Monday 30 November 2015

How Productive can Polycultures be? - Polyculture Trials 2015 - Home Garden Records

Here are the results from the second year of our home garden polyculture study where we're looking at the inputs and outputs of annual herb and vegetable polycultures and how we can grow nutrient dense food whilst enhancing biodiversity.

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

Results in Summary 

From a  9.5 m x 7 m piece of land we harvested 218 kg of vegetables including tomatoes, basil, beans, garlic and winter & summer squash, a 57 kg increase on last year.
The time spent in this garden, including propagating all the plants from seed, preparing the beds, tending the plants, irrigating and harvesting amounted to 52 hrs and 51 mins or approx 14.5 minutes a day from April - October. I'm pretty sure it takes me longer than that to write it all up :)

218 kg works out at just over 6 kg of food produced per m² with an estimated local market value of just over 700 BGN, that's 10.63 BGN per m2 with an hourly rate of pay at 13.59 BGN (€6.95).  Not exactly going to pay for lunch at the Restaurant Le Meurice, Paris, but when you consider the food is as good as you would get there, that the soil and general garden ecosystem is in better condition than it was this time last year, and that the garden provides habitat to all of the below organisms (to highlight but a few) it all starts to look pretty encouraging!

Our goal is to create garden ecosystems that are productive for man and for nature.
Photographs taken from the Paul Alfrey and Peter Alfrey.

You can find the full spreadsheet that includes all of the data entries here

For an overview of the cultivation methods we use see here and for last year's results see here

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Here's some details on where and how we do it.

Garden Overview   

Climate: Continental Temperate
Latitude: 42°
Elevation: 580 m
Average Annual Rainfall: 588.5 mm
Co-ordinates:42°42′N 25°23′E

The Polyculture beds on a mid spring morning

Garden Layout 

Garden area: 66.5m2
Cultivated beds area: 36m2
Paths: 30.5m2

 Path and Bed Layout 

Crop and Cultivar List

11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Black Krim'
11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Tigerealla'
11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Mixed Saved Seed'
11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Rozova Magia'
11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Paulina F1'
11 x Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum 'Citrina'
66 x Basil - Ocimum basilcium 'Sweet Genovese'
24 x Runner Beans - Phaseolus coccineus
24 x French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Cobra'
24 x French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris 'Blue Bean'
2 x Courgette - Cucurbita pepo 'Black Beauty'
4 x Bush Scallops - Cucurbita pepo
6 x Butternut Squash - Cucurbita pepo 'Waltham Butternut'
12 x African Marigold - Tagetes erecta
12 x French Marigold - Tagetes patula
12 x Pot Marigold - Calendula officinalis 

Our Tomato cultivars 

The table below shows the floral species composition of each bed including the different cultivars and the dates that the plants were sown or planted.  Beans, courgettes and winter squash were sown, tomatoes, basil, marigolds and pot marigolds were planted.

Other crops such as volunteer sunflowers and nasturtiums were also allowed to grow within the beds. The yield of these plants are not considered in these records. Also not included are the native wild plants that are encouraged to grow around the perimeter of each bed. Many of these plants provide a harvest of salad greens and tea ingredients as well as mulch material when chop and dropped on the beds.

Planting Scheme 

Below is a typical representation of the planting scheme within a bed.

Vegetable Guild/Polyculture

Soil Analysis 

Mineral Analysis - Soil samples were taken in early spring before fertility inputs and sent to the NAAS of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Soil Microbiology Analysis

We had a lovely response after publishing last year's results from Vitalia Baranyai and Birgit Albertsmeier who volunteered to study the microbiology of the soil samples from the gardens. Below are Vitalia's results from samples taken in the spring and high summer. We thank them both for their input and support.

