Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Heatwave, Water and some Observations - Week 9 - ESC - The Polyculture Project

 

The heatwave in southeastern Europe continues, and this week our priority has been to ensure that we can bring the water into the gardens and keep the plants alive as temperatures exceed 36 degrees daily. The channels that bring the water into Ataraxia  a developing garden on the east side of the village, needed to be completely re-dug in places, but the ESC volunteers did a beautiful job and managed to get the water into the ponds and irrigate the young trees.






In the home garden we designed the layout of our annual vegetable beds to use gravity to flood irrigate the plants,  positioning access and earthworks to distribute water across the site and slowly sink into the soils. We've found using raised beds laid out on contour with sunken pathways between is very effective, because the pathways double up as irrigation channels, and not only does the water sink into the soils but capillary action also draws water up into the raised beds.




The water running alongside a Tomato plant, encouraging the root system to develop deeply

The nursery plants need a lot of watering in these temps, as well as some other maintenance jobs such as repotting plants that need more space.


Although a plant may look very healthy in the container, it's really important to check the roots when you visit a nursery and avoid buying any plant with very dense roots circling the pot. A potted plant with circling roots will struggle to grow well when planted in the ground and will be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Trees grown in pots with circling roots will never outgrow this problem and it will often result in an early death for the plant.


I noticed this week that some of the later Kale plants we sowed have been attacked by the flea beetle - Psylliodes chrysocephala, causing the plants to develop white spots and quickly turn brown, dry and wilted. I tried using a spray with nettle tea but it didn't seem to deter them. Probably it's best to sow the Kale earlier or later and not midseason as we did.



The powdery mildew that  I wrote about in an earlier blog post that affected the majority of Hazel- Corylus avellana plants in the home garden has definitely worsened, although it's encouraging to see that the emerging new growth seems healthy. 


New growth seems unaffected


The tomatoes in Zeno are looking good, although we have only eaten a few as the majority are still very green. I'm slightly concerned that the hot temperatures are adversely affecting some of the plants and may result in some of the plants dying before the fruit turns red, a first experience here for us. Many other local fruit growers are finding the same, probably due to the weather patterns this year that also resulted in the Linden - Tilia spp. flowering a whole month later than usual.



We're ending on a bright and colourful note this week with the welcome gifts for thirsty food growers from the forest garden this week. My favourites were the yellow wild plums, juicy and sweet with a pleasant velvety texture :)



Some of you may know that we've started this year's Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course, but there's still time to join if you would like to take part. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.

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

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

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Support Our Project 




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

  • Donate directly to our project via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com
  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.




Tuesday, 27 July 2021

A Visit to the Eco Community Blagodatie, Ura Gora - Week 8 - ESC - The Polyculture Project

This week together with the ESC team we were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the Eco community Blagodatie, home of the Ura Gora Foundation, and help out with their inspiring project. 

The location of the project 42°06'29.1"N 26°40'07.3"E

Here at Balkep we've known two of the members, Kosio and Sophie, for some years now, our paths crossing at various forest garden/permaculture events and occasionally during environmental festivals within Bulgaria. Kosio, Alex and their two children and Sophie & Krasi were inspired by the books in the series "The Ringing Cedars of Russia" by Vladimir Megre, and live close to nature and completely off-grid with their families in the community in Southeastern Bulgaria, in a remote and beautiful spot.

Kosio, Alex, Indi and Lybo

Sophie & Krasi

The land surrounding the eco-community is dry, deforested terrain which is much how it was when this community discovered it. I was expecting the gardens to still be in early stages of establishment due to heavy clay soils and the hot, dry climate presenting challenges. What a joy it was to arrive at a biodiverse forest, healthy and productive - much like the human inhabitants there!



The community is growing, and now has 2 - 4 families that are committed to developing and supporting healthy ecosystems on the land that encourage biodiversity. A wide variety of plants are growing to provide a significant amount of food needs for humans and other organisms, as well as supplying resources for infrastructure, construction, and for crafting.  Natural beekeeping is practiced on site with the honey being among one of the best I've tasted, and let me assure you that I am a well established honey monster :)



One of my first questions on arrival was about water. How are water needs for both humans and plants alike met in such a dry and remote region of Bulgaria? Coming up with creative solutions for water management has been essential to the success of the site, and as Sophie explained, the community designed and makes ram pumps. A ram pump is a very simple mechanical pump and a great example of appropriate technology used in many small scale development projects around the world. It works without and fuel, solar power or complex materials. Essentially, the water is led down a pipe (in this instance from a dam some metres above the height of the pump) and opens and closes two valves with hammer-like force, creating pressure for about 10% of the input water to be pumped up to a greater height. The community sell these pumps and design and install the whole system in places where they would be suitable. For more information contact Kosio or Krasi here.






