Thursday, 24 May 2018

Cherry Heaven, Robinia Coppice and Irrigation Channels. Week 7 - The Polyculture Project

Another cool and cloudy week punctuated with intense sunny spells, my favourite type of weather in the gardens. This week we continued planting out the warm season crops such as tomatoes, squash and sweetcorn, cleared out the undergrowth in the Robinia pseudoacacia coppice, worked on the irrigation channels for the perennial polyculture trial garden and picked the first of the cherries.

We said goodbye to Malcolm this week - (thanks for joining us, Malcolm!) and welcomed Elise to the project.

The Gardens

Misty morning in the market garden. After the rains is a great time to chop and drop the vegetation building up a nice layer of water retentive organic matter before the long dry summers we usually have here. 

Below the walnut tree on the southern boundary we have a good shrub layer establishing including  Prunus insititia - Damson  and  Sambucus nigra  - Elderberry. It's common knowledge that walnuts produce a alleopathic chemical called juglone but in my experience there are few plants that seem to be negatively impacted by this. I started a list of plants that we or other growers have seen growing well with walnuts. You can find that list here 

Over at the volunteer house thDiospyros kaki - Japanese Persimmon is in flower. It looks like we will have a bumper crop of Persimmon this year.

The Orchard

We made our first visit to the orchard this year to catch the early cherries.

Angela and Victoria picking the early season cherries

We have not been mowing or grazing the orchard the last 3 years and native shrubs such as this Rosa canina - Dog Rose  are starting to establish among the grasses. I prefer to mow or graze and move these types of plants into the hedgerows,  as we see more diversity of flowering plants and insects in the orchard after cutting.   

Cydonia oblonga - Quince fruits forming 

The nuts are forming nicely on the young walnut trees in the orchard. 

The Coppice

Last year with the assistance of Chris Mallorie,  Fergus Webster and Gabriele Landi we started to fell some Robinia pseudoacacia in a small woodland plot.

We went back to the coppice last week and it was great to see the regrowth doing so well and the emergence of many more flowering plants and insects taking advantage of the extra light now available.  

Victoria cutting back the growth around the stools and thinning some of the smaller and bent regrowth in order to promote faster growth of the straight stems. We're planning on using the coppice sticks next year for tomato stakes. 

Here you can see the regrowth 3 weeks after the first cut last year and the regrowth approx 1 year later. The tallest regrowth stems were over 2m tall and approx 4- 5 cm diameter 

The Cornus sanguinea - Common Dogwood that grows in the understory of the woodland along with Hawthorn - Crateagus spp. are making the most of the light and flowering prolifically.

The herb layer is also a lot more active and colorful

Irrigation Channels

Victoria and Elise reshaping the irrigation channels for the perennial polyculture trial garden.

We divert some flow away from the main river into hand dug channels that pass through various plots of land before draining into our pond.

 The final stretch before entering the garden. This stream fills our pond but we also use a passive irrigation system diverting the water into contour paths that fill with water. We raise the water level in the paths by blocking the low points with sacks of sawdust. The sitting water is then drawn throughout the soil via capillary action.

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


Friday, 18 May 2018

Planting out and bird life in and around the gardens. Week 6 - The Polyculture Project

It's been the driest Spring I can recall  but we finally got some rain this week. Very refreshing and relieving and the perfect weather for planting out. 

Tomatoes , Beans, Squash and Tagetes planted into the raised beds on an overcast day. 

We did suffer some seedling losses in the cloches, the very hot and dry April combined with a few windy days seems to have taken it's toll on them.  Here's a tray of the survivors-  Climbing Bean 'Cobra' that we plant out on tripods as part of the Zeno Polyculture. 

For more info on Zeno a vegetable and herb polyculture illustrated below that includes Tomatoes, Basil, Beans, Squash and Tagetes see our previous post here 

My brother Pete and his family we're visiting this week.  Pete has been keeping records of bird life in and around the gardens. You can find his reports at the bottom of this post. 

