DIY Composter, Windbreaker and Recycling

February is a very important time to get things ready before March-sowing begins. The weather is unpredictable and can be rarely favourable, so you have to try and take advantage when it is – we tried 😄

The first thing we wanted to add was a wind breaker on the east fence (this time last year, we put one on the west fence and it has worked beautifully well: protecting us, the young fruit trees, and all the vegetables from some violent gale force winds). Before doing so, it took us some time to remove any unwanted perennials from near the fence – and, boy, did they have some powerful and resilient root systems. We then trimmed the neighbour’s hedge back, where it was poking through, to prevent it from making holes in the wind breaker (and to hopefully train it to grow a little more away from from the fence to try and avoid too much future damage). Also, on this east side, we’re planning to remove the concrete slabs, which used to serve as a path there, in order to increase the amount of land and space available. For now, the slabs will be stored somewhere temporarily until another use can be found for them. In the land and space that will be freed up as a result, we’re going to distribute some organic matter and plant some annual plants/flowers to bring the microorganisms back to life 🙂

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Pruning the apple trees was next, which left us with a lot of branches and twigs. Agnieszka’s Dad 🙂 chopped the small ones for us, and we cut the bigger ones. In the end, we had a lot of wood to give back to the Earth:

  1. Small twigs are being placed around the edges of two perennial areas, and between different crops, as markers, as we start sowing and planting outdoors.
  2. The bigger branches we dug into the soil on the western edge of the garden beds.
  3. We stuck small twigs into the raised strawberry beds to prevent cats from using them as their toilet 😉
  4. The smallest and thinnest twigs that were left over were used to cover the cardboard on the path between the beds

4448ECEC-72C3-4B5C-9876-9F68B96A49D0All this wood will help maintain moisture-levels in the soil during drier days, as well as starting slowly to decompose – feeding the soil and its microorganisms.

The third and most urgent job was turning five pallets that had been kindly donated to us into a working composter. When we have more pallets available to us, it will become the first chamber of a three-chamber-composter. In his younger days, Geoff was a carpenter and joiner, so it seemed like revision for a mini-test for him. I mainly followed his instructions and tried not to destroy anything or hurt anyone 😁 The final result exceeded our expectations 😁 We can’t wait for more pallets and more ventures into the DiY that accompanies it 😁

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The container we bought last year has been emptied of the partially decomposed content which we have been adding to since October 2019. Now, it has been moved into the new composter, the process of transferring providing some beneficial aeration, where it can rest and undergo further decomposition. 

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The green store-bought composter can now serve as a first chamber (the one topped up and added to on a regular basis): and our latest homemade creation is now a  second ‘resting’ chamber.

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To finish off, we have a couple of photos showing the spot where we distributed our home-made compost in October 2019.  As you can see from the most recent picture: the texture hasn’t changed, no weeds have grown since, even the colour hasn’t changed – and it’s ever so soft and not at all compact. We’re definitely hooked on making a lot more compost 😊

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So, here we are: more or less prepared for March, with the garden beds mulched and ready to welcome Spring vegetation, hoping to make a lot of good soil/compost, and begin another wonderful season 😃

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Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #3

Organic Matter

As January has come to an end, so has our composting and mulching of the garden beds. We’ve managed to empty the compost pit of most its solid organic matter, and used it in combination with cardboard to cover them. These beds can now absorb all the goodies from both the brown and the green matter, simultaneously being protected from exposure, severe temperatures, and too dry or too wet periods. On top of this, any unwanted perennials or weeds will have to make a lot more effort to grow in Spring or Summer, which is another thing we want: win-win 🤞

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  1. We’ve developed a routine collecting cardboard from supermarkets whenever we get access to a car. This happens on average four times a month, and allows us to collect a significant amount of brown matter.
  2. Here – 25 January 2020 – we harvested celeriac planted 02 May 2019 which we happily shared with our neighbours 😊 We immediately covered the soil with cardboard.
  3. We then extracted whatever was left of the solid organic matter from the pit.
  4. And, in the final stage, distributed it evenly.

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As mentioned in a previous post, in March the cardboard should be nicely decomposing and the layer of organic matter on top quite dry, making it possible for us to break up the bigger pieces, remove any debris, and remove and return anything that still needs breaking down to a compost heap. By April, it will resemble the soil it will become: a new layer of soft soil ready for sowing and planting. Today we had a sneak-peek under a mulch layer and, much to our surprise, we saw busy earthworms already ‘having a good time’ 😁

Avoiding digging or ploughing, and keeping the earth undisturbed, well-fed, protected, and mulched, makes for a much healthier ecosystem for both the plants and the organisms and microbes within. Healthy undisturbed soil provides enough food for all those small creatures, which, in exchange, break down the organic matter, making more healthy and healthier soil for the plants that we want to grow. It is a cyclical process – and one of the most basic, beautiful, and essential cooperations on our planet. 

