This winter, in Bozevce, we took care of our wild birds, by building some feeders and some houses for them.
Why do we feed them?
Most of the littles birds usually eat insects, or in winter, some seeds. The problem in this period is that because of the snow, the seeds and all the food they usually eat is hard to access. And in this period they need to eat a lot to fight against the cold.
How to feed them?
To feed them we used wheat seeds, because that is what we had now, but sunflowers seeds, different kinds of nuts, and animal fat can also be used, and be good for them.
Our feeders offer a surface large enough for the birds to land and to eat on it, and they are covered, to keep the seeds dry. We hung them on different places (roofs, trees and in our orchard), high enough to be hard for the cats to reach them, and in some places where there are not too many people passing by, so we do not scare them.
Why do we make bird houses?
Winter is the time for birds to find a new place for a nest. Indeed, they have to prepare spring, and the love season. With the growing of artificialised spaces in both urban and rural areas, and the disappearance of old trees, birds have less and less appropriate places for nesting.
How to make bird houses?
Bird houses can be a simple box, to offer a good shelter for the birds. But be careful, if you want your house to be used, you have to respect some dimensions. Depending on the species of the birds, their needs differ. For example a tit (Parus spp.), the entrance needs to be a hole of 32mm of diameter, and it’s 90mm for a hoopoe (Upupa epops). Also depending on the needs of the species, the place and the height where you put the house will change.
There are many good advices here:
And it worked!
During the snowy days through our windows, we could see birds around the feeders by dozens! Thanks to that, we manage to identify some of our land mates, like:
Great tit (Parus major), blue tit (Parus caeruleus), marsh tit (Parus palustris), great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), middle spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos medius), yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus) and and Eurasian bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula).
We are going to continue to feed them until the end of March, when most of them become insectivorous again, to avoid them being dependent on us. Like this they will be fed until they are able to find food by themselves in nature.
A new action week took place from 19th to 26th of October, when GAIA’s Bozevce program hosted a workshop on plastering with natural materials. The workshop was designed to introduce young women with little or no prior experience to work with earth and natural materials.
The idea was to show that natural materials are easy to work with, but also to promote their benefits. Conventional building in general has a very high carbon footprint, and using natural and locally available materials contributes to keeping the carbon rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. Responsibly acquired natural materials are not damaging for the environment, and are available to all. Working with construction material such as earth and straw can be very meditative and is always fun, especially when many hands are involved in the process. By taking care of our choices, such as building materials (as the conventional ones are often polluting), we also take care of our planet, and thus of ourselves and our communities.
A different aspect of the workshop was the fact that it was intended for women. It is unusual, especially in the Balkans, to see women involved in building activities, so we wanted to use the opportunity to challenge some common stereotypes of such as building being reserved only for men. Gender roles are very present in our society, so it is always good to give different examples that could contribute to positive changes in our communities. An example of young people from different backgrounds (e.g. Albanian, Serbian, Croatian and international, different age, coming from rural and urban areas, different religions) working together, women involved in building, sharing the work but also caring for each other, these are all the little examples that are able to inspire others to make positive changes.
To contribute to the developing of environmentally and socially healthier society, it is necessary not just lower our carbon footprint, but also to treat each other with respect and equity. We are all different, and we don’t come from the same starting point. Women are often not encouraged to take part in building activities, mostly due to tradition, but with artistic natural building aesthetics and the clear environmental, economic and social benefits, women are taking almost 50% in the natural building world. It is a new chapter for a fair future, where people of all gender, younger and older generations, everybody, can work side by side.
Ruzica, an IT expert from Belgrade, who has already been involved in different projects on natural building with Earth&Crafts in Mosorin (Serbia), was teaching and showing the practice of plastering to us. She has several years of experience in building with earth, and earth plastering became her passion. So, this week around 10 young women came to Bozevce and learned how to prepare, test and plaster with clay, sand and straw mix. Most of us were plastering for the first time, and the results are great.
Our task was to put a finishing, outside layer of earth plaster on a house which is used as organizations work and educational space, where we have a workshop, space for seminars and gatherings. The goal is to make Bozevce program an eco-village and educational centre, where people from Kosovo, region and broader could come to learn about permaculture, and also experience it in practice, by living together and with nature.
As we started to work, our plaster mix consisted of 1 bucket of soil, 2,5 buckets of sand and 1,5 buckets of cut straw(1:2,5:1,5). The recipe changes very much depending on the soil type you have. That’s why before starting we made few soil tests, to see approximately how much clay our soil has (e.g. making different shapes with it and checking how it cracks). So we got to know the materials we will work with and filtered them, prepared the plastering mix and then we started to plaster. After the first few movements with earth plaster in our hands, we got more relaxed and continued our work even better. We also painted the walls with earth-water mix, which is another technique to make the natural plaster look more even.
