In the mountainous region of Central Bulgaria, a Permaculture Center called Permaship has emerged as a fledgling model of sustainability and as an educational center. A small collective group has begun to transform the typical mountain village plot into an oasis providing food and shelter for the residents, volunteers, and workshop participants. With two courses already put on in this early 2010, they have been really busy improving the site with the helping hand of many.
Permaship is a collective group of two households directly across the street from each other in the historical village of Shipka on the Southern slopes of the Balkan Mountains below the Shipka pass. Both sites are great examples of small-scale intensive gardens with features such as chicken tractors or chicken domes, rain water catchments, food forest development, perennial vegetables, and most importantly a vision and design to accompany that. Of course that design is in constant re-evaluation and my time of three weeks before the workshop helped to redefine the site goals and design of systems.
4 days of intense learning through the body and mind sums up the the Intro to Permaculture, greywater, and aquaculture (PGA) workshop that was held at Permaship in the picturesque village of Shipka, Bulgaria. It was a joyous gathering; full of spirit as it was another event in the string of exchanges fro the network called Alive Places. The network is affiliated groups, striving towards sustainability and village renewal. It’s a tough task in these days where all the young people seek to live in the cities of Bulgaria. Many youth break from the traditional village ways and want city life for monetary wealth, not realizing how rich they are in the countryside.
The workshop was a great success for Permaculture in Bulgaria as there was nearly 40 people who participated at different stages throughout the workshop. Not only did the students learn a lot in the classroom, we got out and started to deal wit the water and fertility of the site hands-on. Swales, rain gardens, greywater involved spreading and sinking water throughout the site through very simple berm and basin technology. We also squeezed in habitat creation with hedgerow plantings and trye pond construction. With the soils clearly lacking the beneficial fungi, we built a micro-organism factory, better known as a hot, aerobic compost pile.
Day 1 began with us jumping right in, not wasting any time for the conventional name game, rather immediately addressing what is permaculture and its comparison to the word and idea of sustainability. At the heart of what permaculture is, the root, the seed from which it germinates; it’s a design science based on multi-dimensional patterns in nature. So we addressed design principles through lecture and several interactive exercises to bring life and meaning to this design science. We began by examining relative location, which implies energy efficiency through correct placement of elements so that they may meet the needs of one element through the output of another. To highlight this further and to get to know each other, we choose to immediately launch into spinning the community web which highlights the needs and outputs of each participant. Then a ball of string is tossed here and there with people asking for things they need or offering services based on other peoples needs. The subsequent web is strong and resilient very much like the ecological food web that natural systems demonstrate. This resiliency in nature reflects how we should re-order our local economies to reduce our needs on fossil fuels.
Throughout the day we further examined the principles through lecture and interactive design exercises. To end the day we got dirty and built the aforementioned compost pile with Paul Alfrey of Permaship. Previous to the course we worked a lot on technique: layering with green and brown layers and adding small quantities of high Nitrogen material, vertical sides to create a critical mass to raise temperature, and adequate moisture regulation. With the abundance of green material around from cutting the campsite just a day before, we built a large pile- 1 m X 1.5 m X 1.5 m. It didn’t take long for it to heat up either and on day 4, after the course ended it was turned accordingly.
All the while that was happening we were designing and implementing impervious surface runoff collectors called rain gardens. We created them in the shape of a butterfly, which has more edge than just the circle to reflect one of the design principles of permaculture. These folds on each side allow us to get the Black Chockeberry (Aronia melancarpa) closer to the concentration of the water. That is what a rain garden is: a simple ditch and mound system that directs runoff into a concentrated location so you can irrigate these nucleus plantings. As with all earthworks, we helped repair the damage inflicted by the metal shovel and turning of the soil by adding some compost to reinoculate biology, a thick cover crop to protect the soil quickly and harness photosynthetic energy, and a light mulch to protect in the meantime and provide appropriate conditions for seed germination. The brilliant part was we got to see the rain gardens in action a couple of days later when the skies opened up, the roof collected the water, the gutters redirected it into tiered basin, and the infilration and irrigation began.