If we look after the soil, it will look after us. 👍🌍

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This year, we’re aiming to improve our soil-making by building a two-compartment compost container out of pallets. From this, we hope to be able to cover most, if not all, of the garden beds with fresh home-made soil before next Winter. In the meantime, we’ve been making sure that the container we’re presently using is busy receiving green matter, brown matter, and pig manure.

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  1. Green matter (plant-based waste) and brown matter (paper, egg-boxes, and egg shells).
  2. Pig manure and straw.
  3. More brown matter (mainly cardboard and paper). It eliminates smells and helps absorb excess liquid from any soggy organic waste that comes next. 
  4. Pallets donated by our neighbours, waiting to be converted into the new composter. As part of an offer made to all local residents, the black plastic container was provided at no cost by our local council to promote a more eco-friendly use of household organic waste in the region. It has certainly found a good home here 😊

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Before closing today’s post, we’d like to share with you the joy and pleasure of harvesting vegetables in Winter. We sowed these carrots 25 April 2019. Today, 02 February 2020, they are still crispy, sweet – and very tasty. We haven’t had to buy any carrots since late Summer last year. So yes, a winter garden is something we’re going to be looking into even more this year 👍👩‍🌾💚👨‍🌾

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Compost, Mulching, and Preparing the Garden for Spring #1

Sunday 05 January 2020

Last Winter only seems like yesterday: coming back to Poland after two years of bicycle-touring, taking over my parents’ garden and beginning our 2019 No-Dig Gardening Project. Here we are again, one year later, with a bit more knowledge and experience – more than ready to start gardening once again.

It’s 05 January 2020 and the weather has been ideal to spend some time outdoors. Geoff’s been fixing tools, and I’ve been mulching the beds (laying well-rotted, green, organic matter on cardboard (brown matter)).

The soil we managed to produce as part of the 2019 Gardening Project only covered about a fifth of the beds, so the rest of them will have to be covered as described above. We will, however, try and produce more soil this year – now we know how to approach the matter 😉 

As you can see in the photos, despite it being Winter, the garden is still producing some vegetables: cavolo nero, kale, beetroots, carrots, spinach, rucola, celeriac, parsnip, parsley, and garlic (some of them covered with fleece).

The process is: as we pull and eat them, the patches of soil left will immediately be covered with the cardboard-and-organic-matter combo, so no beds remain bare. Feeding and protecting the soil also leads to fewer weeds later on.

These are some of the principles behind No Dig Gardening and Permaculture.

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Peace and Love

Aachen to Asse [Part 1]: Monday 17 July 2017

Am receiving lots of touching messages of condolence and support regarding the news back in England. Concern is also being expressed that our bike trip appears to have been nipped in the bud so soon.

But, as I have said in a number of responses: these paths have lots of twists and turns, don’t they?

Just as life in this form continues for those whose physical and mental sustains, the journey, whilst taking a wholly unanticipated detour, incorporating a lot less pedal action – though the bikes remain our constant companions, even in our rooms overnight (they don’t snore) – continues.

The door to our previous flat wasn’t just closed for the time being as we left it behind at the end of June, but locked. This was about pursuing a way of life we had worked hard towards for over two years.

Our life was to be lived experiencing the world as viscerally and unmediatedly as possible; working our way around the globe without any specific geographical goals; just following our hearts – both our own and those that pulled them.

I guess, ultimately, we saw ourselves as travelling from A to A, i.e., returning to Poland to embark on our permaculture, eco-project; employing anything that we had learnt along the way. But, just as the route would be the right one, taking us the right way when it felt right, our time of return would also be determined as and when it felt right.

And none of that has changed. The verbs in those previous three paragraphs are all still present (except the one about locking the door: that’s still locked).

Now we are travelling the way that is right, because it feels right: it is just one more twist and turn on this journey, which is just life by any other name – life lived with and on a bike.

Nothing changes. Everything changes. Life goes on.

The journey continues (for all of us).

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But, again, to emphasise, as this is the point where I came in: those messages of support and sympathy have been overwhelmingly touching. Thank you: I love you all.

Peace and love is the most precious thing; we know this, we feel it, and its preciousness is heightened and intensified by its absence; so hold onto it, give it, share it, every moment, as much as you can: make the world a better place.