In addition to work, we prepared and shared meals, talked and enjoyed our time together, went for walks, watched some short movies on natural building and a longer one about soil, we crocheted and tried to make dorodango (Japanese polished mud balls). It was a dynamic week in Bozevce, and it was nice to host people from all around Kosovo and share muddy work with them.
Bozevce, October 2020
This workshop was part of my ESC volunteering project Building Resilience. Spending a year in Bozevce and experimenting living with nature and in a community, building with natural materials and producing organic food offers a lot of inspiration and knowledge. It is a chance to challenge ourselves and to grow, but more importantly to experiment in our context, where we are trying a different way of living, that is not harming to nature nor people.
Time to spring, time to spring! It is finally here, after a few months of cold weather, some snow and calmness, now the whole nature is setting its pace on maximum. Every day, trees crowns are bigger, meadows are greener, flowers blossom, bushes grow… Our whole surroundings is changing so fast and so beautifully.
Currently we are eight people in Bozevce, where we are living and working with seasons, and respecting the course of natural cycles. There are many things to learn and to try out in practice, and together we experiment.
The crisis that hit us now is only showing up to be an opportunity to learn more and plan better for future. Even though the covid-19 is having a big impact on mobility in Kosovo, our lifestyle in Bozevce stayed similar to what it was before. This actually inspired us to buy more locally, which is something we already practiced, but now we try even harder to support our neighbours. We have decided to put our focus to learn and grow together, rather than getting slowed down by the pandemic. It gave us space to reflect on the current situation, and how it could be an opportunity for the society to change its habits and transit to a more fair way of being, both for people and Nature. As one of the outcomes, volunteers from all GAIA programmes started a project ‘Shifting Perspectives’, where small but important messages relevant to our way of life, are being questioned.
With the crisis appearing we adjusted our plan for the year.
Until now, we have built a chicken nursery, plastered the inside of the red house (which is now more brown than red), and are building a material storage and outside workshop. Later in the year we will start with the building of an additional facility, on the place where there used to be an old hayloft. The plan was to focus primarily on building a facility that would serve as a kitchen and a storage place. But due to the pandemic measures, we are not able to organize all the activities with volunteers and professionals, in order to build it.
This is why our focus this year, in addition to natural building, is food production. We have extended our garden, made new planting beds in the orchard and close to the bees’ area. We built another greenhouse from hazel branches, so now we have two. Since beginning of March, we have started to sow seeds in the garden and in pots for seedlings, but only since the middle of April all of the small plants started to grow rapidly. Every day, it is noticeable that they are growing bigger and stronger, and this is something that makes all of us very happy! So, we have put some more efforts into planting, composting and taking care of soil. The soil we have is mostly clay, but the garden beds that are being worked with some of regenerative practices (no-till, aerating with broad fork and adding compost) are having a much better soil which is ready for planting a variety of vegetables. In the garden we are planting annual plants, while in the orchard we plant perennial plants, those which will stay under the trees for a longer period (a couple of years or more). We also decided to use more space around the property to grow more attractive plants for bees, medicinal plants and herbs for cooking.
As spring is showing us its nurturing side and it is providing a large amount of edible and medicinal herbs, our team has started to make daily plant or creature (sometimes it’s mushroom, a bird or an insect, etc.) presentations. As we learn about them, we are also collecting herbs for teas, fresh and cooked meals and ‘jar’ food, such as pickles and pesto made of wild plants. Experimenting in kitchen is a way to direct the creativity spring brings out in us. Our days have become more full and joyful, working outside, taking care of the animals – dogs, cats, chicken, bees, taking care of plants, preparing and building new things, meeting with neighbours and exchanging ideas, a variety of tasks and moments that are happening every week. A special moment happened with the coming of longer days – one evening as the sun was setting, a beautiful wolf ran across the field in front of our house. It was the good spirit of the Wild showing herself to us. Spring has also brought the birds that are singing and flying all around, many small creatures jumping, crawling and flying, the meadows became colourful with flowers which are essential for our bees and many other insects… It is beautiful to see the Nature starting her life all over again. Let her inspire you and bring out your curiosity for life.
When I was a child, I dreamed of a white Christmas
and as I am in Boževce, I realized how much the melted snow could be mud.
