Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Word from the Polyculture Study 2017 - Update 2

It's been a warm and wonderful spring here and with the help of our amazing team of volunteers we've been making great progress in the gardens. We welcome Chris Mallorie, Abi Ryder and their son Ed to the team, and a short but sweet visit from Chris Kirby-Lambert who has been checking out the invertebrates in the gardens as part of our biodiversity study.

The Team 

So here's what we've been up to since the last post.

In the Market Garden 

The focus this week has been on planting out, taking advantage of the cooler weather and rainy periods that provide great conditions for new plants to settle in.

Tomato plants going in. This year we lost our tomato seedlings to windy weather so have purchased plants from the local market and neighbours 

This year we decided to grow the majority of our warm season crops in flats. The main reason for this decision was that during the last two seasons we experienced some prolonged cool and wet periods during the spring and many of our bean and squash seeds sown directly rotted in the ground. The results are pleasing so far, with the germination rates in the flats well above 70% and the monitoring process made easy by all the seedlings being in a concentrated area.

Beans, squash and corn started in flats ready for transplanting

Some crops such as turnips, swedes, parsnips, beetroots and carrots really don't appreciate being moved, so we sow these directly into the beds. Below you can see a strip of a bed cleared for sowing turnips that will benefit from the shade cast by the Paulownia tomentosa tree saplings. The Paulownia serve as "living shade umbrellas" and also provide good quantities of mulch for the beds, and being nitrogen fixers should not be competing with the crops.

Ares - Paulownia tomentosa grown as living umbrellas and mulch makers with Parsley on the left in the 2nd year, kept cut short to prohibit flowering. On the right of the Paulownia you can see a line of turnips just sown. We'll also add some dwarf beans into this polyculture at a later date.

Other crops such as kale, broccoli, kohlrabi and chard come out of their seedling beds and are transplanted into the main beds.  

Seedling bed - Crops are sown densely into 6 x 1.2 m bed undercover in March and transplanted into their permanent positions when they are approx 15-20 cm tall in May 
There is not too much produce coming out of the gardens in April. Garlics sown in November can be harvested green and are always a favorite, and our perennial vegetables do contribute a significant amount of produce for the home kitchens. Plants such as Asparagus - Aspargus officinalis , Garlic Chives - Allium TubersosumWalking Onions - Allium cepa proliferum,  Turkish Rocket - Bunias orientalis , Parsley - Petroselinum crispum (biennial) and local plants such as Heracleum sphondylium - Hogweed and Ficaria verna - Lesser Celandine (needs cooking otherwise poisonous) to name but a few are all reliable edibles from March onward.

We could have a lot more coming out by growing under tunnels but we don't do this for a number of reasons;
  • At the beginning of the season we are really busy in the bionursery sending plants out to customers and preparing plants for the following season.   
  • The wind seems to be very much against the idea and we don't have a suitably protected place to set up a tunnel (glass house is currently too expensive) 
  • Our market for vegetables is very small (but growing) and it does not make economic sense to invest in earlier production at the moment.
Saying that, as our customer base grows it seems almost inevitable that we will find a suitable spot to set up a few tunnels in the future.

Green Garlic and Parsley

In the Forest Garden 

Perennial Vegetable Polyculture Bed 

In order to step up the perennial vegetable production we established a new bed in the forest garden planting a combination of Asparagus, Chinese Chives and Strawberry. We'll add an Echinacea purpurea trim around the edge and a few Loganberry bushes in the near future.

Here's how we set up the bed:

  • First step we cut the existing vegetation down and piled it next to the bed for mulch. We wait until mid spring before cutting the existing vegetation especially if it consists of hollow stems used by beneficial insects to lay eggs in. This gives the eggs a chance to hatch and move on to do their work in the garden. 

Gabriele cutting the existing vegetation down to ground level with a machete, the perfect tool for the job. 

  • Next we forked over the area to relieve compaction and remove deep rooted plants that will easily grow through a mulch and following this we tilled the area with a Rototiller . We could have applied sheet mulch directly on top of the existing vegetation and planted in the autumn, but we had Asparagus seedlings that needed planting out so decided to go this route instead. There will probably be more weeding to do in the first year this way and we will loose some of the great natural soil structure, but it will recover by this time next year and this will be the last tilling this bed sees for a 1/4 of a century if not longer. The bed area is already quite fertile as it has been fallow for the previous 5 years with regular harvesting for hay, so we did not add any blanket application of compost. 
Area rototilled using a Honda Mantis handheld machine. It took around 2.5 hrs and 300 ml of fuel to clear the area . The large clods with roots were removed by hand as they quickly clog up the tiller. 