Spring Sample 

Number of Bacteria per mlMicrograms bact./ mlLength in cm of fungal strands / mlMicrograms of fungi per mlF:B Biomass ratio

Summer Sample 

Number of Bacteria per mlMicrograms bact./ mlLength in cm of fungal strands / mlMicrograms of fungi per mlF:B Biomass ratio

Results: Inputs 

Input:Time Spent in Garden 

Tasks MinutesHours
Set up/Pack up 4707 hrs
50 mins
Propagation 1041 hr
44 mins
Fertility 2353 hrs
55 mins
Planting out 61110 hrs
11 mins
Mowing Paths 60
1 hr
Irrigation 540
9 hrs
Garden Care and Harvesting 109118 hrs
11 mins
Total minutes 3111

Input: Fertility Inputs Over One Season 

Fertility Inputs Fertility Inputs
Fresh Comfrey Material96 kg Wood Ash 20 L - 5.6 kg
Chicken manure 5.76 kgAutumn Compost for Garlic120 L

Spring Compost 480 L
Kitchen scraps 18 kg Compost for planting out toms22 L
Straw bales 9 (standard bales) Seedling Mix for Squash9 L
Lawn Mower Box of Clippings 128 kg Seedling mix for Beans18 L

Results: Outputs

Output: The Harvest 

The total produce from each of the main crops in the polyculture were as follows;

Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum : 89.84 kg
Tomato - Solanum lycopersicum : (Blemished with cracks or blotches but suitable for processing) 40.58 kg
Basil - Ocimum basilcium : 1.62 kg
Fresh Runner Beans - Phaseolus coccineus and French Beans - Phaseolus vulgaris : 24.33 kg
Courgette - Cucurbita pepo : 33.25 kg
Winter Squash - Cucurbita pepo :21.7 kg 
Fresh Garlic - Allium sativum :6.74 kg
Chicken Eggs - 54

Garden Produce

All produce was weighed directly after harvest and unless otherwise stated, all of the produce recorded was in excellent condition and fit for market. Produce not fit for market was composted or fed to our animals and is not included in these records.

Table summarising input and outputs from October 31st 2014 - October 31st 2015

You can find the full spreadsheet that includes all of the data entries here

2015 Study Modifications

  • This year our records included the time it took to propagate all the plants from seed, the time spent gathering materials such as compost, tools, plants and the time taken to harvest the produce from the garden.
  • We added garlic as an interval crop that can be grown during the periods the main crops are not present i.e. from November through to March. November sown garlic will normally mature in June, however we use the small bulbs that are not worth planting as main crop garlic and harvest them in March like spring onions. They are delicious.       
Inferior Garlic bulbs planted 10 cm apart for a spring harvest 
  • Having left the chickens out of the garden study last year to simplify the record keeping, there were noticeably more slugs in the beds so this year we included the chicken rotations in the records. The chickens do a great job of removing the slugs and their eggs from within the beds.  After the last harvest the vegetation is chopped and dropped , the stakes are removed and a 3 x 1 m bottomless chicken house is moved onto the beds moving every 2-3 days.  The time taken for each move and daily feeding of the birds are included in the records as are the outputs in terms of Chicken manure and eggs  
The chicken run 1.3 x 3 m light frame bottomless coop 


  • This whole record keeping game is totally new to me and I'm still developing the design of this study. I'm close to being satisfied with the method, but believe there is room for improvement and welcome feedback, criticism and suggestions.
  • I made changes to the task categories with "Garden Care" including a range of very different tasks such as weeding, tying tomatoes, pinching out, harvesting and observation. The reason for this is that you end up doing these jobs together in a polyculture.   
  • This year we experienced a more typical summer with a period of 8 weeks without a drop of rain and high temperatures. During this period, irrigation was practiced once per week. Our irrigation system is unique to our garden in that we flood irrigate using a mountain stream, however I estimate the irrigation needs of the polyculture to be 20 L per m² i,e 120 L per bed or 720 L for the entire garden applied once a week in the absence of rain. The time taken to apply 120 L per bed is estimated at 10 mins so that's 60 mins per irrigation session   
  • A word on our low expenses. They are so low due to the fact we grow our own plants from seed, make composts and sowing mediums, grow summer and autumn mulch and save seeds from plants that do not readily crossbreed such as tomatoes, basil, marigolds and beans. We also provide our own support materials (tomato stakes and bean poles). Time taken to make composts and harvest support stakes are not included in the records. 
  • The market value of the produce was estimated based on the prices we were receiving for the same vegetables grown in a different garden from the local buyers and Trustika buyers club in Sofia. It is not what we actually sold the food for as much of the food from this garden was consumed by us or preserved. 
  • The tasks were predominantly carried out by one person, either myself, my partner Sophie or one of our boys Dylan and Archie. On very few occasions two people were working on tasks at the same time. These occasions are recorded in the management sheet of the record keeping spreadsheet (in the "Notes" row ).    