Peace and love.

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Connections

Vienna to Nürnberg: Saturday 15 July 2017

“Introduce a little variety.”

Never ones to allow things to get stale, we now find ourselves on our second, of what promises to be who-knows-how-many trains to, well, ultimately Calais; then, from Calais, to Dover

… by ferry

… hopefully.

Since Thursday a new, not entirely unexpected, but not the less unpleasant for that, sense of drama and emotion has been injected into the mix.

On an already emotionally tumultuous morning, whose occurrence feels spooky with hindsight, as the Czech/Austrian border lay less than 150 metres from me, the phone rang.

My sister.

I knew.

Mum.

Twenty-nine months after the first phone-call, when I began the process of grieving the essence of my mum, the moment her fighting physical form gave signs of resignation towards maintaining itself.

According to my sister, it could be as little as 24 hours.

This is the kind of information you feel you should be able to do something with. On a bike between two countries you have never called home, with nothing any longer like a home in the traditional bricks and mortar sense lying anywhere, with all that we own packed into the panniers attached to the only other concrete material things we possess, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or what I could do.

I knew that I had to get to England as soon as possible, for as long as necessary. I knew that I was in no situation at all to be able to drop everything, pause life here and fly there. This just wasn’t possible. The only option, which I guess made it a kind of solution, was to keep moving forward, play it by ear and cross the most appropriate bridge when the river presents itself.

On we went.

Having been put in touch with them through something of a European middleman for permaculture projects and eco-communities, Benjamin Smit – thank you Benjamin, and then checking out their online profile as nomadic souls who had met somewhere along their paths, settled down, and retained and developed their free-living spirit, I had been looking forward to meeting our hosts for the evening, Lisa and Joey. Different people, likeminded souls. It would be a shame if I couldn’t fully engage with my present due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But what will be will be: it will just be a question of paying respect to both moments as far as is possible.

We arrived in Mailberg, and what a beautiful warm welcome from the abundance of life in their home – from flora to fauna.

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The ride to Vienna was beautiful indeed; from the simply functional exactly-what-the-doctor-ordered breakfast; to the climbing up to greet the Alps; to the exciting descents, and the tailwind-assisted roll into Vienna; to sharing the way with the impressive Danube – wow! impressively set and impressive in size, and a great cycle path alongside it to enjoy it: you can certainly feel how Vienna came to be such an economic and political powerhouse with such a river to service its settlers.

And the arrival came. Another welcoming us as a friend, as we slung our things inside her cool tenement apartment in the heart of the city.

The evening was kept simple with a couple of beers at a Hofbrau place just a hop and a skip from the flat. Then bed beckoned: the blow-up mattresses serving us indoors as well as out.

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As the morning opened up to let us in

a beep from my phone.

About a day and a half from the call came the text to confirm the feeling:

mum’s body had passed.

The river was here, but no bridge to be seen: you just look where you want to be and build it yourself.

England? From Vienna? Where will A stop? When are the flights? really infrequently; like two times a week; and we really can’t hang on, indefinite in time, waiting for the time the body’s cleared for the funeral.

Make our way to Bratislava. By the time we get there – 24 hours, we may know more. I can fly; A can stay and … or maybe steadily creep back to Poland’s door, where we can kick our heels while waiting for the call.

A plan.

Yes, a plan.

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Vienna we enjoy as best we can, with a semblance of normality; and, to be honest, the powerful architecture did its job turning introspection into admiration. But with emotions so high, through this and through that, we tired soon and thoughts turned to food and beer.

A meal was cooked, and beer was drunk,
and a chilled evening smoothed edges,
and a hazy sleep came and welcomed me in
Making films out of childhood heroes.

I awoke feeling smooth,
until a little jar jagged
and all that was gone was returned.
And my partner in time echoed my mind
We’re going to England together.

The journey we’re on is always the one
We go where it takes us together.
The form may now change
as time rears its essence,
but it’s on the same path we set out.

We set out June 30.
Since then, more than ever
Plans became plots
that circumstance chose to deny
Neusiedler See
turned to Bratislava
Pausing our journey together

We continue along united
Together from here to there

And here was Vienna
and there is England
with who-knows-what in between?
And ferries and riding
with all that we have
Nomadic, with a geographical purpose.