  • We then established the access and water channels which consist of paths/irrigation channels on either side of the bed and two keyhole paths in the wider sections of the bed. The bed is kinda pear shaped (literally). We are flood irrigating this bed using a diverted mountain stream that runs along the pathways. Capillary rise draws the water into bed and gravity draws the water down. With the keyhole paths in place we can expect thorough infiltration of water into the bed and around the roots of the plants.

Keyhole path ways to enable access into the center of the wider sections in the bed and to allow water to permeate into this wider section

  • Next step is planting out. The asparagus were spaced approx. 45 cm apart and Chinese chives were planted in between the asparagus on the south edge of the bed. We then placed strawberry runners among the asparagus, the idea being to provide a ground cover and bee fodder but I'm sure we'll get a few strawberries too :)  The shallow rooted strawberries (no more than 20 cm) should not compete with the deep rooted asparagus, the roots of which may reach depths of up to 2m. The garlic chives root in clumps around 30 - 40 cm deep. 
Chris planting out the Asparagus 

  • Finally we top dressed each asparagus and Chinese chive with 2L of compost, watered each plant well and mulched in between the plants. 
2L of compost added around the base of each plant, watered well and straw mulch applied 

All in all it took around 5 hrs for 4 of us to prepare and plant this bed and we can expect a supply of food for probably the next 25 years. With some weeding each year and irrigation applied during dry periods it seems like time well spent :)

Frost Damage in the Forest Garden

A cold snap in mid April caused some damage to fruit blossoms in the forest garden and to the new herbaceous growth on the Paulownia trees but it looks like many of the fruit trees had already been successfully pollinated and fertilised before the cold weather hit. Sub zero temperatures during the blossoming phase can destroy the sexual organs of the plants and destroy the pollen grains reducing fruit set considerably, and in some cases absolutely. Selecting cultivars that flower after the last expected frosts in your region can safeguard against this. We are growing early, mid and late flowering/fruiting cultivars of most of our fruit trees so each year regardless of weather anomalies we can be sure we have some fruit.

Necrotic patches on the Paulownia tomentosa caused by a cold snap in mid April. New leaves soon emerge and no serious damage is done.

Entomological Survey

It was a pleasure to be joined by Christopher  Kirby-Lambert in early May. Chris a self employed ecological surveyor has been looking at the range of the invertebrates we have in the garden mainly focusing on bees and beetles. 

Chris checking the sweep net.
We're hoping Chris will help us establish a methodology for a multi year survey to shed some light on how our garden practices are influencing biodiversity and vice-versa. Chris spent time surveying  our 4 year old market garden and the new perennial polyculture trial garden we started to develop this year - Ataraxia. We're looking forward to seeing the results.      

A selection of bees from the garden  

Comfrey 'Bocking 14' trials - The first cut of the season  

We are experimenting with growing  Comfrey 'Bocking 14' in the market garden for mulch and liquid fertiliser. Last year we started to weigh the annual harvest from our 13 m2 trial bed .

Graphical Representation of the Comfrey Trial Patch 

You can read about the last year's trials and the results here  and if you would like to find out how to set up a comfrey patch check out our post here.

The Comfrey Patch 

The first cut this year weighed in at 20.40 kg from 13m2. The results this year are taken from a sample of 14 plants, the average weight of one plant is calculated from the sample and multiplied by 42 (the total number of plants in the bed). This is a decrease from last year's 1st cut of 23.39 kg. The only fertility the bed has received since we began records is from grass trimmings and the leftover sludge from making comfrey tea (comfert).

Other Stuff

We've also been busy installing ponds in our new perennial polyculture trial garden as well as in Catherine Zanev's Permaculture Farm in North Bulgaria. You can read more about our pond installations in this blog post here.

Wildlife ponds - Balkan Ecology Project 
At the beginning of the year we completed a design for Teresa and Paulo in Portugal and you can read about that process and an overview of the design here

If you would like to find out more about our design process you can join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design Course coming up this June.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Regenerative Landscape Design for a 28 ha Site - Beja - Portugal

Last summer I was contacted by Teresa Silva and Paulo Matos who having purchased 28 ha (70 acres) of land in Beja, Portugal are looking towards establishing a regenerative enterprise/homestead on the property.

