orWine Tastings in the Comfort of you own villa or B&B while on holiday in Tuscany or Liguria

To book an informative and fun wine tasting whilst holidaying in Italy or arrange for a wild food walk in your area contact me on tuscanytipple at libero dot it or check out my Facebook page

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Monday, 25 August 2014

European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria

 As promised here comes my report from the European Permaculture Convergence, which took place from the 25th to the 30th of July on the shores of Lake Batak in the Rhodopi Mountains of Bulgaria.  Apologies for the delay in reporting back, we traveled for another 3 weeks after the event.

The setting was an eco-camping site in an area of great natural beauty.  280 participants from over 25 countries showed up.  It became some sort of hybrid between a conference and a festival.  Days started with a morning circle, usually led by maverick Mr. Bulgarian Permaculture, Misho.

The first task was to organise the workshops in an open space format. 

That meant anyone was invited to stand up and propose a workshop, announce it, find a time and a space for it.  So you wrote your proposal on a piece of paper...

 and announced it.  There could be joint proposals.

The person proposing the workshop did not have to be an expert in the field, but perhaps simply wanting to know more about the subject, but they were responsible for the running of the workshop they proposed.  Some 200 workshops were thus soon on the board.

Then the serious business began of running and/or attending those workshops.  Of course I ran a foraging walk together with 'Extreme Salad Man' and perennial vegetable expert Stephen Barstow.  We complemented each other well.  The biodiversity in the Rhodopi Mountains is so great that during a 2 hour foraging walk we only managed to move about 200m away from the camp.

Other workshops explored subjects like 'Money - do we need it? How do we get it?'

The next big step for permaculture into the mainstream:

 How to make rich earth seedling pots with practical demonstrations:

How to use music in permaculture teaching run by Peter Cow and attended by the inimitable Charlie McGee and his ukulele of the Formidable Vegetable Sound System. More of both of them in the video at the end.

Other workshops got quite heated as we discussed sociocracy and the state of politics in Bulgaria as the government had just resigned days before the convergence (a sign?)

Other workshops explored permaculture games, talked about biodynamic growing, education, etc., new networks were formed, especially across the Balkans and so it went on. 

In the end each workshop presented their results on some paper and hung it up in the gallery for all to see.

For our bodily needs an excellent team of cooks provided us with 3 excellent and varied vegan meals each day.  I thought I'd get bored with vegan after 5 days, but these guys did well.

Finally, after an intense 5 days, it was time for the closing circle.  What had we learned?  What were we going to do next?  Everyone felt inspired and newly motivated, especially many of the Balkan participants who had, for lack of a network, felt rather isolated before this event.

 As for my next plans?  Yes I did get up and announce them. On the last night I had a drunken conversation with a fellow wine lover and we bemoaned the fact that wine generally came from monocultures.  And that there is precious little information out there on applying permaculture principles to viticulture.  Milcho, that was his name, then revealed to me that he wants to restore an old vineyard belonging to his grandparents.  And so a new project was born.  I'm intending to fill the knowledge gap and research the permaculture vineyard and plan to write a book on it.  As soon as I announced it I had a couple of people approach me immediately with some useful contacts.  So watch this space.

Now finally I hear you say, didn't he mention something about festival as well?  Abso-bloody-lutely.  I present to you 'EUPC -The Full Movie'.  Ok it's 35 minutes long, but it's got a lot of good music and celebration on it:

Friday, 18 July 2014

Terracing above the Pond

Some of my loyal followers may remember me talking at length about how to design a pond the permaculture way some 2 years ago.  The most ardent followers may even remember us digging with a bunch of helpers.  You may be forgiven if you think that this pond surely by now is well up and running, flourishing and teeming with wildlife.  However...  In permaculture design we use the SADIMET model: Survey, Analysis, Design, Implementation, Evaluation, Tweaking.  Yes, and now we are at the tweaking stage.  First of all the trick to grow clover in the base of the pond to seal it didn't work.  Secondly, the area above the pond site was still too steep and subsequent landslides filled in much of what we had previously dug out.