Winter in Boževce: How we live…
First, we cut wood in order to warm the two houses – the kitchen, the living room, the 1st floor of the ‘red house’ (still in construction) and the volunteer’s rooms. We bought the wood from neighbours and when the weather is good, we can hear the chainsaw, and the sound of cutting, in all the valley.
Sometimes, there are electricity cuts in our village, so we bring our candles and we continue our tasks. The water pump works with electricity, so if we need it during cuts, we take a bucket with a rope and we go to the well. When you are pulling up the full bucket, you can understand how life in the past was and conclude you are in a good situation, as you might not have a well in the property, or you have to do it all the time. And when electricity comes back, you appreciate it more.
For the purpose of planning the food forest…
What is a food forest?
A food forest is a living system in which you plant multiple levels of plants that are all edible.
We planted trees (plums, cherries, apples, even apricots!) and now we are preparing for planting bushes (raspberries, hazelnuts, gooseberries…), and later we will plant strawberries and comfrey, to cover the ground, some herbs (sage, lavender, rosemary and others), some beans to produce nitrogen, some vegetables also.
It’s just the beginning, we’re still searching what is best for us!
And of course, in order to be as self-sufficient as possible, we are building a new greenhouse for this summer.
As you know, in Boževce, we do natural construction!
Besides adding ‘mass’ on the Rocket Mass Heater,
we plastered the living room.
We took out all the carpets, table, couch, we filled in the holes with cob – a mix of clay, sand and straw, and we put the plaster. Plaster is made with filtered clay, filtered sand, filtered straw (1.2 of clay – 3 of sand -1 of straw). We started by the ceiling, and we continued with the walls. Now we have a beautiful living room, and we’re waiting for it to get completely dry, to fill it back in!
In my point of view, winter is a getting fat season.
There are not so many vegetables in the garden, and those sold on the local market consist of potatoes, onions, cabbage, leek, garlic and if we’re lucky, dried paprika, pickles, ajvar and spinach.
So we buy eggs, cheese and milk from the neighbours and we try to diversify meals with the same ingredients.
Thanks to the supermarket, we can also buy pasta, rice, lentils and oats. Interesting, isn’t it?
Fortunately, we have winter food in jars, full of “hunters” salad, ajvar and others pickles, from last summer.
Besides that, we have sour cabbage!
The sour cabbage, it’s one month fermented cabbage. People from Alsace can say it’s choucroute, or sauekraut, but here we say holy sour cabbage.
We ordered 100kg of this beautiful vegetable. We cut it in fine pieces,
then we put one layer in a big CLEAN barrel
and we put coarse salt on it,
we put a new layer of cabbage,
new layer of salt,
sometimes some bay leaf and pepper,
You also can put full cabbage inside. You have just to make a little hole on the bottom of the cabbage head and fill it with coarse salt. At the end, we add water until the top and we let it ferment at least 1 month.
The sour cabbage is very healthy, rich in vitamin C, the sailor used to take it on the ship to avoid the scurvy (you see this disease who get lost your tooth). It’s also rich in fibre and it’s antioxidant.
What to do with all this sour cabbage ?
Apart from simmering it with dried paprika and red onions, the most famous usage of cabbage is SARMA.
To begin, you have to take a full leaf of sour cabbage (the big one) and you fill it with the stuffing you prepared; traditionally it’s rice and meat, but we did it with rice, lentils and vegetables. You roll this leaf and you put in a big pot. Between each layer, put some cabbage. In the end, cover with water and some tomato sauce and let it bake for 2-3 hours. At the end, you can cover it with some fried garlic and paprika.
We did it for New Year’s Eve, that was delicious.
As I said, sometimes we bought milk and cheese from the neighbours. We visit them in the morning – before they milk the cow/the goat – and we have a coffee (and rakija) together. We speak about weather (imate zima?) and people in Boževce. It’s nice to meet other people than European volunteers. And in winter we don’t hang out so much.
To speak with local people, we need to learn Serbian. So in winter we have more time to study and to go more often to our classes, in Rajanovce, the village closeby.
To conclude, winter is mainly a season to take rest just as nature does. The sun goes down around 4 PM, so the outdoor activities also finish earlier.
We stay inside, our roots grow, we plan the future sitting on the warm Rocket Mass Heater, we eat good food and drink the good beverages.
A new year is coming,
What we want to do,
what we have to do,
where will we do it,
Winter is a good time to speak and explore the possibilities. We planned the constructions for 2020 (to finish the red house upper floor and down floor, to build a new food production house), planned a garden (to build the new greenhouse, to see which seeds we want to plant), to develop some personal project (Nema Struja Boževce Band).
But now spring is coming and all the houses in the village have a lot to do!
