Sunday, 19 August 2018

Fastest Growing Trees in the Temperate Zone, Seed Harvesting and a Green Toad Gathering - Week 19 - The Polyculture Project

Another hot week in the gardens, too hot to start new projects but plenty of harvesting, watering and  seed collecting to be done. 


If you follow our project you will probably know that I like to name our gardens after concepts and terminology from the classical period of Ancient Greece or at least you may have noticed that the gardens have weird names :)  Ezekiel who joined us last week asked why the market garden did not have a such a name which prompted me to fix that, so from now on the market garden will be referred to as .........drum rolling .....  

Aponia - The Market Garden 


It's quite amazing how fast Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree can grow. We use these trees amid some of the vegetable beds to provide shade, biomass and the massive leaves make good temporary containers for small fruits and veg. When the trees get too big (within 3 years) we cut them and use them for fence posts or stakes. Multiple stems grow back from the stump the following year which we thin down to one and can grow tall enough by summer (around 1.5 m tall) to start providing shade to the crops again. We should have the cut the trees last year as they do consume considerable quantities of water. To get an idea of just how fast these trees grow, here is Victoria tying cucumber nets to the trees in June.  


4 weeks later and you can see the radial growth of the Paulownia stem has extended beyond the string. This will likely kill the tree above the string as the cambial layer of cells will be disrupted and minerals and water from the soil will not be able to relocate to the leaves, while the photosynthates (sugars) produced in the leaves will not be able to relocate to the roots.  You can see a dormant bud just below the string has emerged to take over the role of photosynthesis should the above leaves die. Our intention was to cut these trees to ground level this autumn so we will not remove the string this year but it's a good lesson to remember when using trees for structural support.       


We've been loving the Melothria scabra - Cucamelon this year. These are perennial plants but being sub tropical plants they will not survive the winter outdoors in our climate but you can bring them in and replant next season. They are also very easy to grow from seed and produce good crops in the first season 


Nice little crop of Cucamelons in a little biodegradable Paulowina leaf container :)   


An excellent companion to Cucamelons in a salad are these equally ridiculously miniature Currant Tomates. Ezekiel was telling me how these tomatoes are likely to have higher health benefits than larger tomatoes due to the higher quantity of skin you ingest. Tomato skins are full of lycopene, a phytochemical that provides red pigment and health benefits. Lycopene helps eliminate skin-aging free radicals caused by ultraviolet rays—in other words, protecting against sun damage  


The hot summer days are certainly no friend to the slugs and snails in the gardens. In order to survive a summer here they must find a suitably dark and moist place, not too far from a food source. Such a place appears to be the inside edges of plank framed raised beds that we use for dense sowing of crops such as carrots. We don't often use this types of raised beds as I prefer to grow wild plants around the edges of our beds but for a densely sowed bed they do have some benefits.      


Great to see Sagittaria sagittifolia - Arrowhead flowering in the pond. These are great plants to have in your wildlife pond providing dense lush green cover on the margins, beautiful flowers in the summer and like other aquatic plants they offer resting and sheltering places for aquatic insects like dragonflies and damselflies. Another benefit is that they produce good quantities of round edible tubers. I've not tried them yet but according to reports the taste is bland, with a starchy texture, similar to a potato but somewhat crunchier, even when cooked.


French and African Marigolds loving the summer it seems



Ataraxia - Perennial Polyculture Trial Garden 


We continue to prepare new planting zones in Ataraxia, this time we're experimenting with using plastics from our poly tunnels to kill off the vegetation during the hot summer. Ezekiel is scything the vegetation before laying the plastic and then we top with stones to prevent it from blowing away and let the sun do the rest. In the Autumn will scarify the bed and sow green manures such as Cereal Rye - Secale cereale, Einkorn - Triticum monococcum and White Clover - Trifolium repens. See here for more info on these green manures.


