Our chickens provide us eggs and fertilizer. Vegetable scraps from the restaurant and weeds and cuttings from the garden are fed daily to the flock, and they gladly gobble up that which would normally be thrown in the garbage. Chickens are also great composters, turning the soil on a regular basis. They till the ground and work for food. Due to the high predation rates in our area, our chickens are penned in large runs with a coop or shelter to lay in and sleep in at night.
COWS: We keep a Jersey cow, Karma, for fresh, delicious milk for making cheese, butter and just to enjoy. She has a companion, Cookie, who may serve as a milker in the future even though she is a Hereford or some mix breed thereof. The cows get to free range from time to time to mow and fertilize the grounds.
THE GIGANTIC GARDEN AND THE THREE SISTERS GARDEN
We have a Gigantic Garden which provides fresh produce for our family and for our restaurant and also a Three Sisters Garden (Started 2013). We harvest every other day or as needed: tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, dill, eggplant, and basil. But there are many other plants in various stages of development in the garden.
Gardening in our desert climate is a challenge and I am still in the learning stages. Some plants thrive; some don't. The ones that work out well can stay on. Part of permaculture design is observing what works in nature and following that lead rather than trying to force in something that won't benefit from the existing conditions.
Soilbuilding is a continued effort that I believe will improve the crop quality and production over time. We started with a sandy soil that had very little naturally occuring humus. The section where the gardens are located appears to have been used for cattle or horses long years ago. The ground was fairly cleared and grew scrubby weeds that thrived in the spring and summer rains and dried up and died off when the weather was too harshly cold or hot. To help nature along in providing optimal soil, I add spoiled hay and composted goat bedding on a regular basis to the double wide crops rows. The addition of the heavy organic material aids in water retention and will eventually lower the amount of water I need to use to keep the plants thriving. This kind of mulching builds soil, creating food for the plants.
Presently (2014) I am experimenting with hugelkultur begs and raised beds.
If you'd like to contact me, I can be reached via e-mail at: traci_markou (at) yahoo.com. Change the (at) to @. I'm insanely busy and always up to something from editing to chasing my kids to shoveling goat poo, but I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.