Tojiera Final Concept Design - Illustration by  

The brief was to analyse the site and identify the potential of the land for future regenerative development. As always it was a pleasure to be working with Georgi Pavlov - on this project.

Property Location in South Portugal 

During this blog I'll go through our broad design process and then present the design concept we came up with for this site.

Where to Start?  

The process starts with a conversation with Teresa and Paulo to gain an understanding of their circumstances and to establish their broad objectives. This is followed up with a questionnaire for them to complete in their own time in order to gather more details about the land and their lifestyle. This information is used as a starting point for deeper research and to clarify the design objectives. 

A lot of detailed information regarding climate soils and flora we desktop research. We order a digital terrain model of the site at 1-2 m resolution which provides an accurate representation of the topography. (see below for DTM suppliers) 

From the DTM we extracted slope, aspect, elevation, water flow and topography data and exported these to layers on Google Earth.  This is a great way to quickly overview the site and identify extremes in the landscape.

Data extracted from the DTM 

The next step is identifying the site potential for water harvesting, locating optimal locations for reservoirs/ponds and riparian zones and putting in place access routes within the landscape. The main vehicular access for this site was already well established so we stuck with the existing tracks or slightly modified/extended them. This results in a landscape divided into various zones. We then take each zone and analyse it further as separate unit of design.  

Below you'll find a list of these zones and a brief description of the potential cultivation practices or other uses we selected for them.

Broad site zones and potential design elements within those zones

Residential Zone

Teresa and Paulo already had plans for a house and the location selected and we added other elements into this zone based on their requirements for a kitchen garden, animal housing, recreational/learning areas and field crops.

House and Surroundings - The house, car parking, children's play area, outside kitchen, herb garden, decorative planting schemes, farm building to store tools/machinery/produce/materials and animal housing with space around the structure for material storage.

Fields - The fields can be used for biomass production for use as mulch within the orchard and market gardens, grain production and pasture for animals.

Forest Garden - A diverse mix of perennial plants that can provide fruits, nuts, herbs, medicine, materials, a place of relaxation and learning, and wildlife habitat.

Coppice - A semi wild area used for growing trees that can be used for firewood, fencing materials, garden supports etc

Living Fence - A hedge around the east and west boundaries of the area can provide privacy and security as well as habitat for wildlife and produce for the farm.

Ponds/Reservoirs - Water harvested from the roofs, tracks and surface runoff during storm events can be stored open in ponds or closed in tanks.

Kitchen/Market Garden - This area is suitable for a polytunnel, a greenhouse and raised beds for crop/mulch/fodder production. Fowl can be integrated into this area using mobile coops to fertilise the beds and build soil.

Orchard Zones

Another objective was to grow fruit crops for market and plans were already available from a local agronomist for monoculture almonds and pomegranates on a grid layout.

Guided by the topography of the site, we established a planting pattern that encourages an even distribution of rainfall (i.e surface runoff) across the site, reducing erosion and the occurrence of dry and wet areas.

On the left the Keyline Layout and  on the right an illustration of how tree rows would look on such a layout.

We selected a 6 m x 6 m planting scheme for the orchard in order to support  rootstock and cultivar selection that are less water needy, show higher resistance to pests and diseases and need less nutrient inputs whilst still providing high yields. A 6 m x 6 m layout also allows space for the inter planting of nitrogen fixing shrubs and pollination support species, and requires less water than a more intensive planting scheme.

Example of orchard planting scheme showing placement of nitrogen fixing shrubs and pollination support islands

Orchard Zone - Pomegranate

Primary Crop - Pomegranate Trees spaced at 6 x 6 with intercrop of nitrogen fixing shrubs planted between trees. 2 - 3 cultivars required for optimal production.

Intercrop - Nitrogen Fixing Shrubs for pruning, biomass N input, and pollinator attractant. For more on Nitrogen fixing species for agroforesrty systems see our previous post here 

Secondary Crop Citrus - Citrus trees share similar soil and nutrient requirements as pomegranates and can be planted in alternate rows (subject to production goals).

Pollination Support Islands - Wildflower island that encourage pollinating insects around the trees can be sown between the tree crops in every 10th row.