As we clear the vegetation for the incoming plants we removed a patch of Origanum vulgare - Pot Marjoram that we'll plant out in a new garden we'll be starting next spring, Eudaimonia (see below)



Eudaimonia - A Polinator Garden 


I've been keeping an eye on the local wild plants to see which ones are preferred by local pollinators and waiting for the seed to ripen so we can propagate these plants to include in the herb layer of our new pollinator garden Eudaimonia.





 For many of these herbaceous perennials summer is the time of year to harvest seed so we set out on a seed collection mission. 



This was an unusual find by Victoria who identified the plant as Medicago sativa ssp. varia. There are 17 species of Medicago in Bulgaria. 



3D impression of the garden. This garden is named by and dedicated to Fergus Webster who kindly made a generous donation to our project. Thanks again Fergus. 


Always go a little short of bowls this time of year :)



Seeds we harvested include the following 

Cotton Thistle - Onopordum acanthium
Globe-thistle - Echinops bannaticus
Hares Foot Clover - Trifolium arvense
Hemp-leaved hollyhock - Althaea cannabina
Lilac Sage -Salvia verticillata


Wildlife 


Every summer in the village, late at night you can find the streets peppered with these little beauties - the European green toad - Bufo viridis. Dylan came back home with this young specimen who I hope did not mind a quick photo shoot before re-joining the mob :). I believe the gathering is related to breeding.  They are probably the most beautiful toad in Europe and certainly useful pest predators in the gardens, dining on a variety of insects and invertebrates, mainly crickets, meal worms, small butterflies, earthworms, moths, beetles and caterpillars.   





If you would like to create a forest garden and 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 



 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. 


 





Sunday, 12 August 2018

Praying Mantids, Native Medicinal Plants and Garden Produce - Week 18 - The Polyculture Project


It's been a hot and dry week in the gardens - summer has finally shown up this year! We said our goodbyes to Daniel and Emilce last week - thanks so much for joining us and for all of your input into the gardens. We welcomed back Victoria and we're happy to be joined by Ezekiel.     


Always a pleasure to observe The European Praying Mantid - Mantis religiosa in the gardens. This is a young specimen no more than 4 cm long. This time of year through to late September you can find mantids in the garden but you have look quite hard as they are often on plants with similar colouration to their bodies. They are predators of many types of insects, including flies, moths, grasshoppers, crickets and aphids (when very young).  Mantids will also feed on some beneficial insect species and female Mantids will often eat the male after mating.



 I often find Mantid cocoons on the underside of rocks protected from the rain but warmed by the winter sun. These egg cases can hatch 100's of baby Mantids that have a voracious appetite for aphids. The cocoons are laid in the autumn will overwinter and hatch in the spring.  




The Market Garden 



Dylan is handling the Trustika food coop orders this year. Tuesday is delivery day and he heads down to the garden early to pick the orders.  


Vegetables from our veggie box posing for a quick photo before delivery to our customers 


Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry berries are ripe for picking. I prefer to use the berries in teas, juices or for baking as I find them somewhat astringent when eaten fresh.   



Medicago sativa - Alfalfa, also called lucerne flowering in the market. We sowed this patch 4 years ago into an odd triangular bed on the edge of the vegetable beds. They make a good mulch plant, are great animal fodder, very attractive to bees and the young shoots in spring are pretty tasty.  



 Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey planted along side the water channel. We've cut this row twice this season already. If you would like to find out more about how much comfrey biomass you can harvest check out our previous post here. 


Over at the volunteer house the apples trees are full this year. 


With all of the rain we've had throughout the last few months our rain water catchment reservoir at the volunteer house is full with water despite the fact that the roof guttering is broken and half of the water runs off the edges rather then into the drain pipes! Unlike the rest of our ponds this is a rectangular shaped reservoir and is not suitable for wildlife. We're going to try building a floating habitat island for this pond in the coming weeks to address this. For more on wildlife pond design see our previous post here.