Our research about the so called “swales” started with a problem: Due to the very dry summer, we had problems with getting water; It did not rain as much as expected and we could not use our wells in the way we were used to. Taking in account that we had to provide a garden made us thinking about ways to collect water in a more efficient way. Besides, on the area between greenhouse and walnut tree, there was a field which we did not use for anything. This field appeared as a slope which was very exposed to sunlight and the soil under the surface of dried grass was full of clay. This means, that water could run down very easily instead of being soaked by the ground. A field, not used, not capable of collecting water and showing nothing more than compacted ground?
At this moment the swales came into play.
A swale is made of the trench – the part which is dug into the earth – and the berm – the part which occurs as a bump made of ground. Usually, swales look like lines non-parallel to a slope in order to collect rainwater, which would run down if not stopped as in our case. If there are swales, the water fills the trench first and after sokes the ground of the downhill sided berm. Since the earth of the berm is not compacted, it can be used as a place for growing trees or other plants and their roots will be provided with water from the trenches.
With this method of collecting water passively, we hoped to firstly make use of rainwater, secondly loosen the compacted ground and finally find some new purpose for the field. On a longer term we planned to introduce a Forest Garden, using the water from the swales.
A very important thing to consider if you want to build swales is the following: At a slope, water will always run down at the steepest point. That means, that water will go where the land is at it´s lowest height. On a naturally field it is not said that the slope is always the same, but it varies, being more or less steep on different spots. If water shall be collected efficiently it is important, that the swales always follow the contour lines of a slope. Contour lines are the lines which follow the spots on the slope, that are all on the same height. Why is this important for swales? If there would be a slope inside of the trench running down to the left or right side of the field, water will not be distributed over the whole swale, but centralized on one spot: the lowest.
This leads to the first step of building swales: finding the contour lines.
An easy way to do this is to use a very simple tool, called the A-Frame (see picture below). This tool consists of three long pieces of wood, which are connected in the shape of an A. On the top of the A a rope is fixed, which is pulled down by a stone. The two feet of the A can be put on the field now. If they are on the same level, the rope will hang down exactly at the middle of the horizontal slat. Then we move the A around, finding the next point. Following this, we can make a mark at every point, that is on the same height. Connected, they show us the contour line. On this line (remember) water will stay and not flow down.
We marked the spots with some wooden sticks and connected them with rope. What was very interesting to see was, that the lines neither always were straight nor did they lead parallel to each other. This showed us, that the slope of our field varied on different spots.
Our swales should follow the contour lines. To make swales out of this lines we had to make some more measurements to define the place of the trench and the berm. We marked two more lines next to every contour line. One 80 cm uphill which would mark the edge of the trench, and one 120 cm downhill, defining the berm. Between the swales should be at least 2 m space to make it possible to grow trees and offer them enough place. So we had to make some arrangements, moving some lines up or down the hill. Finally, all our contour lines were set and the markings for trenches and berms were fixed. Let the digging begin.
But it was not just about making a ditch into the ground and putting the earth on a hill beside it. We had to follow some measurements in order to catch as much water as possible. The shape of the swale is shown in the graphic below.
Following this we had to dig the trench to a deep of 20 cm and to shape it a bit like a quadrant of a circle. The berm had to be 10 cm high.
Using pickaxes, spades and shovels we started to dig out the ground and shape the berm. A method we used was to take off the layer of grass first and put it upside down at the place, where the berm should be. Like this, we ensured a stable base for the berm and avoided to have some grass growing, which would be in competition to our crop plants later.
At the left and right end of every swale we led the berm around the swale to close it and to prevent water from running out. While digging we noticed that the colour of the ground changed. This can be a sign for a higher quantity of clay at some spots and can influence our decision later, which plants we want to grow where (see picture).
I mentioned, that it is very important that the bottom of the trench is always on the same level. So we had to use the A-Frame again and to dig at the places, where the bottom of the trench was too high. During this process we noticed two things: First we figured out, that the A-Frame had some limits, because it could only show us, if two points were at the same level. To bring the whole line on one height, we later used a level. Secondly we had to take care not to dig to much down at some spots, because this forced us to dig the whole bottom of the trench to this level. So we had to be careful and dig slowly. After this, the digging part was finished.
A thing we missed was to build a spillway, which could be useful when heavy rains appear. To prevent the water from over-floating, a so called sill can be dug into the berm to let the water out. This path can be blocked with a sand sack, leading parallel to the slope and which can be opened in case. This security can be imagined like a plug in a bath tub.
