Prästabonnens Gård Part Two 9-24 October 2015

Preparing garden for the next year – harvesting, fields and deep beds

Since it was already halfway through October, in Sweden the weather was getting colder with each day and the days were getting also shorter. It was about time to prepare for the winter. I began harvesting carrots, beetroots, and broad beans and leaving a few plants like lettuce. As a big carrot lover I can honestly say that carrots from Prästabonnens Gård were the best I ever had; flavorous and juicy, deliciously crunchy, big and some times of funny shapes – perfect to me. Beetroots were super tasty too, so one evening I cooked two Polish dishes made of them. After harvesting I began to prepare the soil for the winter and next season – first I weeded it and later dug hole by hole of about 50 cm per 1 m length and 5 cm deep which I filled with a bit of compost, the soil previously dug out and after finishing the entire field, I covered it with fallen leaves. This way the organic matter enriches the soil and the leaves protect it from the weather, weeds and birds.

garden 1

garden 2                       garden 3

When it comes to raised deep beds, I dug deeper holes of about 10-20 cm depth, put the layer of compost, covered it with leaves and charcoal and the rest of the soil, finally spread on the top a layer of fallen leaves. This way the prepared fields and beds would wait for the planting season in spring. In the garden I also covered the surface around all the currant bushes with leaves.

beds
Raised deep beds

carotts

Storing vegetables

We stored in the cellar most of the harvested carrots and beetroots. To keep them safe from rotting, slacks and other insects I put the veggies in plastic boxes with small holes on the bottom (for the air circulation) in repeated layers of veggies scattered with charcoal (for protection) and leaves spread on the top (to separate the layers.) Prepared like this, carrots and beetroots can be stored through autumn and winter without a problem, I was told.

Compost

I was impressed wcomposterith the quality and richness of the soil made from the compost. Folke built his two-bin composter with removable bricks made of LECA (Light Expanded Clay Aggregate.) It was large and deep, divided in two sections with a net and protected with a sliding cover. First they use one of the bins and once it is full of organic matter they switch to the other one and scatter from time to time a bit of charcoal on top of it. Worms working from bottom to top easily can move between the sections, and to keep it moistened, if it doesn’t rain they water it a bit. Folke told me that in approximately 6 months, good and rich soil is created. When I used it for the fields I noticed that its composition was moist and there were many worms in it; it looked very good to me.

Aquaponics and sour dough bread

In Prästabonnens Gård I saw aquaponics for the first time. Folke designed this very curious construction. But what does aquaponics mean you probably wonder? Well basically it was a greenhouse with a design of a fish tank and connected to it pipes, which circulate the water between the bottom and upper section of plants that grow among little stones and bits of soil. Fish purify the water and add their droppings that enrich it with nutrients. In this way, my hosts cultivate tomatoes, peppers and physalis fruit. It looked really impressive.

aquaponics cycle

As I mentioned before Folke is a really good cook and he likes also to make various preserves from fruits like apple mousse, cranberry syrups, jams, and pickled vegetables. Together we pickled beetroots and made sour dough bread. I have never before baked bread in my life and I was happy to find out that it is actually quite an easy job. In this case the crucial thing was to have the sour dough starter, which we used for the bread.

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Sour dough bread we baked

Bird and bat watchers

Since both of my hosts were bird and bat watchers and Suzanne was regularly registering her observations on birds’ migration, once she took me with her on her monthly round. We went on bikes stopping in the observation points previously marked by her and watched through binoculars the birds. The route was a couple kilometers long and very beautiful, circling around the lake and going into the woods. Later on, Suzanne wrote down her remarks and sent them back to the University of Lund where they were analyzed and registered together with reports from other parts of Sweden. Suzanne used to work at this University before, but teaching Linguistics. The other day she also took me to an old forest on the outskirts of Södra Rörum where we looked for trees where bats could live and placed in them bat-homes. It will help the ongoing research of bats that inhabit this part of the country. On the weekend of my departure my hosts were holding a reunion of their “bat friends” with whom they shared their observations and analyzed together their findings. We spoke about it on various occasions and I have to say that I never though that these creatures were so interesting.