Oecophora bractella is a species of gelechioid moth - photo by Peter Alfrey

The legless lizard, Slow worm - Anguis fragilis are great pest predators consuming slugs, snails, caterpillars and ants. Unfortunately the local cats are partial to hunting the Slow worms  -  Photo by Peter Alfrey

Hawfinch - Coccothraustes coccothraustes Photo by Peter Alfrey

 Red-backed shrike - Lanius collurio perched in a walnut tree. Every year these wonderful birds patrol the gardens on look out for grubs. They breed around the gardens and each year they bring their young into the market garden where they perch on the tomato stakes and train the young ones  in the arts of fly and grub catching.   Photo by Peter Alfrey

Fire salamander - Salamandra salamandra . We never see these in the gardens as they prefer the dense and cooler woodland of the mountains but at night time and on rainy days you can find them  walking along the forest tracks.   Photo by Peter Alfrey

The herb layer in the forest garden full of flowering grasses this time of year 

Here you can find the Shipka Area Bird List by Peter Alfrey on Scribd

Gingkobiloba!! we still have a few places available on our seven day course coming up in June.
For more info and registration click 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.  
  • You can also donate directly to our Polyculture Project via paypal, Bitcoin or Ethereum. See here for the rewards you will receive for your donation.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Vegetable Polycultures, Biodiversity Surveys and Plants. Week 5 - The Polyculture Project

Wow! can't believe how quick that week went. Here are some photos and news from the gardens this week :) 

Market Garden

We're continuing our polyculture trials in the Market Garden, and this year will be the 4th year of the study. You can find the results of previous year's studies here. The below image is the general garden layout which includes various vegetable and herb polycultures, and control beds where vegetables are planted in block sequences in a more traditional system.  You can find out more about the vegetable polycultures we grow here.

Angela placing the tomato stakes and bean tripods in the polyculture and control beds. We'll start to plant everything out next week.

We continue to experiment with our annual polyculture Epictetus.  Swede, parsnips and beetroot seedlings sown in strips are germinating, and we plan to plant out dwarf beans, kale and marigolds next week 

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An illustration of  Epictetus  It's basically a strip pattern of various vegetables from different plant families arranged to reduce pests and diseases, optimize space and nutrient share whilst respecting the individual plant needs for space and light.

In the home garden we're trying broad beans with garlic. Fabacea (Bean family) and Alliacae (Onion family) are not a recommended mix according to common companion planting knowledge, so far they appear quite friendly. 

Broad Beans and Garlic Companion Planting 

Forest Garden

Observed this week was Chicken of the woods - Laetiporus sp. growing from a fine old Damson Tree - Prunus insititia  in the hedgerow of the market garden. A choice edible mushroom and a very beautiful specimen. Last days for the Damson though.  

Lesser Celandine -  Ficaria verna flowering on the edge of the wildlife pond. 

The herb layer in the emerging forest garden  Melissa officinalis - Lemon balm in the foreground with  Allium schoenoprasum - Chives behind and Aronia melanocarpa - Black Chokeberry shrubs in the background.

Two favourite biomass plants Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey growing from the base of a  Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree stool. The four poles are last year growth. They reached over 2m in one season. 

Biodiversity Survey 

It was great to have Chris Kirby-Lambert back in town. Chris is working on the invertebrate diversity survey for the polyculture project. You can find the results of the May and June surveys from last year here

Chris Kirby-Lambert

Checking the sweep nets after sweeping the bed margins for invertebrates in Ataraxia - the perennial polyculture garden.   

Some  common invertebrates from the gardens

 The Bionursery 

An image here of Grape - Vitis vinifera cuttings taken in late winter of this year, buried 20 cm deep into a 50% river sand 50% sieved compost mix. Looks like a high strike rate this year. I take the cuttings at the same time I prune the vines. This 25 cm diameter 25 cm deep pot will take around 12 - 15 cuttings. Keep the mix moist like a wrung out sponge and 60 - 80 % of the cuttings should develop roots and be ready to plant out by the Autumn.   

I still can't get over the fact that Gingko biloba has been knocking around this planet for 100 million years or so !!  It would make a great exclamation - for example, upon seeing a plane crashing into a sky scraper - "Gin ko be lo ba"  or "oh my Gingko" or perhaps "for Biloba's sake" 

Gingkobiloba!! we still have a few places available on our seven day course coming up in June.
For more info and registration click here

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