Our arrival on Lesvos island coincided with the arrival of Spring. We disembarked the ferry at Mytiline as nature was slowly waking up from a long winter. Birds were returning, flowers were blooming. This scenery created a beautiful backdrop to our enthusiasm and excitement to discover life in a permaculture farm. Whatever we lacked in knowledge and know-how we would replace with motivation.
Step 1 : Cleaning the garden
Spring came late this year so morning frost is still a norm. Spring planting season eventually started, so we had to get to work! Mainly lots of cleaning and preparing the raised beds for the summer vegetables. We did a lot of weeding of the fields and the raised beds with a hoe and a gardening claw. Konstantinos told us that in permaculture practice we avoid plowing and we disturb the soil as little as possible. Since I found out I am being careful not to dig too deep into the soil.
Step 2 : Prepare the seedlings
We cleaned the raised beds and we started growing plants from seeds. The idea is to put the seeds into trays, then to repot them and plant them in the raised beds later. This way, the farm will have plenty of fruits and vegetables to harvest during summer. Here’s a list of vegetables and seeds we prepared: Eggplant, tomatoes, Various types of cucumber, Sponge gourd, Various type of pepper.
We also worked with flower seedlings. We learnt that they are not used only for their aesthetic appeal but also for their edibility and as insect repellants. Bellow is a list of all the flower seeds we took care of: Marigolds, Echinacea, Linseed, Nasturtium, Comfrey, Rainbow pink, Passiflora, Vinca, Gazania rigens (or “Treasure flower”) and Celosia.
Also, how would you enhance the flavour of your summer salads without the use of aromatic herbs? Aromatic herbs are a big part of greek cuisine and they are frequently found on the Greek table. People at the farm love cooking with herbs so we made sure that we sprouted seeds from the following herbs: Various types of sage, Marjoram, Sorrel, Dill, Parsley, Lavender and Coriander.
We kept the seedlings inside the living room and under led lamps for warmer temperatures. Everyday, we made it a habit to water them, examine and observe their slow growth before breakfast.
Step 3 : Taking care of the compost
As the days go by, we understand the theory about hot compost and we are now used to the process. First, we created a new pile with organic waste (saved from a local eatery), manure and hay in same proportions. We are now turning the piles every two days and we can now recognise when we need to water them. The whole process was an interesting experience. We finally created our own compost!
Step 4 : Planting fruit trees
This is probably the most typical action when you think about Earth regeneration. We learnt how to do it in the middle of an impressive olive grove with majestic century-old olive trees. And we didn’t just dug holes and planted trees. We learnt the permaculture way of doing it which includes adding homemade compost and using mulch.
Step 1 : Repotting the seedlings
It’s April and temperatures started to rise. The sun now shines a bit more every day. It was the perfect moment to repot the seedlings we made a month ago. We repotted the small plants, transferring them from their trays to small pots. We worked inside the small dome, that serves as a greenhouse. We left them there to continue growing and at some point we will plant them in various places in the farm and at the EcoHub garden.
Step 2 : Building projects
April is a busy month and our days are now occupied with our own building project inside farm. A spiral bed for herbs, which is a famous representation of permaculture practices. Indeed, the structure of the spiral creates various microclimates. Their planting position is chosen based on several factors such as: orientation, height, humidity, sun exposure etc. All those factors can create a microclimate. The “rolled” shape also allows to save space. We tried to “engineer” a bit the design, then we built it with our hands, using up-cycled roof tiles (and 17 wheelbarrows of soil). Back in France we are engineering students. Before this gap year all our learning was very theoretical. This building project gave as the chance to see the materialisation of an idea from our heads to a real project. It felt very satisfying.
We also constructed a small tipi out of bamboos found in the farm. We drilled holes and through those, we circled the tipi with rope to create a trellis. At the bottom of this structure, we planted peas that will grow and cover the tipi with green and flowers.
It’s the end of the month now. We are working in the fields at the lower level of the farm, building new raised beds. To do so, we used wood from old palettes to create the structure of the beds. Then, we applied the “layers’ technic” used in permaculture. These beds will soon host the seedlings we repotted earlier.
Step 3 : Pruning the olive trees and reusing the wood
Lesvos is covered with olive trees. Working in an olive grove was on the to-do list as we were prepared to get introduced to farming on the island. We worked there for a few days, gathering leftover branches. They were pruned beforehand by a team from the University based in Mytilene. We shaped a long line with these branches, so that they would then be turned into wood chips. The idea is to reuse these to cover corridors at the farm to prevent weeds from growing. Farmers on the island don’t reuse the discarded branches from their groves. They burn the leftovers from pruning instead.
Step 4 : Planting in the fields
This month was also the start of the planting season. We planted in the fields we cleaned in March. During the first planting round we planted garlic, onions and potatoes. We covered the spaces between the rows. We did that with cardboard and mulch, practices widely used in permaculture. We did this to avoid weeds growing up between our crops.
Our time in the farm is soon coming to an end. These two months were intense but we learnt a lot by experimenting and doing. We now know a lot of hard work goes into growing your own food but its definitely a rewarding experience.
Co- Authored by Baptistine Gerin and Sporos Team – May 2021