Two weeks at Prästabonnens Gård went by in no time. Many times the thought of staying with Suzanne and Folke for a longer period crossed my mind. I definitely would love to do it and maybe one day I will ask them if that would be possible. In any case I hope to visit them again one day, as the experience was superb; they are wonderful and open-minded couple with vast knowledge on various topics and I really enjoyed spending time in their company. Encouraged and with my new motivation and skills I pushed forward to Copenhagen to complete my journey.

 

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Prästabonnens Gård or where my transition truly began. 9-24 October 2015

Arriving in Prästabonnens Gård

It was Friday afternoon when I reached my destination; a bit tired and cold with sweat. Prästabonnens Gård turned out to be very different from Krogstorps Gård. First of all, by its location – it was at the entrance to a small village called Södra Rörum. There were forests nearby, but not as close as at Krogstorps, and a pretty lake a few kilometers away, where my hosts went fishing. Secondly, it was not a big animal farm, but rather a house with a nice permaculture garden, aquaponics, chickens and ducks. There were also a barn and a large cozy guesthouse used for volunteers, behind which was a natural swimming pool inhabited by frogs and a sauna.

My hosts were a couple of retired professors – Suzanne was an expert in linguistics (French, German and of course Swedish) and Folke, a specialist in human ecology, natural agriculture, sustainable living, grey water purification and permaculture. Folke for decades studied peak oil among other issues and translated John Seymours’ “Manual of Self-Sufficient Life.” They called Prästabonnens Gård a transition experiment as my hosts tried to live as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible. They used solar panels and burnt wood for heating both houses, used composts toilets (there was one in each house and one outside), recycled and composted what they could, collected rainwater, used electric car, grew vegetables and fruits in their permaculture garden, fished, made homemade bread, pickles and other preserves among other things. Within two days with an exciting feeling I already realized that I would learn a lot here; this place seemed to be a sign on my path that would guide me onto the right direction and my hosts were to be my first mentors on this new way.

folke and suzanne
With my hosts Suzanne and Folke

“You must be the change you hope to see in the world”

 When I arrived there was another volunteer on the farm – a Turkish girl Gökçe. We spent only three days together as she left home on Monday evening. There was not much time to get to know each other, although she seemed like a very nice girl and I felt good in her company. Yet, I could tell we were very much different. I just managed to get out of corporate life with a huge relief, while she was very soon about to start her new job for a big corporation and she was surely excited about it. It appeared to me that all the volunteers I met so far were doing WWOOFing for a bit different reasons than I was. They were interested in nature and organic farming, some grew up in the countryside, one of them even studied agriculture and planned to start his own farm, but I felt somehow even beyond that; my quest seemed to be rooted deep inside me for long time and now I was slowly uncovering its layers and understanding that its not only about being tired of the city and the bad quality of food, but very much being overwhelmed with the way we live nowadays, what became of our civilization, how we treat and destroy nature that is an inseparable part of us. I was always interested in environmental issues and following the news, but lately I started digging into the subject even more; watching documentaries and reading articles I became with each day more and more terrified, enraged and upset with what was going on around the world. I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do about it; I had at least a few options though. For instance with my experience I could look for work within NGO’s or Non-Profit Associations or Environmental-oriented news platforms; it would be probably difficult to get job in these places, but it was worth trying for sure. Though I felt that I didn’t want to go back to work in an office and life in the city, at least not yet. Besides I felt that the change should come first with me, like Gandhi said, “You must be the change you hope to see in the world.” I guess that’s why I decided I wanted to learn more about where it all starts – the roots of this planet, our soil and the food we grow. By farming ecologically we don’t pollute the earth and water, kill plants and beings, thus we don’t poison ourselves. I wanted to learn how we could live more sustainably and self-sufficiently without depending so much on non-renewable resources and maybe later share this knowledge with others. That’s also why I finally decided to write this online journal; hoping that maybe there is someone who shares the same thoughts and is wandering around the world asking same questions as I do, looking for answers I’m trying to find.transition experiment