Remnant Olives - Old olives trees that match up with the planting pattern and do not obstruct the new layout can be left for beneficial habitat and diversity - up to 8 trees.

Alley Cropping Silvopasture - Poultry can free range in the orchard during the spring and autumn when herbaceous growth is lush to help control weeds and fertilise the trees. Concentrating the flocks in paddocks with electric fencing will encourage better weeding and fertility inputs.

Orchard Zone - Almonds

Primary Crop – Almond trees spaced at 6 x 6 with intercrop of nitrogen fixing shrubs planted between trees. 2 - 3 cultivars required for optimal production.

Secondary Crop Fig - Some of the rows can be planted with fig cultivars to break up the monoculture of peach and add a further crop to production.

- Nitrogen Fixing Shrubs for pruning biomass N input and pollinator attractant. For more on Nitrogen fixing species for agroforesrty systems see our previous post here 

Pollination Support Islands - Wildflower island that encourage pollinating insects around the trees can be sown between each tree every 10th row.

Remnant Olives - Old olives trees that match up with the planting pattern and do not obstruct the new layout can be left for beneficial habitat and diversity - up to 8 trees

Alley Cropping Silvopasture - Poultry can free range in the orchard during the spring and autumn when herbaceous growth is lush to help control weeds and fertilise the trees. Concentrating the flocks in paddocks with electric fencing will encourage better weeding and fertility results.

Riparian Zone

Biomass Production - Aquatic grasses grown for mulch for use in orchards and market garden.

Ponds - A series of stream fed wildlife ponds for general ecosystem support and biomass production.

The riparian zone on the site flanks an ephemeral stream    

Fowl - Geese and Ducks can be kept in this area.

Forestry - Wetland timber/biomass/fodder trees.

Beneficial Habitat - Habitat for pest predators, cover for nesting birds

Wild zone - Portion of land left to naturally succeed.

Managed Succession - Areas of the riparian zone can be managed in successional sequence to optimise the biodiversity associated with each successional stage.

Protected Zone

The areas highlighted below are natural Holm Oak Savannah typical of the region, and are protected zones. Grazing in the protected zones is permitted as is planting of new tree species.

Swales with crops - A series of swales can be established within the wild zones. The swales will better distribute rainfall surface runoff across the slopes, reducing the current erosion and can serve as planting zones to a number of native species that can be used for fodder to free ranging animals.

Apiculture - Native bee trees, shrubs and herbs that provide a succession of pollen and nectar can be planted along the swales to attract a range of pollinating insects that will also help pollinate the main orchard crops. There is also potential for honey production on the site once the plants have established.

Grazing Paddocks - Temporary paddocks can be established on a rotation cycle used for grazing animals. Swale plantations can focus on high value animal fodder crops.

Forestry - Drought tolerant timber/biomass/fodder trees can be planted to fill out the current savannah planting pattern of the protected zones.

Wild zone - Portion of land left to naturally succeed without disturbance.

Beneficial Habitat - Habitat for pest predators, cover for nesting birds.

Managed Succession - Areas of the protected zone can be managed in successional sequence to optimise the biodiversity associated with each successional stage.

Tracks and Boundaries

Tracks - Modify tracks to shed water into cultivation zones or avenue plantings to prevent erosion and increase plant productivity.

Living Fence - Hedging can be established along the non fenced boundaries of the site using drought tolerant native species.

Headlands - Tracks around and within the orchards to allow turning of machinery. 1m wide strips along the sides of the headlands can be sown with perennial herbs that provide nectar and pollen to pollinators.

Water Harvesting Channels - Where rainwater surface runoff is apparent, channels on the sides of the road can be made to divert this water to avenue trees or nearby crops.

Grassy Banks - Earth moved from the excavation of water channels can be used to build mounds that can be sown with native grasses (or allowed to naturally succeed). These mounds are used as nesting sites by a number of species of ground dwelling solitary bees that assist with pollination.

Avenue Trees - Drought tolerant, pioneer (nitrogen fixing) trees can be planted along the access tracks. Can be used for biomass, animal fodder, bee fodder and timber.

Tojiera Final Concept Design - Illustration by  

If you would like to find out more about our design process you can join us for our Regenerative Landscape Design Course coming up this June.

General Resources 

Here's a list of general resources available online that you can use for initial site analysis. 

