Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Contour Beds, Forest Garden Layers and Wildlife. Week 10 - The Polyculture Project

So here's what we've been up to last week :)

The summer is upon us and although June is actually the wettest month of the year in our region, its often very hot and the rain falls intensely in short bursts or storms as you can see in the below clip.

Surveying in Ataraxia 

We've had a productive week in the gardens with some surveying in Ataraxia to mark out irrigation channels and new beds that we'll be planting out in the Autumn. 

 Emilce using the transit level to find contour lines for the irrigation channels. 

Angela and Victoria measuring the perimeter of the area. We then pegged out the various contour lines within the area starting from the highest point and looked for a contour line every 50cm drop in elevation, i.e, we made a topographic survey of the plot with 50 cm contour interval.  

After pegging out a line we clear the large shrubs from the area that will be the raised bed.  In this particular case this contour line will serve as a guideline that we will offset from to make equal distances between the beds. The beds will be planted with perennial polycultures of trees, shrubs and herbs and the area between the beds - the alleys - will be 3m wide and planted with various ancient grains such as Einkorn.  

Daniel trimming down Rosa canina -  Dog Rose shrubs. We'll be using all the biomass we clear from the area, and more, to pile up on the bed area and build up a nice thick layer of organic material.    

The bed area is then cut down with a mower and ready for decompaction with the broad fork before we start piling on the organic matter. We'll start the decompaction after a heavy rain as the soils in this garden are quite solid, full of stones and difficult to work with when dry. 

Plants in the biomass trial beds planted in April are establishing well. Here are Mulberry saplings. This cultivar Morus alba - 'Kokuso 27' was bred specifically for biomass to feed silk worms.

And here's the Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 14' Comfrey patch. The first year it's best to leave the plants to establish and begin the cutting the following spring.  We've been measuring comfrey yields from a patch in market garden that you can read more about here.

The Market Garden

Victoria putting up nets along the Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree trees for the cucumbers planted in between.

Daniel broad forking over a raised bed in the market garden that we are leaving fallow this season. We've chopping and dropping the vegetation that comes up in the bed and also mulching it thickly with vegetation from the garden.

Thanks again to Gligans Broadforks for donating this excellent hand made tool to us. 

The Forest Garden

Late May early June the forest garden fruits start piling in 

Rubus idaeus cv. - Raspberry just get better every year. I've taken to pruning half of the canes down to ground level in Autumn and leaving half standing. The result is a nice early crop at the beginning of Spring from the unpruned canes and late crop in September from the pruned canes.

The cherry orchard is planted to provide cherries from late May to mid June and these late cherries, the last of the crop are sweet and crunchy and my personal favourites.  

on the left and Morus alba - White Mulberry  on the right

Ribes rubrum - Redcurrants in the under story of Alnus cordata - Italian Alder   

planted next to a tyre pond which you can see Typha latifolia - Bull rush stems growing up from. You can also see Humulus lupulus - Common Hop  climbing the shrub on the left  and some Raspberries creeping in from a nearby patch and a wonderful little Aglais io - European peacock posing for the snap.

Here's some labelled photos of polycultures in various layers of the forest garden. Click on the plant names for profiles of the species. All of these plants are available from our nursery (seeds or plants) 

Shrub Layer

Herb Layer

Lower Canopy

Wildlife in and around the Gardens

White Storks are common in the area and nest just a few hundred meters from Ataraxia, the trial Garden. These birds spend spring - autumn here but do their wintering in Africa from tropical Sub-Saharan Africa to as far south as South Africa, or on the Indian subcontinent. 

Here's Lucanus cervus, best-known as Stag Beetle that I found on the pathway but placed on our grape vines for a photo shot. I hope she didn't mind.  This fascinating species is threatened in Europe. I found this citizen scientist website,European Stag Beetle Monitoring Network, that is looking to know more about the population size and asking people to submit observational records. If you are interested you can find out more here.

We had an email from feedspot last week informing us that we're currently 25th in the top 40 Ecology Blogs and Websites on the planet to follow in 2018.  You can find the list here, there are some great projects on there.

We even got this medal :) 

 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.  


Saturday, 9 June 2018

Snake Eggs, Perennial Herbs, Polyculture Gardens. Week 9 - The Polyculture Project

It's been a productive week in the gardens with perfect growing conditions - some heavy rains in the afternoons and evenings, followed by bright and warm mornings. 

 We're splitting our time between the market garden and the new garden Ataraxia,  the perennial polyculture trial garden  and carrying out maintenance task such as mowing, weeding, some late herb and vegetable plantings and manually removing pest eggs such as Pieris brassicae - Large white. 

Daniel found what we think are most likely a clutch of Grass Snake - Natrix natrix eggs under the mulch in one of the beds. Great to see the garden is attracting these snakes. They are good pest predators in the gardens and keep the Marsh Frogs quiet! Eggs are laid in June and July. The female may lay up to 40 leathery matt-white eggs, often choosing compost and manure heaps and the eggs measure from 23-30 mm. The hatchlings emerge in autumn.  

Some of the snake eggs under the mulch (Daniel's hand for perspective)   

Over in the market garden , the vegetable polycultures are coming on well 

We're planting blocks of potatoes in trenches under sunflowers that we'll mound up as per traditional method. We have another block of potatoes we're growing in deep mulch     

A raised bed in the forest garden that we use for propagating hardwood cuttings from Red and Black Currants and for dense sowing of carrot seed. 

Perennial vegetable  Allium cepa proliferum - Tree Onion with bulbils growing on the tips. 

