Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Polyculture Market Garden Study - How productive can our landscapes be for man and other organisms

For 2015, we are delighted to be offering an educational experience with a difference. Last year, we conducted a study at our residential garden to gauge how productive a biological polyculture could be (read more here). We wish to expand upon this further by creating a team of 4 keen and enthusiastic people to participate in further research. We are focusing on the same topic - Productive polycultures, with an emphasis on market garden development (i.e. bringing good quality food to the market).

What are we doing ?

From March 20th - September 30th 2015 we'll be establishing a market garden consisting of annual herb and vegetable polycultures on a piece of abandoned agricultural land just outside our town. The garden will be a developed on a 350m2 area within a larger establishing forest garden (1800m2). We are aiming to produce food from this garden for local markets and buyer groups. We plan to record all aspects of the project including how long it takes to develop, maintain and manage, associated costs, the fertility requirements, the returns in produce weight and income derived from the sale of the produce.
Map and Photo by Huma 
The main questions we will be asking during our study are: 

How productive can polycultures be?
How economically viable are these small scale intensive systems?
How much time does it take to establish and manage a market garden?
What income you can expect to earn from such enterprises ?

Specifically we will be looking at setting up and running costs (in terms of finances and time) and outputs in terms of produce and income derived from sales.

We are also interested to see to how biological diversity relates to such systems. It's often reported that the services provided by biodiversity can save money and increase productivity, so we would like to understand to what degree our cultivation methods are affecting biodiversity and vice versa.

Our measure of biodiversity will be focused on invertebrate diversity and we will be working with a team of entomologists throughout the period that will be identifying invertebrate groups associating with the polycultures.



Why are we undertaking this study ?

It's our belief that the demand for locally produced, biologically cultivated food is on the increase, as is a general desire to promote and preserve biodiversity. As far as we understand, small scale biologically cultivated polyculture gardens seem a practical, accessible and realistic way of providing food for humans whilst preserving and promoting biological diversity in the environment. With what appears to us to be a high demand and low supply situation, why are there not more of these enterprises around? To shed some light on this issue we will be undertaking a multi-year study looking at the economics of running such a garden and how productive it can be in terms of yields, income and biodiversity.

Our Goals
  • To provide a unique and comprehensive learning experience to the participants of the programme 
  • To undertake a detailed study of our activity providing a valuable reference for anyone considering to develop a productive ecological enterprise 
  • To provide a template for further research that can be used by other interested parties 
  • To develop a functional market garden that is both productive and beneficial to wildlife 
This unique opportunity will provide you with valuable insight into what it takes to start a market garden from the start. Topics covered will include: Site design and implementation, plant propagation, polyculture management, record keeping, harvesting, irrigation, marketing and advertising and budgeting/financial planning.

For more details of the project activities click here

See here for the results of our polyculture studies from 2014 - 2016

Why should you take part ?

This will be an excellent learning opportunity and one that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Your efforts will be assisting us in establishing a garden we can use in the future as both an educational tool and a commercially productive landscape. Furthermore, our study will provide valuable data that is currently scarce concerning the productivity of polycultures, agroeco economics, and associated biodiversity dynamics that will be published online and available to all for future reference.

Where will you be?

The project is based in the town of Shipka on the foothills of the Central Balkan mountain range in the Rose Valley. An area of high biodiversity, beautiful countryside and historical sites of global, cultural and scientific significance. The project site is an abandoned piece of agricultural land on the western outskirts of the town.



You'll also be working and learning at our existing garden, a 9 year old residential property with a highly productive and well established forest garden composed of over 400 species of plants. Our central garden is a good example of small scale intensive ecological design and includes examples of rainwater harvesting, grey water reed beds, wildlife ponds, multiple composting facilities and hosts a small plant nursery. We practice various methods of biological vegetable production including guild planting and crop rotation, and rear pigs, chickens and rabbits from this property. 


What will you be doing?

As part of the study team you will be participating fully in the project which will include the following activities:-

  • Developing the site,
  • Propagating the crops 
  • Growing the polycultures 
  • Recording the results
  • Harvesting and preparing the produce for market.
  • Contributing to writing up the study and disseminating results.
  • Managing, studying and developing nearby beneficial habitats. 
  • Enjoying the rural mountainside location and learning from the rich biodiversity unique to this region 
For month by month activities of the process click here.

How to take part?

The programme will run from March 20th - September 30th. Ideally, participants will be able to commit to the project for the full duration of time. We understand it can be difficult to find long periods of time out, so this could be negotiable if the participant is well matched to the programme.

There are no fees related to the training and educational aspects of this study. We believe the valuable work participants will bring to the Balkan Ecology Project is a fair exchange for the educational experience they will receive. We are dedicated to teaching you the skills you need to make a success of this project, to be able to build a great market garden and produce a valuable analysis of the activity. We do not and have never received funding for our project and operate on limited finances. This being the case we will require participants of this project to cover their own living expenses.

We will provide a rented house in the town 5-10 minutes away from the project site. The house is basic but comfortable with wifi internet access.
Rent per month will cost 75 Euro (including bills). On top of this, we estimate living expenses to be around 130 Euro per month.
Purchasing food and cooking meals will be the participant's responsibility. Fruits and vegetables produced from the garden will be available for some of the period and high quality products such as eggs, milk, cheese, honey and meat are available from local producers.

Once we have received your registration we will contact you and arrange a Skype meeting to talk through the process and answer any questions that may arise. Following this, if you decide you would like to take part, the 75 Euro monthy rent for the duration of your stay should be paid to secure your place. Payment can be made via Paypal or bank transfer and is refundable until March 1st.

We intend to send our products to market and any income derived from the sales of produce will be used to cover the costs of the study i.e. entomological studies, soil samples, dissemination of results etc. Any excess income derived from sales will be used to provide a "scholarship" fund for future participants of the study.

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

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens  including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. Give a happy plant a happy home :) 


The Bionursery


http://www.thepolycultureproject.com/store/c2/Grow_your_Own_Polyculture_.html



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