… A seventeen day work camp of pure enrichment.

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.

Celina, August 2019

Building with nature in mind – international workcamp in Bozevce

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.

The magic power of plants

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.

Antonia, July 2019

The magic of mushrooms

When I was a kid, I never liked mushrooms, and I never understood what purpose they have in nature. Now I love them!

They actually don’t have the use of sun; they use only the energy of the soil to synthesize their food. For field mushrooms they grow in manure, worked land. In the forest there is the micorrhizal symbiosis principle. To grow a mushroom “connects” its roots to the ones of another tree. They play a determinant role in the biodiversity of forests.

Sounds crazy? Mushrooms have many skills aha: some of them are toxic and dangerous… But some other are simply delicious!!

As mentioned before some mushrooms are delicious, even though identification is always a bit hard when you are not used to it some mushrooms are easy to identify!

But before identification there is the “harvest”: nothing easier than this, take a knife, a basket and a book about mushrooms and you’re off! Choose a day that comes after rain or humid weather in spring or autumn and you have lot of chances to meet with mushrooms.

Here in Boževce we try to gather information about what kind of mushrooms we have around. As being aware of what’s around us is part of permaculture logic and principles (Principle 1: Observe & interact/ Principle 3: Obtain a Yield) it is for us important to collect data, and mushrooms for eating around!

We realized that we have mushrooms growing in the garden beds, even though we realized that they might be deadly (Deadly cap, Amanita Phalloides)…

But some we found were edible, and good!! Like the field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) the shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus) or the Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

But rule number one with mushrooms is: if you are not 100% sure, if you don’t know, you don’t eat. Don’t collect everything you find. It can be dangerous and every time you find a new mushroom, take only one and check it through books, pay attention if there is not look alike specie. Some of them can be toxic, deadly.

I really enjoyed cooking mushrooms we found, it’s great to be able to cook with what grows right beside and does not need human interference at all, and plus it’s delicious!

The chicken of the woods has no look alike specie and is really easy to cook: cut it from the tree, wash it and cut it in slices, fry it in a pan with olive oil until it’s getting golden and then add cream, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs (rosemary, parsley…). You can eat this with pasta or even directly from the pan. Keep also in mind that’s it’s always better to overcook a mushroom! 

However, we still have a lot to learn about them, but for sure we’ll not stop now!

Alex, June 2019

Biology students helped us with observing wildlife

Look, I found a lizard! It must be a Lacerta viridis, with a blue and shiny head!” On normal days, you don’t hear sentences like this in Bozevce. But recently you could hear them a lot. Well, those two days were absolutely not normal when we had some biology scientists here doing research. A group from University of Pristina and University of Konstanz (Germany) spent some days here as part of a research seminar. This is the whole story:

Our property here is surrounded by nature. Now in late spring, everything is growing and blossoming and we sometimes get lost in belly-high green grass when we take a walk with our dogs. And of course, also all the wild animals now are out of their wholes, finished their winter rest and enjoy their life outside where they can find sun, warmth and food now.

For us it is quite important to know which kinds of animals are living at our place or close to it. Of course, on one hand, this is because of our personal interest – we appreciate the diversity here a lot and like to know which bird is singing here and who is digging a hole there. But, on the other hand, those wild animals are an important factor for the design of our permaculture property. Some animals can prevent damage of pests, some others can support growing of plants. Maybe one of the birds nearby likes to eat the caterpillars which are attacking our fruit trees at the moment. Maybe one of the insects we find can support plants in our garden. And maybe some little rodent likes to eat plants of which we have too much at the moment.

These are all little connections of the whole circle of permaculture and life here. If you know about them, you are a lucky person – but finding out about them takes time. “Observe and interact” is one of the twelve core principles of permaculture. We are trying our best to fulfill it, but after two years of working in this place the project is still at its very beginning. Sometimes, “observe and interact” the area outside the property moves a little bit into the background behind more important tasks like renovating the houses, woodwork and giving the garden a structure.

That’s why we were very pleased to host a group of biology students from University of Pristina and three scientists from University of Konstanz (Germany) here in Bozevce. Our friend Liridon Hoxha from the non-governmental organization “KEERC” (which stands for “Kosovo Environmental Education and Research Centre”) asked us if he could send one of his research groups here.

They came here in the beginning of May for two days and explored the reptiles and amphibians around here. We were invited to join their trips and to learn about those animals. Lizards, snails, tortoises, newts and salamanders – we found so many of them around. We learned how to differentiate different types of lizards and how to distinguish the gender.  – and to learn about everything else they knew because Karsten, Lorenz and Gregor from Konstanz could give us information about almost everything that was moving around our feet and flying in the sky. They distinguished 60 different types of birds at our place alone from hearing them singing! In the pictures, you can see that we found a lot of different reptiles and animals:

This visit was a big step forward for us in getting to know our surroundings better. This means that “observe” now is done more, so we will see how we can “interact” based on this new information. Anyway, no hurries, permaculture is a development which goes step by step. We were really happy to have this visit and are looking forward to eventually host similar camps in the future!

Antonia, May 2019

Introduction to Permaculture – workshop in Bozevce

The first time I heard about permaculture was actually last year during my volunteering with GAIA last year.

When I started to read permaculture books, the main topic that I was interested for was how to set up a garden and mostly how to build an efficient and smart property. Almost one year later I’m back again to Kosovo for a workshop on permaculture, but this time with a real PERMACULTURE TEACHER!