There are a remarkable amount of apples, pears and quince trees growing, all looking very healthy and laden with fruit. Kosio has many varieties of apples and pears that he has successfully grafted onto wild plum or the pioneer wild pear rootstock, both of which grow abundantly in the region.  






The plant selection has been carefully considered and pathways are mowed to create pleasant walkways through the establishing forest gardens and landscape.



Among the wild native plants I observed many species of plants from the Apiaceae family, the umbels of which attract scores of beneficial organisms to the gardens.

Sophie and Krasi's garden layout had many islands of different polycultures. In the below photo you can see an example of one of these, the diversity of plant architecture being very pleasing on the eye and forming a dense cover protecting the soil from the relentless sun. From top left - clockwise: Tansy - Tanecetum vulgareApple - Malus spp, Cornelian Cherry - Cornus mas, Jerusalem Artichoke - Helianthus tuberosus and Yucca - Yucca filamentosa.




Check out our range of seeds, tubers and cuttings available all year around - delivery worldwide.

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

This year Kosio, Alex and their two children along with Sophie and Krasi teamed up to start a community annual vegetable garden. The idea was to co-operate on a shared garden to grow community spirit along with staple foods that are easy to harvest, store and process together, as well as to provide food for volunteers and guests to use. They are growing mainly open pollinated heritage kinds of potatoes, corn, beans, pumpkins and melons.


Setting up the garden


Corn developing well in the spring

Annual vegetables are also being grown on both of these families' plots. 




A greenhouse with a view :)


With such a lot to do and a team of six volunteers, we started creating a rhythm and flow to the days and week to make sure we were organized with the tasks we were to help with, but also to create a balance sprinkling creative non-formal workshops into the mix. With hot temperatures we rose at 06.00 to take advantage of the cooler mornings, helped out until 09.30 when we had a watermelon party together. Around 11.00 a creative workshop was held, with lunch around 13.00, rest until 17.00 and then help out again until sundown. The community members have many skills and talents, and offer a variety of workshops from an introduction to herbs and making healing remedies to clothes making, and also plan soon to start hosting retreats on site.







ESC volunteers left - right Rushar, Tara, Fanny & Hekim

One of the tasks that benefitted from having many hands involved was bringing in the hay for the winter for Kosio's young horse. We recycled a child's paddling pool and a large supermarket banner as vessels to transport the hay from the lower fields to higher land by the horse's stable.





It really was a pleasure to be part of such a beautiful, growing project. Special thanks go out to all the community for being our hosts for the week,  Blagodatie's long term vision is to be a larger community that continues to appreciate and enjoy common activities together. For enquiries about purchasing or trading some of the products that are produced by the community, or for more information on how you can get involved and support the community, contact Sophie here. Huge thanks go out to all the ESC volunteers for their goodwill and support, and also for many of the photos that were used in this post taken by them.

Would you like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity? If so join us on our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course next spring. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.

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

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Support Our Project 




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

  • Donate directly to our project via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com
  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.



Monday, 19 July 2021

Mowing Pathways for Mulch, Natural Building and Herbal Remedies - Week 7 - ESC - The Polyculture Project




It's been a busy week, with the hot, dry weather continuing and more water channels needing to be dug to ensure that we can successfully irrigate Aponia, our forest garden and old site of our Market Garden Research. In the home garden, the pathways by the beds double up as water channels, with native herbaceous plants growing alongside the edges of the beds and pathways.  These plants are a valuable source of biomass and we mow them every 2 weeks, collecting the valuable clippings as mulch.  This week, we needed to trim back some young Black Locust - Robinia pseudoacacia plants that were encroaching too far into the pathway and blocking access. The trimmings from these plants were left on the pathway for the lawnmower to shred and collect whilst also cutting the herbaceous growth. This added a nice supplement of Robinia leaves to the clippings.

