Thursday, 28 June 2018

Polyculture Vegetable Beds, Organisms in the garden and the Regenerative Landscape Design Course. Week 11 - The Polyculture Project

It's been a wet and wild June so far, here's an update on what we've been up to in market garden, forest garden and during our Regenerative Landscape Design Course.  

The Market Garden 

We've had the benefit of Victoria Bezhitashvili's close attention in the market garden this season where she has been cataloging the pests and diseases mainly in the vegetable beds but also on some of the perennial plants. We'll be publishing her report in the coming weeks, it's very interesting to learn of the number of organisms we share our produce with. Most of them are more or less harmless but categorized as pests and diseases as they can cause severe damage to crops.        

The vegetable polycultures are bearing their first yields with dwarf beans, beetroots and kale ready for the plate.

This time of year the Brassica or Cabbage Bug - Eurydema oleracea can eat a little more than they are welcome to. Around once per week this time of year we'll inspect the plants, gather up the unwelcome diners and commit genocide.. perhaps the least enjoyable aspects of keeping a garden.   

Some sort of weevil (Curculionidae), according to our invertebrate surveys by Chris Kirby Lambert are some of the most common beetles in our gardens. Although strict herbivores, they rarely cause significant damage to crops. 

Amaranth dominating the carrot seed bed 

The Forest Garden

A view in the forest garden. We encourage a diverse herb layer in the forest garden during the last 2 weeks of June (the wettest month in our climate). We'll cut 60 -70% of the herbaceous layer down and lift the biomass trees. This material will be used to mulch the productive plants or build new planting beds. The timing is important i.e, before the long dry summers we often experience here. Cutting back the plants not only reduces the competition for water during the dry season but when used as mulch will also prevent evaporation from the soil.         

The northern boundary of the forest garden is home to Castanea sativa - Sweet Chestnut with  Robinia pseudoacacia - Black Locust  nearby and Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  in the under story.  

Herb and Shrub layer often entangle in the forest garden. Here you can see a 

The Hazelnuts planted 2 years ago are filling nuts. These plants are are quite odd in that pollen is released from the male catkins in bursts across a 4- 6 week period in January - March. The pollen germinates as soon as it reaches a receptive flower but the fertilization process does not take place for another 4-5 months in June. Once fertilized the female flowers develop into nuts very rapidly with 90% growth occurring within 4 - 6 weeks.  Check out our  article The Amazing Hazel - The Essential Guide to Everything you need to know about Hazels for more about these fascinating plants 

A young Castanea sativa - Sweet Chestnut with its whole life ahead of it. These trees have been known to live for 2000 years !!

Regenerative Landscape Design Course

We had a great week with our guests on the Regenerative Landscape Design Course this June. Practicals included building an overflow swale for the pond, a wildlife pond in the perennial polyculture trial garden, a raised bed via sheet mulching, compost building and topography surveying.    

Chris arrived during the course to carry out the early summer invertebrate survey. You can just see him in the back right sweeping the hedgerow.

Inspecting the net after a sweep. You can see the results from last season's survey here  and check out Chris's website here.

Chris Kirby-Lambert

Thanks to everyone who came to the course, it was a pleasure to meet you. We're now looking forward to our next course in the Autumn. It's a 4 day hands on practical course where we'll be designing and building a 150 m2 forest garden from scratch (see below).

Would you like to learn how to design and build a forest garden? 

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.  


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

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.