Our friendly neighbour can contain his curiosity no longer and insists on driving us on our next visit to the farm. Born and bred in this region, he is an effort to understand but so full of stories and good advice that the effort is always worth it.
His enthusiasm is contagious! We pile out the van at the bottom of the drive full of laughter and excitement. The snow is too thick to drive up and it takes a while for our eyes to adjust to its’ almost blinding white light.
The snow lies much thicker here than in the town and captures a beautiful peace and purity that is now marred in Görlitz by the sludge of too many cars and people and no fresh fall of snow.
Only one line of footprints trace the yard - from the front door to the woodshed and across to the big barn. There the current owner still has his metal workshop, slowly winding down operations, sorting through his possessions and feeding the Kachelofen (a traditional tiled oven that can burn wood or coal and retains heat for a long time) to keep one room warm for comfort.
In no time at all, fresh tracks scribble all over the yard and garden whilst the big girls make snow balls and ‘ice-lollies’ and angels on their backs in the open spaces, and our neighbour receives the full tour.
The tiny feet of our little 18 month old Maia wade through drifts up to her thighs and the effort of simply crossing the yard is enough for the day! So we settle into the ‘summer house’, drink hot tea and eat fruit, and listen to the sounds of a chainsaw in the distance, a cluster of birds in the fir trees and the older girls squealing in the snow.
Here I can think. Sheltered by three walls, with the fourth side totally open to the back garden, the view takes in only nature – the nearby fruit saplings, the birch tree snuggling close to the walnut tree and behind, the arable land and the majestic rise of the wooded hill in the background.
That birch tree will sadly need to go, cramping the style of the walnut and blocking too much light from the south. It will make good firewood for next year and will be a job well done already now, before the sap begins to rise.
You can smell spring in the air, subtly coaxing buds on the trees and sending a soft breeze of hope through the branches. Everything is still white and frozen, but temperatures have risen a lot in the last few days and the great thaw is already beginning.
It is hard to know where to start with planning. We aim to move in at the start of April, when temperatures will be amenable enough for us to exist in the house without the pressure of constant fires. The first work will certainly be preparing ground for crops. Planning this has already sparked many interesting debates on things like mulching, tractors, where-what-and-how and permaculture principles of design.
A key principle in permaculture design is to ‘integrate rather than segregate’ - each new development must be carefully planned to be multifunctional and very practical. For example, if you were to put a greenhouse in the middle of a field, it would simply be a greenhouse. However, if you place it against a south-facing wall of your house, it will also serve to warm the house and will be much more accessible to the kitchen. The main house faces south into the courtyard, making this an ideal solution for our greenhouse needs, with just enough room to keep the drive entrance as it is.
The ‘metal workshop’ is an old brick barn closing the western edge of the courtyard and completing an L shape with the main house. You can see the shape of the original arched doorway in the back that has long been bricked in. It is an ideal space for animals and the arch will certainly need to be re-opened to enable them to exit easily to pasture.
Which animals, and how many, is a question we will tackle in due course. Animals are important on a small holding, whether you eat them later or not. Pigs can plough the land for you and eat your kitchen waste (as can chickens, albeit more daintily), sheep are ideal for maintaining orchards and goats will crop down almost anything (careful fencing needed!) saving you hours of battling with overgrown bramble patches. Best of all, animal manure is perfect for the vegetable garden and in combination with generous mulching and good composting, should ensure that you have no need to buy in any fertilisers or compost at all.
Closing the loop from earth to table and back again, creating no waste, nurturing sheer abundance of life with a purpose for everything - that is the vision that we can hardly wait to begin.
Weekly column 'A Taste of Earth' published @ www.porkandgin.com