Friday, 28 September 2018

Broadscale Regenerative Design, Entomology Surveys and Micro climate - Week 23 - The Polyculture Project

I'm a  few weeks behind on the blog as I've busy on designs and preparing for our upcoming Design and Build a Forest Garden Course:1-4 Nov . Better late than never I hear, so here is an update from the project.



We said goodbye to Ezekiel this week, at age 19 he is youngest person to have participated in the study. Thank's for your help Ezekiel, it was pleasure hosting you here. Here's Ezekiel coming back from a trek up in the mountains where we found a skull of a stag.



The Bio nursery 


We're coming to the final weeks of the polyculture study and market garden work for this year and our attention starts to turn towards the nursery. 



In the nursery we aim to offer our customers not just plants but plant communities that can form healthy ecosystems for farms and gardens and that provide nutritious food while enhancing biodiversity. We grow and distribute the majority of the beautiful and interesting plants you can find in our nursery often collecting seeds native to the Balkan region as well as exotic species from all over the world. We nurture the plants in our forest gardens and rear them on various types of biological composts made on site. We use polyculture planting schemes in the nursery to repel pests and ensure pathogen-free plants. We don't use commercial chemicals or practice any methods harmful to the environment and as a result, our plants are more resilient and better prepared for a life outside the nursery setting. We strive to keep the bulk of our stock 100% biological but some of our plants are sourced from partner nurseries, in particular the fruit and nut cultivars. 


You can find our range of plants and seeds for permaculture and forest gardens here. We delivery to all over Europe and start deliveries in Late Nov - Late March. We have a limited supply so it's best to order now and reserve your plants



Broadscale Regenerative Design - Bostan Bair 80ha  


Last week I made a site visit to Bostan Bair, Catherine Zanev's 80 ha site to continue the regenerative  design of this property. The below photo is taken on the ridge of a hill that runs across the center of the property and is looking south to the lowland area of the site. The site is currently composed of an organic cherry orchard, a silvopastoral field for free ranging poultry, a silvoarable field for growing poultry feed, cultivated fields for growing  Einkorn wheat - Triticum boeoticum, a legacy plum orchard and steep ridge that runs across the center of the site populated with wild native trees shrubs and herbs. The old plum orchard and cultivated fields will be transitioned over to more agroforesty in the coming years.  


Myself and Georgi Pavlov made a concept design for the property in 2015 that you can see below. Some changes have been made to the concept design including the addition of a certified organic cherry orchard designed by  The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).




The organic cherry orchard was planted in the spring of 2017 and includes various cultivars of cherry on dwarf root stock planted in rows with legume cover grown in the alleys.  



This silvopastoral system includes rows  Corylus avellana - Hazelnut Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry with Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree with 10 m wide  alleys for free ranging poultry. I'm designing the poultry system at the moment. 




Here you can see Caragana arborescens - Siberian Pea Tree  in the foreground with the Corylus avellana - Hazelnut  and Prunus cerasus - Sour Cherry behind. These were planted this year and drip irrigation lines are currently being installed.

Here is a panoramic view from the hill that runs along the center of the property. It's a beautiful location. 




Entomology Survey 


Christopher  Kirby-Lambert has been back to complete the final invertebrate survey of the year.  Chris a self employed ecological surveyor, has been looking at the range of the invertebrates we have in the garden mainly focusing on bees and beetles. We're hoping Chris will help us establish a methodology for a multi year survey to shed some light on how our garden practices are influencing biodiversity.  You can see the results from last season's survey here and check out Chris's website here.


Thank you to everyone that has already donated to our polyculture study crowdfunder. Your donations are what make it possible for us to fund these surveys. You can find our more about our crowd funder here.


The Market Garden


It's amazing how much difference a micro climate can have on a plants growth. In this case I'm referring to a slightly depressed area of our market garden where 5 m in distance and 50 cm in elevation makes all the difference. These Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree trees were all planted at the same time (2 years ago) The tree in the foreground is positioned approx 50 cm higher than the tree at the end of the row. and approx. 5 m away. The tree at the end of the row is planted around the lowest section on this garden and as such the cold air tends to sink in this area before draining away into the fields below.


 The tree at the end in the depression is regularly hit by frosts in the early spring and late autumn and the stress from this reduces it's growth rate significantly.  You can see quite how drastic the effect is when you compare the trunk width of the trees. The photo was taken at the same height of each plant and at equal distance from the camera lens. 



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


 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. 


 





Friday, 14 September 2018

Juicing, Seed Harvesting, Shifting Seasons - Week 22 - The Polyculture Project

There is a tinge of autumn in the air. Autumn is my second favorite season, my first being the spring. I love the spring for its vigour and perfect urgency and I love the autumn for its satisfied sense of completion. Summer and winter and pretty good too, but to me they are just the build ups :)



Forest Garden


Plenty of fruit on the Mespilus germanica - Medlar. Medlar are a very reliable fruit tree, never failing to produce fruits that ripen towards the end of October and into December. They are a great choice of fruit tree for many gardens, particularly small gardens, as they are self-fertile, so you only need one tree. They are also pretty much free of pests and diseases and do not requiring regular pruning beyond removing dead, diseased or overcrowded branches. 