Local Native Medicinal Plants 


I believe the species we have growing in the local woodlands and our forest garden, and photographed below, is Arum maculatum.  There are 5 species of Arum in Bulgaria. Arum spp. are well known for their thermogenesis i.e they can produce heat. The male plant produces salicylic acid triggering thermogenic reactions that can result in the temperature of the flower being higher by 15-25 C than the surrounding air. This phenomenon is one of two major pollination strategies that aim to attract potential pollinator like insects. The other strategy is releasing a very strong odour that attracts insects. The plants are fruiting at this time of year in the forest garden. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous but the plant has many medicinal properties. In Bulgaria the tubers have traditionally be used to treat haemorrhoids.


Interestingly, according to this report on the medicinal properties of Arum spp. the plant leaves are eaten fresh and cooked in Turkey.  




The ripening berries of Sambucus ebulus - Dwarf Elderberry. Toxic in large quantities but commonly used for medicinal purposes this plant has a long relationship with humans. Remains of pollen, seeds/fruits and charcoals have been found at a Bronze Age archaeological site in Tuscany, at a Neolithic site in the French Alps and here in Bulgaria at the Durankulak site on the Black Sea coast.It may have been a staple food in the past but most certainly would have undergone a culinary treatment to reduce its toxicity.



Eupatorium cannabinum - Hemp Agrimony grows wild around our way. The plant prefers moist soil and is often found beside streams and water channels in full sun to partial shade.  It's greatly loved by butterflies and moths. The genus name Eupatorium can be traced back to the ancient Greek king Mithridates Eupator (120-63 BC), who apparently was the first to use this plant as a medicine. Avicenna (980-1037), a Persian physician and philosopher, wrote about the uses of hemp agrimony as a medicinal plant. This herb also was used by others who practiced Arabic herbal medicine in the early Middle Ages, primarily as an invigorating tonic and detoxifying agent. The plant has been used as an herbal remedy for viral infections such as colds and flu. Additionally it has been used to treat high fever.




If you would like to create a forest garden and 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 



 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. 


 







Sunday, 5 August 2018

Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects, Bed Preparation Trials and Forest Garden Plants - Week 17 - The Polyculture Project


Following months of what I consider the perfect weather, sunshine in the mornings, rain in the afternoons, the return of sunshine in the evenings, we are now experiencing our regular summer, hot day after hot day -  not that I am complaining as this is the weather we need to ripen my favourite summer fruits, grapes, figs and peaches :) So here is what we've been up to in the gardens this week.   




The Polyculture Vegetable Garden 


The polyculture vegetable beds in the market garden are providing all the evidence we need to assure us that our regenerative landscape design strategies are working  i.e select climate compatible plants, locate the plants in the right position of your landscape, provide plenty of habitat for beneficial organisms, grow plenty of chop and drop biomass, and feed the soil with plenty of organic matter.


Some of the produce from the vegetable beds 


We're trying these currant tomatoes this year, they certainly provide a tasty little morsel 


One our staple Tomato cultivars is Tigerella. 



They reliably produce high yields year on year regardless of the weather and do not suffer from cracking that can be a problem with our tomatoes given the flood irrigation system we use. If you would like to know more about cracking in tomatoes including why it happens and what can be done to prevent it check our blog post here.

Cultivar 'Black Krim' shows high susceptibility to cracking both in green and ripe fruits  
We always inlcude Calendula and Marigold in our vegetable polycultures. The Calendula - Calendula officinalis self seed , the Marigolds - Tagetes patula and T.erecta  we sow with the Basil under cover in early April and plant out in mid May. 



Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects  


We have lots of wild areas that serve as beneficial habitat in the market garden. This a great way of preserving the wide diversity of local flora and keeping intact the food webs that have been working away long before we arrived. We generally leave wild areas that surround the vegetable beds and this works well as the cultivation bed area is quite small, but when the cultivation area is larger or there is no opportunity to have wild zones around the perimeter due to lack of space, what looks like a good alternative to me is  having wild patches within the cultivated areas . Here you can see a 3m section of our 24m long raised beds that was left fallow this year. An excellent variety of wild plants have established here and the area is teaming with insects.     