And I was not alone, we were 20 people from different countries with different jobs and different ways of thinking, but with one common goal: learn more about what permaculture is.

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Despite what I was thinking, permaculture is much more than gardening or building smart; it’s kind a way of living.

“It depends“ was the sentence you could hear in every time and in every situation.

Because yes, in permaculture it depends . You need to adapt your strategy to your environment, take into account every advantage or disadvantage you could find in your surrounding and apply different solutions to different problems.

The permaculture can be defined through 3 ethics and  12 principles which we should take in account if we want to improve our daily life.

Observe and interact                            Catch and store energy

     Obtain a yield                       Apply self-regulation and accept feedback

            Use and value renewable resources and services        Produce no waste

Design from patterns to details                         Integrate rather than segregate

                               Use small and slow solutions                   Use and value diversity

  Use edges and value the marginal                 Creatively use and respond to the change

I can’t really define what permaculture is in 3 lines, but the two guys (B. Mollision and D. Holmgren) who created it did it from these two words “permanent & agriculture”, which when mixed give “permaculture”.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you, one of the best and important value I found through those 3 days is  to take care of people not only about your garden!

Earth Care                         People Care                          Fair Share

permaculture ethics

One of the GAIA’s project that I was involved in was 3peas project which was basically bring peace through permaculture. Since almost 2 years, volunteers from the entire world are working in the small village of Bozevce to build a place where it is possible to gather people from different backgroudns around the same table to learn about permaculture.

How permaculture is connected to GAIA’s Project?

In GAIA Kosovo we believe that we can change the world by small and personal actions, so what can be a better example than using permaculture to grow our food, collect water, reduce our waste, save our energy and care about people and future…

Max, May 2019

 

International Permaculture Day 2019

On this day of International Permaculture, we celebrate its diversity and use around the globe.

Permaculture initially emerged as an antidote to short-term agricultural practices and its socio-ecological and economic consequences in Australia in the 70s. Its evolution was significantly driven by the transnational spread of environmental and peace movements as well as the accessibility of scientific reports on the limits of growth on our planet. Be assured, you will have a hard time pinning down the meaning of permaculture. It has attracted the attention of a diversity of minds from across the world and spread with a determinacy found in the streamline of a river. Some like to refer to it as “a revolution disguised as organic gardening.” What is crucial to the self-conscious development of permaculture is its adaptability to any context.

From May 4th-6th GAIA has been gathering its volunteers and friends from across Kosovo, Serbia, Germany, France, Austria and Australia amidst the rolling hills of Bozevce for an introduction to permaculture by Pippa, a permaculture teacher who is originally from Australia.

Applying permaculture design principles to our volunteering work for GAIA means an engagement in an ongoing learning process about the people and the environment. The majority of us work for positive social and environmental change within Kosovo and Serbia, yet we face different challenges and needs. In the past few days, we have been able to expand our personal and group understanding of the different volunteering experiences through the application of Holmgren’s 12 principles and different analysis strategies of permaculture. Together, Pippa’s insights into the practical and ethical richness of Permaculture equipped us with practical tools and inspirations to contribute to permaculture’s pursuit of transforming destructive realities into more regenerative ones.

Neighbours

Not very long ago, people made stools by joining pieces of wood, baskets by weaving branches, bowls by shaping clay, spoons by carving twigs and ropes by tying fibers. Today those very diverse things are all often produced out of the same material: plastic. But in the houses of our neigbours we have found signs of that past that will also become our future, whether we like it or not, when we run out of oil. Sometimes it was an old hand tool or piece of furniture, though more often just a few words thrown carelessly after the phrase “people used to …”, as if they were empty talk. But those memories are worth much more than what their very owners think. They are our only chance to earn back some of the wealth of knowledge and craftmanship lost to industry in the modern age. That is one of the reasons why we have set out on recording our neighbours while they go about their daily business taking care of animals, making cheese, pies, preserves and brandy, working the land and cutting wood. But it is not the only reason, neither it is the most important.

Forest Garden Workcamp

Hello again!

This is Antonia, the German who is spending a year in Bozevce doing weltwaerts. This time I want to tell you something about our last workcamp. We had some people from Kosovo and Macedonia coming here for helping us to create a forest garden.

 

What is a forest garden?

In one sentence: A forest garden is an ecosystem created by humans that gives the best of nature to plants and animals and gives food to humans as well. Humans can create an area where plants and animals have a good life – and we get something for ourselves from it as well. Isn’t that fancy? Yes, it is! And it fits perfect in our permaculture principles of sharing and living with nature. So we want to have it here as well, of course.

Mud & Straw week in Bozevce

Hi!

This time it is Antonia blogging here. I am a long-term volunteer from Germany and I am in Bozevce since September. Since I arrived, we did a looooot of stuff! For example, we insulated our red house. Completely by hand and our insulation materials were straw, clay and sand. What sounds like a hard job was actually really funny – because we had many lovely people here helping us.

Ok. I can feel the question mark rising in your face. Insulation with straw, clay and sand? How does it function? Here is an explanation.

Straw is a material which can keep heat easily, in an even higher percentage than some of the modern insulation materials. There are even houses built with walls only made of straw and in the old times it was quite common to use it.

In our case, we added the straw as an insulation on the outside surface of our red house. We call it “red house” since it is made of red bricks. These bricks did not insulate good. So here is what we did to improve the situation:

 

Insulation – a step-by-step explanation