Wind Data - Windy TV

Soil Data - Soil Grids 

Climate Data - 

Other Resources 

The Pioneering work of P.A. Yeomans 

Digital Terrian Model - Here's a list of companies that provide DTM. We can also provide DTMs and data extraction for most European countries  so if you are interested please send an email to - with a polygon of your site highlighted on Google Earth  and we'll provide you with a quote.

The Layout Process - Georgi has some great info on his face book page going through step by step the layout process and you can find a range of courses on his webpage

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 1

We've done a couple of pond installations recently, one for our new perennial polyculture trial garden (Ataraxia) and another for a permaculture farm/orchard I designed for Catherine Zanev and Adjmal Dullo from Venets Ltd.

Wildlife ponds in our gardens

I thought I'd write a post to share our experience and provide an overview of our pond design and installation process. In this post we'll look at locating a pond, pond design and pond digging and in a future post I'll write about lining, planting and landscaping the pond.


In both the recent ponds we dug we hired a machine and driver to carry out the dig. Previous ponds we've dug by hand. With some willing help a 6 x 4 x 1.5 m pond is very do-able and I'd estimate that  3-4 people with good tools would take about 8- 10 hrs on moderately light soils, probably longer in clay.

The Pond in the Paulownia Garden - dug by hands 

The recent ponds we made required 3 and 4 m depths and were larger in surface area so we opted for machines. For the pond in the new garden (Ataraxia) we used a mini digger and it took us approximately 7 hours to dig 10 m x 6 m x 3.5 m. The soil is sandy silt full with smooth boulders ranging in size from basketballs to tennis balls.  

Larzar and his mini-digger at work in the new perennial polyculture trial garden (Ataraxia)

For Catherine's pond we used a JCB excavator. I was planning to use a JCB back hoe but the excavator turned up and actually I was really pleased with the machine. Perhaps the front bucket on the back hoe would have cleared the top soil a little faster but the excavator made a great job excavating :)  It took around 5 hours to dig a 12 m x 6 m x 4 m hole, to level the 2 m wide pond walls, make a 30 m inlet swale and a 15 meter spillway. The soil is heavy clay.

The JCB excavator starting the dig at Catherine Zanev's permaculture farm  

So here's an overview of our design and installation process.

Pond Design and Installation Overview

Check the legalities and regulations of building a pond in your area. For ponds containing over 200 m3 of water and ponds on steep slopes with retaining walls that will bear a lot of weight, it's best to seek professional advice and guidance before you start.

Selecting a Location

Topography - Based on the topography of the site we select the optimal location for the ponds and work out the positions of the inlet (where the pond receives water) and outlet (the exit point for overflow from the pond).

Google earth  image of Ataraxia with 1 m contour intervals extracted from a Digital Terrain Map (DTM) DTM supplied by Geodetect, data extracted by

Pond placement in the north east corner of the site is the highest point of the site and provides opportunity to siphon water from the pond for irrigation. We have access to a stream that can be diverted from the N.E to fill the pond. The beds are placed more or less on contour to ease irrigation.     

Surroundings - The pond location will benefit from protection from strong winds and some shade (to reduce evaporation). Having lots of deciduous and fruiting trees around the pond will result in large quantities of leaf and fruit falling into the pond that can cause eutrophic conditions unless cleared, and digging a pond around established trees will also inevitably damage the roots of the trees.

What is the pond for?

Clarifying your objectives for having a pond is important and determines the shape and size of the design.

If you would like to encourage wildlife you will need to provide various depths within the pond to cater for a range of aquatic plants and you'll need a gentle slope for animals to enter and exit. Eventually, adding some features such as tree stumps or hollow rocks to the pond will provide hiding places for fish and other pond life and basking territory for amphibians.

The four categories of plants that should be present in a wildlife pond  Emergents (Marginal Plants) - Deep Marginals (Rooted Floating Plants) - Oxygenators (submerged plants) - Floaters (free floating plants) 

Installing a pond is probably the single most effective thing you can do in a garden to enhance biodiversity and wildlife and the majority of the wildlife that will be attracted to the pond will be of great benefit to your garden or farm, i.e pollinators and pest predators. For a wildlife pond a maximum depth of 1.3 - 1.5 m is adequate. At this depth most aquatic organisms including European carp -Cyprinus carpio can survive the winter.

