Monday, 28 October 2013

Getting to know Sofia, the host city of your EVS

Largo, Sofia, Bulgaria. Why two buildings from different historic periods [1920s, the bourgeois era, and 1950s, the socialism] and of different architectural styles were fused into one? You can find out on a 'Sofia (Architecture) Walks' tour...
An important part of the EVS experience is getting to know the host country. Many Bulgarians are patriotic and will spend long hours informing you about their homeland. They have reason: Bulgaria is very old and has an interesting history.   

So does their capital. Although to an inexperienced eye it might appear as yet another character-less modern age city, Sofia actually existed even before the ancient Romans arrived. A big misfortune was brought to Sofia by the WW2 when much of the city centre was destroyed by the bombings. Those were also the times when Sofia lost much of its external beauty.  

Nowadays it is one of those cities that not everyone falls in love with easily. Before you start to like Sofia you need to know it. And, in order to know it, you need to explore and dig a bit deeper as the city hides much of its charms in secret yards; underground; in peoples' memories.
Because Bulgarians are so patriotic, there is no shortage neither of tourist materials nor of guided walks here (as well as plenty of cultural events to choose from). Let me introduce you to a few:
  • Free Sofia Tour (also operating in Plovdiv) is a good option to those who have just arrived as it gives a nice overall introduction to the city centre's major (and major hidden) attractions. It lasts around two hours, leaving at 11am & 6pm every single day from the Palace of Justice (the building with two lion sculptures at the northern end of the Vitosha Boulevard). The tour is unpaid but it is customary to give some tips to the guide afterwards.     
  • Sofia (Architecture) Walks - a bit heavier option, ideal to those who are already familiar with the surface of the city and want to dig deeper. These guides organise their walks mainly on weekends, and each walk has a different topic, e.g. Socialist Sofia; Romantic Sofia; Eastern Orthodox Sofia; Sofia Cemetery; etc. The tours are grouped into four 'collections': Pieces of a City, Styles and Ages, Religions, and Influences - according to the topic. Each month they announce a walks' calendar on their website so you can book in advance. These are paid tours (BGN 20/10 adult/student); the meeting place is at the entrance of Sheraton Balkan Hotel.
Then there are a couple of recommendable travel agencies (these, though, are not the only ones in Sofia):
  • Lyuba Tours - a small, rather high-brow travel agency that concentrates on cultural tourism and knows a lot about even obscure topics. These were the people who took many famous and serious foreign officials around Bulgaria. They do some public group tours (advertised on their website) as well as tailor-made private tours.
  • Zig Zag Holidays / Odysseia-In 'travel boutique' - also a personalised, responsible, knowledgeable etc. travel company. As far as I know they were consulting one of the Lonely Planet travel authors as he wrote the guide to Bulgaria some years ago. Plus, they have been on the market for around 20 years now.
True, hiring travel agencies might not exactly be for a volunteer's budget but it's good to know where to go in case, for example, your rich relatives arrive to Bulgaria, or you are organising an event for international delegates.

Some 'real' travellers are snobbish towards any travel publishers, guides or agencies; I used to be one of them but I am not anymore; now I think that selecting bits of what you find useful/interesting from all available sources is the best way to be.  
  • If you, however, only want a free map of the city you can get one at the local Tourist Information Office at the underpass + metro station 'St.Kliment Ohridski' (the Sofia University).
Good luck exploring. You can also check my personal blog about life & travels in Sofia. Yours, Agnė.

The sausages are not mine. Associative photo.
Some of the current EVS volunteers at Matka Canyon, Macedonia (July 2013).

Friday, 25 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 3

Do you know them?

After a week without class, we return to the work with the third part of Do you want to write a novel?

This week we will devote entirely to the construction of characters. Characters that you fall in love, you want to keep writing more and more words, page after page. The aim is also, of course, your readers will love too, do that they also want to keep reading the adventures of these little so special people.

As I have said many times, in my case the creation of the characters is one of the most important things. It is precisely these, those characters that appear almost out of nowhere, who push me to write their story. It is a reverse of many writers, I know, but hey, everyone is different and it is important to find your own formula, your own way to feel comfortable when typing.