After finishing the swales it is important to observe them in a heavy rain to see how they work. In our case, we had some water gathering at several spots. This could mean that this spots were a bit lower or that the soil was more compressed or included more clay than on other spots. To solve this problem, the process of levelling can be repeated. Another observation we did was that the trenches are keeping snow longer then the flat ground around. This can be a sign, that the swales are stopping the airflow above the field and the cold air remains in the trenches.
The last step was to fill the trenches. This did not mean putting soil back from the berm into the trench, but there are several other possibilities. If you want a path following the trench, the trench´s bottom can be covered with fabric and filled up with gravel until the top. In our example, we wanted to use the trenches to put plants. For this, the trenches can be filled with woodchips or with straw and rotten branches. We put first one layer of straw, then one layer of branches and on the top again some straw. Like this, the material will decompose during the next year, providing a good soil for planting and in the same time absorbing water better than the pure ground.
Now the trenches are ready for planting or using them for another purpose.
In Bozevce, like everywhere in Europe, the autumn is coming.
The colors are changing and the tasks too!
Everyday on the daily meeting there are the daily tasks that are more or less the same during the year, such as:
– cooking – washing the dishes – watering the green house – fill the barrels with water for the garden– taking care of animals – turning compost – going to buy food and dairy products to us neighbors – taking the daily picture – reporting the weather on data book and taking time for collecting herbs and fruits.
And there are the autumn tasks, which for a lot of them is a lot about preparing for winter. :
Harvesting, Cooking :
The trees give us the mood of autumn and the fruits too.
We collected walnuts from our 6 walnuts trees which give us good nuts for cooking and baking, and lot of leaves that we have to deal with .
We are not the only one to eat those good walnuts, the dogs help us. When you stop by for a little break you can observe the techniques that they have developed to break the shell and eat the nut ! They don’t have hands but they are close to!
As the dogs, we try to eat as much as possible what
the nature gives us. We are still waiting for the mushrooms but we have a lot of tomatoes that remain in the garden, so we took the time to collect all of them before the first frosts, even the green ones. We are making jars of chutney with green tomatoes and also pickles of green tomatoes aromatized with the dill collected and dried from the garden as well!!
The autumn in the garden :
The garden has to be prepared for winter ; like us, it needs a good blanket and food. First of all to prevent erosion and to give it nutriments that it will need for the next spring ! The soil will slowly take the good food from the layers of mulch that we put on the bed. We mulched by altering cow manure and straw, like 5 or 6 layers, as a lasagna ! The garden is ready now, we put a bit of water to give humidity on the mulch that is important if we want that the decomposition to work well. The winter hibernation can start …
We also take care of our piles of composts, we
want to keep them warm, and even hot for the beginning in order to start the decomposition and « burn» the seeds that may be inside. So we made big piles, keep the humidity and turn it sometimes !
And in the middles of those bed you can see some little winter vegetables that begin to grow : beetroots, chard, cabbages, winter salads, carrots, celery, turnips.. !
The red House :
The special task of this autumn is PLASTERING. There is the « Red House » that has to be finished for winter. With the most energetic team of volunteers, we managed to plaster the outside of the house and the first layer inside ! The first layer inside is a plaster made of 1 measurement of clay, 1.5 sand and lots of straw , called COB.
And some other projects :
The workshop begin to looks like a true one. After building a new structure to support the 3 T of the new Rocket Mass Heater (link article), a table was designed and shaped to fit in between. For structure we RE-USE the power-pole that were replaced by new ones in the forest next to the property. And for the « old-school » look we paint the table with a strong coffee;) ! We try as much as possible to use what is available around us !
To keep us warm during the winter, we will start to distillate some liters of our homemade rakija. The distillation machine is close to be finish, after one evening of good introduction about the science behind it, we are all looking forward to it…
As we all know, water is one of the most important resource in the world. While your Iphone can cost 1000€ water is very cheap, you can survive without your phone but try without water.
2.4 billions of people do not have access to drinkable water nowadays. So yes, water is important although that in some country people use drinkable water for theirs toilets. But the world is changing and we need to change with it, there is more and more drought each years which will impact our life soon if we don’t adapt our self. No water lead to no vegetables and to no meet, no clothes, nothing in fact. We cannot live without water and as you may have seen this year, the weather start to be really really hot each summer.
This spring in Bozevce it didn’t rain for almost 3 month, consequence of it one of our well was already empty beginning of may. What is happening as you can see on the picture beside is if it doesn’t rain for a long time the level of the ground water will be very low because rain has this role to regulate the level of the water localized under the ground.
There is different sources of water, you can collect the rain or have a well and pomp the water from it. The best option is to have wells and water tank to collect and store water from your roof.
