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Letters from Slovakia – a Photo Update on the Homeless Camp

Daniel Diškanec checks out his new edible friends
Photos © Craig Mackintosh

I should have shared these pictures back in August, when the pictures were taken, but was too tied up with preparations for the Tenth International Permaculture Conference (IPC10) in Jordan. Though late, I trust you’ll appreciate them anyway.

If you didn’t catch them already, be sure to read the previous two posts on this homeless camp in the mountainous north-central part of Slovakia (here and here). It’ll help you appreciate my personal satisfaction from seeing the magic of developing abundance with this project — one that can truly use the additional health-giving produce pictured and the increased economic resiliency it brings.

Denisa Müllerova, who kindly donated her consultancy time to create a plan for
this site, is at left — smiling as she also shares in the satisfaction of seeing rows
of edible produce bursting out of a previously mismanaged and under-utilised site.

Even I was quite surprised to see how well the vegetables were growing. I say this because when we installed the raised beds four months previously, back in April 2011, the soil had a very poor structure. It is a heavy clay soil, and in a bid to make best use of the donated manpower on the day the beds were installed we didn’t have time to prepare it for seedlings as we would have liked, by breaking it down a little. Instead, the moonscape of large, almost rock-like clods were covered in cardboard and a thick layer of mulch before the poor unsuspecting seedlings were placed into them.

In short, we left nature to do the work for us, and nature didn’t let us down. The micro-organisms and the small worm population made a start, and multiplied, processing the soil into something a little more functional.

It’s not all gardening heaven at the site yet, of course. At the moment the majority of the plants are edibles — which means there’s little to balance the pest/predator relationship. I’ve made it clear to Daniel that insects will be sharecropping with him until Denisa’s plan gets implemented further. Her design includes a lot of support species and habitat that will attract additional little tenant workers to the site — like insect-devouring birds, bats, hedgehogs, etc. Slug-eating ducks are also in the pipeline.

Denisa, who is a bit of a plant encyclopedia for this region,
reviews her plans for the site.

My satisfaction was also somewhat tempered with the realities of people needing to make their own learning curve. Denisa’s plan for the greenhouse was bypassed as Daniel instead created his own version, below. It was quick and cheap to build, but most of it is too low to be accessible for soil and plant maintenance and harvesting. I can see this will need to be revisited next year…. A similar story is told for the pond in front of the greenhouse. The idea for the pond is that it would serve as habitat and water source for ducks and other wildlife, whilst reflecting sunlight and warmth onto the greenhouse and being a thermal mass that would give off its accumulated warmth over cold nights. But, instead of ensuring the bottom was thick with heavy clay to seal the pond against leakage, it was instead ‘lined’ with bricks and more sandy soil. It thus leaks like a sieve, and will also need to be revisited. We had also planned for the pond to be less regular in form, to create more edges, so hope to incorporate this into Pond 2.0.

But considering the short time-frame involved here, and how novel the concepts are for the people we’re working with, I think this developing garden is already a testament to what can be accomplished if we just decide to get up and do something!

We hope to organise an Introduction to Permaculture course here in Spring, 2012, which may go a long way towards better introducing more holistic, systems thinking, so we can avoid these kind of mistakes and see this project advance even faster — and hopefully encourage the establishment of more like it.

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