Improvements for Future Studies 

Biodiversity Study 
It's our goal to build productive ecosystems that provide for a large diversity of organisms as well as us. We believe our gardens achieve this but currently have no way of quantifying/qualifying this. I'd like to develop a method of biodiversity measurement that can be used and believe that invertebrate diversity would be a great place to start. I'm thinking something like the Plants for Bugs experiment carried out by a team of entomologists at RHS Wisley would work well. During this study invertebrate samples were taken on five occasions throughout the year and recorded.  The samples are gathered using pitfall and baited refuge traps for ground fauna, and direct observation of flying insect visitors and those settled on the plants.

We are currently seeking collaboration with entomologists that could assist us with this part of the study. If you or someone you know is interested in this please do get in touch.

Control Experiment 
The data we will gather during the study is useful to compare with other practices, however a control garden growing the same crops in monocultures at the same time in the same area will be a great addition to the study and is something we're hoping to start next year in the Polyculture Market Garden Study (results from this coming soon).

Measuring Nutrient Density 
We are looking into using a spectrometer for nutrient density analysis of our produce for the Polyculture study next year.  I was considering using a refractometer to take brix readings of our produce but seeing as brix only reliably measures sugar density I'm not sure it is that relevant. It will be fascinating to see how our biologically grown produce compares to supermarket food, local food, and between our two gardens (the 10 yr old garden and the new market garden site).

Sharing, Feedback and Collaboration 

We have our record keeping spreadsheets on Google Drive. These spreadsheets include all of the data entries and task descriptions. You can find the full spreadsheet here. (note there are multiple sheets that can be accessed from the blue tabs running along the top of the sheet). If you would like to run your own study we'd be happy to give you a copy of the spreadsheet, just drop us an email or leave a comment below with your contact details and we will send it over to you. 

If you have any suggestions and feedback on how you think we could improve the study or you have heard about similar studies from other guild/polycultures we'd love to hear from you.

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Sunday 22 November 2015

The Essential Guide to Probably Everything you Need to Know about Growing Walnuts - Juglans regia

If I were to tell you of an apocalypse proof asset that is 100% guaranteed to increase in value, both in the short (3 yrs) and long term (300 yrs), will contribute to your good health, provides aesthetic pleasure to your surroundings, has the potential to replicate itself exponentially and has parts that can be dipped into smooth melted dark chocolate, covered in cocoa powder and eaten, surely you'll be chuffed to learn that I'm referring to none other than Juglans regia - The Walnut tree.

Walnuts for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens, and Food Forests 

At the moment I'm struggling to think of a better thing to do than to plant a walnut tree, other than to plant more than one walnut tree:) So here I present the Essential Guide to Everything you Need to Know about Walnuts.

During this article we'll be focusing on the Persian Walnut  - Juglans regia first providing an overview of the plant followed by advice on where to plant, how to care for, uses of walnuts and a look at some good companions plants for walnuts. We'll also profile three productive and disease-resistant Walnut cultivars that we are offering from our forest garden plant nursery.


Juglans regia is known by several common names including Persian walnut, common walnut, English walnut, Carpathian walnut and Madeira nut. The natural range of this plant is from the Carpathian mountains through the middle east and into the Himalayas.


Walnuts are fast-growing trees that develop broad canopies reaching 18 m in width and 30 m in height. It is a light-demanding species, requiring full sun to grow well.

