Friday, 14 September 2018

Juicing, Seed Harvesting, Shifting Seasons - Week 22 - The Polyculture Project

There is a tinge of autumn in the air. Autumn is my second favorite season, my first being the spring. I love the spring for its vigour and perfect urgency and I love the autumn for its satisfied sense of completion. Summer and winter and pretty good too, but to me they are just the build ups :)



Forest Garden


Plenty of fruit on the Mespilus germanica - Medlar. Medlar are a very reliable fruit tree, never failing to produce fruits that ripen towards the end of October and into December. They are a great choice of fruit tree for many gardens, particularly small gardens, as they are self-fertile, so you only need one tree. They are also pretty much free of pests and diseases and do not requiring regular pruning beyond removing dead, diseased or overcrowded branches. 


The Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree we cut down 6 weeks ago is growing back fast with 6 shoots emerging and the tallest already reaching 70 cm. Summer time is not a great time to cut back the Paulownia as the soft herbaceaous regrowth does not have time to harden and will likely not survive the winter this year. I'll probably cut the regrowth back along with the surrounding Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey and use the material for sheet mulching a bed we are preparing for next spring planting. 


An old Pear tree in the forest garden has been host to fire blight over the last few years and the productivity has dropped noticeably. Fire blight is a contagious disease affecting apples, pears, and some other members of the family Rosaceae. The causal pathogen is the bacteria, Erwinia amylovora.


It's the time of year to harvest the seed and pod from Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper. The seeds eventually separate naturally leaving the dried red husk behind. If you put the dried material in a paper bag and shake vigorously you can speed up the separation.  The seed is pretty much flavorless so i don't see the point in using it but the husk is packed with flavor.  I normally just add the husks to a pepper grinder and grind it over any number of dishes. It makes an excellent spice but you should use it sparingly as it can be quite powerful. Its one of the 5 ingredients in Chinese Five Spice and used often in Szechuan cooking    


Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel still flowering in the forest garden. 



Aponia - Market Garden 


The warm temperatures can extend into late October in our climate and the vegetable garden can remain productive right up until the first hard frosts when all but the Brassica crops wither away. For now we still have reasonable harvests of basil, kale, chard, peas, tomatoes, beans and squash.




Ocimum basilicum - Basil on the brink of flowering. They always look their healthiest at this point and make the best tasting pesto :)    


Ezekiel, Victoria and Sophie checking for Cabbage White - Pieris brassicae eggs on the Brasica crops. Should be the last time of the season we check for these pest.  




Juicing 


We've been doing a fair bit of juicing this week. No, not injecting anabolic steroids into muscle, the other type of juicing, exerting intense pressure on fruits to extract the juice. It's been a great year for apples, probably the result of the wet and cool spring and early summer. We did not have the tool to crush the apples so we cored them and chopped them into quarters or smaller and pressed them.         


We tried crushing the apple pieces with a sledge hammer but it was not very effective.


The apple pieces go into the press  


We turn the press and the juice flows, well trickles, out of the bottom. 


Crushing the apples with a machine such as the one below is certainly something I would recommend as this method was very inefficient in extracting all of the juice.     



Nevertheless the apple juice was absolutely divine.



If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience take a look at our course coming up this Autumn. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Forest Garden Course 

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March





 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Sales from our nursery go towards supporting the project. You can find a variety of plants or seeds from our BioNursery here that you can purchase to build your own  productive bio-diverse gardens.  
  • Join us on one of our upcoming Courses and enjoy an educational adventure in rural Bulgaria where you'll be learning how to create regenerative landscapes producing food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity. 


 






Friday, 7 September 2018

Holidays - Week 21 - The Polyculture Project

We've all been travelling the last few weeks. Dylan and I headed North to look for plants and reptiles, Ezekiel headed South to the Rodopes to Beglika Festival and Victoria, Sophie and Archie headed East to the Black Sea.  Here's a few pics from our trip North.


Our first stop was to Catherine Zanev and Adjmal Dulloo's farm in Todorovo, North Bulgaria that you can read about in our previous blog - 5 ha Polyculture Farm Design - Suhi Dol Revisited.