First of all, let's start by generalizing a bit. Although there are exceptions (like everything in this life), it is usual that your characters are those who bear the weight of history. It can be people or things, a priest or a bar of soap, but generally, the stories we read in books happen to someone or something.

In this way, your characters are a key thing in your novel. Yes, we all know stories in which the character is unimportant and the important thing is the action, and also the opposite, of course. But even in cases in which your characters are just a figure at which things happen, readers must be interested in your characters. Otherwise, if you do not care in the least what happens to them, it is likely to close the book and go do something else.

I constantly fall in love with the characters (of mine and others), but you need not be like me…

Your characters, like everyone, want to get something. There has not to be something great. Not all characters have to want to save humanity or destroy the villain. The ambition of your character can be a shower without her son pounded the door without stopping. Or do not be late for a meeting. Or make macaroni without being sticking to the pan. Or convince this guy so cute to marry with her and not with her cousin who is prettier and richer.

Usually, most of the characters, want to be happy and live in peace. It depends on you, as an author, what your character considers 'happiness'. You know, a shower, a wedding, a cup of hot chocolate ... What seems good to you. You know they are not going to complain...

Typically, your characters suffer (a little or a lot, or too much...) to achieve their goals. If not, we would not have history. If your character is dying for a cup of tea, and get up and do it ... because, well, that's it.  Not much more to tell...

It's different if your character wants a cup of tea and it turns out that does not fit a single bag. He goes home to his neighbor to ask her, but his neighbor just drinks coffee. So going to the corner store to buy a box but, oh wait, it turns out that he has forgotten his wallet at home...

If your character is a more or less real, the normal is somehow react to unforeseen events. Your characters are (usually) human, and as such have feelings. They get angry, get overwhelmed, laugh, cry ... Are their reactions that we are going to show what he's made of your character, and that, in turn, will allow us to go take shape history.

For example, if the character you want tea, not the same feel annoyed at having to leave her apartment to buy tea voices that requires a tea bag to each of its neighbors. Reactions are different and, therefore, will take a different path history.

Ideally, your character is as close as possible to a real person. And real people are not perfect, so that we can forget those characters like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in everything. We are not always friendly, we are not always in a good mood or we feel like work.

And the same goes for the characters perfect in his wickedness. That villain having fun twisting necks of chickens as entertainment in his spare time, he hates absolutely everyone and whose highest aspiration is to finish the good of the story just because are not very credible, is that they are also very boring.

The theory is clear, I think.

We all want to write unforgettable characters, those who would follow until the end of the world. Characters who steal your heart or you hate so hard to be taken to keep reading just to see how they get what they deserve. It is not easy, of course, but why we are here.

For me, what helps me is to know a lot of my character. I use to learn many things from them, but then not even use them directly in the story, but it helps to situate, to imagine, to know how they will react, which makes the writing process much faster and enjoyable.

Many times it is something that I made in an unconscious way. I can just imagine them standing before me, his facial expressions, clothing and sometimes even their smell. In my case, I'm much better build characters who develop a coherent plot for them. It's a curse, I know.

Depending on your history will have one or more players, one or two opponents and a variable amount of people just walking by. Perfect. You are the director of your work, so that you're the boss. Typically, your protagonists and antagonists are those who take all your attention, but do not neglect your secondary.
I am always in love with side characters, I know of what I speak.

Of course you do not need you to know the whole life of that lady that intersects with your main character only once in the metro stop, but try that your side characters has something that makes them unique, something that makes them be anything more than a silhouetted against the wall.

The best way to know your characters is, of course, asking. On this page you can see an example of fifty questions that let you know much better  your creatures. I may seem a bit excessive (to me it seems), yet I cannot wait to do the test with my players for this year's NaNo.

If you think is TOO MUCH you can do a shorter version. Shout to your characters basics: name, date of birth, current job, family, etc ... Also I can be very helpful to make a short summary of a typical day in your life: what time is usually up, do breakfast, what to do next ... You can be all you want and retailers, obviously, the more detail you put, better known to your friends...

