From Dirt to Forest

This video is a time-travel demonstrating 7 years of evolution of a forest-garden – from nitrogen-fixing ground-cover through to a autonomous and perpetuating food-forest.

Visiting Malin Hermitage

On the last weekend of March we finally got to visit Malin Hermitage run by Philippe & Adriana. We went for a first of a series of educational & social weekends organized by EcoRuralis that will be taking place there. I gladly accepted an invitation to come and teach Yoga there. We wanted to see the place a few weeks ago while we were searching for land but didn’t get around to it because Mociu appeared in our lives.

The place was cold – too cold – a recurring problem in Romania and an inspiration for us as we hope to demonstrate that better living can be achieved with hemp-lime construction. Though it wasn’t as cold outside as the freezing winter months it was still cold. We slept in sleeping bags on beds in an attic room (you can see the entry to it at the top-right of the image above). When we left the room in the morning it was colder inside then it was outside. It’s a shame that this was a dominant part of our experience – but there it is.

It was spectacular to be on a farm so close to nature and far from a city. There are no phones (lines or cellular) and no electricity  – at night we sat by kerosene lamps. In this “natural” setting nature has both an awesome and obvious presence – it is a huge deal and no big deal at the same time. On Saturday I also witnessed my first Romanian spring rain – it arrived very suddenly and it poured loads of water on us. Water is an amazing natural resource here, which, together with plentiful land makes this country a rich and promising place!

We arrived on friday just after dark – and this is what we woke up to the following day.

Donkeys are the main working animal on the farm

And when they are eating the fresh spring grass they don’t make great conversation and don’t care to be disturbed. This donkey stopped eating long enough to signal Andreea to leave him alone.

The property has two streams running on it. They had a soft flow and according to Philippe they can dry out during peak summer (doesn’t look like enough flow to effectively create hydro-electricity – at least not at this time of year).

Apparently Romanian farmers have an  environmentally destructive habit of clearing fields with fire. It is driven in part by laziness and in part by government regulations. When you own land in Romania you are responsible for maintaining it and not letting it grow wild. Lighting a field on fire is the easiest way to clear it. So to discourage this behavior laws were passed illegalizing the burning of land. So now, Romanian farmers light fires and run away (so as not to get caught and blamed for the fires) leaving the fires to burn out of control. Philippe’s neighbor did this and his fire burned out of control, spread onto Philippe’s land and nearly spread to the neighboring forest:

During the day we sat on the porch behind Phillipe and Adriana’s residence where we had talks and lectures:

Philippe uses old windows to create an incubation space for seeds. Phillipe digs a 60cm deep space in the ground – fills it with 40cm of donkey manure (from a composting pile kept nearby) and then 20cm of composted soil in which the seeds are planted. The manure ferments and generates heat which is locked in by the window which I am assuming also acts as a solar heater too!

A mix of donkey manure water and clay is also used to create a protective “paint” placed on tree trunks to discourage potentially damaging insects.

And despite the vast quantities of rain-water there were plentiful examples, on almost every roof, of water collection barrels using natural forces of water pressure and gravity to provide irrigation.

Finally, one of the greatest gifts of this weekend was some time I spent reading in a two-volume book about Forest Gardens – an evolutionary form of farming/gardening where a forest-like eco-system is created and planted with a diversity of perennial plants. These plants all work together naturally (as do forests) to support and complement one another in creating a low maintenance and abundant eco-system. This means no more plowing the land, no more moving fertilizers from one place to another and no more dependency on oil and fuel for growing food.

I was greatly inspired (and relieved!) by the potential of forest-gardens and it will definitely have a strong effect on the kind of agricultural work we will be doing on our land. I invite you to watch A Farm for the Future to get you started on this path. Stay tuned for plenty more as another of my major pre-conceptions about the world comes crumbling down.