The next stop was to the Danube River at Vetren  


The plant diversity in the transition between the forest and the river bank is incredible there.  




Dice snake - Natrix tessellata basking on drift wood 


Grass Snake - Natrix natrix on the hunt


Just slightly east of Vetren is the Srebarna Nature Reserve, a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. 


There is an off road track around the outside of the reserve suitable for cars with many places to stop and look out over the lake.  


This little fella joined us for coffee. I'm not sure of the species but it's probably a young Podarcis sp. - Wall Lizard 


The reserve is home to 139 plant species, 11 of them are in danger of extinction outside the territory of Srebarna. Areas of the water are full of Salvinia natans an annual floating aquatic fern. The nitrogen fixing floater Azolla filiculoides also grows here but I did not spot it. 


Another track on the western side of the reserve brings you down to the lake's edge. It's a very unique environment, like something out of the Never Ending Story as Dylan commented. 




Away from the Srebarna Reserve and off the riverside the majority of the land in this region is industrially farmed. It's certainly one on the least beautiful regions of Bulgaria that I've seen.   


I've known that  Glycyrrhiza echinata - Wild Liquorice grows wild here in Bulgaria but I have never seen it growing up until now. We stumbled across a large patch of it growing on the outskirts of Silistra.


Here is the Glycyrrhiza echinata - Wild Liquorice patch  Willow Salix spp. standing proudly on the Danube riverbank in the background.


On the way back North just outside Razgrad we come across this Paulownia Plantation. The trees were planted approx 3 m apart and it looks like the foresters are lifting the lower growth to promote tall single stemmed trees. I expect these are 3 year old trees.


We made a day trip to Veliko Turnovo before heading back to Shipka


While taking the above photo we heard a rustling in the twigs below and spotted this Hermann's tortoise Testudo hermanni  (could also be subspecies T. h. boettgeri)


Whilst in Veliko Turnovo we headed over to Tsarevets, a medieval fortress, to check out the outstanding views, the rock flora, and what with all of the rocks around it seemed like a great place for spotting reptiles. 




Dylan checking under some boulders. 


He spotted a few juvenile snakes that were too fast to identify and photograph .The Balkan Wall Lizards -  Podarcis tauricus were not so shy.




If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience take a look at our course coming up this Autumn. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Forest Garden Course 

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March





 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Sales from our nursery go towards supporting the project. You can find a variety of plants or seeds from our BioNursery here that you can purchase to build your own  productive bio-diverse gardens.  
  • Join us on one of our upcoming Courses and enjoy an educational adventure in rural Bulgaria where you'll be learning how to create regenerative landscapes producing food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity. 


 





Saturday, 1 September 2018

5 ha Polyculture Farm Design - Suhi Dol Revisited

Last week Dylan and I set off on a road trip to discover the flora and fauna of the North East of Bulgaria. Our first stop was to Catherine Zanev 's farm in Todorovo, North Bulgaria. As those of you familiar with our project may recall, this was a farm I designed in 2013. I had not visited the place for some time and was very excited to see how the plans had emerged into reality.    


Catherine's goals for the plot were to create a polyculture farm with focus on producing fruit for juicing, to include vegetable production for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme and to experiment with dye plants. The design was complete by 2015 and implementation began that year.    

The 5 ha polyculture plot Suhi Dol on the right, locally practiced intensive monoculture farming on the left  

The design concept for Suhi Dol was to create an agroforestry system of "Belts" that are comprised of mixed species fruit trees, soft fruits and nitrogen fixing shrubs planted in "Rows" under-storied with support plants, herbs and perennial vegetables. Between the rows are the "Alleys". The Alleys have potential to be used for growing hay, cereals, vegetables, herbs or rearing pasture raised poultry such as chickens or turkeys. Integrated throughout the belts and around the perimeter are various beneficial habitats to enhance biodiversity. The designed system is an elaboration of Alley Cropping and is based on tried and tested models of our small scale forest garden systems scaled up. 


