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EVS Experiences and Growing Gardens

posted 29 May 2016, 15:45 by Stella Ne   [ updated 14 Sep 2016, 11:44 by Jose Lorenzo Zamora ]
boletín en español aquí                          newsletter that we sent by email,  thanks for sharing it!

In this newsletter you can read about the experiences of Nicola and Maja - the interns that are here funded by the EVS Programme - and the latest progress with the gardens, which have been brilliantly led by them.

The context for this work is the vision we're working to for the whole farm, or the 20 year plan: a huge forest-garden complete with animals where all of us (plants, humans & animals) can self-forage as much as possible, & lots of biodiversity & increasing fertility can happen with the minimum of effort on our part: because we've designed a good self-regulating system - which takes a lot of observation, thinking, experimenting, organizing, & then meticulous creation of infrastructure.

Maja from Poland

I started my EVS with Gaia Tasiri about a month ago, although I have gotten to know & love their EcoVillage since february (6 months ago) whilst volunteering at a neighbouring project, and was hoping to be able to do an EVS placement here in the future.  Very luckily for me, I was invited to start earlier than I had anticipated due to one of their EVS placements leaving in May.

I really enjoy my time in here.
Just living so close to nature, in constant contact with the soil, plants and animals and being a part of natural cycles that are going on around makes me feel more alive than ever.
We have a lot of work, as it is a farm and we not only maintain it but also work for its development, but it is a very satisfactory work.

Every day we work in the gardens, tend to the animals and to relationships between ourselves and besides that, I am doing my Integral Permaculture Course which I was kindly provided.
All of these activities teach me a lot in many different fields. Besides the scientific knowledge of permaculture from the course, I acquire a lot of practical skills like milking, handling sheep, working with cement, wood, soldering and many others.

At the present time the most important focus for me is working on my leadership skills and emotional development. I have an amazing opportunity to live in a community that is constantly developing in commitment to evolutionary relationships.
I have a great emotional and mental support from people around me who are not only more than eager to always discuss some important and interesting issues on basically any given topic but also are always available for me when I need their help in any way.

The amount of work (physical and intellectual) is sometimes overwhelming, but I gladly immerse in this intensity to take as much as I can from this opportunity - to learn and to give back.
And to be honest, seeing how much there is to learn and how many fascinating projects I could start in this place, how I could benefit not only to this land but also to the people, makes me think that one year is just not enough!

Nicola from England

I started here, at 8th Life eco-village project in February, shortly after the birth of my son. I have always wanted my family to be an extended one- a community, where blood is not the only bond and with this placement, I am lucky enough to be able to begin that dream.

Of course, living and working on a busy eco-village project, with an infant son is a challenge. I am torn in wanting to put all of my energy into the gardens, the infrastructure, the people care and yet, I find that my energy is one fifteenth of what it used to be. No longer can I pass whole days in the garden, breeze into a circle and be undistractedly present (as I did in the community I lived with previously)... adjusting to motherhood in such busy and exciting conditions is hard. I have a tendency to be hard on myself and to either chastise myself for my lack of attention to Luka or to the project. Sometimes, I fear that with my “special” circumstances, others will resent me. Fundamentally, in our society many people are valued only for their productivity, being fundamentally human is not enough. Living here, I get to challenge this conditioning of mine and hopefully, offer Luka freedom from it.

In the first months, I was mostly just mother but now that Luka is older and I can share him with the residents, I am finding a whole new world of life opening up. This is a privilege that most mothers do not have. I leave my bedroom and there are people with the same vision and interests as me, right outside. They enjoy relating with me as a young mother who is doing something totally different for my son- they seem to even find me inspiring. They help me to accomplish my tasks during the day and enjoy relating with us, especially Luka.

The vision here at 8th Life puts an emphasis on creating a better world for the future generations, serving the environment, refining our culture, refining our relationship with the self and with each other. I am so lucky that my home and my family want to go beyond dogma and conditioning to provide the best possible life for my son. This, to me is winning the lottery.

Here at 8th Life, there is a radical feminist agenda and so, my work as a mother is recognised as “work”. Here, raising the next generation is a hugely valuable contribution and my 6 hours of work a day can include time with Luka - and so it is achievable. (Though, as I previously stated, my internalised sexism- in perceiving myself as a mother as a burden needs work- at least here, I have the contradiction provided. Even if, I do need a little reminder.)

If I compare my life to the life of many others in England (my home country), who live in neighbourhoods where in reality, there neighbours are strangers who distrust one another. Who live in streets with tiny gardens, the sound of cars continuous, their food bought in the supermarket, isolated in a vast population where we feel that most of those that we encounter in daily life, in reality do not care about us at all… I have to consider myself priviledged.
I live in a beautiful place with large forest gardens, vegetable gardens, a family of animals as well as humans who are enchanting, my food is largely sourced here- it is of the highest quality, the people who I live with are hugely interesting and engaged, the air and the water are clean- the stars at night are second to none I have ever seen, I listen mostly to the sound of Pigs, birds, chickens, sheep… Incredible. Amazing. Thank you!

