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From dump to dapper

Former eyesore turned into fertile garden

Greg Cotovsky and Dave Byanski, both of Oregon, show off the pumpkin at Cotovsky's permaculture site on Sunset Drive in Polo. Photo by Vinde Wells
Greg Cotovsky and Dave Byanski, both of Oregon, show off the pumpkin at Cotovsky's permaculture site on Sunset Drive in Polo. Photo by Vinde Wells

POLO – Down along the railroad tracks at the north edge of town, an Oregon man is working to turn a former dumpsite into a fertile garden.

Greg Cotovsky, 42, is building a permaculture on two lots he bought earlier this year at 504 and 506 Sunset Drive.

Once a spot where the city discarded concrete and bricks, these days city workers bring wood chips and leaves to the site to help Cotovsky rebuild topsoil.

Neighbors also have chipped in with their leaves and grass clippings.

“It has been such a blessing to coordinate with the city to repurpose organic materials into rich soil,” Cotovsky said.

Permaculture is based on sustainable practices, utilizing the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. It involves working with, rather than against, nature, he said.

“Whatever we can do to be sustainable in our communities can help out environment.”

Cotovsky plans to grow plants for beauty and for food, and hopes eventually to rebuild the soil enough to support fruit trees. Just last week he planted several aronia berry bushes on a lower area of the property, which is fed by a natural spring.

All plants are chosen with an eye to what they can do for the soil and the rest of the ecosystem.

“My favorite ornamental is red bee balm,” Cotovsky said. “Not only is it beautiful, it also attracts hummingbirds by the dozens.”

The heavy clay soil in the area needs to be amended with organic material, and to that end, he has planted Russian comfrey and others to “chop and drop”: They will be cut and left to decay on the spot, thereby enriching the soil.

“Russian comfrey is a powerhouse for someone who’s trying to build the soil,” he said.

Cotovsky is already seeing results with an increase in fungi and earthworms.

Near the back of the property is large bin, a raised bed called a hugelkultur that is built in layers, starting with logs on the bottom and then grass clippings.

There Cotovsky plans to grow vining plants such as cucumbers, hops, and grapes.

Part of permaculture is using berms and swales to control the flow of water, and with a small wetland in the lower end of the property and two waterways running through it, Cotovsky sees great promise.

“Acquiring these properties is a great opportunity for someone like me,” he said. “The weather threw us some curve balls this year, however, permaculture is about turning problems into solutions. Each year it’s going to improve.”

Cotovsky did a similar project at his home in Oregon, which has been designated a conservation home.

In the 6 years they have worked on that project, he and his family have seen pleasing results: His wife, Jen, has identified an ever-increasing number of bird species, and their 7-year-old son is learning to identify plants.

His Polo neighbors have been supportive, supplying them with water, snacks, and encouragement while they’re working.

Carol Cox, across the street, has watched the project with interest.

“I think it’s exciting,” Cox said. “I can’t wait to see what it’s going to turn into.”

She first saw Cotovsky working from her kitchen window.

“He reminded me of a little boy whose dream had just come true,” she said.

“That’s how I feel about it,” Cotovsky replied with a chuckle.

Part of the appeal is the knowledge he gains as he works, he said.

“It’s a world of learning. Even if I learn a lot about one plant, there’s so much more to learn about companion plants.”

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