A key question that we cannot do is forgotten What you want? Since marrying a millionaire to find his lost dog, it's up to you, but it is vital that you know this as it will be what you advance the plot. And I tell you, I'm a mess for these things, but this year I'm being good.

In any case, try to visualize your characters. If it's any help, you can even help you with photos of real people, famous actors, your cousin, your neighbor who lives in the fifth floor ... If you can see it, feel it, probably will be more fluid your writing and your characters come to life for your readers.

Sometimes, they would be so much lively, which often begin to do things on your own in a way that you can’t imagine...

Homework for next week I think is fairly obvious. You will have to start to get intimate with your characters, begin to know them well. You'll spend much time with them, so you better do it now ... Of course, you can do everything detailed as you like, but try to at least baseline data:

- Name
- Age
- Three physical characteristics
- Three mental characteristics

And above all

- What do you want? What is your motivation?

Of course, when you started to write your story you may have to change one or more characteristics, or even motivation, but remember that all this previous work aims to make writing your novel a lot easier than you thought at first.

Go ahead, little kids!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A reader's comment, regarding the political situation in Belarus. Lecture at 17.30 today at ul.Slavianska 6.

Anonymous 14 October 2013 22:18
Michail Vashkevich: , .
16 октомври/сряда/,17-30 часа в зала``Славянско дружество``, ул. Славянска-6, состои се лекция посланика Беларуси Владимира Александровича Воронковича. К сожалению аз на работе. Моля теб, задай посланику два запитване;1/Защо много граждане Беларуси бягат от своя Родина в чужбина? 2/Може ли мой приятел,емигрант от Беларус в България,Михаил Йосифович Вашкевич да се върне в Родината си,да не лежи в ГУЛАГ?— Michail Vashkevich, 14 Октомври 2013 г.
 The comment.
We have got a reader's comment, posted under three of our different authors' most recent blog texts. The comment is unrelated to the topics we were writing about; instead, it is concerned about the current political situation in Belarus. As it is written in Bulgarian we have decided to translate it so that everyone can understand.

Basically, the reader wants to inform that there is a lecture by the Belarussian ambassador Vladimira Aleksandrovicha Voronkovicha taking place at the premises of "Slavyanska Beseda" (ul. Slavianska 6) at 5.30 pm today (16 October).

As well as that s/he wants those who will be attending to ask the ambassador two questions: (1) Why so many Bealrussians flee from their homeland abroad; (2) Can Michail Iosifovich Vashkevich, an emigrant from Belarus in Bulgaria, return to his homeland without being imprisoned in a gulag*.

Here you are, our dear reader, and I hope this will help.

* Gulag is a type of enforced labour camp used by the Soviet Union to 'correct' its (mainly political) prisoners. Gulags still exist in the modern day Belarus as the country's political regime remains notoriously authoritarian and hostile to any political opposition. 

For more information about gulags:

An article at The Independend newspaper about life in a gulag experienced by a Belarussian political prisoner:

A New York Times editorial about Lukashenko's gulags:

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 2

Or not...

After Week 1, we have to face the Week 2.

If you worked for this past week and you must have an idea about what you are going to write in your novel. Have you thought about what you like and what you dislike, what you want to read and what really have wanted to start writing.


Unless you are a genius and then I don’t know you are doing here, it is normal that right now you may have only a slight idea about what you want to write. That is, something like I want to write the story of a young woman who discovers a schoolmate who did much damage and intends to apologize to everyone he misbehaved.

I want to write the story of a pirate who takes as a slave to a naturalist and from that moment her life changes and just wants to look for animals.

That kind of thing. Okay, is normal.

You have great ideas, or small ideas, very original or not original at all, but you're dying to write about it. But, generally, at this stage of preparation of the novel all we have is that, a general idea, vague and imprecise, that does not tell us much more about how our story will develop.

It is time, then, to prepare our novel itself. Here we have several options, because like everything in life there are tastes for everyone...