Inspiring supper – discussing the world

On that very first Saturday at Prästabonnens Gård my hosts’ friend came for a visit. For a supper we had a delicious fish from the nearby lake prepared by Folke, who I soon discovered, cooked very well. We had a very nice conversation during the meal, talking a bit about what Gökçe and I do in life and how we ended up WWOOFing, and then with just one question the discussion entered on a different path. I believe that we were talking about environmental issues like climate change and so forth when I was asked how do I imagine the future of our planet. And there, intuitively feeling on a safe ground, even though I had been there for only 24 hours, I let myself absolutely honestly answer this question. Something I usually don’t dare to do, being afraid of the reaction of my listeners. Yet here, it seemed to neither surprise or shock; they just shook their heads in affirmation, said something in line with me and asked Gökçe the same question. From this moment on for me the real discussion began. We spoke about basically everything that had been bothering me for past months and I finally felt alliance with someone who not only didn’t consider my observations controversial or conspiratorial, but actually agreed with me and deepened my knowledge of these subjects. For the first time I heard about authors like John Michael Greer or real estimations of peak oil that Folke has been studying for about four decades already. Suddenly it turned out that both Folke and his friend knew one of my Couchsurfing hosts, Jessaia, as they all belonged to a small circle of people coordinating a Transition Movement/Towns Project here in Sweden. I heard about this movement for the first time from Jessaia and his girlfriend Ulrika just few days before. That night staying at their place we had similarly stimulating and inspiring discussion that cheerfully made me realize that there are more people thinking like me. I couldn’t believe this coincidence of them knowing each other; it felt like an evident confirmation that I was on the right path. I went to bed with my head spinning from excitement and thoughts about what we’ve spoke that night.

In the following days Folke lent me his books of John Micheal Greer on peak oil, John Seymour on self-sufficient life, and Bill Mollison on permaculture. Hungry for knowledge I greedily started reading almost all at once as I couldn’t decide where I should start. We went back on discussing these subjects with Folke and Suzanne almost everyday during our lunches and dinners. I felt like a student again, able to ask as many questions as I had and always receiving answers and explanations for them. Folke was to me like a wonderful walking encyclopedia that with a smile replied even to the most irrational questions I asked. I wish I knew more back then so that I could ask better questions. But at any rate I felt fully inspired and motivated to continue discovering more about permaculture, sustainability and self-sufficient living. Now I was even more convinced that we have to act fast and learn to use less or no non-renewable sources like oil and start to search for renewable energy, I promised myself to dedicate my time to learn more about this alterative world. I decided I would first go back to Barcelona, stay for a few days and see how I felt being back at home and only then make my next move. However, I already felt quite clear that I want to continue WWOOFing, looking specifically for permaculture and sustainable farms, which could give me a broader view on the possibilities of creating such a self-sufficient, peaceful and in harmony with nature place.

house

Once Gökçe left Suzanne and Folke asked me if I would like to stay for one week longer. From the very beginning I wanted to stay on their farm for two weeks and besides, now I also felt that I was in the right place to learn what I was looking for, so of course I said yes. During the day I was eagerly working in the garden, in the afternoon studying the books in awe with my eyes wide-open and in the evening we often discussed what I read over the supper. I felt like I was discovering a whole new world, excited and with head full of new ideas and plans that were unrolling one after another. Knowing that I’m not alone in my thinking suddenly gave me strength to push forward and to believe that it is the right thing to do. After all, it is always easier to go back from where you came than to enter a new path, right? Well, that’s at least what I like to think!