A walnut compound leaf.
photo from -

The buds awaken from winter dormancy in mid-April - late May (depending on cultivar) and leaf fall occurs in early November. The large compound leaves give off a lemon /lime scent, particularly when crushed. The flowers open before or around the same time as the leaves and you can find both male and female flowers on the plant (monoecious). The male flowers are slender catkins and the female flowers are smaller often found on the tips of the branches. Pollination is carried out by the wind.

Growing Range 

Walnuts from the middle east and the Persian strains are hardy to zone 5 (-23 °C) while the Carpathian strains can withstand temperatures as low as -32 °C (zone 4). You can't grow these plants in the lower latitude areas without at least 500-1500 hrs per year of temperatures below 7 °C. At high latitude climate, the young shoots and flowers are susceptible to frost damage in the spring, and early frosts in the autumn can cause damage to new shoots.


Walnuts have both male and female flower parts on the same tree (monoecious). The pollen is shed from the male flowers and should settle on the female flowers. The pollen is physically very small and light and can travel quite some distance. Studies have shown in certain orchards that wind-blown pollen came from trees over a mile away.

Juglans regia - Female and Male Flowers 

If the pollen from the male flower settles on the female flower at the point that they are receptive, fertilization is likely to occur and the female flower will go on to develop into nuts. The time of pollen shedding from the male flower does not always overlap well with the time of female flower receptivity to pollen. This condition is referred to as dichogamy. To overcome this problem growers can select another walnut cultivar (a pollinator) the male flowers of which open at the same time as the female flowers from the main cultivar. The pollinator should be situated upwind from the main crop. If you have other walnuts upwind from your site you should not have problems with this.    
Nearly all commercial orchards are co-planted with a pollinator variety to ensure the main crop gets enough pollen to set nuts. The recommendations for optimal pollination in an orchard environment is to plant one row of pollinators for every 8 main crop rows and to plant the row of pollinators upwind.

In some cultivars, Walnut fruits form on the tips of the new season's growth on other cultivars the fruit is formed on the lateral shoots.

Lateral Bearers 
Lateral bearing cultivars bear fruits on lateral buds of shoots and are generally of higher productivity than terminal and intermediate bearers due to the larger number of fruit buds on these plants.

Terminal/Tip Bearers
Terminal bearing cultivars bear fruits on the tips of the shoots.

Tip bearing cultivar from a tree at our market garden site 


Walnut trees commonly reproduce in the wild and are very easy to grow from seed. A tree grown from seed will start to produce fruit in 8 -12  yrs, it's not certain that it will share the characteristics of the parent trees. Walnut cultivars are grafted and will start to fruit in the fifth year. Seeing as most cultivars are 2 yrs old when you buy them, the trees can start to bear fruit in the 3rd year after planting. (for expected yields see below)

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Where to Plant 

Location - The best locations for walnut trees are sunny, relatively sheltered sites. Frost pockets should be avoided.

Soil - The ideal soil is a deep, fertile, well-drained loam with a pH between 6 and 7 (4.3 - 8.3 tolerated), although I've seen magnificent specimens growing in heavy clay on the river banks and trees tolerating a wide range of soil conditions.

Inhibitors - Walnuts produce a growth inhibitor - juglone - that has a detrimental effect on some species of plants growing nearby (negative allelopathy). Experimental studies have shown that juglone can inhibit plant respiration, depriving sensitive plants of needed energy and reducing the plant's ability to uptake water and nutrients. There are many plants that do not seem to be affected by juglone (see below)

Comfrey 'Bocking 14' growing in the shade of a 20-year-old Walnut 

Walnut Pollination - When planting your walnut it's important to consider a pollination partner if you would like to maximize your yields. (see above)

Fertility, Irrigation, and Care 

Fertility - It's advisable to not add compost to the roots of walnuts when planting out and to add just a little top dressing compost to your newly planted trees.  In the 2nd year, adding around 10 L of compost to the base of the tree in the spring will meet the plants growing nitrogen (N) demands. Too much N makes the trees more susceptible to Walnut Blight.

