Sunday, 7 October 2018

Perennial Vegetables, Late Flowering Herbs and Autumn Leaves - The Polyculture Project

The polyculture study 2018 is over for the year but we are still active in the gardens during the autumn so I thought I'd continue the blog post updates on what we're up to.



Aponia - The Market Garden 


We've had the first few overnight frosts in the gardens and this usually kills off the sub-tropical vegetables such as tomatoes, basil and squash, but the cold hardy vegetables continue to grow well. The broccoli really enjoy the autumn weather and should start to flower within the next month or so. Parsnips, carrots and kale are also unaffected by the cold nights and will continue to grow given warm day time temperatures that we often experience here. The misty mornings are a welcome change to the oppressive dry heat of the summer.   



The last of the courgettes, the first of the parsnips and butternut squash picked for the veggie boxes this week. We're also including walnuts, artichokes, apples, grapes, kale and parsley. 


Our perennial vegetable bed, a polyculture of Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry  ground cover, Allium tuberosum  - Garlic Chives on the borders and main crop of  Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus has established very well this year and will be ready for the first of many harvests next spring. The feather like foliage of the Asparagus looks enchanting with the morning dew.  


Adjacent to the perennial vegetable bed we are growing a strip of Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus. These plants provide excellent wind protection and are a great source of biomass. We planted most of these from rhizomes last year and they have already reached over 2 m height in growth. Next year we will start to cut them regularly to provide mulch to the Asparagus plants.  




This is one of our White Mulberry cultivars planted in the spring. These cultivars have unusually large leaves having been bred for the sericulture industry. You can find out more about these amazing plants in our previous blog - Mo' Mulberry - The Essential Guide to all you need to know about Mulberry



Mulberry Cultivars

Although the Market Garden is well sheltered from the wind by the surround trees to the north of the site, our 9 year old Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree has shot up the last few years above the surrounding tree canopies and was promptly felled by the wind during a stormy night last week.   

Misty morning in the forest garden 



Wildlife In the Gardens


 Dylan found these juvenile Podarcis muralis - Common Wall Lizard.  These are primarily insectivorous lizards and from birth will seek out and feed upon insects such as crickets. They prefer rocky environments, including urban settings, where they can scurry between rock, rubble, debris and buildings. We have a number of rock piles around the gardens that these lizards take advantage of.



Ataraxia - Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden   


The Autumn color change is occurring a little faster in Ataraxia then in the Aponia and the home gardens and this due to the fact that the site is more exposed. Changes to daylight hours and the temperature in the Autumn trigger the plant to stop food-making processes in the leaves. The green chlorophyll cells, mainly responsible for the food making processes, break down and the green color disappears leaving the yellow/orange/red pigments to become visible. Plants, being incredibly efficient and very adverse to waste, extract many of the nutrients in the leaves before they are shed.  Here you can see the trees at higher altitude on the mountain tops already well into the transition and the plants around the Ataraxia starting to change color. If we don't have any strong winds within the next few weeks it's going to be a great spectacle.   


The Crataegus sp. Hawthorn in the hedgerows are full of fruit this year. These are edible but quite fiddly to eat and not particularly tasty. They provide an excellent source of food over winter for a number of bird species.   


One of my favorite local herbs is Origanum vulgare - Pot Marjoram. The flowering is still going strong as we approach mid autumn and these plants make an excellent late pollen/nectar provider to bees and other pollinators. 


Great to see Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia Creeper making its way up the fence around the pond. We planted this in the spring with the aim being to soften the metal fence and provide some shade around the pond edges to reduce evaporation during the summer. These plants take a few years to get going but can quickly cover vasts area once they settle in. This Autumn we'll planting three Vitis vinifera cv. - Grape  vines on the fence on the other side of the pond where it is more accessible, along with a few Actinidia arguta  - Hardy Kiwi plants.


 Dylan, Archie and I have been clearing the area where we will be building a forest garden next month during our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course:1-4 Nov. It's approx 150 m2 area we will be working on that should host up 60 productive plants when fully planted -  really looking forward to this course! We still have 4 places available, should you be feeling spontaneous you can Register here.


   
If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands on experience you can join us 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.



 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. 