Here is an illustration of the belt layout 




This is the overall site design from 2013 



Here are Catherine and her husband Adjmal in the middle of a belt sown with corn in the alleys, shrub rows of aronia and currants, and mixed fruit trees apple, plum, cherry and quince in the tree rows either side of them.  




The Plants 


The site is developing very well, the trees and shrubs are starting to produce fruits and a diversity of  vegetation has established in and around the alleys. 


This is a patch of dye plants (not sure of the species) that Catherine has been experimenting with in one of the alleys.



Catherine has also included Maize - Zea mays along with dye plant experiments in the alleys. Here you can see strips of Sulphur Cosmos - Cosmos sulphureus and annual that produces an orange-yellow dye, used in pre-Columbian America and later in southern Africa to dye wool, alongside Zea mays - Corn 


The fodder corn is growing well.


The Sulphur Cosmos - Cosmos sulphureus strip was full of Honey Bees - Apis mellifera


The  Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry and Chaenomeles speciosa - Jap. Quince in the shrubs row settled in very well and are producing good quantities of fruits.


Here you can see the polyculture tree rows with local native support plants in between. Catherine is growing more support plants for the inter row sections in a nursery garden in the village. 


The support species for the inter rows include 



A beneficial habitat feature such as a tyre pond, rock pile or early pollenizer polyculture is located in each belt. Here you can see a rock pile. Amphibians and reptiles such as toads, frogs, lizards, slow worms and snakes will benefit from rock piles providing shelter and basking areas. Dylan a keen "herper" who was with me during the visit mentioned that dark rocks would be preferred by the reptiles when basking as they provide better camouflage from predators such as eagles flying above.     


Apples are looking great 


Quince doing marvellously  


Irrigation and Ponds 


The middle pond was installed in the spring of 2017. The pond was located in an area to maximize the rainwater runoff collection and filled well this year. This summer the water has been pumped out to irrigate the establishing trees and shrubs via a drip irrigation system. This is a temporary measure until the upper reservoir and barn water catchment is complete. The plan is to integrate a range of aquatic plants into this pond and use it as back up for irrigation when needed.   You can find out more about this pond installation in our previous post - Small Pond Installations for Irrigation and Wildlife - Part 1


The Farm Building 


Catherine included a polycarbonate section of the farm barn roof, the plan being to cover the sides of this section with greenhouse plastic for use as a green house which is an excellent idea. The farm barn roof will also serve as a rainwater catchment and should harvest approx. 121 m3 = 121000 L of rainwater each year that will drain into the upper reservoir to the east of the building.



The Nursery Garden 


Their house garden in the village is serving as a nursery for the dye plants and support plants for the farm as well as vegetable production and a processing hub. 


Catherine has been using Grease Wool (Wool as it is shorn from the sheep, before any processing) to mulch the nursery plants and vegetables in the garden. It's working very well and forms a dense weed suppressing mat permeable to both water and air and adds to the soil fertility over time as it decomposes.


Bunias orientalis - Turkish Rocket growing in the nursery garden.


It is such a great pleasure to see all of those thoughts during the design phase come to life on the ground and to witness the pioneering spirit of Catherine working through all of the obstacles to make it happen.  

I continue to work with Catherine on her other sites in the region and I'm looking forward to returning to Bostan Bair this week where we are looking to expand on the implementation of a 80 ha concept design myself and Georgi Pavlov worked on in 2015

Regenerative Landscape Design - Bostan Bair - Illustration by Georgi Pavlov

If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience take a look at our course coming up this Autumn. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers and making a small wildlife pond. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly. 

Forest Garden Course 

We offer a range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens from our plant nursery including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. Delivery to all over Europe available from Nov - March





 If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Sales from our nursery go towards supporting the project. You can find a variety of plants or seeds from our BioNursery here that you can purchase to build your own  productive bio-diverse gardens.  
  • Join us on one of our upcoming Courses and enjoy an educational adventure in rural Bulgaria where you'll be learning how to create regenerative landscapes producing food and other resources while enhancing biodiversity.