Plotter VS Pantser

Thus, most writers fall into two distinct camps, and almost opposites. I mean Plotters against Pantsers. Some cannot imagine how to work of others, and the others put their hands to their heads thinking how is it possible that someone can work that way, but you know that each person is different...

Plotters are those who plan every detail of the novel they are contemplating to write. Chapters, numbers of words, important events, plot and subplots ... everything you can imagine they have already planned and targeted.

By contrast, the Pantsers are those who sit to write a novel like an adventure. Usually only know the basics, and from there they sit every day and begin a new adventure.

The plotters say that if you do not know what will happen in your story would be unable to write anything, the pantser claim that they know what is going to happen with all the mystery story would have evaporated and therefore would be unable to write anything.

What is the correct position? Well, neither, or both. But above all, it is a very personal decision and, like everything else, depends much on the character of the author.

In my case, I adopt an intermediate position. I like to plan some, a little , enough to know roughly what will happen , but when more ideas I have is when I'm actually writing . It is in those moments when you're in the middle of the story when the characters themselves are asking you to write this or that. And we all know that you, as an author, you are a mere slave of your characters...

I have to say, in my personal experience, and with NaNo framework in mind, the best times I've done have been the times I've planned something, even a little. I have never come to plan everything everything

everything , so I do not know if I would of much or all the contrary , but sometime I have to try , I suppose ...

When we talk about Plotter or Pantser, if you are a Plotter does not mean that you have everything planned to the millimeter and refuse to include any changes. On the contrary, those ideas that just happen as they write more easily incorporated to already have a specific place where to fit it.

For me, for example, is extremely useful me talk about my plot with some friends. There are authors who refuse to speak anything of what they are writing because it says that then lose interest. For me it is quite the opposite. Talking with my friends (especially those who also write) about what I have planned to write not only makes me even more excited with my story, too, in many cases, it gives me ideas that will be very useful later.

In this case, such that for many of you is the first time that you dare to write a novel, I think it is better to work some basics. If you are Pantser to death as well, not going to hurt you...

I think it is essential that before you start writing your novel have clear some obvious points:

1. What is the story (plot). It's okay to want to be as surprised to see how it evolves your novel, you should not rule out the element of surprise, but I think that this time it would be nice if you prepare a timeline, albeit short, with the most important points of your story. Then return to this, do not worry.

2. Who is in your story (characters)? Just below discover you urgently need a character at that point in the story or, quite honestly, the mother of your neighbor's protagonist is not particularly important, but I think to start you should know at least the basics about your protagonists. We will not talk about the characters now, the next day we will devote the entire session.

3. Where goes your history (World Building). Is not the same build a story around a piano student in contemporary Bulgaria do about a Roman slave days before the death of Caesar. This becomes more important if you are going to write your novel placing it in an alternate universe, for historical fiction and fantasy worlds. If your story is to be placed in a special environment (space, fantasy world) or even in a city you do not know, you should make some guidelines so that everything matches in the best way possible.

Building a map of your story

If you want to write to nail it, sit down every morning with something in mind to write about instead of going mad to see if you get something nearly-good, I think it's a good idea to have a map to keep going.

This map can be as detailed as you want, but in the most basic case, I advise you jot down at least three key moments: the beginning, middle, and end.

The end of what I mean, because I never (NEVER) know how they will end my stories and they are there, unfinished and waiting to have mercy on them. So we're going to take seriously (me too), and we will work on this.

This mind map can be as long and detailed or as short as you like. You can write, one by one, the chapters of your novel, with great detail (points of view, most important actions, dialogue, etc. . .), Or you can target a single sentence mentally remind you what you have to deal in that chapter. The latter is what I usually do, but as always, it depends on the person.

Again, I repeat to create this mind map that not means that you should if you only have to write this and refuse a new idea or a new character. On the contrary, you can always include it and see where takes you. But I have this map says is a tremendous help when you have to write a certain number of words a day , as with the NaNoWriMo , and you sit in front of your computer without you can think of anything.
At that point you're going to say thank you for being announced even a phrase like the girl is angry with the protagonist he has looked to another in the nightclub.