 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The End of the Polyculture Study 2018, Aquatic Plant Propagation and Nut Harvest . Week 24 - The Polyculture Project

The Polyculture Study 2018 has now officially come to a close for the year, and we will be publishing the annual report and results by December.  Once again we have been supported by a truly amazing team of people, without whom, the study would simply not be possible. This year we have been able to work on two trials across two gardens, as well as developing a plan for a new garden Eudaimonia that we'll establish next year. So, our heartfelt thanks go out to ;Victoria Bezhitashvili, Angela Rice, Malcolm Cannon, Elise Bijl, Alex Camilleri, Daniel Stradner, Emilce Nonquepan and Ezekiel Orba.

You can find a Slideshow of the season here



Registration is open for next years study, so if you would like to join us visit here to find out more and to register

The Polyculture Study

So here are some photos of what we've been up to in the gardens these last weeks,

Forest Garden


Fruits in the Autumn light are one of my favourite spectacles in the gardens. These Mespilus germanica - Medlar  will be ready to eat by the end of November. These along with Diospyros kaki - Japanese Persimmon are great winter fruits.


The Castanea sativa - Sweet Chestnut are excellent this year with plenty of triple nut husks. My neighbour informed me a few years back that if you want to grow Sweet Chestnut from seed you should wait for a bumper year when the tree is full of triple nut husks and select the middle nuts for sowing. These will produce the finest trees, according to Kiril, and I must say his trees are some of the best I've seen. The seedlings I reared using this method a few years ago are doing pretty well. As a side note, all sweet chestnut seeds should be sown when ripe. If you let them dry out they will not germinate.   




Here we have an old apple tree with Hazelnut - Corylus avellana 'Tonda Gentile'  in the under story. The hazel harvest is over now but even in the partial shade of the old Apple this three year old shrub is starting to produce some good quality nuts.  The old apple tree is one of my favorite producing delicious red juicy apples in late November. Unfortunately I do not know the cultivar.   


It's been a great year for Juglans regia - Persian Walnut  which is surprising given how wet the summer was this year. Usually wet summers encourage Walnut blight (a bacterium Xanthomonas sp.) For more info on Walnuts check out our previous blog The Essential Guide to Everything you Need to Know about Growing Walnuts - Juglans regia



We planted a few Juglans nigra - Black Walnut  in the gardens this year. Black walnuts have incredibly hard shells but are worth the extra effort so we're looking forward to trying those in a few years time. 


I found this wonderful Wolf Spider - Lycosidae while shoveling compost. These spiders are unique in the way that they carry their eggs. The egg sac as seen below is a silken globe attached to the spinnerets at the end of the abdomen, allowing the spider to carry her unborn young with her.


Biomass plants

One year old  Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree and Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus   grown from a rhizome last year in the garden beds. You can see why these plants are great for biomass production. To get a sense of the growth rate, the wooden stake you can see on the bottom right is at least 1 m tall. The Miscanthus x giganteus - Giant Miscanthus makes a pretty good low windbreak too, I'll see how well it maintains wind protection during the winter.  





Aquatic Plants 


I like to propagate aquatic plants in the Autumn, there is not really an optimal time to propgate these plants but I find them easy to deal with when they are larger with plenty of shoot growth. We are using the plants from our existing ponds to populate 2 new ponds. You only need a few plants to start off with as aquatic plants tend to grow very fast, and quickly fill out. In fact removing a 1/3 of the plants is necessary after a few years otherwise they can form a complete blanket cover in the water body. The aquatic plant biomass makes excellent mulch even when they are full of seed (the seed will not germinate in terrestrial habitat) For more on plants that are great for producing mulch check out our previous blog - How to grow your own mulch



Sagittaria sagittifolia - Arrowhead is a flowering plant in the family Alismataceae, native to wetlands in most of Europe from Ireland and Portugal to Finland and Bulgaria. These plants are extremely easy to propagate this time of year and you can also harvest the tubers which can be cooked and taste a little like potatoes but crunchier.


Sagittaria sagittifolia - Arrowhead are great for providing a later source of nectar/pollen for bees and other pollinators flowering right through September. 


