Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Still Winter

The old pigsty

We’ve started to pull down the old pigsty. After the smokehouse and the sheep stable it is the third building we are demolishing. We don’t need it, it is in a bad condition and we would like to extend our barn – so it has to go. However, it is a painful thing to do, it feels like destroying a part of Slovakia’s cultural heritage. Most of it is build using mortise and tenon joints – but here and there some magnificent nails are used. The pigsty was made from oak beams and plastered with loam. A whole forest went into it. After today’s work all what is left is a heap of firewood.
A wooden "nail"
An iron Nail
Oak beams with loam

Ladybugs in trouble

Hiding in the pigsty , waiting for spring, we took away their refuge.....


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cross roads

We have a national deer high way in front of our house.

"You say deer! Where are they?"

Monday, February 16, 2009

We're gonna farm!

In Slovakia, a vast majority of agricultural land is leased, only a few owners mange their own land. Slovak farm size structures, which formed as the result of transition, are amongst the largest in Europe. On average, Slovak co-operatives manage about 1500 ha and corporate farms roughly 1190 ha. Individual private and household-plot farming remained a rather marginal activity occupying just 7 % of total agricultural land with an average size of 7.7 ha.

The co-operative, or Drustvo, of our village Cerovo, manages 2500 hectares including the land of all our neighbours and 6 hectares of ours. They have been using our land since 1993 when Slovak Republic and Czech Republic separated. So there we are, freshly arrived westerners, and we want to begin farming our own land. We’re starting a reverse revolution!

No leasing or other contracts were binding us to the Drustvo, however local customs should be respected. We want to live in harmony with the people around us, and since the Drustvo is owned by all of them, claiming back our land had to be done with diplomacy.

we would love to have a small campsite for nature lovers

After five months of living in Slovakia, our Slovak language skills are still to basic to have a normal conversation without pantomime playing and our dictionary playing the leading part of the drama. Therefore we asked Siggi to accompany us when meeting the Drustvo’s president. He is German and has been living for over six years in this little big country and understands both our background and the culture and customs of rural Slovakia.

We we’re a bit stressed before the meeting since we had heard all kind of stories from other immigrants ("you will never get your land back"), and the president of the Drustvo most certainly must have heard negative stories about offensive foreigners as well. However, when our intentions were explained and we said we wanted to do it in concord with the Drustvo the sky cleared up and the atmosphere became positive and understanding. It seems that we have to write an official letter, get our land surveyed and then, from 1 October 2009 on, we can use all our eight hectares as we want.

What we want to do is to keep, pigs, goats and tourist on our land as well as growing Abies Nordmann trees. The latter will take eleven years from seed to marketable Christmas tree. The first three years will be spend in a nursery in Denmark, the last eight over here on our land. This is a long time involving many risks, including frost damage, browsing by game, diseases, infestation of insects and nematodes and a fluid assets shortage of the growers. Therefore, the earlier we can plant the seedlings, the better. The Drustvo has decided that they have no objections with us already planting 5000 plantlets this spring.

It’s a big thing for us, making big investments and taking high risks (it is officially slightly to cold to grow Normann over here!), and it is already the talk of the town. Before even telling it around, our neighbours were informed that we are gonna farm our own land! They said it with amazement. We hope they like it and they like us, two Dutch people just trying to make a living of their land in harmony with people and nature…..

Friday, February 13, 2009

The road to the neighbours

It's spring!

It’s spring in my head since the crocuses started to bloom on our windowsill. According to my “sowing-calendar” February is fine for getting the first seeds into the soil. Spinach, garlic, lambs’ lettuce and rucola are all ready to taste the fresh earth.
I spend a day building a cold frame and prepare three sowing beds to give my veggies a good start. Arnold thinks that our neighbors will now start worrying about our mental health – since my Dutch garden book doesn’t mention the option of having a freezing cold February with 20 cm snow….

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Buying a farm in Slovakia

Maybe we were just lucky but buying a farm in Slovakia was rather easy. Having lived in West Africa for several years, working for different employers and on short time contracts, moving every two or three years to a different place, with different neighbors, a different language and a different job, we felt the need to settle.

Where to start when looking for a farm in Slovakia? Most real estate agencies publish their offer on this website:, it contains a data base of over 100.000 properties in Slovakia.

In April 2008 an eight hectare property which had been on the website for over a year, but had always been far above our budget, lowered its asking price with more than 25%. It was on offer by one of the biggest agencies (Romanticke Chalupy) that has an English-speaking agent in the UK. We contacted her and the additional information she gave us made us very interested in the smallholding.

Since we couldn’t take time off we had to take the risk and buy the farm without ever having seen it. We asked a Dutchman living in Slovakia to have a look at it to be sure it was not next door to a nuclear plant, garbage dump or a national highway. He had a good feeling about the place, which made us want to buy it.

In Slovakia a foreigner cannot buy agricultural land, however you can own a company. Companies can buy land… Since living in Africa setting up a Private Limited Company, or S.R.O. in Slovak jargon, was more complicated than we thought. To summarize a long story: it did not work. So there we were, we had already paid a 20% advance to our farm but were only able to buy the buildings (a house and a barn) and not the land. The director of the real estate agency suggested that “for the time being” he would put the land titles on his name and would transfer the land to us when we would come to Slovakia and set up the S.R.O. This does not sound as something to do when you want to be on the safe side. However, we had no other option and the company gave us a good and trustworthy feeling.

In December 2008, three months after arriving in Slovakia, we met him to sign the papers and became official owners of our own smallholding in Slovakia!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pruning apple trees

It is pruning season. We have become the owners of many beautiful but neglected fruit trees. They are screaming for attention – so last week we did a big apple pruning job. This photo illustrates how our trees looked before and after gowing to the coiffeur.