Narrative Structure

Again, even if you are pure of heart Pantsers , I advise you at the time you begin your novel you may have more or less clear narrative structure something that will keep your history.

There are many types of novels, very different from each other , and the structure is not always the same . This will depend a lot on your way of writing and your personality and voice as an author, but , generally , all stories have some key points that are precisely what makes the story forward .

The classical model , we learn that even at school, is that not talking about a story in three acts : Beginning, middle and end.

Beginning : We know our players , we place ourselves in his world, and we know the first turning point , when our characters start having problems (of any type ) , and is when the action begins. This should not be more than 25 % of the story , but there are exceptions , of course.

Middle: Here we are in the heart of the matter. This section should occupy 50% of the story, approximately. The turning point we saw at the beginning if it does become increasingly difficult, so that our hero has to overcome different difficulties, until the final issue, we see in the

End: Our protagonist must face the biggest problem of all (from getting money to buy that ice cream that both want to end his greatest enemy in an epic battle), everything is solved (for better or worse), and we ended our history. Here you will spend the last 25% of the story.

These turning points, these problems, make the most important milestones in our novel and are what gives us the basis to start working. For example, a turning point that our protagonist would become unemployed and have to return to live at home with their parents. His life has changed from the beginning of the novel, but with the following points of inflection thing complicating going until the end, for better or for worse.

Easy, right?

No, at least for me, so that I too I have to work very hard with this.

As a homework assignment for the next session, I suggest that you try to map your story. If you are Pantsers to death, try to at least imagine the major turning points in your history. If it helps you to visualize, you can think about turning points in series / books / movies.

In Frankenstein, for example, there is a clear turning point when the doctor abandons his creation.

In Jane Eyre, Jane's life changes when her aunt sent to the orphanage, and then switch back when it starts working for Mr. Rochester.

Is that clear? Well you know what you should do now...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

"Mid term Training" 13-17 Setembro em Park Hotel Plovdiv

 No passado mês de Setembro entre 13 a 17 decorreu no Park Hotel Plovdiv o chamado “Mid Term Training” em que marcaram presença voluntários europeus EVS a prestar o seu serviço na Bulgária, mais de 30 pessoas contando com voluntários de chegada”on-arrivals”. Este encontro/treino é precedido por outro que já foi descrito pela nossa estimada colega Agne ”on arrival Albena” no dia 4 Agosto.

 É com satisfação que vos falo como participante num projecto EVS na Bulgária e apraz-me dizer-vos que este encontro dá seguimento a 3 meses de contacto com uma nova cultura que é explorada em conjunto com pessoas de outros países com os quais se criou um espírito de camaradagem num ambiente de tal forma agradável que apenas se poderá explicar experienciando.

 Um encontro após metade da duração dos respectivos projectos decorridos é não só uma excelente oportunidade para rever caras conhecidas e amigos mas também para fazer um ponto de situação, perspectivar cenários futuros, melhorar actividades presentes assim como tentar perceber como individualmente nos poderemos tornar mais úteis num colectivo. Que me desculpem por não ser explícito nas actividades desenvolvidas neste meeting mas realmente é algo que deve ser vivido e não relatado sob pena de perder a sua significância.

 Recomendo vivamente aos leitores deste blog com idades compreendidas entre 18 e 30 anos a participação num EVS(european voluntary service). Se me permitem gostaria de acrescentar que ao participarem em tal projecto é extremamente importante que gostem do contacto com pessoas e que ousem descobrir mais de vocês nos outros pelo que ao fim e ao cabo tudo é aprendizagem, ou como diria o poeta “Tudo é caminho e verdade”.

 Este encontro em Plovdiv, uma cidade com particulares encantos, tais como o anfiteatro romano é deveras interessante pelo que as imagens abaixo dispensam quaisquer tipo de apresentações. 

 Dirijo especial agradecimento a todos aqueles que partilharam e partilham esta experiência comigo seja de forma presencial ou outra. Aconselho-vos a colocarem Bulgária no vosso mapa pois há realmente muito a explorar neste país.

