A Glimpse of Autumn

Today we lose another minute of sun Max said this morning. So, enjoy every moment of day, Maja added. And, indeed, days are shorter, walnuts are falling, the valley is flaring up with red and yellow leaves, the living room smells like burning wood and tangerines: it’s time to write about Autumn!

Autumn was on time. On the 23rd of September precisely, She settled down in Boževce, bringing with her rain and cold weather. It marked for us the beginning of a slow transition to a new dynamic, with less work outside, more fire in the mass heater, and shorter working days. If Autumn is a time of decline, fall, introspection and slowing down, it is also a time of fullness and strength, of fruiting and harvest. In fact, She got her name from the Latin word augere, which means to expand, to increase.

Living close to nature, in the hills of Boževce, put us in the front line to witness this marvelous expansion, and to enjoy it. Amongst the green leaves that are shaping the garden since May (collard greens, chards, kales, nasturtium), were growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, beans, potatoes, chickpeas, pumpkins… What a nice feeling to collect all of them, to appreciate the yield of our work and care in the garden during the last months! There is, of course, plants that could have grown better, such as potatoes or cucumbers, but I think we learned a lot thanks to these failures and they’ll help us improving and planning better the garden for the years to come. For now, we’ve had enough vegetables (in addition to eating them directly) to store them for winter, to make salsa (a delicious tomato sauce), kimchi from kale and collard greens and tabasco from our spicy peppers, that came to align with the jars and bottles of hunter salad, ajvar, pickled paprika and cucumbers, we made from vegetables we bought.    

Besides the plants we grew, we also have the great chance to be surrounded by wild trees and bushes that produced fruits and berries in abundance this year; thereby, we collected berries full of vitamins to dry for tea, such as rosehips, hawthorn, and blackthorn (with which we made an exquisite juice and a tasty liquor too). In October, we got a bit obsessed with brekinja (Sorbus torminalis), a little ball, smooshy and a bit sour, growing on a tree from the sorbus genus, that turned out to be delicious as a jam. Wild apples and pears gave us work too: after picking them up from the ground, we cut, grated and put them in small barrels to make vinegar. We kept and stored the healthiest ones, along with apples and walnuts from our orchard, to have fresh fruits to eat during winter. Some of them ended up with peaches from our neighbor in a big barrel where we left them to ferment and make rakija. The peach tree had so much fruits that we even managed to make few jars of compote and jam. Finally, we mixed all of these wild fruits growing around in a closed barrel with water to make a healthy fermented drink.        

What we could not grow or find around, we bought from neighbors and local farmers. Thus, we spent some nice evenings taking care of the 300kg of cabbage we got, cleaning them, cutting them into thin slices, mixing them with salt, pepper and bay leaves, before smashing them a bit and to cover them with water. We will let them lacto-ferment for few weeks to obtain sour cabbage, a meal that is not only delicious but also full of vitamins and can be kept all winter.

Autumn, with Her profusion, makes us think about the less prolific and tougher days Winter will bring in His frost coat. Preparing food for winter is then an important task to do during this period, but not the only one. Indeed, we worked a lot on the house and its surroundings too, to respond to the Autumn and Winter promises of a cold and humid weather. We worked on solutions to the muddy problems we are facing each time there is rain or snow falling or melting on the property; we started by making a tire wall around the Red House to prevent landslides. The principle is to pile and stagger tires filled with really well compacted soil, so that it becomes a rammed earth brick encased in rubber. This technique is used to build Earthship, self-sufficient houses made out of both natural and upcycled materials, and it is a way to give a purpose to the numerous broken tires abandoned in the forest. After many weeks of work, hundreds of tires carefully chosen, positioned and filled, a few puzzling designing challenges, two mass handles and one spade broken, we finally put, with a tremendous joy, the last tire. After removing the excess soil remaining, flattening and putting pebbles, we now have a nice, mud-free path and space behind the Red House.    