Irrigation - Should not be necessary unless rainfall is below 600 mm per year and is uneven in distribution throughout the year. In my climate in South-East Europe, Bulgaria  I give my young trees 20 L once every two weeks during the summer months. Never use a sprinkler or hose to water and avoid splashing water onto the leaves as this will promote the development of Walnut Blight.  

Weeding - Its important to keep the trees free from weeds whilst they establish as young trees are intolerant of competition especially from grass. Mulching the trees annually with card and straw will work well but take care to keep the collar free from mulch to prevent it from rotting.

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Potential Problems

Sunburn: can occur during periods of excessive summer heat (38C) and the kernels can shrivel and darken. This is more so of a problem if the tree is under moisture stress.

Cold injury: Young trees are very susceptible to frost damage. Flowers can be destroyed in early frosts so it's important to select late-flowering cultivars if your planting site experiences early frosts.  

Insect/Pest: Codling moth (Cydia pomonella), Navel orangeworm (Amyelois transitella), Walnut husk fly (Rhagoletis completa), aphids, scales and mites; nematodes (Pratylenchus vulnus)

Disease: Blight (Xanthomonas campestris); blackline (cherry leaf roll virus); root and crown rots (Phytophthora spp., Armillaria mellea); deep bark canker (Erwinia rubrifaciens); crown gall (Agrobacterium tumefaciens).  

Walnut Blight on our garden trees following an unusually wet spring and summer of 2013   

Walnut uses  

Beyond the nutritious delicious nuts, the other parts of the Walnut plant can be used for a variety of purposes.  

Timber - The timber is very stable, hardly warps at all, and after proper seasoning swells very little. The wood is straight-grained, quite durable, slightly coarse (silky) in texture so easily held, strong, of medium density, and can withstand considerable shock.  It is easy to work and holds metal parts with little wear or risk of splitting.  The heartwood is mottled with brown, chocolate, black, and light purple colors intermingled. Some of the most attractive wood comes from the root crown area from which fine burr walnut veneers can be obtained.

Nuts - Nuts can be eaten raw, salted, or pickled. Nuts must have an oil content of at least 50% to store successfully, nuts with 30 - 50% oil content have a higher moisture level and tend to shrivel in storage, so must be eaten immediately or preserved,

The essential guide to everything you need to know to grow walnuts 

Oil - Can be pressed from the ripe nuts (sometimes over 50% by weight of kernels). The oil can be used raw, for cooking or as a butter substitute.  

Leaves  - Leaves can be used to make wine.

Sap -The sap of the tree is edible, in the same way as that of the sugar maple.

Medicinal uses - Several parts of the tree have medicinal uses.  The leaves and bark have alterative, laxative, astringent, and detergent properties, and are used for the treatment of skin diseases; in addition, the bark is a purgative.  Leaves should be picked in June or July in fine weather and dried quickly in a shady, warm, well-ventilated place.
-The juice of the green husks, boiled with honey, is a good gargle for sore throats.
-The oil from nuts can be used for colic and skin diseases.
-The husks, shells, and peel are sudorific, especially when green.

Other uses - The green husks can be boiled to produce a dark yellow dye; the leaves contain a brown dye used on wool and to stain skin.

The oil has been used for making varnishes, polishing wood, in soaps, and as lamp oil.

The leaves have insect repellent properties; in former times horses were rested underneath walnut trees to relieve them from insect irritation.

Walnuts uses section from Martin Crawford's Agroforestry News Volume 1 Number 1 - Persian Walnuts

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Walnut  Yields

Walnuts grown from seed may not provide any nuts until they reach sexual maturity at 10 - 13 years of age. Grafted cultivars generally start to fruit in their 5th year. Most grafted cultivars are 2 yrs old so you can expect to receive the first crops in the 3rd year after planting. Below is a table showing the estimated yields of a walnut tree over time.  