Rotina diária 

Concerto em anfiteatro romano 

Em cima: da esquerda para direita, Nasko, Agne, Sarah, Janis, George, Laura, Stanislav, Carmen, Fran e Ani
Em baixo: Sarah, Agnese, Chema, Ricardo, Inga e Ana

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Do you want to write a novel? Session 1

At last, I have the correct letters...

Yesterday we started the workshop Do you want to write a novel? at the American Corner, in the Sofia City Library. We are going to have sessions every week, on tuesdays, at 16:00 h. so feel free to join us!  By the way, if you miss any session, don't worry, because I'm going to post about it every Wednesday...

So, here we go!

Week 1. Motivations and ideas.

If you are here because you like to write or have ever thought of writing a novel. Ok, this is the time. This fall, all of us here are going to write a novel. All of you and me too, of course. In these meetings we will discuss different aspects of writing a novel, the motivation to write, build a plot, create characters, and all other aspects

These talks will serve as training to prepare for NaNoWriMo. What is NaNoWriMo? It's National Novel Writing Month, and celebrated in November. This means that during the month of November we are going to write a novel of 50k words. Fifty thousand words in a month, almost 2k words a day. You may think I'm crazy, but it really is very, very funny.

Except when your characters begin to do what they want. At that point you suffer a little, but anyway.

You can enter by signing up on this page, is free, and there you can comment on forums, have your works listed, see your progression, etc…

NaNoWriMo started as a joke between friends, but you see that little by little it has become an international event, and now people worldwide participate. This is the first time something is organized in Bulgaria and the Sofia City Library has become the first library in Bulgaria to participate in the program  Come and Write In.

By the way, during the month of November we only will write the first draft of our novel. Then we have all the time in the world to rewrite and edit and correct, but we made the first step, the most important. At this point, it's quantity over quality.

Why would you write a novel? Why you want to write, in general? Do you feel that impulse that makes you think Oh my god, I have to tell this? Have you fallen in love for character? Do you have a general idea, or a particular scene and you think you can develop it?

For me, for example, it starts with a character that I fall in love, and since then I cannot stop until  build a world, a whole life around. This is different for each person, of course, but in my case I often build the plots around a character.

Why you want to write? What is it that made ​​you come here today?

We talked about the reasons we have to start writing, so now we have to talk about an important point. What to write? I do not know if you already have something in mind or going on an adventure, but at this time we will work on it.

Every writer is different. Some writers think it's best to write about what you know. On the contrary, many others think is best out of that comfort zone and venture to discover things we never thought. About this there is no single valid opinion so for this reason we can findso many different stories and so many types of novel.

For me, one of the most important tips on this issue gives us Ray Bradbury. I love Ray Bradbury, so you can expect it mentions more than once. Ray Bradbury tells us to write about what we love. Write about what you love, whatever it is.

Bradbury loved the planet Mars, dinosaurs and circuses. So he wrote about that. When you read his stories you can feel his passion, his love for those things.

Write about what you love. No matter if what you like is cooking, or if you prefer ghost stories. If you like vampires or if you prefer stories based on real events. Never mind. You'll spend a lot of time writing about it, so choose something you're passionate about, what makes you get up every morning wanting to write. That story that you cannot stop thinking, that character you are madly in love.

Another tip when choosing a topic to write about is this Write the story you want to read. I think it is very logical, and in a way has a lot to do with what we talked of love. You need to want to know what will happen next, and only you can do.

Imagine your book as a movie.

Think for a moment: you can do whatever you like, no limits. You have absolutely everything at your fingertips. You can put your characters in a castle under the sea, or in a London neighborhood. On an unknown planet or in this same library. You can have as many characters as you want. You can have your favorite actor as a protagonist, if you like. You can dress them in the clothes you've always wanted to take, or not dressing at all. Make traveling to that country you've always wanted to visit, or even make time travel.
There are no limits.

You own an universe, so imagine the possibilities.