I also divided the Typha latifolia commonly know as Bull rush clumps for relocation to our pond in Ataraxia. Another edible aquatic plant that has several edible parts that can be harvested for food during any season. I found this great web page about the edibility and other uses of this amazing plant  



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.


 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, 28 September 2018

Broadscale Regenerative Design, Entomology Surveys and Micro climate - Week 23 - The Polyculture Project

I'm a  few weeks behind on the blog as I've busy on designs and preparing for our upcoming Design and Build a Forest Garden Course:1-4 Nov . Better late than never I hear, so here is an update from the project.



We said goodbye to Ezekiel this week, at age 19 he is youngest person to have participated in the study. Thank's for your help Ezekiel, it was pleasure hosting you here. Here's Ezekiel coming back from a trek up in the mountains where we found a skull of a stag.



The Bio nursery 


We're coming to the final weeks of the polyculture study and market garden work for this year and our attention starts to turn towards the nursery. 



In the nursery we aim to offer our customers not just plants but plant communities that can form healthy ecosystems for farms and gardens and that provide nutritious food while enhancing biodiversity. We grow and distribute the majority of the beautiful and interesting plants you can find in our nursery often collecting seeds native to the Balkan region as well as exotic species from all over the world. We nurture the plants in our forest gardens and rear them on various types of biological composts made on site. We use polyculture planting schemes in the nursery to repel pests and ensure pathogen-free plants. We don't use commercial chemicals or practice any methods harmful to the environment and as a result, our plants are more resilient and better prepared for a life outside the nursery setting. We strive to keep the bulk of our stock 100% biological but some of our plants are sourced from partner nurseries, in particular the fruit and nut cultivars. 


You can find our range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens here. We delivery to all over Europe and start deliveries in Late Nov - Late March. We have a limited supply so it's best to order now and reserve your plants



Broadscale Regenerative Design - Bostan Bair 80ha  


Last week I made a site visit to Bostan Bair, Catherine Zanev's 80 ha site to continue the regenerative  design of this property. The below photo is taken on the ridge of a hill that runs across the center of the property and is looking south to the lowland area of the site. The site is currently composed of an organic cherry orchard, a silvopastoral field for free ranging poultry, a silvoarable field for growing poultry feed, cultivated fields for growing  Einkorn wheat - Triticum boeoticum, a legacy plum orchard and steep ridge that runs across the center of the site populated with wild native trees shrubs and herbs. The old plum orchard and cultivated fields will be transitioned over to more agroforesty in the coming years.  


Myself and Georgi Pavlov made a concept design for the property in 2015 that you can see below. Some changes have been made to the concept design including the addition of a certified organic cherry orchard designed by  The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).




The organic cherry orchard was planted in the spring of 2017 and includes various cultivars of cherry on dwarf root stock planted in rows with legume cover grown in the alleys.  



This silvopastoral system includes rows  Corylus avellana - Hazelnut Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry with Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree with 10 m wide  alleys for free ranging poultry. I'm designing the poultry system at the moment. 




Here you can see Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree  in the foreground with the Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  and Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry behind. These were planted this year and drip irrigation lines are currently being installed.

Here is a panoramic view from the hill that runs along the center of the property. It's a beautiful location. 




Entomology Survey 


Christopher  Kirby-Lambert has been back to complete the final invertebrate survey of the year.  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. 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.  You can see the results from last season's survey here and check out Chris's website here.


Thank you to everyone that has already donated to our polyculture study crowdfunder. Your donations are what make it possible for us to fund these surveys. You can find our more about our crowd funder here.


The Market Garden


It's amazing how much difference a micro climate can have on a plants growth. In this case I'm referring to a slightly depressed area of our market garden where 5 m in distance and 50 cm in elevation makes all the difference. These Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree trees were all planted at the same time (2 years ago) The tree in the foreground is positioned approx 50 cm higher than the tree at the end of the row. and approx. 5 m away. The tree at the end of the row is planted around the lowest section on this garden and as such the cold air tends to sink in this area before draining away into the fields below.


 The tree at the end in the depression is regularly hit by frosts in the early spring and late autumn and the stress from this reduces it's growth rate significantly.  You can see quite how drastic the effect is when you compare the trunk width of the trees. The photo was taken at the same height of each plant and at equal distance from the camera lens. 



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.


 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.