Afterthought, we decided to build our summer kitchen with on the top two water tank which can content 1000 Litters each and connected to our roof. And the miracle happened. One afternoon a big storm arrived with a lot of water to share, filling by the way 400 litters of water inside our water tank in not more than 30minutes. Did we expect that? No, we were all surprise by this big amount of water collected in only 40 minutes!
Sometime it’s easy to collect water, sometime it’s not. But instead of collecting water you can save some. How? Nothing easier, we can give you some tips!
Re-use the water you use to clean fruits or vegetable by watering your garden or your plants.
Take shorter shower.
Don’t flush every time you’re peing (except if it’s smelling bad)
-Buy second hand clothe, equipments… ( textile industry use a lot of water)
Eat less meat (1kg of meat needs more or less 20 000 litters)
Drink beers instead of water ( it’s a joke)
Here some example of the crazy amount of water we need to produce stuff that we use every day.
That why some action as buying a second hand jeans can seems not important but think about it now, ten thousands liters of water just for one pair of jeans? Yes it’s not a new one, yes it’s not perfectly clean but again, while the textile’s industry is using billions litter of water you can make a difference.
Yes it’s not a lot if you do it alone, but it doesn’t matter , the other will follow and there is already a lot of people trying everyday to save water, energy, resources..
Despite the challenges, saving water bring you something that over-using water doesn’t. The sensation to do something which make sense, something now you know important.
Take a moment and picture yourself in a peaceful place up in the mountains surrounded by rolling green hills and tree filled valleys where the sun rises and sets in the warmest gradient of colors. Now, lets make this image in your mind even better by adding a great purpose to bring knowledge, connect people, and engulf yourself in the surroundings and you’ve landed in Boževce, Kosovo on GAIAs permaculture estate.
I joined this workcamp to be productive with my summer time, with no expectations and ready to build; and I received so much more out of it. The workcamp was dedicated to permaculture education and focused on natural building and sustainable living.
I arrived there on the 1st of August with great excitement along with several other volunteers from diverse countries such as France, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Jordan, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the USA and a native from Kosovo. From the nearest town we took an adventurous rocky road climbing higher and higher away from amenities until we reach this quaint, small village of Boževce with less than 100 habitants. The atmosphere was so humbling and collective from the start. All volunteers would sleep in shared tents during these 16 days and we would use a compost toilet, an outdoor shower functioning by mostly rain water and have no cell service; and we were all ready to dive right into it!
The coordinators did such an exceptional job with organizing the camp. Our schedules were clear and feasible with our days starting at 7:30-8:30 with breakfast and then followed with a briefing where our duties and roles were assigned in teams and any questions or suggestions were welcomed.
The first few days were dedicated to getting to know each other, becoming familiar with the property and learning about the principles and ethics of permaculture along with natural building. We learned so much in such a short amount of time; it was exhilariting to take it all in. The staff was so informative and welcomed all questions with no hesitation. I feel one successful aspect during camp, for me, was being taught something in such a condensed way and then putting it right into practice afterwards. We learned about reed beds and it’s function of filtering grey water; then proceeded with making one at site. We also learned about the making of a compost and why we have them and then created one too. The trust in the volunteers to get things done from the staff was so encouraging for the work. We watched a film on the building of a straw bale house and was given some books for further references on the subject of this project we were about to endeavor on. One activity that really stuck out to me during one of the educational sessions was when we were given the task to design a house plan with the new knowledge we had just ingested on building with natural materials. I thought this was extremely fun and even helpful for us, as volunteers, to get creative and really understand how GAIAs permaculture project is impactful.
As the days got hotter, given that it’s the middle of summer, the team agreed upon waking up earlier to get work done without heat exhaustion and dehydration getting the best of our bodies. The high energy and diligence of the volunteers to continue working on the house continued strongly. We worked long days and very hard on getting the straw bale walls up and plaster them with a mud clay mix as a sealant. One unanimous feeling we all shared was the immense gratification of seeing physical progress being done by the end of each work day.
I always considered myself to be a city kid growing up north of Boston, in the US, and before this camp I had no previous experience with real camping and being part of this project truly taught me a lot. I joined feeling eager and curious and left feeling completely empowered and equipped to take the lessons I learned there and to integrate it into my daily life. Living so minimally for the past couple of weeks really showed me how small changes can make big impacts. I’m grateful to have been a part of this experience with such a successful organization. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge with others I encounter and mimicking the sustainable lifestyle that this camp has set as an example for me.
Almost two weeks ago, 12 volunteers from 10 countries flocked together in Bozevce for a 16-day workcamp in Kosovo.