Let's do a little exercise. Think for a moment in a movie, a series or a book that you really like. Already? Perfect. Now think of a scene or a situation that you would have liked to change.A small change, or a bigger one. As you want. Write down. When you get home, write about it. They can be a couple of paragraphs or thirty pages, which you want.

What I want from this exercise is that you feel the power you have when you write. Feel that power, do the characters behave as you want.

Where do you find inspiration? Well, every person is different, and what I find inspiring to me may not work with you. It can be a song, a work of art, or why not, a character in a movie. It may be that you come across someone that catches your attention, and begin to imagine his life. You may find what you are looking watching the news while having breakfast, or on the cover of a book while giving a tour of the library.

Almost all writers recommend carrying a small notebook in which to jot down little things that caught our attention, so rare that dream we had those ideas that suddenly assail you. Be not deceived, many of these ideas never you will use, but it is comforting to know they are there, if you need a moment of inspiration you can always read your pages. I also use Pinterest, which is an image file and can create different boards by theme. It is free and is very easy to have a collection of images that you like, you remember what you like and that at one point you can serve as inspiration.

Ray Bradbury (yes, again) for example, recommended to make two different lists with the things you liked and things you dislike. I have to admit that I have never used this, but it seems as good a way as any to learn more about our true interests.

Maybe some of you and you may have some idea of ​​what you will write. Great. Maybe some, as happens to me, you may have several ideas lurking in your head and you may have to choose only one to start working. In any case, you have homework for this week: find (or decide) what are you going to write your novel in November.

Well then, to work!

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Dora's organic garden - a few principles

An autumn sunflower field I found while hitch-hiking in Northern Bulgaria. Associative photo.

Following the recently discussed topic of sustainable agricultural practices, we might as well talk about organic gardening. Permaculture itself is not necessarily organic but the two go well together.

Our fellow EVS Dora from Vlahi (mentioned in the previous post) cultivates an organic garden as part of her project and has shared with us a few tricks of how to be most efficient and to naturally avoid pesticides, herbicides and other similar evils. To me, some of them have been a nice discovery and, I thought, why not to forward them on to you too, our dear dedicated reader   

(1) The Three Sisters of pre-Colombian American agriculture, starring corn, pumpkin and beans. According to Native American wisdom, the three plants help each other to grow and to feed. They have a symbiotic relationship. For example, the bean plant grows wrapping itself around corn, and the two exchange bacteria that keeps pests away. 

(2) Planting companion plants, such as onion & carrot; tomato & basil; aubergine & beans, together. They keep harmful insects away from each other, and therefore, the gardener does not need to use pesticides.

(3) Taking advantage of friendly garden animals. Apart from singing nicely, birds eat many harmful insects and produce manure which is a natural fertiliser. To attract certain birds to your garden you may need to plant certain bushes, e.g. raspberry or goji berry for sparrows & tits. Grasshoppers eat insects, and so do bats - the latter during the night, so your garden may be protected 24/7.

Wasps also eat insects - build a place for them to live in your garden. Ladybirds feed on plant lice - they like to settle on nettle and yellow flower, so make sure you have some of the said plants present to attract ladybirds to your garden.    

Yellow multipeds feast on slug eggs. Ducks eat insects and slugs, and produce manure - make a pond for them in your garden (in the pond, grow some gambusia fish - they will eat the mosquito larvae). Chickens do similar deeds to those done by ducks.

Hedgehogs, besides generally being sweet and charming animals, will cut down the numbers of slugs, caterpillars, multipeds and chockhafers. Snakes will eat mice; lizards will eat insects; and toads love to snack on Colorado beatle (toads, like ducks, will need access to a pond in your garden). Frogs will feast on insects and slugs.     

(4) You might want to plant your herbs in reinforced spirals. The said constructions help the gardener to use water efficiently. Higher in the spiral should be plants that need less water; those needing more should sit a little below. On the south side put plants that like sunlight; on the north side put those that thrive well in the shadow. Spiral works well for growing herbs, medicinal ones and kitchen ones alike.

(5) Finally, put up a tank for collecting rain water, and instal solar panels to have hot water available.         

A vine above the street, Veliko Tarnovo. Another associative photo.