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The manure, the ploughing and the last freeman of Yavornik


You know that things are happening when you find yourself at the shop at 6am buying vodka to enable the only available helper in the village to give you a hand for the day.

Today it was ploughing, and a huge load of manure to be transported a few miles up and down the hills to Terrealuma. It was important to do it before the winter kicks in as this will secure a good start for the garden in spring. There is just no substitute for overwinter ploughing, especially when you start from scratch like we do after leaving the land fallow for 4 years.

Being dependent on way too many people to conduct this operation I started to make arrangements 2 weeks prior, the climax of activity being the night before. I started by booking a neighbour, his tractor, a plough and then driving 5 miles further into the neighbouring Yavornik to secure the manure, configure another tractor and borrow a trailer to load it. This already involved 5 people in the game and an endless web of interrelations.

I was lucky to locate Tobias,* the village helper, at Simon*'s (the manure provider).and arranged the job for today, sealing the deal with few shots of vodka. Tobias just came back from Holland where he was picking brussel sprouts, due to finish before Xmas. He cut the tour short, deciding that he is done and came back 6 weeks early. For Tobias is the only free man in Yavornik and he does what he wants. Apart from being heavily dependent on alcohol, T holds in firm disregard any form of authority or rules.

Once, social services were so concerned at the appalling living conditions in T's house that they hired a crew to do it up for him before winter, or at least repair a huge gap in the roof. When the crew arrived T was sleeping off the heavy night before and stayed that way throughout the process. To conclude, T lets others worry about him and has come to the point that he is completely free from any obligations. Not exactly a Terrealuma kind of guy I have to say, but with no volunteers on the horizon as yet, I had not much choice.

Anyway, driving back from Simon's last night I saw a huge herd of about 20 wild boar. I have had a few encounters before but this was a huge pack and not very shy either. They were just crossing at their own pace, coming back from the fields.

So, this morning I landed at the shop at 6 am driving a tractor with a trailer for manure loading, having already made two stops to reconfigure the gear. With mufflers around my neck, a headtorch, huge wellies and already dirty work-wear I looked quite odd there in the shop and I had not even made my demands yet. The shopping list was simple: two bread rolls for myself and a bottle of vodka to start Tobias off – he clearly requested that last night, and I was not going to risk putting the whole operation in jeopardy.

Jumping up and down on a small open tractor with a trailer full of manure we must have looked like a cartoon come to life, with Tobias constantly requesting a cigarette and screaming 'faster, faster!'

I was quite concerned about the trailer, clearly overloaded with 2 tonnes of crap. The tyres looked half flat and the rocky road was not helping. I have huge respect for farming machinery and I can feel how incompatible I am with tractors compared to Tobias who was practically born on one. 'Drove it since I was 8', he told me today. He's a natural. For me however it is best to take it easy and think twice before doing any manoeuvre. The main problem being that the terrain is steep and capsizing a small Ursus is not difficult. Lethal accidents are common and average 1 per year in the region. Usually an open tractor rolls over the driver, causing massive injury. It is enough to keep me on edge.

It was cold today and the half hour trip left us shivering. We knew however that unloading the manure with forks would warm us up pretty quickly. The approach to the garden field is quite steep so I got off and let T take over, only to see the whole 4 tonne outfit slide dangerously a good few metres down the slope towards the edge of the parking area, after which there is no turning back. Tobias contained the situation with skill but I realized that it must have been quite serious as he mentioned it straight away after finishing the manoeuvre. I would imagine that on his scale of tractor danger from 1 to 10, 10 being imminent death, this was a solid 4 – enough to raise Tobias' eyebrow and for him to mention it in conversation.

Unloading was the easiest part and we quickly ended up in the house sipping warm soup. It was 10.30 already. 4 and half hours since the shop. It seemed a long time to load manure, travel 5 miles and unload it but this is normal Yavornik-pace, considering that the sense of time arrangements is very fluid in these parts. So a 6 am slot with Tobias ended up being 7.30 and then a missing cable for the loader, cigarette breaks, chatting, and price negotiations with Simon, the whole ritual. It all takes time and this is just inherent. I still need to adjust to that. The goal would be to reduce the process by at least having our own basic machines like grass cutters, shredders, and a well-maintained tractor on site. Terrealuma's location is fantastic as it is secluded and private, but it is far from convenient for commuting and borrowing gear every time something needs done on the land. It takes way too much time and energy.

We finished the soup and went on our way back to Simon's for a second round.The next load of manure was smaller, less work and less stress. I thanked Tobias, paid him and drove back alone only to see that ploughing was already under way. Unloading, cleaning the skip, paying the neighbour and all done. 2.30 pm. Good time, and finished for today. Completely knackered but pleased with the job done.

That's a good start for next year. We have a manured and ploughed garden patch below the greenhouse, another patch for raspberries and 1,5 acres of crop fields to be sown with buckwheat and clover in spring. All together around 2 acres was done today. This is as far as I want to go with conventional farming for now, the rest of the productive acreage will be taken by permaculture solutions.

I am very happy that things are happening and I am finally out in the field and away from the computer. With nature things are simple: you get things done when the time is right or there is no point. It was the last chance for today's ploughing before winter kicks in for good. This year is out of sync and we are behind as most of the past 3 months were taken up by finishing off the website and video. It became frustrating at times seeing the summer pass by without much work done on the land, but it was a necessary process and allowed us to take Terrealuma to the next level. Things are much more dynamic now, and getting done.

The ploughing work and the manure was solely financed by donations and we can do so much more with outside support. Next on the list is mending the greenhouse. A good few days of work. It all depends on the weather and donations coming in, but I am starting it right after the weekend. That's the plan.

* names changed to protect identities


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