Yield per tree Yield per acre
Yield per Ha
3-5 year 5 kg200 kg 500kg
10-15 years 50 kg2 tonnes 5 tonnes
Max Production75 kg 3 tonnes 7.5 tonnes 

Companion Plants for Walnuts 

Walnuts, along with hickories, produce the chemical juglone, which is exuded from all parts of the plant. This chemical can inhibit the growth rate of nearby plants, a phenomenon known as negative alleopathy. This combined with the heavy water demands of larger trees and the deep shade cast in high summer presents challenges to effective companion planting but much can be grown in the under story during the first 15 - 20 years

20 yr old Walnut in our Garden  with Sambucus nigra, Aronia melanocarpa and Pyrus cv. doing very well 

Juglone Toleranace 

Here's a list of plants that have been observed to grow well under walnuts and are considered tolerant to Juglone. Bear in mind that few plants have been experimentally tested for sensitivity to juglone.

The plants highlighted in green are species I have personally observed growing seemingly unhindered in and around the understory of Juglans regia

Walnuts from our Gardens  

Many factors affect sensitivity, including the level of contact, the health of the plant, soil environment, and the overall site conditions. Aside from juglone, a mature walnut will cast a very heavy shade, and young sun-demanding plants will not survive in these conditions. The list provided here is strictly a guide and should not be considered complete or definitive.

If you have experience of plants growing well under and around a Juglone producing plant that are not on this list, please share in the comments section below. 

Walnut Cultivars - Hardy and Resistant to Major Pest and Diseases 

Below you can find profiles of some Bulgarian cultivars that we have on offer at our Bio-nursery. These cultivars are high-yielding and resistant to common walnut diseases. 

We are currently offering these cultivars at ​​ €22 per tree with 10% discount for orders over 10 trees. Delivery all other Europe

For other disease-resistant walnut cultivars see Agroforestry Research Trust.

Walnut cultivars for Permaculture and Forest Gardens 

Cultivar - 'Izvor 10'

  • Fruiting - The fruit forms on lateral buds and ripens around mid-September. Excellent tasting oblong nuts with a thin shell. The nuts weigh around 10 g have a high-fat content - 55.7%.
  • Disease Resistance - Excellent resistance to Walnut anthracnose and Walnut blight
  • Form - The tree forms a broad, relatively thin crown
  • Hardiness - A very hardy cultivar tolerating temperatures down to -25 - 30 ºС
  • Flowering Period - Late

Cultivar - 'Sheinovo'

  • Fruiting - The fruit forms on the tips and ripen around mid September. Excellent tasting nuts that are easy to remove from the thin shell. The nuts weigh around 12 -13 g and have a high fat content - 71.4% . 
  • Disease Resistance - Good resistance to Walnut anthracnose and Walnut blight 
  • Form - The tree is vigorous with a wide spread crown 
  • Hardiness - A hardy cultivar tolerating temperatures down to -24 ºС 
  • Flowering Period - Mid - Late

Cultivar - 'Dryanovo'

  • Fruiting - Fruits for on the tips of branches and ripen to very large 14 - 18 g round nuts. The fat content is 67.39%. 
  • Disease Resistance - Very resistant to anthracnose, though very susceptible to blight. 
  • Form - The tree is vigorous with dome shaped crown 
  • Hardiness - A hardy cultivar tolerating temperatures down to -24 ºС 
  • Flowering Period - Mid - Late

To order some walnut cultivars for delivery this winter contact us at

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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 


  • Evaluation of Some Walnut Cultivars under the Climatic Conditions of South Bulgaria - Stefan Gandev1, Vasiliy Dzhuvinov1
  • Agroforestry News Volume 1 - Number 1 -4  - 1992 Nut Profile; Persian Walnut - Martin Crawford 
  • GANDEV, S., 2013. Winter hardiness of reproductive organs of the walnut cultivars Izvor 10, Lara and Fernor at extreme low temperatures in South Bulgaria. Bulg. J. Agric. Sci., 19: 1068-1070
  • Landscaping and Gardening Around Walnuts and Other Juglone Producing Plants - James Sellmer -