Day 2 featured more design principles and more exercises to reinforce those teachings of lecture. Towards the end of the day we looked deeper into berm and basin technology in swale building. So first we had a session of A frame construction and usage and practiced in a large open space on the street so that it was easy to demonstrate. We already had the swale basins pegged out because of the very uneven terrain that existed on this relatively flat space that once had intensive agriculture done on it. Interestingly here, rather than it being like a true swale that picks up surface runoff, this basin was meant to be a place where the acequia water system could collect. In Shipka, the village residents have the ability to open and close channels of water that are directed down from the mountain. Despite the fact that on average we have only 7% of the year with rainfall, there flows water constantly from the highlands above. Springs enrich this little village because there is a forest, multilayered and complex, full of soil life and a sponge and open channel for water. This leads to infiltration rather than rapid runoff and the constant source of spring water is renewed. This water is then diverted into the municipality irrigation scheme which with a sandbag here and there allows residents to nourish there small scale intensive plots. At Permaship a food forest is beginning which needed the integration of some chop and drop, hardy windbreak yet edible plants which is what we brought in. So we created a swale, running on contour, and then planted out with Eleagnus and Sea Buckthron to name a few. The design is below of the anchor plants while the understory will be furthered developed with perennial vegetables in the wetter parts of the year.
Day 3 kicked off with one last design exercise that solidified the design principles and themes combined with the knowledge accumulated during the pattern recognition and application slideshow that was shown during the first two evenings. This mock landscape design game allows students to apply the principles in space and time and begins to get things running internally just how complex our designs can be. This complexity and forward thought reveals how energy efficiency is created and valuable resources conserved and created. From there we moved further into the specifics surrounding greywater. I am a big believer of simple and efficient design, which I believe Art Ludwig summarizes so well with his berm and basin technology greywater systems. So the workshop really concentrated on these very simple design solutions that create abundance. I once truthfully thought greywater was not so important but when you work in drier climates like Bulgaria or Portugal, you realize why the hell isn’t my shower water nourishing the blueberries or citrus. So at Permaship we dug the basin with the students as well as back filled the piping that Paul and me accomplished before the workshop. Greywater is so context dependant and we came up with a hybrid system that was simple. Lots of times, people want to involve plastic liners and complex recirculation this and that’s for filtration but the greatest filter of water is carbon. So we created a mulch basin that was already vegetated on one side with pre-existing fruit trees and then planted it out with wetlands plants. The wetlands plants were not necessary, but that is why it is a hybrid system because the plants that Paul choose to irrigate were wetlands species. His context was he wanted to bring biodiversity to his small plot, where his sons could see the abundance of Nature through diversity of habitat. So we dug up some wetlands plants from the mountainside and placed them accordingly and left a channel so that the municipal mountain water could be brought in on occasion to wash salts through and supplement the irrigation for these young plants. Overall I think it was a great design and met the needs in many ways of this context dependant situation. There is no stamp in Permaculture, no premade form that allows you to just always create a monoculture, its site and climates specific factors which alter ones design.
Perma-Aquaculture was the main focus of Day 4, the final day together. This fascinating subject of how aquatic systems can be 4 to 20 times more productive than land based systems, was a great way to finish this workshop. To round out the day, we created a tyre pond system and a herb spiral with dirt excavated from the basin. This is a great combination as the needs of a large amount of soil is supplied by the output of the others need for a basin to be created.
The pond was created by using an old tractor tyre and a plastic lining that is used in living-roof construction. We found a great nursery in Bulgaria that had many edible aquatic plants and we collected others from wetlands to complete the designs. It’s a great addition to the garden for biodiversity and food production. These small additions can also help in pest control, biomass production, and microclimate creation. All the while they are extremely aesthetically pleasing when arranged and orientated appropriately.
Overall the workshop was huge success for the Alive Places network and for Permaship site as well as the many connections I was able to make. Its great to see and be a part of the beginnings of a movement starting in a place like Bulgaria. This workshop created more opportunities for TreeYo Permaculture in Bulgaria as Doug will be apart of an Eastern Europe Permaculture Convergence that is happening in Mid September near the Greece border. Details are coming soon!!