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April: We’ve been busy bees!

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It’s been a super busy few weeks here at La Bruguera. We have the luxury of having so many bookings for 2022, that we can afford to spend more time than in previous years on developing our agro-ecological projects, expanding our environmental teaching offering, developing our relationships with institutions and teachers, and improving our facilities.  Here’s a bit of what we have been up to:

Composting Toilet

We are really proud and excited about our composting toilet! The average [global north] citizen uses 10,000 litres of perfectly drinkable water a year, simply to move their faeces to somewhere else, where another energy-intensive process then begins to treat the now-undrinkable water. It’s just plain silly.  Especially when human waste can very easily be processed safely, in a zero-energy manner, into a rich fertiliser and substrate for use in the garden.  It’s called “humanure” – a hybrid word based on “human” and “manure”.  THAT is the environmental reason we built a composting toilet. 

We decided on the adapted wheelie-bin model for our toilet, though we must confess that we bought the kit, rather than going full-permaculture and finding a used wheelie-bin and building it from scratch. We are always looking for ways to avoid buying manufactured products, but like everything in life, there comes a time when a busy schedule means buying something is just that much more practical than spending 5 days monkeying around trying to follow YouTube videos to learn to adapt bits and bobs to perform functions they were not originally designed for… So in the end we bought a Finnish composting toilet kit, from SanesEco near Barcelona, and Laura, who runs the company also gave us some plans of a simple toilet cabin, which we built using second hand windows, some reclaimed timbers, and some new FSC-certified wood.

Mike worked with our old friend, Chris, who, to be fair, did more than his fair share of the work as Mike was recovering from Covid at the time to build the cabin and install the system.  We put it near the area in the northeast corner of the site which we are fitting out for camping, in tents or vans.  The idea here is that we then have an area for students who would like to come take advantage of our environmental and permaculture courses, but either prefer outdoor accommodation, or haven’t got the budget to stay in the guest house.

Busy [real] Bees! 🐝

One day in April our Mike got a call from Mike at Dos Kiwis Brewing around the corner, who had an interesting problem.  A swarm of bees had decided to inhabit an empty wine barrel that was serving as a bar table at the brewery, right in the guest seating area next to the main door – not an ideal location (for the bees, or DK’s customers).  But Judit and Mike of DK are not the type of people who would exterminate the poor little pollinators simply for choosing their real estate poorly, and they therefore called us, to see if we wanted to adopt some bees.  Oddly, that very morning, our Mike had been thinking about getting some bee boxes to simply leave in the forest and see if bees chose to live in them. A few hours later, other Mike is phoning him, offering him bees… ask and the universe will provide.

So Mike n Mike went into nighttime bee rescue mode!  We plugged the wine barrel once the bees were inside for the night, then loaded it up onto the DK pickup truck, brought it to La Bruguera, transferred it to our little 4×4 buggy and trundled deep into the forest, to re-locate the bees whilst they were sleeping (do bees sleep?).  The next morning, with the opening unplugged and facing south, we saw the bees begin to emerge, and the pleasant thing to see was that after awhile, they were coming back, covered in pollen, so they were obviously getting on with the business of creating their hive inside the wine barrel.

There are lots of flowering trees (and veggies) down in that part of the forest garden, as well as a pond nearby (bees need a source of fresh water).  Whenever we go check on the bees these days there is plenty of traffic at the opening of the barrel, in and out, which would seem to point out the bees are happy!

A lot of people who heard about our bees have asked us “so when does La Bruguera honey start appearing on the menu?” – for now, the answer is “not yet” or “not sure when”, as the prime objective is saving the bees, having them make our forest home, rather than immediately extracting something from them.  Perhaps one day we will get to the honey stage…

Have any of you out there got experience helping preserve bees, or bee-keeping?

Pigs

Earlier in April we welcome two new residents to La Bruguera, Lola and Lolo – two ageing Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. They came to use from an animal refuge (Refugi Cau del Bosc), for wild and farmed animals, where sadly, because they were the oldest piggies there, they were being bullied by the other pigs.  Even sadder was their prior history though, as they were rescued from the home of someone who suffered from Noah’s Syndrome, a mental illness where sufferers hoard animals, in numbers, combinations and conditions that are not healthy or humane, from a misguided belief they are “saving” them from worse peril out in the world.

Lola and Lolo are 10 and 12, they have been together almost all of their lives, and are grandparents.  At the moment we are focussed on getting them used to us, and to their new forever home. They are nervous, but adapting very quickly, and Michelle, our resident animal-whisperer, is spending quiet time with them several times daily, allowing them to snuffle and snort and sniff her, and has already got Lola eating our of her hand.

Once we are confident that our new cuties are well-adjusted to their retirement home, we will be able to start getting them a bit more involved in the permaculture system here.  We have a few ideas already coming up of how we could plug their needs and yields into our system; they could help prepare the ground (by snuffling, walking, digging and pooping) in a little area of existing light forest, where we would like to plant another food forest project; we are told they could wallow in the big hole we dug as an overflow pond for our rainwater collection system (see below), and apparently the compression from their weight and the combination of their poo with decomposing plant matter at the bottom create a naturally impermeable pond lining, meaning we won’t have to buy a hydrocarbon-rich plasticky pond liner (saving money, and avoiding using fossil fuel derivatives, and incurring embodied manufacturing energy and transport miles).

Anyone out there ever made a pond lining from animal manure? Got experience or tips for new Vietnamese pot-bellied pig guardians?

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