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DIP IN A
Last summer, Maddy Harland visited ZEGG, the Center for Experimental Cultural Design, near Berlin, Germany. There she took a dip in a beautiful natural swimming pool that they created themselves. Here is how they did it.
ntil the 1980s, ZEGG was a spy training center for East German men with a difference – they were called the Romeo spies and their remit was to infiltrate the west by romancing the female secretaries of well placed western military men, politicians and diplomats located in West Germany. Today it is a place of conflict resolution and peace where the landscape is as fertile as its community life. The community here is vibrant and creative and the whole site is an example of regeneration. The once barren sandy soil has been enriched by mulching with cardboard, straw and huge piles of leaves, courtesy of the local council, and everywhere are fruit and nut trees, berries, vegetables, salads and flowers. All the old military buildings www.permaculture.co.uk
are ecologically renovated, heated by a biomass boiler that burns woodchip from the trees from regional forests and there are solar hot water panels on many buildings. In a quiet corner, near the woods, is a beautiful converted fire pond containing about 420m3 of water. In such a dry climate and a woody site, it is essential to store water for fire fighting. In the early 1990s, it was a green and slimy pond, perfectly functional but unattractive. Today it is a natural swimming pool, a fire pond and a nature reserve. What is different about this pool is the relative low technology used to create it, the small surface area of plants required to clean it and the quality of the water. There is no complex filter system as the clever design has
enabled a balanced ecology of plants, fish and molluscs to clean the water. On a hot July day, Tim and I slipped away from the Global Ecovillage Network European assembly for half an hour to cool ourselves in the pool. We’d eyed it up longingly the day before on a tour of ZEGG and just had to try it out. All we had to do was to shower down and slip into the refreshing, cool water… I asked Achim Ecker, ZEGG’s permaculture designer, how he had created such a stable ecosystem. “We started to superficially filter the water through a small soil filter planted with aquatic plants, pumping the filtered water back into the pond. This soil filter offers a habitat to many natural ponddwellers, thereby strengthening No. 42
the self-purification powers of the basin. We intend to promote a close to natural pond biotope.” Achim quickly discovered that the method of purification described was insufficient during the summer, when hot temperatures draw residents and guests to bathe and refresh themselves in the pool. As ZEGG did not want to use chlorine, they set out to research efficient, environmentally friendly methods of purifying the water. This search led them to discover the various beneficial effects of the so-called Effective MicroOrganisms (EM). “During the first two years here, we had to change the water Above: The natural swimming pool at ZEGG, which started life as a fire pond. 17
twice a year, as so much algae was growing due to the many nutrients in the water,” said Achim. “In hot spells the ecosystem collapsed at intervals. Since 2000, we have employed EM in our fire pond and we get a professional lab to test the water quality towards the end of the summer – the time when ponds are normally most polluted. These tests have now proven our water is of excellent quality and hygienically in perfect condition.”
Being an ecological community, it was anxious not to have to refill the pool twice a year, and besides, this further disrupted the pool’s settling ecology. Besides using EM, Achim introduced red-eye rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) and carp (Cyprinus carpio) in 2000. The fish have thrived without any supplementary feeding. The rudd mainly live off mosquito larvae and insects that fall into the pond, whereas carp feed on algae
and decomposing leaves and grass which settle on the bottom. Because the rudd are spawning at such a high rate, Achim has decided to bring in perch (Perca fluviatilis) in order to control their numbers. FERMENT & NUTRITION After four years of the pool’s life, it was no longer necessary to change the water as the bacteriological condition of the water in the pool was excellent. The visual aspects were less than satisfactory, however. The side walls were covered with algae, there was lots of algae floating in the water and the water itself appeared to be murky. The reason was an increased ph-value connected with a heightened nutrient content due to organic matter entering the water. On the bottom of the pond, for example, a layer of leaves dropped by the surrounding trees sometimes began to ferment during hot spells in the summer. During the summer of 2003, the community decided to continue the efforts already under way to clean and maintain the
The idea of EM was originally developed by a Professor Higa in Japan. EM consists of a mixture of cultures of micro-organisms naturally occurring in the environment, which are used as an inoculation in order to raise the micro-bacterial variety in soils and plants. Higa discovered micro-organisms which can co-exist in mixed cultures and which are physiologically compatible. When these cultures are introduced into a natural environment, synergistic effects are activated, multiplying the individual beneficial impacts. EM contains no synthetic substances. Research in Japan and in other parts of the world has confirmed that inoculations of soil or plant systems with EM raises general soil and plant vitality, as well as improving the yield and quality of crops. EM is completely harmless to humans, and can also be used externally for treating skin diseases and internally for gastro-intestinal complaints.
pond with a natural chain of living organisms. They siphoned off a portion of the mud and spread part of the 2.3m (71⁄2ft) deep section of the pond with a layer of washed sand 10cm (4in) deep. This offers a good habitat for the water-filtering Goose Barnacle (Anodonto cygnea) and other sludge digesting organisms. A fully matured Goose Barnacle, which is an endangered species in Germany, can filter up to 2,000 litres of water per day. They achieve a size of up to 25cm (10in) and live for up to 300 years, placing them among the most long lived animals on this planet. They feed off fine floating algae and, in order to build their shells, draw lime from the water, which in turn lowers the water’s ph-value. Below left: Detail of entry step and flow inlet to the natural filtration system. Below centre: The swimming pool requires a suprisingly small area to be used as a filter bed.
They live in a symbiotic relationship with a small fish, the bitterling (Rhodeus sericeus amarus ‘Bloch’), each relying on the other for procreation. There is another type of mollusc that can filter water. It is the Painter’s or freshwater mussel (Unio pictorum), which is also red-listed as an endangered species. Achim also introduced gudgeon (Gobio gobio), a fish feeding on organisms living in the sludge. The naturalisation of the molluscs helps to create a new habitat for them, and could serve also as a basis for their re-introduction into their natural biotopes. In addition to the work of the freshwater plants, fish, barnacles and mussels which clean the water, the vertical side walls of Right: Inspecting a freshwater mussel. Below right: The filter bed is a soil and aquatic plant filter which does much of the purification of the water. It also provides a habitat for many natural pond dwellers.
the pond are ‘grazed’ by the river snail (Viviparus viviparous) and the ramshorn snail (Planorbis corneus). By 2004, the water quality was still very good and there are now hundreds of young fish and even quite a number of crested newts (Triturus cristatus). In fact, the pool is so successful that the community has taken out several hundred small fish and quite a number of big ones and introduced them to other ponds and lakes in the area. Some of these fish are also on the endangered species list. The water testing continues and Achim told me, “We have official measurements on bacteria in the pond. In June 2004, it still reached drinking water quality. By the beginning of August the bacteria level was higher, but it was still much better than the highest requirement of swimming water quality and many more times better than the lowest requirement for swimming water by German standards. All this is reached without conventional filtering systems.” I asked Achim if he had further plans to enhance the pool’s ecology.
He said, “In one corner of the basin, we plan to install floating beds of water plants to help clean the water with their root systems, offer shelter for spawning and young fish and provide carp with vegetative matter.” Sitting by the pool, we occasionally see the rudd rising on the surface and, in shallow areas, fingerlings bask in the sunny edges. It’s very peaceful here. Better still is swimming in the sweet, soft water. As I drift
past the planted edge, full of aquatic flowers, a little green frog plops into the water besides me. What natural companionship! For more information about technology at ZEGG: Sustainability and Ecology at the ZEGG Community, by Achim Ecker, price £4.95, is available from Permaculture Magazine’s Earth Repair Catalogue. It is reviewed on page 59 of this issue.
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