Frogs and Toads are excellent predators of slugs and grubs in the vegetable garden 

If you need the pond for irrigation and do not have another source of water available it's best to dig deeper both to store more water and to moderate the water temperature to reduce the evaporation rates. Deep water stays cooler for longer and moderates the temperature of the surface water and water in the shallows that will warm much faster and evaporate quickly.

Sketching the Pond Design

I make a few simple drawings showing the boundaries and dimensions including an overhead view and a cross section of the width and length. This helps clarify how the pond will look and function. If using a hired machine/driver these sketches will also help communicate your vision.

The below sketches are for the pond we installed at Catherine Zanev's farm where the objective was to store rainwater from surface runoff during storm events for irrigation, but also to provide habitat for a range of wildlife and aquatic plants, hence we included shelves and beaches in the design.  

Overhead sketch
Cross section sketch 

Marking the shape of the pond and where the depth changes occur on the land also really helps.  A long rope works well for this as do stakes connected with string or spray paint.  

Installation Day

Pegging out - Get on site well before the machine arrives and mark clearly all relevant features of the pond such as the perimeter, the width of the wall, the path of the inlet and spillway, the locations of depth variation and the highest and lowest points of the land that the pond will be placed.

Me and Stoyan Georgiev pegging out the spillway using a transit level.

Planning  Soil Deposits
- Select an area where the top soil and excess sub soil can be stored. Most of the sub soil can be used for a wall on the lower section of the pond (if working on a slope) or as bank around the perimeter of the pond if working on level ground and your potential water source is higher than the wall height. In some cases you may have excess soil. Have a plan for where to put it and how you will get it there.

It's also worth planning the route for the machine to enter and work in to avoid soil compaction and damage as much as possible and to restrict this to as small a space as possible.

Communicate the plan - When the driver arrives explain exactly what you want to do and why you want to do it as clearly as possible before works begins. An experienced operator will most probably have a good understanding of the fundamentals and may be able to offer some advice so it's a good idea to invite the drivers opinion.

Remove Top Soil - First off remove the top soil from the pond area and from the area around the pond where the wall will be placed, The top soil is very valuable and can be used to dress the excavation at the end, helping to hasten revegetation. It can also be used in another area of the garden/farm.  

30- 40 cm  of top soil is removed and stored separately for later use 
Start digging from an outside edge and dig down to the deepest part of the pond to assess the soil profile and depth. It may be you have planned 4 m depth but hit bedrock after 3 m. Once you have established the depth you can start to distribute the sub soil to build up the lower sides of the pond. The excavator made a great job of compressing the various layers of soil that were piled up on the edges with the flat side of the bucket. A 2 m wide wall base is very secure for a pond of this size (12 m x 6 m x 4 m).

Sub soil used to build a 2m wide retaining wall 
Get the levels right  - If your water input is at ground level remember the highest level the pond water will reach will be no higher than the input source and once the pond fills to this level it will start to back flood.

An overflow route that will slowly disperse the water should be implemented.  For the above pond design we lowered a section in the wall to disperse overflow into a 16 m swale that runs just slightly off contour into the adjacent fields.

Having a transit level on site you can quickly check levels as you go to make sure the walls are high enough and that the overflow is where it should be.

We used the top soil to build a berm slight off contour to disperse any potential overflow water into the fields. 

Any earthworks that we are sure won't be disturbed in the near future we re-apply the top soil to and sow with a cover crop. In this case we used Trifolium repens - White Clover at a rate of 1.5g /m2 for the inlet and outlet swales.  

Trifolium repens - White Clover  

Following the dig, the deposited soil will sink and settle over the next few weeks. A few heavy rains will encourage the settling of the soil. After the soil has settled, we check the levels  again and make any necessary adjustments before lining the pond.

In a following post we'll look at liner options, how to install a liner, planting out the pond, landscaping the pond banks/earthworks and pond maintenance.

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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Polyculture Study 2017 - Starting the Growing Season - Update 1

After a long cold winter it's great to get started on the third year of our polyculture study and to welcome this year's team to the project.

Gabriele and Fergus are the first to join us, along with old friends Ute, Simon, Kartini, Marlene and Karl, who have purchased some land within an area we are working towards protecting. We've been pretty busy developing the new perennial polyculture garden, preparing the beds in the market garden and clearing plots for some new tree plantings.