Part of the journey
that makes up a life
Negotiating unforeseen corners

Respecting the life that passed in the night
to share in the love of close family
My partner in time beside me
The way that our path has to take

And feelings so right can’t be wrong

We can all make plans and prepare, but life has to be lived as it is experienced; not as an idea on a piece of paper.
As we set off to a club from our separate lives back in the Spring of 2000 till we closed the doors on our flat in Kraków, we’ve been journeying together one way or another.
This is just a little more overt in nature.

Now we carry all that we have
One place to the next
Sharing the life that we share

And this takes us there
And that brought us here
And onwards our little trip goes

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22:27. We are on train number #4 from Plattling to Regensberg, where we hope to catch a connection to Nürnberg, which is due to arrive at 1am. It looks like we’ll be stuck there until morning, so a rough night in and around the station in prospect, but this is just another tale in a relationship involving some less than conventional travelling arrangements; though having the bikes with us (of course!), but as stationary baggage rather than baggage-and-person steeds, takes this out of the Planes, Trains and Automobiles category into some kind of challenge.

But we’re good at this – I think all humans are: our flexibility and our adaptability are two of our key strengths as a species. While many may fear being plunged into the unknown and having to constantly think on their feet to get from here to where they think they’d like to be, I think this is actually where the vast majority of us shine and thrive and feel alive live live.

Maybe that’s why we set out to do what we’re doing; and why this step needs to be seen as it is: as just another part of the journey, which will become part of the narrative; part of the lives.

Not that it really matters how it’s seen, in terms of a picture. It will, however, be a piece, and though, like all of the pieces, it will stand on its own with life of its own, without it, the space that will be left, the hole that will remain, will forever diminish the value of anything coming thereafter.

As you honour the past that allowed you to be, to lend love and support to significant others, all that speaks to me is love, though not in the abstract I share and feel every day, but in the visceral way that can sometimes burn, can sometimes sting, but is the love come of blood that is life.

And we go to celebrate and honour it – as we should and as we want.

I love you mum x

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Two Approaches

Mailberg to Vienna: Thursday 13 July 2017

11:45am. Kleinweikersdorf.

Breakfast is ordered. Eggs and mushrooms, and a glass of orange juice. Won’t be the from-the-garden fare of Lisa and Joey, who are admirably living self-sufficiently, according to permaculture principles, with a chilled, open outlook to life and people.

Lovely friendly welcome from all, including their Workaway volunteer, Natalia, and their wonderful dogs – Laika and Nino.

The wine we took as a thank-you gift was soon open and Joey began waxing lyrically about permaculture, forest-gardening, and the like. A topic and approach similarly close to our own hearts, and something we wish to learn more about on the way, and put into practice when we darken Poland’s doorstep once more.

And dinner was served: a lovely personally grown and sourced meal of millet, apricots, cranberries, nuts, honey (they also keep bees) and other yummy stuff my unskilled palate enjoyed but was unable to identify, with side-dishes of melon, watermelon and apple. Accompanied and followed by more wine, and a chill evening of relaxed chatter and banter until shortly after the midnight hour, when my day’s ride – geographically and emotionally – told me it was time to sleep.

Finally, as I lay down, with a tired body and weary mind, my thoughts refused to let me go: thoughts of home and family, and the remains of my mum clinging to her present form…

…till sleep finally claimed me and took me to where I know not.

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Waking to the sounds of a family starting to go about their day, and the dogs, Laika and Nino, wishing to give and receive a little love. A beautiful way to ease into the morning 😄

Then a smoothy made with ingredients all plucked fresh from the garden, then coffee, and honey straight from the hive. Fantastic!

Then we pack and are unfortunately unable to say a proper ‘thank you’ and ‘farewell’ to our fantastic hosts. Sorry for that, but good luck to you guys, and keep the faith.

Peace and love.

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A non-remarkable Northern European breakfast of mushroom omelette, juice and coffee. A functional eatery, where you eat. Some are here getting busy on the beer and wine, and chatting. Doesn’t feel like that kind of place to me: more like a motorway services, with a more personal service, but each to their own; and we’re functionally serviced and ready to roll.

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Paused for a hopeful ice-cream in Uglynomagicplace, aka Großmugl (ahem), but find it’s half-day here.

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We climbed out of Kleinweikersdorf pretty much non-stop, but not too steeply for about 150 metres, which rewarded us with a stunning vista and view of the Alps, seemingly nurturing all beneath their benevolent gaze. Yes, stunning, breathtaking and other apparently trite and clichéd adjectives apply here – this is just what they were designed for, and I almost regret using them in other situations that now cheapen their meaning (if I have). Then a good, solid, exhilarating descent to return to the plateau upon which we began. Lovely place and riding.

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Lovely.

Now, where is A?

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