So first of all we had to secure the area above by terracing it.  Luckily we've been having plenty of helpers around.  First and foremost may I present you with our long-term helper for the summer, non other than Jaap, the son of Conspiracy Cousin, Buddha Barti, who had been living with us until his untimely demise last year.

Regular readers might see the resemblance.

Anyway we also had some short term helpers and despite the heat we built some terraces above the pond using old palettes as support.  Zosia and Igor from Poland helped during the first stage.

And Marianna from... well actually she's a bit confused... French, American, Italian, English?  Anyway, I knew her from one of the permaculture courses I helped to teach.

Next step is to excavate the pond a bit more again and this time we'll try lining it with cat litter made from pure bentonite to keep the water in.  If that works, we'll start planting.  We're off to the European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria next week, from which I'll be reporting back.  Jaap in the meantime will hold the fort back at the ranch with a couple of friends of his.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Playing with mud

Weeelllll....  I'm shamefacedly looking at my feet for not having posted anything for almost a year... you know... we've been traveling here and there... from Bulgaria to Italy to Ireland to Germany to Italy...  To those of you following my blog regularly, and amazingly despite my lack of recent posts the numbers seem to go up, yes we are still looking for new pastures.  Although maybe not in Bulgaria as we had recently planned, but kind of the opposite end of the continent in Ireland.  But nothing is certain yet, so at the moment we're still in Italy (at least for the last 3 weeks and the coming 10 days, after which we'll head to Bulgaria).

So, were to begin?  An explanation for my muddy feet would be a good way to start.  What I'm really dreaming of, as and when we finally find that ideal plot of land at the best location, is to build my own house there.  It's quite a daunting task if you have never constructed as much as a dog shed and just glean your knowledge from a couple of books and some pretty pictures on the web.  So when my good friend Giorgio, one of the fellow participants of my permaculture course a couple of years ago, sent me an e-mail saying he was organising a 5-day introductory course in cob building, I didn't need much convincing.

The course was held at an Ashram in Eastern Italy (I won't reveal their exact location, as their building is being built illegally) by Koenraad Roggenman and James Thomson from House Alive all the way from Oregon.  Koen, who is a fellow Dutchman, has had 15 years experience in building and teaching building with cob.  It was a hugely inspiring workshop and I was amazed at how easy building with this material actually is.  I mean, even I could do it!!!

This is at the beginning of the workshop.  There were 9 participants and 2 helpers as well as the two teachers.  The helpers had laid the foundations before our arrival.

First we learned different cob-mixing techniques.  The ingredients are clay, of which there were abundant quantities around at a very pure form, sand, straw and water.  The traditional method simply involves squidging the ingredients around a tarpaulin with your bare feet.  Very satisfying!!!

The faster but more upper-body strength intensive method involves lifting the tarpaulin and treading and kicking it from the outside as demonstrated by our teachers here:

Then we got building.  It's just so easy!  Here's me working on a shelf or bench, built into the wall.  You simple sculpt around it:

And in this short period we learned much more.  We learned how to make earthen plaster:

We were even encouraged to make some quite artistic plasterwork:

And we learned how to make earthen floors:

In those 5 days, with all the other lectures and practice sessions in between, 10 of us working maybe 3-4 hours on site per day managed to build the wall of a 20m2 house to the height of about a metre.  Given that the wall is 50cm thick, I reckon that's pretty good progress.  There is a second workshop on that site starting today with 25 students lasting for 10 days.  If they don't manage to finish the walls, they are a bunch of woossies in my opinion!  

Whilst I might not be quite ready to build an entire house from scratch on my own at this particular point in time, this workshop has been really inspiring and confidence boosting.  I will start with a couple of little projects around our house in Italy and Coen said he'd be open for further invitations from Europe to organise a workshop if and when we find our spot in Ireland (or wherever...)

In the meantime I really enjoyed my time playing in the mud... :)

And I promise I will write another post real soon about what's been happening at our land back in Italy as well as report on The European Permaculture Convergence in Bulgaria, where we will be heading soon.