The Paulownia tomentosa - Foxglove Tree we cut down 6 weeks ago is growing back fast with 6 shoots emerging and the tallest already reaching 70 cm. Summer time is not a great time to cut back the Paulownia as the soft herbaceaous regrowth does not have time to harden and will likely not survive the winter this year. I'll probably cut the regrowth back along with the surrounding Symphytum x uplandicum - Comfrey and use the material for sheet mulching a bed we are preparing for next spring planting. 


An old Pear tree in the forest garden has been host to fire blight over the last few years and the productivity has dropped noticeably. Fire blight is a contagious disease affecting apples, pears, and some other members of the family Rosaceae. The causal pathogen is the bacteria, Erwinia amylovora.


It's the time of year to harvest the seed and pod from Zanthoxylum simulans- Szechuan Pepper. The seeds eventually separate naturally leaving the dried red husk behind. If you put the dried material in a paper bag and shake vigorously you can speed up the separation.  The seed is pretty much flavorless so i don't see the point in using it but the husk is packed with flavor.  I normally just add the husks to a pepper grinder and grind it over any number of dishes. It makes an excellent spice but you should use it sparingly as it can be quite powerful. Its one of the 5 ingredients in Chinese Five Spice and used often in Szechuan cooking    


Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel still flowering in the forest garden. 



Aponia - Market Garden 


The warm temperatures can extend into late October in our climate and the vegetable garden can remain productive right up until the first hard frosts when all but the Brassica crops wither away. For now we still have reasonable harvests of basil, kale, chard, peas, tomatoes, beans and squash.




Ocimum basilicum - Basil on the brink of flowering. They always look their healthiest at this point and make the best tasting pesto :)    


Ezekiel, Victoria and Sophie checking for Cabbage White - Pieris brassicae eggs on the Brasica crops. Should be the last time of the season we check for these pest.  




Juicing 


We've been doing a fair bit of juicing this week. No, not injecting anabolic steroids into muscle, the other type of juicing, exerting intense pressure on fruits to extract the juice. It's been a great year for apples, probably the result of the wet and cool spring and early summer. We did not have the tool to crush the apples so we cored them and chopped them into quarters or smaller and pressed them.         


We tried crushing the apple pieces with a sledge hammer but it was not very effective.


The apple pieces go into the press  


We turn the press and the juice flows, well trickles, out of the bottom. 


Crushing the apples with a machine such as the one below is certainly something I would recommend as this method was very inefficient in extracting all of the juice.     



Nevertheless the apple juice was absolutely divine.



If you would like to create a forest garden and gain 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 

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





 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. 


 






Friday, 7 September 2018

Holidays - Week 21 - The Polyculture Project

We've all been travelling the last few weeks. Dylan and I headed North to look for plants and reptiles, Ezekiel headed South to the Rodopes to Beglika Festival and Victoria, Sophie and Archie headed East to the Black Sea.  Here's a few pics from our trip North.


Our first stop was to Catherine Zanev and Adjmal Dulloo's farm in Todorovo, North Bulgaria that you can read about in our previous blog - 5 ha Polyculture Farm Design - Suhi Dol Revisited.

The next stop was to the Danube River at Vetren  


The plant diversity in the transition between the forest and the river bank is incredible there.  




Dice snake - Natrix tessellata basking on drift wood 


Grass Snake - Natrix natrix on the hunt


Just slightly east of Vetren is the Srebarna Nature Reserve, a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. 


There is an off road track around the outside of the reserve suitable for cars with many places to stop and look out over the lake.  


This little fella joined us for coffee. I'm not sure of the species but it's probably a young Podarcis sp. - Wall Lizard 


The reserve is home to 139 plant species, 11 of them are in danger of extinction outside the territory of Srebarna. Areas of the water are full of Salvinia natans an annual floating aquatic fern. The nitrogen fixing floater Azolla filiculoides also grows here but I did not spot it. 


Another track on the western side of the reserve brings you down to the lake's edge. It's a very unique environment, like something out of the Never Ending Story as Dylan commented. 




Away from the Srebarna Reserve and off the riverside the majority of the land in this region is industrially farmed. It's certainly one on the least beautiful regions of Bulgaria that I've seen.   


I've known that  Glycyrrhiza echinata - Wild Liquorice grows wild here in Bulgaria but I have never seen it growing up until now. We stumbled across a large patch of it growing on the outskirts of Silistra.


Here is the Glycyrrhiza echinata - Wild Liquorice patch  Willow Salix spp. standing proudly on the Danube riverbank in the background.


On the way back North just outside Razgrad we come across this Paulownia Plantation. The trees were planted approx 3 m apart and it looks like the foresters are lifting the lower growth to promote tall single stemmed trees. I expect these are 3 year old trees.


We made a day trip to Veliko Turnovo before heading back to Shipka


While taking the above photo we heard a rustling in the twigs below and spotted this Hermann's tortoise Testudo hermanni  (could also be subspecies T. h. boettgeri)


Whilst in Veliko Turnovo we headed over to Tsarevets, a medieval fortress, to check out the outstanding views, the rock flora, and what with all of the rocks around it seemed like a great place for spotting reptiles. 




Dylan checking under some boulders. 


He spotted a few juvenile snakes that were too fast to identify and photograph .The Balkan Wall Lizards -  Podarcis tauricus were not so shy.




If you would like to create a forest garden and gain 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 

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





 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.