Here's a review of what we've been up to in the market garden so far and in a future post I'll write about developments in the new trial gardens.

The Market Garden 

This year we'll be running three annual polycultures trials in the market garden, the usual Zeno, some changes to last year's Epictetus polyculture, and a variation on that theme called  Aurelius.

Produce from the gardens will be offered in veggie boxes from mid June - late November and we still have room for few more subscriptions. so if you are interested in a weekly fresh box of fruits and vegetables please send us an email.

Starting the Season - After the last harvest and end of season tidy up in November the market garden has been left to grow wild until the beginning of the new season in April. As you can see in the photo below a range of native plants establish on the beds providing some winter ground cover, excellent pollinator forage and a good supply of biomass that we chop and drop on the surface before applying the new mulch and plant out the crops.

The native plants on the edge of the beds are encouraged to grow throughout the year. They provide a partial buffer to the snails and slugs venturing in for our leafy crops, habitat to a range of ground dwelling invertebrates and a continual source of biomass as we mow them throughout the growing season and apply the trimmings to the surface.  

The annual beds have some excellent patches of native annuals providing early pollinator forage and habitat to a range of invertebrates.
Our first step of the new season is to take soil samples for lab analysis. It's encouraging to see Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) levels increasing and pH stable within the optimal range for vegetable production.  Even more encouraging is the jump in levels of P and K from the November analysis before any compost has been added to the beds and after harvesting over 330 kg of produce from the beds last year. See here for detailed report of last year's records.

Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
November (after final harvest)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20
Nitrogen mg/kgPhosphorous - Potassium mg/100g
March (before adding compost)pH (KCI)N03N NH4NP205K20

Soil analysis from March 2016 - March 2017  

A soil examination is used to assess observable properties of the soil. We use the Northern Rivers Soil Health card to do this and since records begun in 2015 we are seeing year on year improvements. See here for our records. The simple test looks at drainage, structure, soil biology, ground cover aggregate stability and more.

Gabriele and Fergus looking at the soil structure from one of 5 samples taken from the beds 

The next step is to get the beds ready for the incoming crops. First we apply a hand trowel (70-100 g) of wood ash (the remains of our winter fuel) per m2 of bed. You can read more about the benefits of wood ash in our previous blog post here. The beds are then lightly forked over to relieve compaction and remove any rhizomatous plants that may have established (such as nettles and mints) minimising the spreading of these plants in the cultivation zones. The rhizomatous plants go on a compost pile while all of the other local volunteer plants are cut at the base and applied as mulch to surface of the bed.

Forking over the beds to relieve compaction
Next we added compost to two of our beds, a wheelbarrow full is applied to the surface (approx 80L) of 3m2 of our beds i.e 26.5L /m2.

These beds will be used for two vegetable polycultures we are testing - Epictetus and Aurelius. The other four trial beds will host a polyculture we call Zeno. Two of the four beds will consist of the polyculture and two beds will be the same plants but planted in blocks (see below).

As there is still a thick mulch cover on the Zeno beds and the soil analysis shows high levels of  P and K, compost will be added to these beds when we plant out the crops as young transplants as opposed to blanket covering the entire beds with 20L per m2 as per usual.

We've had the tomato seedlings growing since late Feb inside the house under an LED grow lamp. It's good for keeping the seedlings upright indoors for initial stage before thinning and the 15 W lamp 50 cm by 50 cm can grow on 1000's of seedlings. The units cost around €25 each from ebay and has lasted 3 years so far without problems.

The first week of April we set up a hoop tunnel and transplanted the 4-6 cm high tomato seedlings. When they reach  15-20 cm in the hoop tunnel, around early May, we planned to plant them into their permanent positions. Unfortunately, I set the hoop tunnel up in the wrong place and an untimely wicked wind from the North flayed our plans and destroyed nearly all of the 450 or so tomato cultivars. So this year we'll be buying tomato transplants from the neighbours.  

Left - Right - Tomato seedlings under LED - Gabriele tilling the hoop tunnel bed before the seedlings go in - Fergus planting out the seedlings

The other crops such as beans and squash for the Zeno polyculture and control bed we'll grow in flats this year. In previous years we have sown in nests into the mulch but the cool and wet springs resulted in many of the Fabaceae (bean)  and Cucurbitaceae (squash) seeds (squash in particular don't tolerate heavy moisture) rotting in the ground, hence the change of plan.