Luka is blessed to meet so many people- I believe that his exposure to many different faces in such a special environment will serve to create a more balanced being. He certainly is not shy and his inquisitive nature is totally nourished here. Given the breadth of things that he sees us doing and the way he sees us going about doing them- he is learning a lot.

I hope to live in a place like this long term, using this financed year to establish an eco-business which will sustain us. So, I truly am immersing myself and Luka

The Big Chicken Tractor

This is a project that the PeDreTea team took on as their central food-growing goal.
it is a design for a big 'green machine' which will take some time to complete, but then produce enormous amounts of veggies with minimum effort, because the chickens will do most of the soil preparation work for us.

It consist of six big gardens (the moon-shapes in the diagram) in a terraced valley in the middle of the first finca.
The locals call these 'nateras' (cream-makers) because they naturally collect the fertility that flows down-hill with the water  - which is possible thanks to the wonderful terracing work that was done by the ancestors here.

Previously, they brought in all the animal compost that they produced in the goat & cow stables, but we opted for a chicken tractor system because it fulfills the same function of adding lots of compost, but with many additional benefits.

The chickens will spend one or two months in each garden and then move on to the next one.  In this way we would have constantly at least one garden producing food, and the chickens always being in a nice, big, semi-open (with fencing) space where they can find plenty of tasty insects and greens as well as enjoy the nature. 
In the same time they fertilize our gardens and reduce the weeds and any of the insects that might eat our veggies, and we also get more & nicer eggs, as well as our 'chicken TV' - a great place to go meditate by watching the chickens enjoy their natural environment.

A few weeks before the PeDreTeans arrived, in the middle of February, Stefania explained what is already in place and what else needs to be done, in this video, above, as the project summary.

At the end of April, after the camping kitchen was refurbished, the work in these gardens started, beginning with the Flora Garden, because it is the closest one the chicken house and the easiest one to connect to it.

The first step was building a door system to easily close and open a corridor for the chickens to go into the garden,
but that ended up requiring the re-positioning of the fencing poles, with extra reinforcement, to make the whole structure stronger and more stable, so the new doors could be better held.

The next step was re-attaching the fencing with reinforecements to that the plants won't pull it down as they climb on it, and also making it higher so the chickens couldn't easily jump out, and focus on preparing this garden instead of roaming around the whole finca.

And on the 13th of May, finally, the chickens could come out into the garden!
And the PeDreTeans were so enthusiastic about getting their
own food supply that, although at least one month of waiting for the chickens to do their job was needed, they decided to start building the garden beds immediately.

They also wanted to experiment with hugelkultur, so on the bottom of the beds are cut branches, and on top of that soil and compost, and later they want to make them into towers for vertical growing (for ex.  strawberries)

They decided to make three raised beds with metal scraps as walls, and in the middle, where there used to be ponds, they experimented with putting in compost towers. 

They reused the old watering system that was already in place, so after deciding where the rest of the beds were going to be built, they slightly redesigned the old piping to fit it into them.

And this is a video of the work in progress:

Fortuna's Gardens

Here is a walkabout of some of the gardens by Nicola >>

Nicola took over the designing & organizing of the gardens as soon as she arrived here - so Luka, who was born shortly before the beginning of her EVS volunteering here, has participated in every "Garden Hour" that his mum has organized since ... so he's been learning about gardening literally all of his life.    Very lucky baby, and very blessed all of us :)

The vision for these gardens is to be an aesthetic, accessible space, which can be low maintenance and highly productive.

As it is in full view of the neighbours and is part of the hostel, we have invested some time in building new "swanky" raised beds with recycled pallets to complement the original ones with logs and stones.

 << This is how the garden was last summer, with the 'old style' beds.  There's still lots growing there, and Nicola & her "Garden Hour Gang" have finally added drip-watering systems in each one, so we won't have to spend many hours watering by hand.

May 2016 - Five new raised beds with life exploding out of them!

 And these are the newer pallet-wood raised beds >>
We want these to also serve as a quail & guinea-pig tractor, so the next step is to make a movable home that fits on top of the beds.

These raised beds are more comfortable to work with, they save water and leave plenty of space for the roots of the many trees we need to keep the gardens shaded in the summer, and they are also very fertile, as we filled them with our lovely soil, combined with super-sheep compost, sand and picón. 

Picón is a volcanic rock which is very mineral rich and filled with little holes full of air, and microbes and bugs that live in them.