We went to see  Dimo from Wastenomore farm last week to have a look around his place, where he is predominantly making composts from the leftover material from the local lavender and rose oil industry and growing cultures of various EMs - Effective Microorganisms. You can find out more about Wastenomore here.

Perennial Herbs 

Levisticum officinale - Lovage makes a great companion plant and noted for attracting wildlife specifically Ichneumon wasps, which parasitize the larvae of herbivorous insects.   It likes it fairly moist, so we have it planted along irrigation channels among fruit trees and bushes. It's incredible how large these plants get, easily reaching 2m in height.

Sideritis scardica - Ironwort is flowering for the first time. This plant is endemic to the Balkan Peninsula, where it is found at high altitudes in rocky montane areas. It is under intense collection pressure from the wild, with increasing demand for its medicinal value. The plants has historically been a valuable medicinal plant. The name 'Sideritis' derives from the Greek word “sideros” meaning iron; in the ancient past, Sideritis was a generic reference for plants used to heal wounds caused by iron weapons during battles. It is also commonly used to make an excellent 'mountain tea (Mursalski Tea) and is rich in flavanoids, terpenes and essential oils, iridoids, coumarins, lignans and sterols.
To order this plant please contact us

Verbascum ( common name - mullein / velvet plant) is one of my favorite wild herbs around here. As well as perennial there are biennial and annual plants in this genus. It's a great plant for dry gardens and is very much appreciated by ornamental gardeners as well as herbalists. Mullein tea is a traditional treatment for respiratory problems, such as chest colds, bronchitis and asthma. Leaf poultices have been used in the past to treat bruises, tumors, rheumatic pains and Mullein flower oil (made by steeping the flowers in warm olive oil) also has been used for treating hemorrhoids, as well as earaches.

There are over 40 species of Verbascum in Bulgaria and 20 of these are protected according to THE BULGARIAN FLORA ONLINE. I've not attempted to identify species but I think even within species there is much variation in how the inflorescence looks. There are also a few mutated plants around such as the "Verbascum hand" pictured below.

 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.  


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

Starting this coming Thursday 14th June. Feeling spontaneous? Register here!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Forest Garden Fruits, Wildflowers and Secondary Succession. Week 8 - The Polyculture Project

Can't quite believe it's late spring already, with trees full of cherries and mulberries, and shrubs full of currants and raspberries - there is no denying it :)   

Last week we welcomed Daniel and Emilce to the project who have escaped the winter in Argentina to join us :)  It's quite an international polyculture project crew pictured above with Angela - South Africa,  Daniel - Austria, Emilce - Argentina, Elise - Holland and Victoria - Belarus :)     

The Perennial Polyculture Garden - Ataraxia 

Emilce and Daniel chop and dropping one year growth of a green manure trial we started last year where we were assessing the most suitable method for bed preparation. You can find out more about that trial here and we'll be publishing the results of that trial in the upcoming summer newsletter next month.  

Installing the pond in the garden last spring caused inevitable disruption to the soil and plant life in the area. It always amazes me how fast these systems repair and with what elegant grace and beauty they carry out the process of secondary succession. Just one year on the disturbed soil is teaming with a diversity of flowering annuals and establishing perennials that are attracting a wide range of flying and ground dwelling invertebrates among other wildlife. 

The dominant plant that has emerged this season is Orlaya grandiflora - White Lace (thanks Victoria for the ID) a beautiful annual that I assume the seed of which has been lying dormant is the subsoil awaiting a chance to resurface. The only wild processes that I can think of that would cause such a disturbance to expose these dormant seeds are a tree uprooting during a strong wind or a herd of wild boar tearing through the top soil.      

Si tu id aeficas, ei venient. Ager somnia - "If you build it, they will come" Pond life quickly moves in and around the pond.     

The pond overflow swale we made during last years Regenerative Landscape Design Course is also developing well with the Trifolium repens sown into the basin forming a dense blanket of cover and the new plantings including  Sideritis scardica - Ironwort Rubus × loganobaccus - LoganberryRubus idaeus cv. - RaspberryMorus alba - White Mulberry and  Ficus carica cv. - Fig  settling in well.

Sophie mowing the pathways between the raised beds. The pathway vegetation consists of the original plants that inhabited this field before we established the beds. We mow the paths every 1-2 weeks in the growing seasons and use the trimmings for mulch. They appear to be a great source of biomass but the cuttings should be composted before applying directly to the beds to avoid spreading seeds around.

The Forest Garden

In late spring the living larder that is the forest garden is starting to stock up well. 

Fig tree planted on the drip line of a mature cherry

Blackcurrant in the under story of a plum tree 

The Mulberry trees have started to ripen. We have two Morus alba - White Mulberry trees in the forest garden, one lives up to name with white sweet fruit when ripe as seen in the photo below. The  other ripens lavender purple. The tree with purple fruit is remarkable in that the fruiting period can extend all the way through to late July if we don't have too many windy days.  For more info on Mulberry tree see a previous blog post here.   

Nimble juvenile Homo sapiens Archie and his pal Kaloyan browsing cherries in the garden.  

I've mistakenly identified the below plant as Cytisus scoparius for many years but thanks to Daniel who joined us last week I learned that the round stemmed shrub is most probably Spartium junceum, commonly known as Spanish broom, a close relative to the other brooms in the genera Cytisus and Genista. Cytisus is distinguishable by the square stems. 

Just 2 weeks to go before our summer course. Feeling spontaneous? Register here!

 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.