Ute and Fergus filling the flats with a 50% compost 50% sand mix 
We're using flats with 28 cells of 70 x 70 x 80 mm per cell. Approximately 6 L of medium is needed to fill each tray. The medium we use is 50% compost 50% river sand which makes the trays quite heavy, but works really well for raising seeds and rearing on plants.

Many of our leafy crops were sown in a hoop tunnel in late March and will be planted into the beds when they reach 15-20 cm high. We're dense sowing a variety of salads directly into the beds for "cut and come again" greens and beetroots, swedes, parsnips and carrots as they don't appreciate transplanting.

Brassicacae hoop tunnel.

For a full list of annual crops we're growing in the gardens this years see below.

The Forest Garden 

The perennial plants are nearly all in leaf now and many are in flower. We've been topping up the mulch around the young trees including some new autumn plantings,  two Bulgarian cultivars of Apple 'Karastoyanka' and 'Aiviana' and two plum cultivars 'Angelino' and 'Santa Rosa'

A new nitrogen fixing element has been added to the forest garden Alnus cordata - Italian alder, that we'll be experimenting with on fast coppice cycles on one half of our irrigation swale.  Wild garlic has been planted into the Plum/Hazel thicket which hopefully will share the space with the existing Ivy, but provide a good spreading cover in the area during the spring in years to come.

Alnus cordata - Italian Alder 

The fruit trees in the gardens are all very busy reproducing and not at all shy about it either :)

Left to right - Peach - Plum - Crab Apple - Jap Quince and Pear 


Regenerative Landscape Design Course 

Annual Crop List for 2017

Latin name Common Name Familly
Tagetes erectaAfrican Marigold -AAsteraceae
Tagetes patula
French Marigold -A
Calendula officinalisPot Marigold Asteraceae
Helianthus anuussSunflowerAsteraceae
Lactuca sativaLettuceAsteraceae
Cucurbita pepoCourgette Zucchini
Cucurbita moschataSquash Waltham ButternutsCucurbitaceae
Cucurbita pepoSummer Squash
White Bush Scallop
Cucurbita pepoCourgette Zucchini
Black Beauty
Cucurbita pepoWinter Squash
Local Winter Squash
Phaseolus vulgarisFrench Climbing Bean
Cobra Beans
Phaseolus vulgarisFrench Climbing Bean
Hristo's Beans
Phaseolus coccineusRunner Bean
Phaseolus vulgarisDwarf Yellow Bean
Phaseolus vulgarisDwarf French Bean
Solanum lycopersicumRozava Magia Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumGolden Queen Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumBlack Krim Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumMixed Saved Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumBeaute Blanche Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumLocal Hierloom Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumTigerella Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumPaulina BG F1Solanaceae
Solanum lycopersicumMirabel -Yellow CherrySolanaceae
Capsicum frutescens ChilliSolanaceae
Ocimum basilciumSweet Genovese BasilLamiaceae
Pastinaca sativaParsnip
White Gem
Daucus carotaCarrots
Autumn King
Petroselinum crispumParsleyApiaceae
Anethum graveolensDillApiaceae
Apium graveolens var. rapaceumCeleriac
Giant Prague
Raphanus sativusRadishBrassicaceae
Raphanus sativusJapanese Radish
Mooli Minowase
Brassica napusKale - Borecole
Brassica napusKale - Borecole
Brassica oleracea Kohlrabi -
White Vienna
Brassica oleracea Kohlrabi
Purple Vienna
Brassica oleracea Broccoli
Romanesco Ottobrino
Brassica oleracea Broccoli
Eruca sativaRocket
Wild Rocket
Brassica junceaMustard
Red Giant
Brassica rapa subsp. rapaTurnip
Purple Top White Globe
Brassica rapa subsp. rapaTurnip
Milan White
Brassica napus subsp. rapiferaSwede
Beta vulgaris subsp. ciclaSwiss Chard
Rainbow Mix
Beta vulgarisBeetroot
Beta vulgarisBeetroot
Saved seed
Atriplex hortensisOrach
Saved seed
Allium cepaWhite Onion Amaryllidaceae
Allium sativumGarlic
Market Bulbs
Zea maysCorn
Zea maysCorn
Zea maysCorn
Popping Corn
Zea maysCorn