It serves to add some of the advantages that other materials, like terra preta, are famous for, as one of the characteristics of charcoal is a very similar porous structure, with the added advantage of lots of minerals which the microbes will make available to the plants over time.

Mattis, the wonderful young carpenter from Berlin who lived with us for four months, did a great job of inventing a way of making each bed out of just 3 palets, so that we could make the bed frames out of very economical wood.

Mattis working on a new bed

The pallets are stripped down to this, and then the gaps are filled in and it is screwed together.

When the completed frame is put in place, we add a layer of cardboard at the bottom to discourage the tree roots from entering the beds and also further up, to encourage mycelium growth as well as earthworms, who seem to love damp cardboard.

We dig around the bed area to ensure the bed sits flat and level, and we use the soil from the paths plus lots of compost to fill the beds. 

Nicola supervised the whole project, and also dug-in enthusiastically whilst taking care of Luka (who everyone took turns in carrying).

First the bed is positioned so it's level, and then it's filled with layers of soil from the surrounding areas, sheep compost, sand and picon.

And when the desired soil level is reached (leaving some space at the top), we mix together all of the "cake" layers.

This design fits very well into the 80/20 design/maintenance ratio  -  we say that in permaculture 80% of our time & effort should be spent in designing & installing (well-designed) systems, so that we later we need spend only 20% of our time & effort in maintaining them (which is a kind of reversal of the Pareto principle), and in this garden, we are definitely doing this!
With this work, we completed an one-off job which takes much time & care in order to save lots of time later - and following the same principle, we recently finished installing an automatic watering system which is now in all of the beds.

Thank you to all of the volunteers, guests and interns who have contributed to this!

And more recently, we were very priviliged to obtain lots of sheep's wool to mulch with so the gardens now look like they're covered in snow and will be super-efficient in water saving throughout the summer. 

Wool is the perfect mulching material because - although biodegradable (eventually) - it doesn't disintegrate in the sun anywhere as quickly as straw and other organic materials, it is a great insulator against heat & cold (it's a good idea to keep soil temperature as even as possible), and it is also full of nutrients (bits of dirt, sheep compost, lanolin, etc.) that are slowly released into the soil as nutritious compost-tea  when we water it from above.

Thank you Jose, Brio & Maja for your sheep shearing efforts!  And to Eduardo, our local country vet who always invites us to come help on his yearly sheep-shearing marathons around the island, in exchange for the wool.

November 2015 - The old beds of stone and logs, filled mostly with cabbages and aliums >>

Next in our ambitious design is the creation of a portable quail and guinea pig tractor
- with this movable cage (also called "cute little animal tractor"), both the animals and the guests in the hostel by which these gardens are, will have added entertainment in their lives, and more importantly,
the quails & guinea pigs should perform a similar function to the chickens, eating seeds and weeds, scratching the soil and composting in situ, saving us lots of effort

We have never heard of such an animal tractor, so we'll have to experiment & see (and report back in future newsletters as to how it works in practice), but apart from our permanent wish to experiment, we  want to use quails & guinea pigs for this design because they are much more suited to the size of the bed space available than chickens, who need much larger spaces - like the big gardens we are making into a huge chicken-tractor system in another part of the finca, see above.
Middle Terrace November 2015
Below, May 2016: the old beds, after harvesting lots of food from them all winter & spring, with newly installed watering system, beans, aliums, herbs, brassicas, tomatoes and sunflowers
The new beds can't be seen as they are right at the end of this terrace & so full of green they just appear as a forest! 

Nicola thinks that a garden isn't complete without sunflowers, and she's gradually tucking an increasing variety of plants into the gardens, surrounded by wool, songs and love.

Below this terrace there are two others which we will also be turning into gardens step by step  -  the lower terraces are not as easily accessible from the house as the first one, so here we're making gardens (not raised, for now) for plants that don't need frequent visits.

<< May 2016- the lower 2 terraces: our tomatoes are all tucked in with lovely wool, the area has been composted, sand has been added, plus an automatic watering system, and invisible to you... there are baby melons, cucumbers and pumpkins rising up to greet us.

This below is a picture of the same 2 lower terraces in November 2015: a wilderness of wild mustard, which grows plentifully here, and we harvest them all winter and spring because they are really delicious and nutritious greens.

This is the lower terrace November 2015

The Kittens

One of the features of the salad garden is that the wild cat that Nicola has tamed over the months is now raising her two kittens under the pepino bushes, and part of our harvest is getting to see them playing and purring around the guest house each day, and having them always accompany us in our group meals, and let us stroke them.
Here is a short video (in our FB group) of these little playful bundles of delight, and you can see another one below.

Do join us in the facebook group where you can comment on the newsletter, ask questions, etc.