Pathway/water channel between two garden beds. On the left,  Zeno, our annual productive polyculture and on the right, Robinia plants freshly trimmed back to clear access

Robinia clippings fell onto the pathway and were left there to be mown with the herbaceous growth

The end product is a mix of nitrogen rich clippings that are perfect to use as immediate mulch on beds or in plant pots


We recently cut back the Lovage - Levisticum officinale as it has just finished flowering and it generally starts to topple over and obstruct access. A few days later and the plants underneath in the ground and herb layers have really started to take advantage of the light levels now available to them.

Bottom left - Turkish Sage - Phlomis russeliana 

I've seen a lot of Turkish Sage in our gardens in more exposed positions that flowered a while ago now. This plant was under the fairly dense cover of the Lovage, and will likely bloom quite quickly now it can access more light. The hooded, yellow flowers put in a long appearance are attractively arranged up the stem in intervals. It makes great ground cover forming a pretty carpet in the herb layer and is easily divisible in the autumn or spring.

This week we welcomed Hekim from Turkey to the ESC volunteer team, and at the beginning of the week we headed to my friend Jo's house. Jo lives in a neighbouring village and is undertaking a great project - renovating her home and using natural building techniques. The first task was to dig out a trench for the stone foundation of a mud brick wall that Jo wants to build to help contain her dog, who is an acrobat extraordinaire and master escape artist! Once the pit was dug around 50cm deep, it was lined with geotextile to keep the weeds and soil from ingressing and filled with gravel and small stones, some of which we got from sifting earth and sand on the property. We then compacted the stones by walking on top of the stone filled line with heavy boots.


Markus, Tara and Ruhsar pouring and shovelling in the small stones and gravel


Next we laid large stones on top that had been fetched from a local river and neighbouring property and began to lay them on top of the rubble trench, and tried to fit them to size, a bit like a giant jigsaw or tetris game. It's important to get the positioning right to make a solid weight bearing base for the wall. Once satisfied with our positioning, we made a lime mortar using hydrated lime, sand and water and placed it in between the stones to secure them in place.




Just a little lime plaster to add and stage one is completed. We'll be returning to Jo's to start building the wall in a couple of weeks


Inside her house, Jo's building bathroom walls out of cob. Cobbing is also described as mud daubing, and is a mixture of clay, sand and straw. Here Hekim, Fanny and Ruhsar have a go at adding a layer of plaster to the wall Jo built.




Lovely finish!


Outside, Jo has started to sculpt a cat on the wall by the porch entrance and ESC volunteer Ruxandra finished the project creating a beautiful cat and a wonderful eulogy for a much loved kitten lost this week to a virus.

Ode to Moon, by the very talented Ruxandra. You can check out more of  Rux's incredibe work here. She also makes commissioned pieces.


Part of our ESC project is to explore the medicinal qualities of local herbs and plants and experiment with making homemade remedies. We have been infusing oils over the last month ready to make some ointments. To make a herb infused oil, all you have to do is harvest the part of the plant that you would like to use early in the day, and leave it to dry out of direct sunlight for 24 hours. This usually reduces the water content sufficiently to prevent water leaching into the oil and spoiling it. Then place your plant into a jam jar, cover with olive oil and leave on a sunny windowsill to infuse over the next month, shaking occasionally and finally straining into a clean jar and labelling.




Using our infused oils, some essential oils and high quality Bulgarian beeswax, we created an ointment using Comfrey and Elder leaf to help with bruising, and a Chamomile and Yarrow one for bites that Rux aptly named, 'Ditch the Itch' :)



We've been trying out different tea blends too, and will be introducing our first blend, complete with branding, in the coming weeks. One of the main components are the flowers from the Linden tree - Tilia spp. which actually came into flower almost a whole month later than usual this year.


Linden flowers


Tilia is a genus of about 30 species of trees or bushes, native throughout most of the temperate Northern Hemisphere. More commonly referred to as Linden or Lime, this tree is not to be confused with Citrus medica, the tree that produces actual lime fruits. Tilia cordata - Small Leaved Lime and Tilia platyphyllos - Large Leaved Lime are probably the most well known in Europe, although it can be difficult to differentiate between them sometimes as they tend to hybridize, resulting in Tilia vulgaris - Common Lime. Both trees and the hybridized form have edible leaves, in addition to producing a flower that is much valued as a herbal tea.

To read about the ESC project from the perspective of the volunteers, you can see their blog here.


Would you like to join us next spring on our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course?  We look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.


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

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Support Our Project 




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

  • Donate directly to our project via PayPal to balkanecologyproject@gmail.com
  • Comment, like, and share our content on social media.