Then, we worked on drainages around the houses, using broken tiles and gravels, and we made a brick path between the two houses. The entrance is now very welcoming and nice looking, and it should help us keep our shoes and houses cleaner!
Moreover, those colder days to come led us to have big Cut wood – Chop wood – Move wood action days to prepare and store all the wood we will need before warmer days to feed our two rocket mass heaters, the šporet of the kitchen and the two small stoves of the bedrooms. Heating a house with wood is something quite uplifting: it requires physical work to prepare the material, time to light the fire, care and attention to keep it alive and controlled, but you can value differently the warmth you obtain when you know what energy produced it.        
To be even more efficient in keeping a stable and comfortable temperature in the house, we are also currently working on the insulation of the Red House roof, with OSB planks to hold compacted straw. Humans are not the only ones to get cold in winter, so we built a shelter for our four young geese. With the days getting shorter and colder, we will work much more inside, so Alex, Max and Joseph built new shelves for the workshop. The room is now well organized and we will have a lot of space to continue working and building, even during the dark and freezing winter.

This passage to a new season and the end of the year coming brought some changes in our garden too. Indeed, after removing all the old plants that were not giving fruits anymore, we aerated the garden beds with a broadfork, added humus where it was needed and mulched everything with straw to keep the soil humid and prevent it from freezing. We could then plant, both outside in the garden and in the greenhouses, salads, rockets, chards, parsley, onions, leeks, garlics, holy beetroots, to have them ready in winter and in early spring.    
This year was really encouraging for us: during summer, we were able to cook mostly with our own vegetables, without having to buy them abroad. Some of our meals were even completely Made in Boževce, with vegetables from our garden, eggs from our chicken, cheese and milk from the neighbors’ cow, wild plants and mushrooms from the forest around… What a beautiful joy it is, when the food you eat is related to so many good moments: planting seeds, with love and a bit of apprehension, watching, day after day, the little cotyledons growing and getting stronger; waking up at 6am to go in the forest with a basket and a knife to hunt mushrooms and finding hundreds of them; going to the neighbors to buy cheese and milk and drink a coffee and a rakija with them; spending a full day, all around the table, speaking and joking and listening to music, to clean, cut, peel, bake, dry, pickle, smash (…), mushrooms, paprikas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, mušmula (Mespilus Germanica), plums, peaches…      

Therefore, to reach more food autonomy, and bring more life and happiness in our plates/stomachs, we expanded the garden by building new beds in the Forest Garden:           
      step 1 – define and design where to put the new beds    
      step 2 – aerate the soil  
      step 3 – put wet cardboard on it (to prevent grass to grow)           
      step 4 – add cow manure (for yummy nitrogen elements)              
   step 5 – mulch with straw (for plant-building carbon elements and to protect the soil from drying, freezing, or being invaded by grass)             

We will be able to plant and grow things there in spring, largely from our own seeds, that we kept, organized and stored preciously. And to be sure that our seedlings will have all the nutrients they need, we started a new hot compost pile, that should be turned by billions of astonishing micro-organisms into magnificent humus within a month.           
Otherwise, the fruiting season being over and the soil being not frozen yet, it was a good moment to replant on the South edge of the Forest Garden wild little trees and bushes growing around to make a windbreaker and thus protect the garden beds. Some of them were also replanted in the chicken area, for our beloved birds to have more shelters against wind, rain or sun.             

Last but not least, Autumn, with her ephemeral and misty gown, woven with the shimmering colors of falling leaves and burning skies, of scarlet berries and appetizing fruits, gave us quite some matter to contemplate Nature’s wonders and to appreciate our luck to be able to witness such beauty and to live such moments. The gladness of these moments got even increased when shared: we hosted some GAIAns for a weekend, gathered around a kazan (to bake rakija and potatoes in amber) and around our drugi Tito, who left Boževce after one year of volunteering. We said goodbye to our friend Tito, but we also welcomed a new volunteer, Joseph, whose serenity and building skills are really appreciated, and we had the great joy to see Max, not-so-new in Boževce, coming back amongst us for a new volunteering. Thanks to our workshop on plastering with natural material (mud, straw and sand), we met and worked with fascinating and passionate women, such as Ružica, who is an expert in natural building and a great teacher! 

To put it in a nutshell, Autumn gave us a lot to do and experience, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Full of these enrichments, we are ready to welcome Winter!

Louise, Bozevce, December 2020

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