Being the first out of two workcamps in Bozevce, these weeks are dedicated to finalizing the second floor of a building on GAIA’s Permaculture estate through the means of natural materials and building techniques. This entails customizing straw bales to form solid walls, securing them with rebars and adding a layer of a cob mix (straw, sand, clay) to protect the straw walls with human power.
GAIA’s estate functions primarily on permaculture principles and ethics, one of the ethics is integral to this month’s workcamp: Fair Share – this means that you share goods and knowledge with another to improve both the collective and individual wealth of knowledge, well-being, but also that of our planet earth.
Since most of the participants were not familiar with the ethics and principles of permaculture, the first few days served to provide them with a concise, yet short introduction and how these were applied by GAIA in Bozevce. A solid understanding of permaculture is integral to the understanding why GAIA decided to follow natural building strategies and materials found within the close distance of their estate, instead of conventional tools and concrete to fill up the walls with. One way of getting participants familiar with the benefits of natural materials was by instructing them to come up with house building plans that include the new knowledge on building with natural materials. Not only did we learn about alternative heating systems and the use of thermo panels on roofs but also how participants from different cultural backgrounds came up with different solutions.
After the first few days of learning about permaculture, natural building and getting to know each other, we began our serious work on the roof on Monday. A regular day of work would start at 6:00 am when the early birds get up to rise with the sun. Others would gather around the beautifully hand-made wooden table around the tree soon afterwards to take their breakfast until 8:30 am. The work day would start at 9 am after a short briefing about the work schedule of the day. The day would be divided into 4 working sessions with coffee, water and cookie breaks as well as lunch and dinner in between of them. Given the fact, that the temperatures gradually rose to almost unbearable 40 degrees – we adjusted the hours in the second week to begin earlier in order to prevent our bodies from smoldering in the scorching midday sun.
In the first week, work mostly set up the straw walls and fixed them with nets. This entailed a sequence of different tasks ranging from setting up the scaffolding around the facade of the building, cutting straw bales and fitting them into the wall constructions, plugging wholes with extra straw and flattening out the walls with blanks and strong arms. We mostly work in different groups throughout the day’s working shifts so that every person did not feel stuck in a task that they did not enjoy. Overall, this strategy retained the enjoyment of work task but also ensured that each person was able to learn how to conduct the different working tasks. Without labeling the strategy as a way of practicing Fair Share, it also aligned with the permaculture ethics.
On several days, the camp was visited by neighbours and KFOR soldiers who expressed their interest and curiosity in what we are doing in Bozevce. For most locals, building in this manner is not new to them but part of an old traditional way of resource efficient construction work. However, the fact that building this way requires more human power and stretches the duration of the building process, if one does not have enough helping hands, most of them have been opting for concrete as the main building resources in the region. Despite this trend, we all agree that using straw for wall insulation remains the single most resource efficient material in the area that respects environmental boundaries and climate stressors that come along with fossil fuel industries producing conventional house building materials.
For the participants, the workcamp has been a unique opportunity to learn beyond the beaten path of house construction but also to disconnect from their busy everyday lives. Each of them readily adapted to the surroundings of the estate and the specific living conditions of Bozevce. One might conceive of the idea to put down mobile phones and not having the possibility to escape to big city life as uncomfortable restrictions to how they usually spend their time, but actually function as enablers to become more aware of the natural and social environment by living minimally. Reducing one’s possibilities of how to spend their free time such as surfing the internet, going out for drinks or enjoying other forms entertainment has both bounded the group together and enabled each of us to reconnect with the natural environment and bodily senses. Put differently, GAIA’s workcamp teaches us in many ways of how to feel more with less.
In late spring and summer is the time when spices and healing plants are growing literally everywhere in Bozevce. Once you go for a walk, you see mint growing on your right, you might see some Arnica on your left and chamomile between your feet.
We took a bit of time to get into the topic – and now we are collecting different plants for different reasons. Some of them are good for health, some of them taste nice and some of them have even both! So we are drying them and conserving them for winter. Here is a list of the herbs we found around here and what they are useful for. Check it out! Maybe you will find one of the plants in front of your doorstep in the next days. And you will know that you have a useful medicine there or a yummy herb to improve the taste of your next meal. Here is our list (which is definitely not complete):
Daisy (Bellis perennis): This little flower is gorgeous. It is white with a red dot in the middle and the leafs are on the ground and small, long and a bit hairy. It smells good! And the whole plant can be eaten in salad. If you make a cream with the flowers, this cream can calm down your skin after sunburn.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officiale): Dandelion grows everywhere in spring. The plant is up to 25 cm high, the flowers are yellow and the leafs are green and look a little bit like teeth. That’s where the name comes from; it means “tooth of lion”. These leafs are very tasty in salads when they are young. The roots are eatable as well, and from the flower you can make a delicious dandelion “honey”.
Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria): This plant covers the ground in shady areas which get some water from time to time. Its leafs are always arranged in a group of three and the flower looks like elder, which means that it is white and it is arranged in a creeping with white umbels.
Marjoram (Origanum vulgare): This plant has small leafs which occur more often near the top of the plant on small branches. The flower is pinkish-purple. It gives your food a lovely Mediterranean taste.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): This is a plant almost everybody knows and most of us hate it: Because it hurts you, as soon as you touch it! The leafs are dark green and in a triangular shape and the plant is up to 1.50 m high. The young leafs which do not sting yet are very good in salads and once the plant gets older, you can use it like spinach. But nettle is not only tasty, you can also make a very good fertilizer for your garden with it: Fermented for two or three weeks in water and then sieved, it becomes a good treat for your tomatoes, beetroots and other plants.
Mint (Mentha sp.): There are many different types of mint, but all have long green leafs and all have this typical mint smell. They grow up to 70 cm high and the blossom is slightly violet. A tea from it helps against digestion problems and against a cold.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): If you rub a leaf of this plant between your fingers, your fingers will smell like sweet lemon for a while. You will also feel the tiny little hears on the down face of the leaf and the “edges” which let it look like nettle a little bit. Lemon balm can grow up to 80 cm high and it prefers cool and shady places. The blossom is white-blue, small and not very spectacular. The tea of the leafs is good for treating nervous complaints of stomach, intestine and heart. It is anti-depressant and oil of lemon balm can help to heal wounds.
Mallow (Malva sylvestris): This plant has beautiful flowers; they are red-violet and they have darker stripes and five parts. The leafs are parted into five sections. This plant is marvelous as a tea against colds and it strengthens the immune system in general.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow grows in abundance in grassy places. So everywhere in Bozevce! It has very small, long leafs with a lot of little “fingers” on them. That’s where the latin name comes from: “millefolium” means “thousand fingers”. The flowers are creamy white in clusters and it grows up to 1 m high. The plant has a strong smell. The leafs give your salad a slightly bitter addition. But there is something even better about this plant: A tea from the dried flowers and leafs is a pretty good pain killer. And, given to a bath, it helps to heal wounds and muscle pain.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): This plant you probably know from pizza. The Italian kitchen is famous for using it which is not astounding since this plant prefers the hot Mediterranean climate. It often grows on rocky places and dry grassland. Thyme basically has tiny leafs and tiny flowers which can appear in different colors. It can be recognized by its characteristic smell. In tea, it helps against colds and in oil it is antibacterial. So if you plan to make your own toothpaste, thyme gives you a good smell and a good outcome in the same time. And of course, it tastes very good on pizza!
Rue (Ruta graveolens): This perennial plant grows up to 50 cm high. It has yellow flowers in a kind of little “crown” at the top of the plant and it has small and long leafs which are arranged to little “hands”. Rue prefers a rocky and sunny surrounding. It helps against blood pressure and vein problems as well as against epilepsy. Furthermore it is good to have one in your property if you have animals since fleas don’t like its smell and so your animals will be free from them.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla): This little flower is actually a wonder-healer. The blossom is white with a pretty big and outstanding yellow “ball” in the middle, the leafs look like tiny little feathers. The plant is little itself, it can grow up to 40 cm high, but most of the time it covers the soil on the corner of paths. So watch out, maybe you are stepping on a treasure! The smell is strong and aromatically, and the tea out of the flowers as well. It helps against multiple diseases, first cold, but also womanlike diseases, it brightens up your mood in general and it helps your digestion system. You can also make oil or crèmes for the skin from it and this will calm down irritated skin.
Plantain (Plantago sp.): This is another plant we are often stepping on and we should pay more attention to: Planatain has either big or thin and long leafs, depending on the type of planatain, but they have in common that each leaf has some strong little strings crossing it in a distance of 2-5 mm. The leafs cover the ground, while the blossom grows up on a long steel and looks cylindrical, up to 7 cm long and covered with little pink or white flowers. Tea of the leafs and the flowers helps against cold, chewing the flowers helps against toothache. If you have a stitch of a bee, you rub a leaf between your fingers until the juice comes out and you put the juice on the stitch. The swelling will disappear.
That’s it for now! But before you now start to collect plants and eat them: Check several times if you really have the plant you want! Some of those plants have brothers or sisters which look very similar, but are not good or even poisonous.