Ladybird Beetle - Coccinellidae are all over Heracleum sphondylium, commonly known as hogweed, a common weed in Europe and a much undervalued one by us humans. The plants are the Costa del Sol of the insect kingdom, attracting hordes of insects every summer. 


Wasps, Bees, and Hoeverflies are just a few of the insects that frequent the Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel  plants this time of year 


Sunflowers make a wonderful attractant for beneficial organisms. Being a member of the Asteracea family they are favoured by a number of bee species and if you don't mind sharing the seeds - many birds including sparrows, finches, robins and blackbirds.  Sunflowers seeds are packed with fat and protein and are rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin B, iron and potassium, essential for keeping birds and humans healthy. The birds will most likely dine on a few grubs whilst they are in the garden and are a vital part of pest control in our gardens.    



Dionysus is a new productive polyculture I have designed for our perennial polyculture trial garden. The herb layer for this polyculture consists of plants that attract a wide range of beneficial insects namely Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower - Levisticum officinale - Lovage - Sedem telephium - Orpine and Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel  the The plants can also be used for culinary purposes and have some excellent medicinal properties. All of the plants in this polyculture are available from our plant nursery this season.





We also have seed packs available from our online store for growing plants to attract beneficial insects. 

€25.50 including worldwide delivery



Forest Garden 


Our perennial vegetable polyculture is establishing well in the forest garden. This polyculture includes Allium tuberosum  - Garlic Chives around the south border, Asparagus officinalis - Asparagus throughout the bed and Fragaria x ananassa - Strawberry as ground cover. You can read more about this polyculture here in last year's blog post when we had just planted it out.


It's a sea of asparagus fronds in the perennial bed. We'll cut the fronds down to ground level in the winter. 



Elaeagnus angustifolia - Russian Olive grown from seed 7 years ago have fruited for the first time this year. Looking forward to fruit ripening sometime in September to October. Like all the plants in this genus, Oleaster has Nitrogen Fixing capabilities and when planted with fruit trees is said to increase the overall yield of the orchard by 10% whilst themselves producing a yield of berries. For more nitrogen fixing plants see here 


Rhus typhina -   Stag's horn sumach fruit. I've not tried the furry berries yet but have read many reports that they can be used to make a lemonade. They can stay on the tree right through the winter but are best to harvest late summer or early autumn. 



Prunus spinosa - Sloe fruits are abundant this year 



Sambucus ebulus - Dwarf Elderberry grows wild in various patches around Shipka. The Dwarf Elderberry is a herbaceous species of elder, growing only to a height of 1.2 m, making it an ideal candidate for the woodland garden, or as ground cover.  Its clusters of pretty white flowers attract a wide variety of wildlife and its leaves are widely used in herbal medicine. When ripe all of the berries are dark purple.




Ataraxia - Perennial Polyculture Trail Garden 


I finished writing up our trial, testing 5 methods to prepare beds for tree and shrub planting. You can find an overview of the trial and results here. We are trying some different APP methods for the next years plantings including spot mulching the area where the trees will be planted with bales', and using trimmings from the pathway to smother the vegetation between the bales and build up organic matter.   



This method was suggested by Daniel and entails laying clear plastic on the bed area during the hot summer months to burn the vegetation. We'll pull back the plastic in early September, scarify the surface and sow various cover crops on the bare earth.    


Found this beautiful Anthemis tinctoria - Yellow Camomile  in the perennial trial beds. Thank you Zuzana Spakova for identification.  According to the conspectus of Bulgarian Vascular Flora we have 24 species of Anthemis here.  




http://www.thepolycultureproject.com/store/c2/Grow_your_Own_Polyculture_.html
Grow your own permaculture polycultures -  seed, tubers, bulbs and cuttings

If you would like to create a forest garden and would like 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 



 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.